Position: Chief technical officer
What they do: Make devices that restrict use of mobile phones and other electronics while driving
Revenue: Cellcontrol has sold 17,000 units at about $99 each
Next Goal: Become the standard solution for distracted driving
The "aha" moment
Joe Breaux was working at another technology company when he got a call from Rob Guba, whom Breaux had previously worked with at TraceSecurity. Guba was starting a new venture based on a simple idea: a technology that could stop people from using their cell phone in the car. Companies could stop workers from talking with company cell phones and driving, or parents could keep their teenagers off the phone when behind the wheel. At the time, “distracted driving” wasn't PSA-worthy, but in-traffic cell phone use was already becoming a problem. Guba needed Breaux's help to build the solution. “They needed someone to help it go from concept to product,” Breaux says. “Intuitively, the idea just made sense.”
The idea made sense, but Breaux quickly discovered a quality product would not come easily. “You're taking something, a phone that's meant to be used, and stopping it from working,” Breaux says. “When we talked to phone companies, they said, 'That sounds like a virus.'” There are other products on the market that attempt to serve the same function, but many of them rely on the phone's GPS to determine whether the car is moving. Cellcontrol wanted to make a product fully controlled by the administrator—be that a boss or a parent—so the user couldn't set it to “off” or disable the phone's GPS.
Breaux and a small team came up with a product that uses multiple components to ensure users couldn't cheat the system. The first piece is a hardware device that plugs into the car—any model made after 1996, Breaux says—and works with a majority of cell phones and even tablets and laptops. Then the administrator must install software on the phone, which is why its main use currently is for parents and companies that issue cars and cell phones. The plug-in can tell when the car is moving and will send signals to the phone allowing it only to be used as the administrator allows, whether that means disabling texting, phone calls, or other functions. If the driver attempts to remove the plug-in or modify the software on the phone, the administrator is alerted.
Hitting the market
The Cellcontrol debuted in late 2010, and initially the product sold modestly. “We got reassurance from our customers that this is a good product, most people just didn't have a budget for it,” Breaux says. But distracted driving has since emerged as a public health issue, and the Cellcontrol has won numerous awards. As a result, the calls have started flowing in. “We're having astronomical success,” he says.
“We want to be the seatbelts of distracted driving.”
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