Startup Spotlight: Halo Automotive CEO turns near miss with disaster into dream for connected cars

Halo Automotive chief technology officer Jim Snowden, left, and CEO Tyler Phillipi. (Halo Automotive Photo)

Tyler Phillipi credits a near miss with disaster for inspiring Halo Automotive, a Portland-based startup that helps dealerships maintain relationships with their customers.

In 2007, Phillipi was driving his pickup truck on the freeway when he spotted a mattress in the middle of the road. He narrowly avoided crashing into it, and was relieved to see the small car behind him also avoid a collision.

“The moment after I experienced this my mind raced,” Phillipi said. “Do I slam on my brakes and remove the debris, even though it meant putting myself in harm’s way? I could call someone, but who, and is that safe?”

He had just spent the day waiting in line to buy the original iPhone. He was struck by the massive computing and networking potential contained within the $600 device, while his $20,000 truck offered technology that was primitive by comparison. Phillipi wished that his phone’s technology could be harnessed by cars and trucks to connect vehicles and improve communications in emergencies and other situations.

“At that moment, I came up with the idea of ‘Car-munication’ (terrible name, that’s why I left it), which included some of the features that Halo delivers today,” he said.

After building the necessary knowledge and connections, Phillipi, 34, launched Halo Automotive in 2016 and is the CEO. The startup has four employees, including chief technology officer Jim Snowden. Halo wouldn’t be able to address the near crash with the mattress — at least not yet — but Phillipi says that they are building the foundation of a service with great potential.

Halo Automotive CEO Tyler Phillipi. (Halo Automotive Photo)

“Halo helps reduce headaches for drivers and auto dealers,” Phillipi said. “The promise of the ‘connected car’ and ‘smart cities’ have been in the minds of the entire Halo team since long before we met each other.”

Continue reading for Phillipi’s answers to our questionnaire for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Halo makes car ownership easier for drivers by strengthening the relationship between drivers, their car and service providers (such as dealerships) who can help take care of their cars.”

Inspiration hit us when: “The technology needed to fulfill the promise of connected cars has been around for more than 20 years. But only recently has the convergence of the automobile industry, technology and the Halo team’s network and skills brought that vision within reach.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Halo has raised funding from angel investors, including those from the automotive dealership ecosystem.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Focus. The graveyard of competitors is filled with companies who chased the wrong solution, went after a problem that didn’t need to be solved, targeted a market that didn’t find value in their solution, or simply focused on obtaining funding over customer validation. Halo is focused on what dealers need, what their customers want, and bridging the gap between those two. I have been building my skills since that incident in 2007 and now I am creating the future that I want to live in.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Getting off hardware! My previous company created hardware and I left that behind to create Halo, which is focused on interoperability. Being interoperable has aligned us with a mix of hardware, software, platforms and service providers that need to be integrated in order to create a concert of cooperation in the automotive industry.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Starting too broad. Halo’s biggest strength is helping dealerships maintain a relationship with their customer so that they come back to the dealer for service.”

Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Bezos. Halo can deliver any automotive-related service to customers like parking, insurance, emergency crash calling, cleaning, tolling, accessories, fuel, etc. But just as Amazon initially focused on delivering books, Halo currently is focused on driving service revenue for dealers because that is the easiest and highest value opportunity available.”

Our favorite team-building activity is: “Mexico! Jim and I love getting out of the Pacific Northwest — especially in the winter — so last March we rented a house in Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula. We made sure it had extra beds and told our team they were welcome to join, stay there for free and that all of their ‘hours’ working there would be covered. This ended up being a very affordable way for us to get out of town, enjoy the sun, plan out our year, have some very intense ‘blue sky’ sessions and spend some time bonding off-site with our team.”

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “The desire to learn and grow.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Focus on solving a problem or creating a solution for yourself — something that touches you personally. Wherever you spend your time is where you’ll develop your skills. You only have one life to live and only so much attention, so spend your time doing something you want to be good at and use that ability to do what you love.”

Editor’s note: GeekWire is featuring each of the ten startups in Techstars Seattle leading up to their Demo Day on April 18. Techstars is a worldwide network that offers 40 mentorship-driven accelerator programs around the globe.

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