There are a lot of smart people out there called customers: listen to them. Listen to them because you will get some things wrong. Anything new and different will have vocal fans and haters too. What’s valuable is hearing what you can do to make it better fast.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Hodge, CEO & Founder of Owlcam. Prior to starting Owlcam in his Palo Alto garage in 2016, Andy helped drive the first generation iPhone and 20+ generations of iPod as a product development leader at Apple. He then led development of the augmented reality headset as GM of HoloLens at Microsoft and was the VP of Hardware Engineering & Strategy at Dropcam until its acquisition by Nest/Google.
Thank you so much for doing this with us, Andrew! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I always loved design; meaning what does it take to build something so good it really matters. My dad was an architect and you could see how some buildings really affect people — for good and bad. As a kid, I wanted to be part of building something really good. And no escaping that when the Apple Mac came out in 1984 so many of the things I loved about software and hardware came together in one really amazing product.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I was on the secret team that built the iPod. We never expected to sell more than 10 or 20 thousand; but we were an ambitious group. Everyone wanted to build something illogically great; and of course, there was Steve Jobs. The team juggled, argued and figured out everything from the big stuff to small things like exactly how light reflected on aluminum versus stainless steel or how we could squeeze in more milliwatts to extend battery life.
The cool thing about Apple then was that both those kinds of things matter to SJ and all of us…both the aesthetic and the technical too. There was no guarantee of big success. There was just a chance to make something we and Steve could be proud of. All the care, craft, and sweat was just about building something really well. There was never any talk about the financial side really. Looking back all that work was huge especially since it made iPhone possible a few years later.
Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
We built a ridiculously powerful Edge AI dashcam and a 4G LTE data plan to power it. We wanted to help people in crashes and break-ins, which sadly happen too frequently. These events hurt emotionally, financially and physically. We knew that video and data could help. Owlcam and its 4G LTE service is the only dashcam that can deliver three big things we all need: 1) automatic record of accidents, 2) 911 assist call to see if you are OK, 3) automatic video clip of break-ins. Every week Owlcam drivers are saving money, time and even lives … all because we built a first of its kind and a truly smart dashcam.
How do you think this might change the world?
Everyone deserves to have a self-protecting car. Way too many people are hurt around cars, pay for things that aren’t their fault, or find their car was broken into or dented while they’re away from the car. We’re here to give people tools to be more aware, encourage better driving, save lives & money, stop fraud, make insurance claims faster and, along the way, help people catch and share the fun moments that happens in or around their cars.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
Yes, that’s why we put the driver/owner/user of the camera in charge — period. We knew if we got this right more people would adopt it and be helped sooner. We’ve focused hard on privacy from the beginning, building privacy into the architecture of the Owlcam and the data service. We are committed to privacy and very proud of our user agreement. Only the Owlcam driver/owner control the videos and all the video is their property — not Owlcam.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
We had two “tipping points” — one with our founders, and one with our very first customers. The first came just after we’d thought of the original big idea of networked AI cameras. We knew it could be great technically but what really pushed us to start with cars and trucks was realizing that each of the founders had been affected by crashes, dents, traffic stops and break-ins. Nathan Ackerman (CTO & Founder of Owlcam) had been hit by all four things in just the last year. This really brought the statistics to life.
The second happened on the first day we shipped cameras last March. One of our Owlcam users, James, an EMT from NJ, called and said “Owlcam paid for itself in the first day.” He’d gotten one of the first 100 Owlcams that morning and installed it in his truck before going for a drive with his dogs in the snow. He then stopped to help someone who had gotten stuck and before he got back into his truck — BOOM another truck hit his. Because James had the video of the accident right away — the other guy’s insurance company accepted blame the next day saving James thousands of dollars. Helping a Good Samaritan on the very first day one was huge validation.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
Just for more people to learn that now there is a video security solution for cars and trucks. The same type of video security we take for granted in our homes can now protect our vehicles. People get excited once they find out that there is finally a solution to this problem, and the appeal is broad since nearly everyone that driver gets hit by crashes, dent, traffic stops and break-ins sooner or later. Every year 1 in 5 US families experiences these events. We launched last March and already Owlcams are widespread. They are currently in every state and major city in the U.S., across all income brackets and in all types of cars and trucks. So far over 150 million miles have been driven with an Owlcam.
