Autobeacon LLC Founder Dan Dvoskin told Innovation Destination Hartford about his innovative device and app solution that encourages safe driving and Graduated Driving Law (GDL) compliance.
INNOVATION DESTINATION HARTFORD: When and why did you start the company?
DAN DVOSKIN: I came up with the original idea in 2012–2013 when I was a freshman at the University of Connecticut.
During the summer before college, about a year before I started Autobeacon, I got into a small car accident. The accident wasn’t bad, but I did have four friends in the car who I wasn’t supposed to be driving because of the GDL.
GDL is a program and set of laws in all 50 states that places restrictions on new drivers including teen passengers, nighttime driving curfew, seatbelt use, and cell phone use. These laws exist to try to prevent new drivers from driving in distracting or dangerous environments so they can safely gain experience during their first few years behind the wheel.
The problem is that around 90% of new teen drivers break these rules on a regular basis because they know that they probably won’t get caught. Not adhering to GDL restrictions combined with general irresponsible driving issues (such as speeding and listening to excessively loud music) results in the majority of teen car accidents.
When I got into the accident, my Dad was furious because I did exactly what my parents, driving instructors, and insurance agents said not to do. As a quick solution to ensure I wouldn’t drive any more friends until I was allowed to, he lowered the back seats of my car and ran a cable through the interior to make sure none of the doors other than the driver’s door could open and the seats stayed down. Some friends nicknamed my car “Alcatraz.”
After the original idea struck, I started thinking back to all the trouble my friends, classmates, and I got into driving—the accidents, totaled cars, tickets, fines, license suspensions, insurance hikes, legal issues, etc. Thankfully no one in our class got seriously hurt, but a family friend died a few years prior in a car accident because he violated GDL passenger restrictions and there were several fatalities in surrounding towns.
It didn’t take much research to figure out that irresponsible teen driving is a serious problem that remains the leading cause of death among teenagers. Additionally, there were no real comprehensive solutions to the problem so I filed a patent and started developing Autobeacon TeenDrive.
IDH: Tell us about the development process.
DD: I iterated the product many times. Each version had a different business concept. First it was just a physical product that you set up in the car. That version was a sales model. Then it was an electronic product that is hooked up to various parts of the car. Later, it was electronics with a little bit of mobile application software. In its current form, the product is almost all mobile application software with a little bit of hardware—a bracket and a beacon in the car.
The current business model was developed through many conversations with target customers, partners, and distribution partners. We spoke to about 100 parents of teen drivers and many insurance companies, insurance agents, driving schools, and other relevant organizations.
We got feedback from:
- Parents to determine exactly what they want, what kind of user experience they are looking for, and what they’re willing to pay
- Insurance companies to figure out what discounts they are willing to offer to people who use the product
- Driving schools and insurance agents about their experience with our target customers and to find out how we can add value to their organization in exchange for distribution and promotion
IDH: Why does someone want or need to use your solution?
DD: GDL law compliance, cost savings and decreased probability of accident through preventing and monitoring almost every form of distracted and reckless teen driving.
In addition to improving safety, the product can provide significant insurance discounts that are worth more than the product and service costs, effectively making the system free to the user.
Because almost 100% of teen drivers get into an accident or get a ticket during the first three years of driving, improving safety also indirectly decreases many of the expenses associated with accidents and tickets, including auto repair, insurance deductibles, long-term insurance rate increases, fines, and legal costs.
IDH: Tell us something you discovered about yourself in your entrepreneurial journey.
DD: It’s a lot of work, but it’s not necessarily that hard because you know you’re doing it for yourself. I don’t think you need to be as smart as some people think. The most important character traits are resourcefulness and perseverance.
IDH: What’s the biggest challenge your company has faced as a startup?
DD: Developing the product. It took a lot of iterations to make the product as robust as possible but still easy to install and use.
Producing the hardware was also a big concern because manufacturing usually requires a big capital investment, which I did not want to raise.
When I came up with the idea I thought it would just be a cost-plus model. I quickly realized many things need to be considered to make a great product that:
- Has all the features customers want
- Is affordable
- Costs enough to makes sense for channel partners to sell it
- Enables us to make a reasonable return
IDH: Describe your best day as an entrepreneur.
DD: My best day as an entrepreneur was probably when I won Innovation Quest at UConn in 2015. It was the first time a large group of experienced business people confirmed the validity of my idea. The day I got the patent in the mail was pretty exciting as well.
IDH: Looking to the future, where do you want your company to be one year from now?
DD: In a year I’d like to be selling the product through insurance premium discount partnerships with at least a few large insurance companies. I’d also like to be selling through a good number of other target partners and in a good number of retail stores.
We have a few other similar products that target different submarkets in the pipeline, so I’d also like to have those developed and start selling them.
IDH: Any advice for others launching startups?
DD: Don’t necessarily jump to raise capital through selling equity too early, this is what I was planning to do, but looking back it would have been a big mistake. Think about how you can build and improve on ready-built resources to deliver your value proposition.
If you’re in college, have a reasonable idea and get some positive feedback—just go for it. The resources available at many colleges/universities are unbelievable and, in most cases, looking at the grand scheme you really don’t have much to lose. The opportunity cost of unearned wages is often worth a lot less than the value a good idea can generate.