McCombs Today - Putting An End To Distracted Driving
04/06/2012 - By Julie Thompson
On Dec. 7, 2005, Rianna Woolsey was a 16-year-old varsity songleader at Tersoro High School in California. That evening she drove her Volkswagen Jetta to a pep-squad event, with her boyfriend Austin Follmer following in his pickup truck.
The teens were speeding on a winding road when Rianna lost control of her car and hit a tree—she did not survive. Rianna left behind her parents, three siblings and a wide circle of close friends.
Seven months later, when Austin’s dad, Todd Follmer, was asked to become the CEO of inThinc, a company that created crash-data recorders for NASCAR vehicles, the memory of Rianna’s death was painfully fresh in his mind.
"When I see something I think is right ... , I just don't give up," Follmer says. Photo by Dan Campbell.“(The accident) was originally the whole driving force behind my thought process [of joining the company],” says Follmer, MBA ’87. “I know that when my son’s girlfriend passed away, speed was a contributing factor. I thought, ‘Why isn’t there technology for parents to monitor their kids’ driving and the speed limit? If that technology was in place could her life have been saved?’ The answer was easily yes.”
Now, six years later, Follmer has helped inThinc’s revenue grow from $2.5 million to $40 million annually, overseeing the creation of new software that works to prevent crashes and unsafe driving. The software provides in-cab instructions (like telling drivers to slow down or wear a seatbelt), GPS-based maps, real-time incident notifications and more.
Based in Salt Lake City, inThinc now sells equipment to billion-dollar companies in more than 10 countries, with clients including Schlumberger, Halliburton, the State of Utah and mining company Barrick Gold.
While most of inThinc’s revenue is generated through sales to big corporations, it continues to sell to families—especially those with teenage drivers. Every 55 seconds a teen is injured or killed in a car crash. InThinc’s tiwiFamily technology monitors unsafe driving behavior and can notify parents when their teen is driving aggressively.
Follmer estimates the company’s software has prevented hundreds of crashes and injuries, and saved companies millions in damages.
He adds that after adopting inThinc technology, clients have seen a 73 percent increase in seatbelt usage, a 90 percent reduction in speeding violations, an 89 percent reduction in aggressive driving behaviors and an 80 percent improvement in crash rates.
Jason Wilson is a North America regional manager for Barrick Gold who converted from inThinc skeptic to true believer. Initially he considered the technology a nuisance, but soon noticed the real-time coaching helped him decrease speed and wear his seatbelt more regularly.
Now he’s an inThinc advocate, using the company’s software to monitor Barrick Gold’s carbon footprint and tire wear on its vehicles. Wilson says Barrick Gold has saved more than $2 million in maintenance costs by using inThinc.
“There has been a huge reduction in automobile-related accidents worldwide,” Wilson says. “There has been a huge decline in speeding tickets, and when there is an accident, because inThinc generates records, we are able to know how to change things in the future.”
It’s no wonder that inThinc’s scope has expanded so broadly during Follmer’s tenure. As a 16-year-old freshman studying finance and computer science at the University of Central Florida, it took him nine years to graduate because he was so busy launching new businesses.
By the time Follmer finished school, he was married with a son on the way. At the recommendation of a UCF professor, Follmer came to Texas for an MBA, hoping to lay the foundation for a more stable career. He taught a real estate class and finished one semester early. After graduation, he joined Salomon Brothers on Wall Street, and then later worked as vice president in the investment banking division at Donaldson, Lufkin and Jenrette in Dallas.
But soon he felt the pull to be more independent.
“I’m very entrepreneurial,” Follmer says.” I like to blaze my own trail, and ultimately with my education at the McCombs School and the work experience I got at Salomon Brothers and DLJ I was able to go out on my own.”
Follmer relocated his family to California and formed Engles, Urso, Follmer Capital Corp., a private equity concern that acquired companies such as Vitality, Electrolux and Florida Global Citrus. He currently sits on the Board of Directors for Aerus LLC and Tristar Enterprises.
And while Follmer didn’t found inThinc, he maintains an entrepreneur’s zeal for the company. He hopes to expand by reaching out to insurance companies, encouraging them to use the equipment in their own vehicles and offer driver discounts to customers who install it.
But beyond the bottom line, Follmer is proud that the company’s technology can help prevent fatal accidents like Rianna’s, whether it’s in a family minivan or a mining company truck. And that’s the motivation that he carries with him each day at the office.
“When I see something that I think is right and that I think should win, I just don’t give up. I don’t quit.”