Connected at NADA 2024 Special Episode: Real-Time Location Services with TrueSpot CEO Mike Hanna

Greg Uland: Hi, I'm Greg Uland with Reynolds and Reynolds and this is Connected. We're live at the NADA show here in Las Vegas, and right now I get to sit down with Mike Hanna. Mike is the CEO and Founder of TrueSpot. Mike, thanks so much for joining.

Mike Hanna: My pleasure. Great to be here. Thanks, Greg.

GU: Yep, for sure. So Mike, I wanted to start – well, first of all, let's, let's talk about – real quick – what is TrueSpot? What do you guys do?

MH: Yeah. So TrueSpot is a location services company. So we invented a technology and a platform that allows you to track cars, keys, dealer plates – anything that moves at a dealership or at other campuses as well.

GU: All right, so – we'll get into it a little bit more, but before we get there – talk about your background, kind of how you got to this spot in your, in your career and what that's looked like.

MH: Yeah, it's been a journey. So my background – I've always been in high-tech telecom and wireless companies like Ericsson and Nokia. Really kind of the cutting edge of the convergence of a wireless device and from voice into IT, IP, how that comes together with data. So had some – really fun just, how that started to work. First picture messaging in a mobile device and worked on some of those things that we kind of take for granted now. Now it's just a smartphone in your pocket; does anything and everything all the time. But really had access to a lot of the technologies that were actually invented within the companies I worked at. And so 2016 timeframe, just started getting together with a few other technology geeks like myself and we started building out a technology platform that, that very soon became what TrueSpot is today.

GU: Yeah. So thinking about – because this fascinates me, because you know, telecom and just that entire mobile industry –

MH: Yeah.

GU: It's – grand scheme of things, it's brand new, right?

MH: Pretty much. Yeah.

GU: So when, when did you start in that industry?

MH: Oh, wow. 1997.

GU: 1997, so I mean, really right at the beginning.

MH: At the beginning, yeah. We, we were – you didn't even have a clock on your phone at the time, and you couldn’t, you couldn't actually – there was no text messaging as well. So take it back as far as – and there were mobile devices before that, but in the very beginning of the digital stage of, of – and cell phones were analog before the very first, what we call 5G today, where we're at today. 1G digital technology or 2G digital technology. So yeah it's, it's crazy. I feel like it's, it's been like 30 years almost, so it's been too long probably.

GU: Well it's wild to go from – well and you hear it all the time, right? Going from 0 to 1 is really hard, right? But then going from 1 to 100 with where we're at now.

MH: Yeah.

GU: It's not easy but, you know, seeing the acceleration, it just goes – it feels like it goes so quick. You look back – it’s 30 years, but it feels like man, a lot’s happened.

MH: I know, it's nuts. It's nuts. It's just – and the acceleration of the change. I remember a time before all of the things we can do today with our phones – gaming and all these sort of things. I would talk about them at conferences and shows and, and all these sort of things. And I’d get so excited for the future that it was going to bring. Now I’m a little bit like “we use these things too much.”

GU: Yeah.

MH: Too much a part of our lives, my kids’ lives, and everything else. Now how do we take a step back from them? So it's like, yeah what, what did we do? But, but the, the technology and what you can do is just astonishing. You have the power of the world and all the world's knowledge in a, in a little device in your pocket. And you can do anything at any time with it basically. So yeah.

GU: Yeah, so having that background and having that experience, I assume, really kind of led you down the path to, to start TrueSpot. I mean, you think about location intelligence and what that, what that means. I mean, it's got to be anchored in all of the knowledge that you gained and the experience you gained over, over the years.

MH: Yeah, so I had actually a really great head start from a technology perspective, being at – actually Ericsson and Nokia in this particular case. Just access to that technology at, at the invention level. So literally within like Nokia Research Center, we were inventing some of the technologies that we use today, and before they became commercialized and turned into products with brand names. So early access – actually looking at those things, figuring out how we standardize those things, taking those things to market. So I knew a lot of inside baseball when I started the company from just what you can do with the technology. So we built a system that leverages some of those technology components, and figured out some things early on of how to make all that work and do what we do. So yeah, it's been super exciting to do it, but then obviously, you know, to see it go from idea to concept to actual “hey it works.”

GU: Yeah, so what is the – and I don't want to get too technical. We can go, I guess we can if you want to but – and people can obviously learn more at but what's the anchor technology? So I think about it, right, and you have these tags that go on whatever you want to put them – on a key, or a car, or whatever. And you can track wherever they are, you can – there's all these different sensors I believe, that pick up the tag.

