In the Driver’s Seat with Thejo Kote, CEO of Automatic

“Your car is smarter than you think,” proclaims Automatic’s website.

Thejo Kote, the auto startup’s co-founder and CEO, aims to bring the standard car into the 21st Century with vehicle data delivered to drivers via a mobile app. With more than $24 million raised, the company is well on its way.

HONK: What prompted you to come up with Automatic?

Thejo Kote (TK): I was inspired to found Automatic in 2011 after researching consumer transportation choices as part of my studies at the University of California, Berkeley School of Information. I realized that despite our cars being the most expensive computers we own, most of them weren’t connected to the internet – so I set out to change that with my classmate and co-founder Jerry.

HONK: How does Automatic work, and how do you see it benefitting drivers?

TK: Using a small adapter that plugs into a vehicle’s onboard diagnostics port, Automatic opens up a wealth of vehicle and driver data, bringing the car into the 21st century and onto apps on the driver’s phone.

“The…future of car tech currently lies in mobility and car connectivity.”

When you drive, the app wirelessly pairs with the adapter via Bluetooth and securely stores each trip in the cloud. Automatic’s mobile app relays information collected by the adapter seamlessly via Bluetooth, playing subtle audio cues when driving in a way that can decrease fuel efficiency. Automatic also displays longer-term driving feedback in the app and through a web dashboard.

The connection to the car and resulting data insights afford many useful applications. It brings the driving experience to apps on your phone, allowing the user to self-diagnose the check engine light, learn driving habits that help you save up to 30% on gas, and connect to the smart home, to name a few.

HONK: What do you expect the auto and transportation industries to look like 10 years from now? In your opinion, is driving going to become obsolete?

(TK): According to a BI Intelligence report released in February 2015, the connected-car market is growing at a five-year compound annual growth rate of 45% — 10 times as fast as the overall car market. By 2020, it is expected that 75% of the estimated 92 million cars shipped globally in 2020 will be built with internet-connection hardware.

While talk around new trends like self-driving cars have been headline grabbing, the far more imminent future of car tech currently lies in mobility and car connectivity – that is, integrating cars with our smartphones and our homes through the Internet of Things. This will enable consumers to be safer and drive smarter, pioneer new ways for businesses to manage fleet operations, and allow governments to create smarter cities.

HONK: What do you think the most important thing is to be able to take an idea and turn it into a reality?

(TK): Here at Automatic, we’ve brought innovation back to the driving experience at a price point that’s accessible for nearly every driver on the road today. In the beginning, the Automatic user was a tech-savvy, early adopter who loved cars. Over the past two years we’ve expanded beyond that niche audience by creating a strong consumer brand for anyone looking to improve their driving experience.

As with any new technology, accessibility, reliability and strong proof of utility is essential to widespread adoption of connected car technology. Another big issue facing the connected car industry is security threats, which is why we’ve incorporated industry-leading security practices (including bank-level (128-bit AES) encryption) to protect our drivers’ data.

“(I)f you want to be successful, you have to build something you are passionate about.”

HONK: You also co-founded a company called NextDrop, which helps rural communities in India get better access to running, clean water. With all the smart minds in tech these days, do you believe that we’ll start seeing technology alleviate a lot of the world’s problems in the future?

(TK): I am a firm believer in the power of tech to make life better worldwide, and am proud and happy with the work that NextDrop has been doing. By collecting real time water delivery information from water operators, the organization is allowing urban residents in India to save time and reduce water uncertainty in their daily lives. The vast amount of data made available by technology alone has the potential to alleviate problems by calling attention to issues that were previously neglected and allowing us to grapple with them, and perhaps come up with a solution.

HONK: If you could take a road trip with anyone from any time period, who would it be and where would you go?

(TK): My wife and I both work all the time and have very little free time, so if I were going on a road trip, I’d go somewhere with her. Living in San Francisco, there’s so much beauty nearby, so we’d probably stick close to California, maybe Yosemite, or down the coast to Santa Barbara.

HONK: With many students interested in technology graduating from college this time of year, what piece of advice would you give to young entrepreneurs hoping to create the next “big thing”?

(TK): Don’t try to create the next big thing. Create something that you love. Maybe it will make money, maybe it won’t – but if you want to be successful, you have to build something you are passionate about.