Belgian Startup Freeedrive Decreases Risk Of Car Accidents Via App

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In Belgium, the number of car crashes involving a smartphone grew to 23% of all car crashes in 2016. We spoke to Anastasia Dehtiarova, Community Manager at Freeedrive, to talk about how their app aims to solve the problem & keep more drivers and their passengers safe.

Describe Freeedrive in a few words.

Freeedrive is a fleet safety solution aiming to prevent the number one cause of car accidents, the (unsafe) use of smartphones behind the wheel. The app discourages the handling of the smartphone while driving by notifying the driver. The driver gets a safety score that decreases or increases depending on his or her driving behavior. Freeedrive keeps both the driver and the fleet manager informed about that score.

What inspired you to create the fleet safety solution? How did it all start?

Freeedrive was launched in September 2015 by startup studio Barefoot. We noticed that too many drivers were using their phones not only in a traffic jam or while waiting for traffic lights to turn green, but also while driving. With the number of car crashes due to the unsafe use of smartphone rapidly increasing, causing rising costs for insurers and companies, we saw an opportunity to lower the risk and the cost due to texting while driving.

You started out testing Freeedrive in June 2016. What were your experiences and what was the feedback that struck you most?

We received a lot of interesting feedback from beta testers, early adopters, and clients. The most striking one was that one driver, after using Freeedrive for three weeks, found the app redundant as he changed his behavior and had stopped using the smartphone while driving. We were delighted, how awkward it may seem, as this is exactly what we are aiming for, a change in behavior on the driver’s side.

Belgian Startup Freeedrive Decreases Risk Of Car Accidents Via AppAre you using your own app internally? How does that affect the viewpoints in the development team?

All Barefoot and Freeedrive team members use the application on a daily basis. Our own experience with the app provided equally interesting feedback for the developers, not only for the current version of the app but also for future functionalities we have in the pipeline.

One of your key features is enabling users to solely focus on the road while driving. Comparing this to your startup: How do you make sure you don’t lose track & in what ways do you measure your success?

As we are part of and backed by a startup studio, we can fully focus on selling and implementing Freeedrive with customers. We have a very dedicated team involved in sales, customer service, marketing and future product development. Even though we’re a relatively young company, we have the financial backing, strategic and operational structure and processes in place to scale our activities quite rapidly, in Belgium and beyond. Barefoot hosts a number of startups allowing us to learn from one another and share interesting information.

What’s the most considerable pivoting maneuver that the team has undertaken throughout the journey so far?

Freeedrive came about because we noticed that texting while driving was costing money to insurers and companies. We researched the problem and worked out the first solution by talking to insurers, potential clients as well as users. One of the pivots we made thanks to customer feedback was to not entirely block the use of the phone but to focus on changing the driver’s behavior by ‘punishing’ dangerous driving behavior and rewarding safe driving habits.

What were the biggest challenges you faced in the history of Freeedrive?

We faced the same challenge any startup is up to that is to confidently start selling a product that is not finished yet. Trying to convince a client to try and buy a product that is in beta test is not the easiest thing to do. We found that being open and transparent with clients is key. Companies are willing to welcome innovative solutions to help them solve a problem and are willing to give you as long as you play things right. The fact that we have one of the biggest insurance companies as a partner gave us the necessary credibility.

Safety has always been an important matter in the automotive industry, and at this point in time, self-driving cars seem to be the holy grail. Where do you see this trend going? How do you think it will influence Freeedrive?

Self-driving cars are coming, only nobody knows when exactly they will be really autonomous, meaning they can drive without any intervention or supervision from a driver. Freeedrive solves a current problem, but like any application will evolve along with changing markets and market needs. We’re on top of any development in this area.

Freeedrive is based in Brussels, the HQ of decision-making in the EU. If there is one thing you could wish for in improving Europe’s startup scene, what would it be?

Corporates can play a bigger role in helping startups launch and scale. Corporates and startups have aligned interests. They are both seeking to disrupt existing ways of doing things, driven by changing behaviors in b2c and b2b industries. It would be wrong to see this otherwise. By working together, everybody progresses.

What piece of advice can you give fellow founders for their startup?

Working with (potential) customers as early in the product development process as possible is crucial. This will prevent you from developing something that does not correspond with market needs, which is often the case. You need to gain feedback on your solution as soon as possible in order to develop those functionalities that meet clients’ needs. Also, start selling as soon as possible, even before your product is finished. And finally, keep focus while being flexible enough to pivot if need be.



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