MH: Correct.

GU: So how does it compare to like, RFID technology? What, is it the same thing? Is it different? How does it compare?

MH: Yeah, that’s a great question. So the, the tags – it’s very multi-modal from a technology perspective. So one of the things that we do just to compare to RFID –  RFID is a very much touch and, and manual process is needed. So not only – it's RFID, you can, you know, deploy it and that sort of thing, but you actually have to be in really close proximity with whatever you're tracking. So if it's an RFID tag on something, you almost have to touch a gate.

GU: Okay.

MH: So it takes a step – so if you're in a car dealership or in a hospital, which we also track assets and things there, you actually have to touch –  and really probably the biggest market for RFID and location tracking was hospitals. Just a big need for that. But those systems largely failed because you'd have to have a nurse or somebody touch actually the asset they're tracking to an actual gate. And so it just created extra steps. Anytime you have to give a human extra things to do, sometimes and somewhere it's going to fail.

GU: Right.

MH: And if it fails one time when the user actually goes to use it and it's not where it's supposed to be, then it kind of fails for everything. But the difference between RFID, it’s very localized. So in our tags we have a proprietary version of Bluetooth Low Energy.

GU: Okay.

MH: That we've kind of built and optimized through the years to do power efficiency and all the little cool things that, that really make the system work differently and better than, than anything else. But you don't have to touch it to anything. It's broadcasting at a 100 to 300-foot range or radius. And so when that happens and then it connects to – what we’ll call one of our gateways – we also manage, own, and operate a low power radio technology that back calls all that data back to our cloud. So not to get too geeky with it, but we function just like a private network operator – like a, I say it’s like we're like a mini AT&T.

GU: Okay.

MH: But at a campus level. So the system we deploy allows you to track everything kind of in real time – great fidelity from a location perspective. But we're not worried about anything else. No IT concerns, no Wi-Fi concerns, no power concerns. Because of the low power capability of the system, we can do things on solar and battery power that allows us to plug and play a network at a dealership, at a hospital, anywhere else. And do it at a price point that nobody can match. And at a performance level that there is no equal to in the market.

GU: Yeah, yeah. So you mentioned hospitals and – it's more a curiosity for me. I don't know if anybody else will find it interesting, but – obviously there's a lot of assets in a hospital but what, what types of things are they tracking? You know, in the dealership world I think the, the easy one that, that makes complete sense is keys. Like that – it’s just so logical, right?

MH: Yeah.

GU: But what in the medical field, what are they tracking? What are they…

MH: Everything. So it's – everything in the hospital moves from the beds to the bedside equipment to the wheelchairs to the stretchers, daybeds, you name it. Every single thing in a hospital is meant to be movable. And so it's everything. It's telemetry bricks, so the things that plug into the bedside. It’s thermometers. These are, interestingly, a lot of more high value assets, they can be $3,000, $10,000, $20,000 depending on the machine. And they get lost, and they're super small. And so from a hospital perspective – very much the same as a dealership campus to us – we track every single thing that moves. Even to the point – we have hospitals that are tracking ladders. So the – as the system's deployed, it's like – okay, we're tracking biomedical equipment, stretchers, day beds, etc. Everything that moves and then the facilities: “Hey, we got 20 ladders and people keep taking our ladders and we can't find them when we need them.” And then they add them to the system. They're tracking them as well. So it's anything and everything. If it's a valuable asset or if it's just value from a time-based perspective, I need to know where it's at in real time. Obviously ladders – one thing. Stretchers can be a lot more important when ambulances are queuing up through an emergency department, and you got to get patients out of the ambulance into the emergency room and triage and that sort of thing. So ladders – not quite as important from that sense, but it's anything and everything.

GU: Yeah no that's very cool. I mean it's amazing, you know, you get – or at least for me – I get so dialed into our industry and then you start to think about the, the other applications. So it's cool that you get to live in a couple different worlds almost.

MH: It's super cool. I, I say I speak technology. I've been in technology forever. So I speak that, I speak geek, and I speak dealer’ I've worked at a dealership and I've been in, obviously, the car industry for the last 6, 7 years with TrueSpot. But health care – a whole new language. So I'm learning to speak health care as, as we speak, actually. So that's been really exciting.