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?
Wow there are so many, at so many places: Purdue, IDEO, Apple, Microsoft, Dropcam and now at Owlcam too. When I think back, I really can’t pick just one name without feeling like I’m leaving out too many. Thinking about who helps you along the way reminds me how little I knew when I started.
One person who stands out would be my grandfather, Bert. When he retired, he took up woodworking and I can still remember him getting a single mahogany log. He would chip away at that thing bit by bit until he turned it into a beautiful grandfather clock. It was impressive as a kid to see someone, day after day, put that much effort and time into building something their garage. My mother still has that clock.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I love how design brings new, better things to people, lets businesses grow and can create great places to work. We founded Owlcam to do those good things and also because we believe that people and video working together will make our cars, roads and neighborhoods safer.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Before you commit to a startup make sure it’s exciting enough to attract really great people. Guaranteed it will turn out to be harder than you expect. The team you build will be what pulls you through.
2. There are a lot of smart people out there called customers: listen to them. Listen to them because you will get some things wrong. Anything new and different will have vocal fans and haters too. What’s valuable is hearing what you can do to make it better fast.
3. Remember just about everyone on the team has a family that helps make their hard work possible. So look for ways at events or with policies to acknowledge the partners and kids along with the team.
4. Most of us are good drivers. Mostly we are careful and just want to get home in one piece with peace of mind. Reckless drivers drive like no one is watching. But they can change; and seeing, near missing and crashes can help a lot.
5. It’s far better to pack the team together in a smaller office space than split them up. It is almost impossible to always have the right amount of office space as you grow but so much more gets done with everyone close enough to snack and get coffee together.
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. 🙂
Cameras and people working together have the power to make the world a safer and more civil place. Video is an amazing tool to see things literally from someone else’s point of view. Journalists and artists use photography and video to help us see. Owlcam is a part of the larger history of cameras to help us literally see things from another perspective. Our Owlcam users, amazing people like James in NY, Jennifer in NJ, Scott in CA and Esteban in TX, inspire us. People who use video for themselves but are also eager to help others, get thieves and robbers off streets, or remind everyone to just plain old slow down take it easy so we all get home safe. It is easy to get fired up when you see the cool things people use Owlcams for like sharing a laugh or pushing back against bad drivers and thieves. Then we get back to work making Owlcam software and cameras better.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’d stick with the classic Gretzky quote “Skate to where the puck is going to be.” Some say it’s overused, but it works. Over and over again an opportunity comes up to take a shortcut in either hardware or software, but once we think harder about where we want to be in a year, we know it’s the wrong thing to do.
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 🙂
Everyday drivers, business owners, and insurers need help because while you might be a good driver…not everybody else is. This year alone there will be $836B in damage to 270M vehicles, and the car is the leading cause of death and injury for Americans under 45. Video and data are the solution.
Owlcam uses video and data to make cars, drivers, businesses safer. Our Edge AI has enabled for the first time ever, practically in power and price, to protect cars and trucks with video. So, in a crash, you can instantly get 911 assistance and the video proof right to your phone in minutes. In a break-in, you get video alerts when something out of the ordinary is detected and you can live view to see and hear what’s happening in real-time from anywhere. Only Owlcam’s Edge AI dashcam and 4G LTE data plan can do this.
Most importantly — we’re saving real Americans’ money, time, and lives every day. Drive safe!
Thank you for all of these great insights!
The Future Is Now: “How a smart dashcam can help save lives”, with Andrew Hodge of Owlcam was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.