With their track records, Jay Giraud – CEO of REV Technologies – and Bill Weihl – green energy guru for Facebook – could probably walk into any angel investor’s office and walk out with the money needed to launch Moj.io.
Instead, Giraud decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.com to produce the first iterations of the device, which, among other things:
•connects a car’s on-board diagnostics systems to smartphones with apps that can disable your text function when you’re driving;
•alert you when your car is being towed; and
•perform basic diagnostics.
“It’s a whole new playing field for early-day companies to access traction and get into the market and test a whole bunch of things about their business before taking it to the traditional sources of capital,” Giraud said of the Indiegogo campaign.
The $100,000 campaign not only allows Moj.io to raise the initial capital to build the devices through pre-orders, it also gives the company real-time customer feedback. And because Moj.io is open source, it means anyone can develop apps for it, which is what convinced Weihl to come abroad as an adviser.
“Rather than being a system where the Moj.io company has to identify the really important apps and build them, instead we can rely on lots of interesting, excited, smart people out there to think of really useful compelling apps,” Weihl said, “and I think that will lead to a much more useful, much more compelling value proposition.”
Moj.io is a machine-to-machine (M2M) device that uses GPS and a cellular connection to transmit data via the cloud from a car’s on-board diagnostics (OBD) system to smartphone via a variety of apps. The device costs $89 and requires a data plan that costs $13 per month. It operates over the Rogers (TSX:RCI) network in Canada and T-Mobile (NYSE:DT) in the U.S.
“This whole area, where mobile meets car, is going to open up just an amazing amount of opportunities,” said James Maynard, CEO of Wavefront, Vancouver’s wireless accelerator, which has been at the forefront of promoting the growing M2M space.
Alan Swain, Wavefront’s vice-president of engineering, said Moj.io could become a tool for pay-as-you go insurance. By providing details on driving habits, insurance companies could charge drivers based on where and how much they drive.
Many newer car models are being made with some kind of connectivity. But all cars made after 1995 also have OBD systems that allow them to become connected.
“This creates a huge retrofit opportunity,” Maynard said. “When you’re connected to that OBD, it’s like tapping into the brain of the car. It just opens up a whole treasure chest of opportunities.”
REV makes the drive trains for electric vehicles. It also makes AutoGrid, developed to allow groups of electric vehicles to share their power with the grid – a process that essentially turns EVs into batteries for power utilities.
AutoGrid requires a wireless connection, and Giraud realized there were broader applications than just connecting electric cars to the grid.
“We thought, if we’re going to bring a pipe into a car – an Internet pipe – there’s a whole lot you can do with that,” Giraud said. “Why connect only the electric cars? Why aren’t we connecting everybody’s cars?”
Giraud said there are 300 million cars made after 1995 in North America and Europe that could become connected with Moj.io, and dozens of potential new applications.