Harvard Kennedy School
Joe Adelmann is a co-founder and the VP of Operations for driver behavior technology company TrueMotion. Formerly known at Censio, the company started out at the i-lab, has raised $10 million in investment funding, and is growing at such a rapid pace that they are about to outgrow their current space in the Harvard Launch Lab.
How did you get started at the the Harvard Innovation Labs?
When I joined the i-lab, I had just completed an incubator program in Manhattan and was finishing my last year at the Harvard Kennedy School. I had an idea for a smartphone app that would help people to become safer drivers, but I really didn’t know anything about starting a company. I saw the i-lab as an opportunity to learn about and focus on entrepreneurship. It was the ideal place to begin.
What resource did you use most often at the i-lab and Launch Lab? Why was it so useful?
I started out at the i-Lab as an individual, unschooled in all things “startup,” so the most important resource, especially in the early days, was the i-lab’s networking capabilities.
I met Brad, my technical co-founder, at MIT through a cross-registered class with Harvard. In the beginning, we were meeting with new people every day: founders, VCs, attorneys, professors, accountants, marketing experts, developers — the list goes on. Their advice helped us make good decisions from the start. Sometimes I would walk out of a meeting and think, “Wow, I wouldn’t have figured that out in 10 hours of Googling.”
We met one of our co-founders, Jon McNeill, at the i-lab’s mentor pitch night. We also hired our first employee after we met at the i-lab’s sponsored “Co-Founder’s Lab” site. The i-lab was essential in helping us not only navigate through the startup world, but to coalesce as a company.
What’s next for you and your venture?
TrueMotion’s mission is to use technology and data to make driving safer and more affordable.
We have a big launch with our first customer this year and are also launching with a major European insurer. Our plan is to continue to work with insurers and to also expand into other areas where we can help drivers even more. I’m excited to see the impact we can have when we reach thousands of drivers through a consumer app that’s launching this summer.
On the insurance side, we’re working on a connected driver platform, which will go beyond providing reduced insurance rates for safe driving. For example, we’re integrating crash detection and roadside assistance, a rewards program, and traffic and weather-based alerts for drivers. Most people have a smartphone so we hope that we can bring these types of features to everyone, not just the people who can afford new, high-end vehicles.
If you had to give another student one piece of advice to get the most out of the i-lab, what would it be?
My advice is to take advantage of everything the i-lab has to offer while understanding how to balance your time based on the stage of your company. The i-lab has so many great resources, but you don’t need to use them all at once.
TrueMotion went through a stage where we met with i-lab advisors multiple times per day, and this was incredibly helpful as we learned about the startup space and made connections. We also went through a stage where we applied to almost every venture competition available. This helped us refine our pitch and understand the weaknesses in our approach.
But eventually it became clear that we couldn’t do everything, especially not all at once. We needed more time to work on the product, so we shifted focus from competitions to R&D and product development. We still used the i-lab resources, but in a much more focused way.
How has it been growing a post-Series A company at the Launch Lab?
It’s incredible to have a space to continue to grow after the i-lab.
As I got close to the end of my graduate program I remember thinking “Where are we going to go from here?” Then the Launch Lab opened. It’s a great way to help companies smoothly transition from an early-stage startup to a more mature stage of growth.
After a Series A, you know more as a company and you’re bigger, but you’re still learning. At the Launch Lab, you still have the support of a larger team and network around you. It also allows you to interface with other companies who are in similar stages of growth.
There’s a certain energy about the startup space, too — it’s exciting and motivating to watch other teams engaging in a similar process as you are.
We are now a company of 30 and it’s time for us to move into our own space. We’ll be in Boston near South Station in May. The i-lab and Launch Lab supported us until we were ready to make this move rather than forcing us to move on directly after graduation. We’re taking our next steps as a company from a position of strength rather than leaping with our fingers crossed.
Anything we missed? Feel free to wax poetic here…
In the beginning, I wanted to create a company where incredible people could come together to help solve challenging problems and make people’s lives better — I feel like we are doing that at TrueMotion.
We have a great group of people who enjoy working together to reduce the tens of thousands of deaths from the millions of motor vehicle accidents each year. By engaging people in their own driving and empowering them to make changes, we can help them save money and drive safer, while saving lives in the process. I’m lucky to be a part of the TrueMotion team, and we wouldn’t have made it this far without the support of the i-lab and the Launch Lab. Thanks Harvard!