When I first met with Sahas Katta and his brother, Sanketh Katta, founders of Smartcar, they pitched me on their idea of creating a software platform that would allow developers to bring their applications to any brand of connected car. Sahas and Sanketh grew up in Silicon Valley surrounded by creative entrepreneurs who served as role models. When they tried to build a virtual key sharing app for a Tesla in 2014, the struggles they encountered made them think about the potential for apps that could read data and perform actions on vehicles — think locking and unlocking the doors, retrieving the location, or checking the odometer reading. They ran these initial tests on a Tesla, but soon began to wonder: what if they could do these things to any car on the road and make them a standard feature of every car? And so Smartcar was born.
They quickly realized that not only did every car manufacturer have a different API to connect with the car, but that these also differed across each model. Smartcar realized that an app developer would have to create an impractical number of versions of their app in order to have it work on all brands of connected cars. This led Smartcar to develop a software platform that would allow application developers to use a standard API — allowing them to connect with all car brands with a single development effort.
Why does this matter, who cares, and why should you care?
There’s no doubt that the automotive industry remains one of the most dominant and important sectors of the American economy. While the automobile accelerated many into a better world, it has arguably reached a point of diminishing returns and left many people behind. The impoverished, the elderly, the disabled, the disenfranchised, and minority groups still have limited access to automobiles. Low-income households spend an average of 40% of their income on transportation. We should care because mobility is more than just a convenience — it’s a human rights issue. It’s about connecting people to better jobs, to schools, grocery stores, hospitals, and their families. It’s their road to opportunity.
Smartcar is addressing the future of transportation by building a software platform for the connected car. This will make convenient mobility applications more accessible to all drivers, while the platform itself will allow developers to innovate rapidly to meet the demands of the growing world of automobility. The automotive industry now recognizes that hardware innovations will not be enough to drive these transformations. In the future, software will be the key differentiator; the pursuit to make mobility more accessible will be driven by the ecosystem of apps and services available for vehicles.
Smartcar plans to stay ahead of the pack with a clear focus on the one piece of the puzzle that other players have overlooked: developers. While other companies also have APIs, few have grasped the significance of empowering the evolving and innovative community of application developers.
As CEO, Sahas has proven that he can get in front of virtually all of the major automobile companies and make a good case, helping the company ink partnerships with BMW and Hyundai. Sanketh, as CTO, knows how to develop and bring a new product to market, coming with a wealth of experiences from LinkedIn. For an early stage company in a competitive space, they’ve also managed to recruit equally talented individuals to the team.
As we peer into the future, it seems not too far-fetched to think of the connected cars of the future as smartphones on wheels, each with their own fully stocked App Store of applications that make their cars as useful and essential as smartphones. Smartcar is well positioned to be at the center of this new universe and we’re pleased to be an investor.