GU: No, that's good, that's good. All right, so Mike, talk a little bit about this concept that you built the company on, which is location intelligence, and you know just, just educate kind of – me. Educate anybody listening on – when you think about the concept of location intelligence, what, what does it mean today and what can it mean in the future? You talked about your experience with the phone companies, right, and developing what can happen in the future. And you were probably talking 20 years into the future when you're talking about some of this stuff. But thinking about the technology that's in place – so first of all, what's it mean today? And then second of all, where, where do you see it going?

MH: Yeah, that's a great question. I love that question. So we started the company – TrueSpot – and we had that kind of trademark; it's every – location is everything. So just like real estate. So location of a car, location of a key – that’s everything. You can run operations around it or get that customer in a test drive faster. All those sort of things. But over time, we started to realize it actually only starts with location. Because once you have location and you have an understanding of operation, operations and workflow and process at a dealership – front of the house, back of the house, doesn't matter. And then you have what we'll call “geospatial understanding” of like work – certain work happens in certain places. So if you know an asset’s in a certain place, like in a service bay for example, you know the tech that's in that bay, you know the equipment that's in that bay. So you know, actually what work is happening if that car is in that bay. All those things get correlated together. So you can start to automate workflow process. The intelligence behind exception reporting and understanding, and across the dealership, it just – it blows my mind as we start to go through this with our dealer partners. But we're just at the point, especially with Reynolds, as we take location and then translate that into location intelligence. And you know, AI's obviously a huge buzz. Everybody's “AI this” and “AI that.” So we look at AI obviously as what AI is and you know what tremendous impact it already is. But then if you take location and put it in the context of artificial intelligence and what we call “geo-intelligence” – so we're taking the location piece and using that to drive AI from “How can I be smarter, faster? How did this system make decisions for me or alert me when something's wrong?” Most of our dealer partners say, “Hey, everything is working great, fine. We don't need to know about that, but the 2 or 3 things every day that need to be raised to my attention, I want to know what those are in real time.” And so we spend a lot of time looking at what's not working, because those are the things they need to be fixed and that's where you're losing money. Either a car sitting somewhere and holding time is just adding, adding up so your time to line is affected, or whatever the case may be.

GU: Yeah, yeah. Is there is anybody using – this might sound silly. But we think about all the time, especially in the service department.

MH: Yeah.

GU: When a technician is not in the bay, it's wasted – it's dead bay time. Wasted, wasting time. Can't sell it. Has there ever been any applications where the tag is with the technician to see like, where he's going. How much time he's spent in walking the parts and walking…

MH: Yeah, that's a great question. So, so applied time in fixed ops is huge. And we know we have a direct effect on applied time.

GU: Yeah.

MH: And so just by virtue of always knowing where the car and key’s at, you're not – no longer wasting time trying to get that car in there so the tech is working, getting the job done. Getting it done so it gets to the next car. And so, just like you said – if you lose a minute, you've lost a minute forever. Tracking of the tech – we've, we've talked about it quite a bit. We do not do that today.

GU: Yeah.

MH: And we, we stayed away a little bit from tracking people. I, we track – a couple dealerships track dogs.

GU: Okay.

MH: Just speaking of things we tracked. So the campus dog has been tracked by our system. It's one thing we're considering, especially in health care and also the dealership side. Does it make sense to, to track – and different things, people being tracked and different things can start to – not that there's HIPAA data and all this other kind of stuff that we have to worry about necessarily, but you're tracking a person, so it's a little bit different. So we're considering some of those things. And I think at some point we will be in the automotive side, like using that, but not really, not today.

GU: Yeah. I just think about, you know, the efficiency gains. And if you can identify that your, your collection of technicians, right – let's call it 15 of them.

MH: Yeah.

GU: Right. Collectively are spending two hours at the back parts counter every single day.

MH: Yeah.

GU: You know it's like okay, we got to probably solve that problem. That's a, that's a bigger problem than you're even noticing.

MH: Yeah.

GU: Because it's just the way things are done. So I don't know, it's –

MH: I love, I love the point and I love the application of it. So yeah, we, we look at it from an asset perspective only today. Kind of in that same sort of vein. But yeah, the person applied to the same – it's the same principle.

GU: Yeah. I'd argue that time in service is an asset, right? It's, I mean, it's your inventory, so.

MH: That's a good point.

GU: All right, one other thing I want to talk to you about Mike, and we'll probably talk about more things, but you know, this might sound funny but, I mean, you're a pretty fit guy.

