The Future Is Now: “A tech platform that can reduce risky driving” with Bill Powers of Cambridge Mobile Telematics [Authority Magazine]
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I learned early on in my life that a person can control basically only two things: how hard you work, and how you treat other people. So when I started my first business at 21 — a basketball camp — I made sure that I worked hard to make it thrive, and made and maintained good relationships with good people.
A few decades of following those principles gave me the opportunity to work with my co-founders, Hari Balakrishnan and Sam Madden, to build a technology company that could help save lives on the roads. By maintaining those principles, we’ve grown it to be one of the most successful technology startups in Massachusetts history.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
When CMT started, we turned down a number of venture capital funding offers and decided to take a different path. We applied for and received an NSF small business grant, and I put the rest of the financing on my credit card and off we went. That was 10 years ago.
Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
We’re taking one of the largest safety concerns on the roads today — the smartphone — and using it to solve the very problem it creates — distracted driving. Our platform — built with behavioral science, artificial intelligence, and mobile sensing — gives drivers the feedback they need to improve their driving and make the roads safer for everyone.
How do you think this might change the world?
More than ever, the world is realizing that how we move around is at the very core of our successful economy and our equitable society. The mobility technologies we’re building will help innovate areas that have come under intense focus like supply chain, commuting to and from work and even public health. They will make transportation more efficient, safer, and environmentally friendly.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
Treating people right includes being faithful custodians of their privacy, a core tenet that CMTholds itself to every day.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
As smartphones became more ubiquitous, and as people started using their phones more for many different things, distracted driving increased and became a significant danger on the roads. We saw an opportunity to make the roads safer.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
It’s happening now. People want to pay less on their auto insurance and be assessed on how they drive, not who they are. They’re using telematics to save money in these uncertain financial times.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
We’re a B2B platform, so we collaborate closely with our partners — insurance companies, wireless providers and OEMs — to get this out to their policyholders and new customers. When our partners are successful in building their best-in-market programs, we’re successful, so we use everything in our power to help them do just that.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My father died when I was young, and after that, I gravitated towards a certain kind of person as a mentor. These were men who got up every day, put in a hard day’s work, and who carried themselves in a dignified manner. These gentlemen endeavored to do the right thing and treat people the right way.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
This technology saves lives by helping drivers reduce risky behavior behind the wheel.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1) Listen more than you talk.
2) Just because it’s a good idea doesn’t mean it will work.
3) Don’t expect everyone to work as hard as you do.
4) Do not allow things to fester; communicate fearlessly but respectfully, always.
5) If it was easy, everybody would do it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Treat people with honesty and respect. Be kind.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” Nobody can predict success — just work harder, surround yourself with good people, and make it happen.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them
When evaluating whether or not to invest in a particular company, place as much consideration on the founders’ ability to succeed and as you would the technology and business model. This is a particularly salient point in these unprecedented times. A company’s ability to grow and thrive in the midst of a storm is what will ultimately succeed.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Follow Cambridge Mobile Telematics — I trust the good people running those accounts to give you everything you need.