The Entrepreneurs Grill is a live stream webcast on Boston.com/hive hosted by Innovation Economy columnist and blogger Scott Kirsner that features a business pitch from a start-up, followed by feedback from a local investor and questions from viewers. Below is an edited version of last week’s show:
THE PITCH Jacob Silber started BRIGHTdriver to bring interactive entertainment to the car, via the smartphone. His idea to design games that can be played on the road without looking at your phone’s screen — just by speaking and listening — was reviewed by Ric Fulop, a partner at North Bridge Venture Partners who specializes in digital media
SILBER: I was really intrigued with the car, and it just seemed like there were a lot of opportunities to do things in the car and it was an area being ignored by other entrepreneurs. So what we sort of wanted to figure out is, “How can we create a new experience in the car that both honors the drive and also brings something that the technology people love into the vehicle?”
What we did is we focused around using voice-recognition technology and high quality audio, and created a dynamic experience — everything from trivia, to singalongs, to smart content that can connect with radio shows. Say you’re listening to your favorite radio show; we can follow what show you’re listening to, pause, and you can do a live poll.
Everything is hands-free, so you avoid any visual kind of distraction. The other thing we do that is really cool is we avoid mental distractions. A lot of people have talked about concerns about using your phone in the car.
We actually monitor what you’re doing in the car actively — acceleration events, turning — and create a smart score around your drive. So if we detect that you’re doing something that’s complex, we’re going to pause the content. And that’s something that the radio can’t do, that podcasts can’t do, and that Spotify and other streaming media services can’t do.
Right now we’re going to launch a couple of games in about a month, and we’re really excited to get it out there “in the wild,” and have people use it and give us feedback.
FULOP: What killer apps would you put on this platform?
SILBER: We tested a number of games. The thing that we found people really did enjoy was trivia. It’s knowledge-based, and you feel like you’re actually getting smarter. We can make it adaptive, so if you get a bunch of questions you don’t like, you don’t feel stupid. We can constantly change that, so you can feel like you’re getting content that’s right for you. We can create an asynchronous, trivia-based environment where you can play around the questions, and your friend can play around the questions.
Trivia is one of those things [where] the four famous games haven’t been well adapted yet to the mobile environment and that’s Monopoly, Draw Something, which is Pictionary; Scrabble, which is Words with Friends. Trivial Pursuit hasn’t really made a penetration there, and we think there’s some adaptations that can make trivia way more fun than Trivial Pursuit. So we think that’s our first game. We’re working with a lot of game designers to build a sort of pipeline of games.
KIRSNER: OK, so viewers definitely have questions about safety. Are there regulations for driving-related mobile apps? I’m guessing regulations are basically just about hands-free use of the phone, can you have the phone in your hand, do you need a headset — that sort of thing — and there are no regulations about specific apps that you’re using?
SILBER: Whatever regulations say, we want to be safe. We want to be so far into safety that it’s not even a question. But to answer the question, we’re pretty free of any kind of regulatory issues.
Think about us like the GPS that runs on your phone. The phone that you have in your pocket is a smart device. It can be embedded in the dashboard, it can be linked to the dashboard, so we don’t see ourselves as a concern on regulatory side so much
We have a ton of research. What we found was that the root cause of distracted driving is actually boredom. So people drive in a distracted fashion — they pick up their phone to text, they eat, they tune the radio, they zone out because they’re bored. So in some ways it was more important to get people to that optimal point where they’re somewhat stimulated — but not overstimulated. And that’s sort of what we’re trying to do.
THE DECISION Some 40 percent of viewers said they liked Silber’s idea enough to want to see it move forward, while most of the others said he needs to continue refining it. Meanwhile Fulop said he is interested enough to want to follow up with Silber directly.
FULOP: Having spent some time with Jacob, absolutely, I’d spend more time with him.
The intersection of what’s going to be the successful medium between smartphones and transportation hasn’t really been flushed out yet and there is no defined way of doing it.
It’s clear that texting is a problem, and I think there’s going to be a way for you to interact.
Companies like Apple and Google are going to want to have a big part of what the end solution is going to be, but there could be an opportunity for a start-up to be the definer of that category of, how you get around and how you interact with your smartphone when you’re supposed to be driving.
SILBER: Well that’s great. We’re launching a Kickstarter campaign, so I’d encourage you guys to follow us on Twitter, find out what we’re working on. We’re interested in engaging people who are really excited about this.