MH: Yeah.

GU: And you're running a company.

MH: Yes.

GU: Which is a big ask. I think you have – you have kids too?

MH: Three kids? Yes.

GU: Okay, how old are they?

MH: 18, 15, and 12. Well actually all they're all about to be those ages so they’re one younger, but yeah.

GU: So you're chasing them all around.

MH: Yes, that's what keeps me fit, yeah.

GU: Well, so I'm curious. And what I'm getting to is, I'm assuming you make time each day or certainly each week to provide some level of effort to, to stay physically fit.

MH: Yeah.

GU: Talk about that balance because I think it's, it – you know, it's not something that we talk about a ton, but I think there's a lot of people that want to be active and stay fit, but it's just, I mean, for all of us, right? Time just gets away from you.

MH: Yeah.

GU: Like, you get up in the morning and you have a million things to do. Your inbox is full. So you do that, and then, you know, you get your kids ready or whatever. And then you go to work and it's just, it's so hard to create the time in the day. So, I don't know, what are your thoughts on that and how do you prioritize it?

MH: Yeah, I love the question. It's, it's tough as you said. So it – one with TrueSpot, the motor is running so fast all the, all the time anyway that that obviously helps. But just actually getting to the gym. Riding my bike. Love to play soccer. Just going out with the kids and doing different things. And so I try to get to the gym 2 to 3 times a week. Usually it's loaded to the weekend – Saturday, Sunday.

GU: Yeah.

MH: And those two days are kind of make-up days. And so – and then during the week, it just depends on travel and stuff like that. But, but I love sports. One of the things I would love to do more in – at a pace is play, play soccer again. I’d love to play competitive soccer. But – so that’s one of the things, but in the meantime – skiing, snowboarding in the season – that sort of thing. Love to, but you have just have to make time. You have to fit it into the schedule and know that – commit to it. And for me, it just makes me happier, faster, efficient, more – at work and everything else. And so then I get to eat more, and I love to eat so that's also part of it. So yeah.

GU: Yeah. Well that's, that's the other side of it too, right? If you're, if you're busy all day long and you don't eat any food, then you don’t have to work out as much.

MH: Yeah. It's tradeoffs, yeah.

GU: Yeah, right. Alright Mike, so what, what else is top of mind for you? You've been growing pretty fast. You say you've been doing this for seven years. Is that right? TrueSpot’s 7 years?

MH: Yeah. The early days – 2016 we kind of started. 2017 we, we kind of kicked off as a company, and we went into a pretty significant kind of technology platform build as we started to figure, figure things out. Kind of slow progress at first. You raise, kind of typical – raise a couple seed raises and build, build, build. And get a few customers on – build, build, build. Learn, learn, learn. And then really start to scale. Actually – and it's been crazy times the last few years, but I think 2020, maybe 2021, was our first NADA.

GU: Yeah.

MH: That was right before, right, right at the beginning of COVID. So we came out of that show just like “holy cow.” Like it was fantastic, customers signing up, and then the world shut down for a while. And so then you kind of, as everybody else, kind of adapt and work through the ups and downs. And automotive is, really the tip of the spear in my opinion, when it comes to just rising interest rates, economy, and different things like that. Dealers feel it first and sometimes the hardest. And so, those times are always challenging for everybody. So learning, you know, navigating those and – key for us is obviously we have to provide extreme value to our dealer partners and how that location of, you know, not only finding cars and keys, but maximizing operations. So loved being challenged on the ROI piece because we get leaner, more efficient, sharper in what we need to do and how we create value. May have gone off tangent on your question.

GU: No you’re good!

MH: Yeah.

GU: All right, no, perfect. Well, Mike, what – anything else top of mind for you? Anything that we didn't touch on that you would want to, you would want to talk about before we hop off?

MH: Well, one – I’m glad to be here. Like, Reynolds is a partner of ours now and we're super excited about the relationship and just, working with Reynolds has been – the team and everybody has been fantastic. So we're excited to be a part of that. That's kind of top of mind, and just working with all the Reynolds families as part of that. So we're super excited about the opportunity and just – being able to build and grow. And also obviously with the Reynolds support, so that’s fantastic.

GU: Oh, fantastic. It was great, great conversation. I appreciate you hopping on.

MH: My pleasure.

GU: So, Mike Hanna, CEO and Founder of TrueSpot. Have a great day, great rest of your show.

MH: Thank you sir.