When an undercover CBC journalist recently called several Ontario driving schools, more than two thirds of instructors who were contacted offered to forge paperwork that would say a driver’s education program had been completed – not a single lesson required. 

Mikael Castaldo, an alumnus of the University of Toronto Scarborough, says he’s using a high-tech approach to build a driving school where that kind of fraud isn’t allowed to happen.  

“That kind of behavior is part of why we’re trying to stand out in the industry,” says Castaldo, co-founder of Kruzee. “Everyone has to go through driving school. It shouldn’t be this painful or scary or sketchy.”

Driving schools are appealing to new drivers because they issue beginner driver education certificates, which make new drivers eligible for insurance discounts and lets them take their road tests sooner. To receive one, students must complete 10 hours of in-car driving lessons, 10 hours of homework and 20 hours of classroom learning in-person or virtually.

Many Ontario driving schools are small businesses using little technology, Castaldo says, and tracking everything on pen and paper means information can fall through the cracks.

Kruzee, by contrast, is instead digitizing the experience: all learning except in-car lessons is done online, meaning a student’s progress is tracked automatically and there’s no faking whether they’ve finished the classwork or homework. 

Kruzee co-founders Mikael Castaldo (left) and Osama Siddique (right) both have backgrounds in management (supplied image)

Castaldo and co-founder Osama Siddique, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from U of T Scarborough in 2017, have brought similar accountability to in-car lessons, which has also helped them combat a frustration they’ve seen often in their research and experienced themselves. 

They found that 80 per cent of Yelp reviews for prominent Ontario driving schools were negative and largely hinged on the process of booking in-car lessons. In many reviews, students recount scheduling lessons by texting or calling an instructor and then hoping both parties remembered when and where the lesson would take place – not to mention how many hours of instruction had been completed. 

“We were surprised that it was impossible to book lessons online, impossible to know anything about your instructor before you get in the car with them and that the theoretical part was still pretty analog,” Castaldo says. “People complain about booking delays, last-minute cancellations, instructors ghosting them.”

Modernizing driver’s ed

Kruzee, by contrast, allows students to use a website to browse profiles and reviews of driving instructors and provides information about which car they will be driving. They can schedule their appointments and get a text to remind them 24 hours before their lesson takes place. Instructors also record students’ progress and bookings through a dedicated app. 

In the coming months, the company is launching a feature that will have instructors track both the hours a student has completed and their specific strengths and areas for improvement, including parallel parking or lane changes. The data will be used to create a custom report card, which instructors can use to further customize lessons.

Kruzee has also created a rigorous process to screen instructors, including extensive background checks and three rounds of interviews. It also conducts regular checks of the operation.

The digital-first approach has helped keep costs low and the company has partnered with two Canadian startups to offer further discounts. For example, Kruzee students get $500 off their first used car bought through Clutch, which lets customers buy a car online, have it delivered to their house, drive it for 10 days and, if it’s not the right fit, return it free of charge. Students can also compare insurance rates with five free quotes from Walnut Insurance.

In addition, Kruzee has a course to prepare students for the first written test needed to get a driver’s licence, the G1, and students who take it are given a full refund if they don’t pass on their first try. 

So far, the startup has expanded across Ontario and into British Columbia – and has sights set on entering the huge U.S. market.

“We’ve been getting a pretty phenomenal response so far in Vancouver, because people are facing the same problems there, and we know it’s a similar experience throughout the U.S.,” Castaldo says. “We’ve created a model that gives driving instructors and students what they’re looking for – but better.”