Ron Konezny knew what his start-up would look like. “I was infatuated with wireless telecommunications,” recalls Konezny, CEO of PeopleNet, which makes and sells Internet-based onboard computing and mobile communications systems designed to improve fleet management for trucking businesses. “We saw great potential in combining that technology with GPS and the Internet.”
What It Does: Produces onboard systems that help trucking businesses monitor fuel use, driving habits, and other operational measurements
Before incorporating PeopleNet in May 1994 with three partners who are no longer with the company, Konezny consulted on strategy, marketing, and product development projects for Gemini Consulting (now Cap Gemini Ernst & Young) in Chicago. “After six years of consulting, the pendulum swung pretty hard toward me wanting to build and own something myself, rather than just suggest and recommend to others,” he says.
Konezny and the other PeopleNet cofounders held on to day jobs and devoted nights and weekends to developing a prototype system, raising money, and getting the new company established. They officially kicked off operations in 1996. Konezny, an Edina native, was the only member of the founding quartet outside of Minnesota, but he was ready to come back home, starting out as PeopleNet’s CTO.
The company’s first remote, wireless system was an onboard computer that allowed drivers to record hours and monitor fuel usage, among other capabilities. It was the first product of its kind to combine GPS, cellular communications, and the Internet. PeopleNet’s biggest competitor was and still is San Diego–based telecom giant Qualcomm. At the time, Konezny says, Qualcomm didn’t use GPS but satellite communications—more sensitive and not as powerful as the Internet.
In 2000, PeopleNet launched G2X, its second-generation system, along with over-the-air programming, which allowed G2X to update both onboard and handheld computers wirelessly. This meant that PeopleNet didn’t need to send clients a brand-new computer with the new software or ask them to hook a laptop up to their existing computer, either of which is challenging for a firm when its trucks are away from the central terminal for weeks.
PeopleNet’s third-generation system came out in 2004. Among its capabilities: tapping into a vehicle’s computer to automatically collect odometer readings and fault codes (engine diagnostics that warn of problems) as well as data pertaining to fuel economy and driver and vehicle performance. That information is presented to the driver and also transmitted wirelessly back to the management of the fleet.
Among PeopleNet’s larger customers are North Carolina–based Old Dominion Freight Line and Performance Food Group in Richmond, Virginia. “We’ve never acquired a company, nor have we been acquired; everything we’ve done has been with our bare hands,” Konezny says. “When we started, we were servicing small fleets of 20 to 50 trucks. We’re now able to service a wide variety of fleets, and one of our big missions is to get into larger fleets, those with a thousand trucks or more.”