On this week’s episode of the Vehicle 2.0 Podcast, we are happy to speak with Doug Kaufman, CEO at TransLoc. In this position, Doug has overseen a diverse range of changes, including a rapidly expanding team and multiple new MicroTransit technologies, as well as their acquisition by Ford in January 2018.
Despite a busy five years as CEO, Doug continues to look towards the future and the potential impact that TransLoc can have on mass transportation going forward.
We’re excited to offer a selection of highlights from our interview with Doug below. If you’re interested to hear more, give the episode a listen and subscribe to stay tuned for future episodes!
Doug on the origin of TransLoc at NC State
Scot: Let's talk about TransLoc. My understanding is it was started back in 2004 by some NC State guys to kind of like solve this pretty big problem of “We have these buses at NC State called the Wolf Line and a lot of times you'd go out there and wait for an hour or so for this bus to come. Wouldn't it be a more awesome if you had an app for tracking it?” Does that kind of the right startup history story, right?
Doug: Yeah. It really was simply answer the question, “Where's my bus?” And at the time, there wasn't even apps, right? 2004, it was “can I open a browser on my computer and see where the buses are?” And so Josh Whitten, who was the founder, went to the Wolf Line and said, “Why isn't there something like this?” And they said, “Well that technology doesn't exist.” And he said, “Well that can't be, because I play online games with people in real time across the world.” And so he said, “If I build it, will you buy it?” And they said, “Yes.” So he enlisted the help of Dominic fish off another person at state and they built the first version of what we now call Real Time, which answers the question, “Where is my bus”?
Doug on his journey from getting a PhD in Psychology to becoming the CEO of TransLoc
Scot: Let's start off by going over your career path. How did you end up as CEO of a division inside of Ford?
Doug: Sure. So if I go way back, hitting the way back machine here, I actually went to graduate school to get a PhD in Psychology. And while I was in graduate school, I started making websites for my students. This was before the recourse management systems. And yes, I'm actually that old and my students really started taking to it, I was getting burnt out with graduate school, and I decided when I finished, instead of taking a faculty job, I was going to take what I had made for my students and turn it into a business. I thought this internet thing would be something. So I said, “Hey, let's make it a business and I can always come back to teaching later.” That was very young, naive thinking. And so I did, it was actually called Alleydog.com. It still exists today; it's a resource online resource for college level psychology students.
While I was doing that, I met folks that had just founded a company called Blackboard, which became the dominant player in the learning space. And they said, “Hey, we're making this move from software to the web and this thing you built for psychology, we want to do the same thing, but for every subject matter that's out there. Can you provide content for every subject matter?” And it was just me, by the way. And I said, “Well, how many subject matters are you covering?” And he said, “253.” And I said, “No problem.” Of course I had no ability to do this at all.
One thing led to another and they said, “Why don't you forget about that? Why don't you come and join blackboard and let's build this thing together?” They were very much a startup at the time. And so I did. I went to Blackboard and that was a phenomenal experience. That was a rocket ship. Stayed there for a couple of years. Right before the IPO I left because the entrepreneurial spirit was calling and I left to start another business. And that put me on a path to starting a series of companies, where I would found them, lead them, and exit. Sometimes good exits, and sometimes not so good exits.
When I left the last company I founded, which was called Spring Metrics, I told a few people that I was going to be leaving soon. And one of them said, “Hey, you should check out this company called TransLoc. They are a small company, but they're doing really interesting things and you might work with them.” And so I asked what they did and the person told me they build technology for mass transit, and I said, “That really sounds awful. I don't know that I could come up with something that was more boring than that.” This person assured me to just go talk to them.
When I talked to one of the board members and the founder, I really started to see the power of what translate was already doing in the early days and how impactful transportation is to people's lives. This was eye opening for me. I thought, this is definitely something I can do for two years before I go and start my next company. And that was more than seven years ago.
Doug on being TransLoc’s “Chief Psychology Officer”
Scot: One of the core things of being a CEO is selling, right? You're always selling employees or investors or whoever. So your psychology background is good for them.
Doug: Oh, not only is it good for that, but people ask me all the time, “I don't understand how you go from being a PhD in Psychology to being an entrepreneur or a CEO.” And I actually think there is no better degree for being a CEO, because everything in the company is about people. Even the technology comes down to the people, right? If you've got amazing people and they're put in the right situations and you nurture them properly, they're going to build the best technology and they're going to figure out how to sell it best and what have you. So my job really is like “Chief Psychology Officer” much more than Chief Executive Officer.
We here at Spiffy were thrilled to have Doug as a guest on the Vehicle 2.0 Podcast. It was exciting to learn more about his unique career path, as well as his vision for TransLoc as a part of Ford Smart Mobility!
If you don’t want to miss a future episode of the podcast, then be sure to subscribe via your favorite podcast app or website and stay tuned for new releases every week!
Posted in Vehicle 2.0