Developer Workshop: DriveMeCrazy

Developer Workshop is a series of profiles exploring the current state of the mobile marketplace from the point of view of the software developers mapping out its future. Each profile focuses on a developer with a compelling story to tell, and offers their perspective on what the industry's doing right, what it's doing wrong and how to make it better. Check out our previous workshops on Shazam, InfoMedia, Viigo, Meet Now Live, Shortcovers, Pint Sized Mobile, Geodelic, Spark of Blue Software, Tarver Games, People Operating Technology, Booyah, Bolt Creative, Thwapr, Monkeyland Industries, Rocket Racing League, Vlingo, Advanced Mobile Protection, PapayaMobile and Taptu.

This week FierceDeveloper profiles DriveMeCrazy, a location-based services vendor.

Philip Inghelbrecht's name may not ring a bell, but chances are you're very familiar with his work. Back in 1999, Inghelbrecht co-founded Shazam, the company whose mobile music recognition solution towers among the most successful applications of the smartphone era--earlier this month, Shazam reported 75 million users worldwide have now leveraged the application across multiple device platforms and carrier networks, with over a million new users signing on each week.

Inghelbrecht has been absent from the mobile segment since exiting Shazam in mid-2004, spending over three years in Google's video group prior to his Oct. 2008 appointment as president of online automotive pricing information provider TrueCar. A few months back, Inghelbrecht finally returned to the mobile software sector as founder and CEO of DriveMeCrazy, a startup dedicated to leveraging crowdsourced information to slash the number of auto accidents triggered by negligent or aggressive driving. The voice-powered DriveMeCrazy app (just launched for iPhone via Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) App Store) enables motorists to record the license plate numbers of offending drivers--once a driver has been flagged, users can write "tickets" that report the details of the traffic offense, view details of previous transgressions, and share the flag on Twitter and Facebook.

DriveMeCrazy will share its collected data with state DMVs, local law enforcement and insurance companies--according to Inghelbrecht, the ultimate goal is to provide new insight into drivers' behavior on the road, offering insurance providers a real-world perspective that extends far beyond the proxy data that determines most premium prices. Days following DriveMeCrazy's introduction, Inghelbrecht spoke to FierceDeveloper about the app's value, his return to mobile and the rewards of taking risks.

Philip Inghelbrecht drivemecrazyPhilip Inghelbrecht on coming back to the mobile app industry: Shazam is still very near and dear to me--I still chime in as much as I can. But I've always tried to follow where the next big things are. Industries go through waves--when I left Shazam, online video was the next big thing, so I rode that wave with Google Video and then with YouTube. I saw the auto industry going through turmoil, so when the TrueCar opportunity came along, I jumped on it. The auto industry needed a service like that.

When I was at Shazam, we all knew smartphones were coming, but no one ever thought Apple would come out with such an incredible device. The iPhone catapulted the whole industry forward--it forced every other manufacturer to do better. And it made Shazam--the company did OK before the iPhone came along, but it wasn't the hockey-stick growth we see now. Mobile applications are a whole different experience these days.

Inghelbrecht on DriveMeCrazy: If you don't have a strong consumer proposition, it's very difficult to build a company. It's easy to launch a new app, but hard to launch a $100 million revenue business out of that app. You can sell the app, which may work well if you're a game, but then you need the next big hit. You can try mobile advertising, but then you need a lot of users and impressions to make some real coin.

DriveMeCrazy addresses a real consumer play--everyone gets frustrated with other drivers. The idea originated when I found out insurance companies pay for DMV records. If you get too many speeding tickets, your insurance goes up. People think their state DMV will hand over driving records to insurance companies, but DMVs don't give it away. Insurance companies pay a lot of money for this information--about $8 per person per record on average. Across the U.S. there are about 150 million insured vehicles--insurance companies can't afford to pay $8 for every driver, so they try to come up with proxy data to assess risk. They're starved for information, so we're building a crowdsourced database to help them.

DriveMeCrazy is a long-term play that could bring about positive change for all of us. Down the road, we're hoping our information will make insurance prices more fair and equitable by helping identify potentially dangerous drivers. The insurance industry is highly regulated--they can't just use any type of data willy-nilly, so our approach must be approved and tested. We're already submitting data to DMVs--we just don't know what they do with it. These are big, slow organizations, so you have to prove yourself for them to take notice.

We're entrepreneurs. We have to keep working on it. There's not going to be a magic moment where all 50 state DMVs adopt our service. We're realistic, but we're also hopeful and diligent.

Inghelbrecht on improving driver safety: Twenty years ago, road safety was all about speeding. Ten years ago, it was all about drunk driving. Now it's about distracted driving. Because the DriveMeCrazy app is used in cars, we were very careful to develop a user experience that doesn't add to the problem of distracted driving. To flag a driver, you tap one of two big buttons, and then speak the license plate number into your iPhone. It's like Shazam--when you hear a song you like, you tap one button to identify it.

In many states there are highway signs that say 'Dial 911 if you see a drunk driver.' You can't underestimate the deterrent effect of that--now people realize their fellow motorists can report them. DriveMeCrazy is based on that approach--we want to make bad driving frowned upon, and make it no longer cool to text and drive.

If you flag somebody, DriveMeCrazy documents the time, day, location, license plate number and your user ID. If someone wants to use the service maliciously, we'll know immediately if the same device flags the same vehicle 10 times in one week--those flags are automatically rejected. There are a whole bunch of checks and balances in place.

In the end, we are a [user-generated content] business. It's never going to be perfect. But over time, and with volume, these things iron themselves out. Crowdsourcing is real--it's working. DriveMeCrazy will prove itself. I feel good that we have some value.

Inghelbrecht's advice for aspiring mobile developers: In life, you should do something every day that makes you afraid. Do something unusual--something outside your stereotypical behavior. It will keep you alive inside.

Translate that to mobile--if you have an idea and you feel strongly about it, you should pursue it, even if people don't agree with you. People told me people would never use Shazam. But you have to take that risk. It's worth it. Even if you fail, you're going to learn something.