Bridging Startup Culture and Traditional Auto with Ted Serbinski

Bridging Startup Culture and Traditional Auto with Ted Serbinski

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In this episode of the Automotive Leaders Podcast, host Jan Griffiths dives into the changing dynamics between traditional automotive companies and tech startups, featuring guest Ted Serbinski, a pioneering figure in Detroit's startup ecosystem.

Ted opens up about his journey, shaped by a military upbringing and a rebellious spirit. He recounts his move to Detroit in 2011, where he played a crucial role in establishing Detroit Techstars and building a collaborative environment among automotive giants and tech startups.

Offering advice to tier-one suppliers struggling to engage with startups, Ted highlights the importance of patience and a long-term vision. He notes that innovation takes time, and results aren't immediate. He advises against the tendency to reorganize frequently, which can disrupt the growth of innovative ideas.

When asked about the most vital trait for automotive industry leaders, Ted emphasizes trustworthiness. He believes building authentic relationships is crucial for long-term collaboration and success in the startup world.

Ted introduces his current venture, HAAS Alert, a startup in the connected vehicle space. The company, founded in 2015, aims to enhance road safety by sending digital alerts from emergency vehicles to nearby drivers. Ted shares the story of HAAS Alert's inception and its journey to becoming a production-ready solution in the automotive industry.

Reflecting on the visionary approach of leaders like Dan Gilbert, who believed in Detroit's potential even during its downturn, Ted emphasizes the importance of believing in and trusting the innovation process rather than relying solely on measurable metrics.

Ted's passion for innovation and deep understanding of the startup and automotive world make his insights important for anyone looking to thrive at this intersection.

Themes discussed in this episode:

  • Bridging the gap between startup culture and traditional automotive practices
  • Fostering trust and long-term vision for successful collaborations between startups and established companies
  • Strategies for tier-one suppliers to connect with startups
  • The evolution and growth of Detroit's tech scene, particularly through initiatives like Techstars and the impact of community and collaboration in driving progress
  • The pivotal role of trust in successful leadership and partnerships
  • Navigating the differences and intersections between corporate and startup environments
  • Integrating innovative startup technology within traditional automotive frameworks
  • Embracing continuous learning and a growth mindset to tackle the challenges of the startup ecosystem and innovation.

Featured: Ted Serbinski 

What he does: Ted Serbinski is a tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist dedicated to investing in founders who are shaping the future of transportation. Currently, he serves as the Chief of Staff & Detroit General Manager of HAAS Alert, a company focused on advancing automotive safety through real-time alerts. After relocating from San Francisco to Detroit in 2011, Ted played a crucial role in catalyzing the Detroit startup scene. His work has significantly influenced Detroit's tech scene, earning him multiple recognitions for his contributions to economic growth and innovation.

On leadership: “As a leader, I think of myself as a trailblazer, always trying new things to learn about the new paths, the new ways, and then share what I've learned with others to kind of follow. I'm not afraid to try new things, crazy things that people think aren't going to work, and I always come at it from an approach of learning and sharing, and we're all better off the more we can move forward together.”

Mentioned in this episode:

Episode Highlights:

[00:02:31] Who Are You as a Leader? A trailblazer at heart, Ted Serbinski shares how his rebellious spirit and upbringing shaped his leadership style.

[00:05:25] Moving to Detroit: From a spontaneous email to Dan Gilbert to founding Detroit Techstars, Ted’s unexpected journey to Detroit reveals his passion for the region and commitment to innovation.

[00:08:35] Engaging with Startups: Struggling to connect with startups? Ted’s advice to tier-one suppliers: be patient, plant seeds, and give them time to grow amidst corporate pressures.

[00:13:53] Importance of Trust: Ted identifies trustworthiness as the most crucial trait from the 21 Traits of Authentic Leadership. He stresses that authentic relationships and integrity are essential for long-term success and collaboration in the automotive industry.

[00:18:17] Grow the Pie, Share the Pie: Embracing a collaborative mindset, Ted advocates for a nurturing and coaching approach, fostering mutual growth over competitive gain.

[00:20:32] HAAS Alert Story: Discover the journey of HAAS Alert, a startup enhancing vehicle safety with digital alerts, from its inception to collaboration with Stellantis.

[00:24:09] The Secret to Quick Production: Ted explains how Stellantis' internal desire for innovation and strong leadership support allowed HAAS Alert to quickly come into production, showcasing a successful model of integrating new technology.

[00:26:05] Dan Gilbert's Mindset: Ted reflects on Dan Gilbert’s mindset, emphasizing the belief in the potential and the importance of investing in innovation without relying solely on measurable metrics.

[00:31:37] Daily Learning: A day in Ted’s life revolves around continuous learning and reading, drawing inspiration from leaders like Warren Buffett. He shares how this practice helps him stay informed, enhancing his ability to guide startups.

Top Quotes:

[00:10:11] Ted: "I think the biggest thing that I noticed was, and we ran this program for over five years, there is this challenge of waiting for the results, and innovation takes a long time, and you plant the seeds, but then six months later you reorganize your company. You're pulling up those seeds, even though they're starting to sprout underneath the ground, and then you just don't give it enough time to really grow."

[00:14:31] Ted: "I think the most important trait is trustworthiness. It kind of dovetails into honesty and integrity, and the reason I say that is startups can last a long time; that journey isn't a year or two; it's a decade or more. I think on average, a startup that raises money from venture capitalists will have a relationship with their venture capitalists longer than the average US marriage. You're married more to your investors than to someone that you actually have a personal relationship with, just statistically looking at it. And so, if you can imagine the trust issues in a marriage and in a relationship, a startup has those, and in times even more because it's even more complicated."

[00:18:54] Ted: "There's more opportunity if we all win, rather than me taking your share and you not having yours anymore.”

[00:19:17] Ted: "There was an analogy I give to founders because they have the same issues as tech founders when they're going to raise money or hire people, they're giving away equity. And so, that same power comes into it. It's like, do you want to own an entire grape, or do you want a piece of watermelon? And so, the whole thing got way bigger. Yes, you have a sliver of it, but your sliver is way bigger than the tiny little grape that you had to start with."

[00:27:35] Ted: "Spreadsheets measure, they don't create. And so, auto companies, suppliers, it's all about the margins, the numbers, but innovation is really hard; you can't really measure it. But if you plant the seeds, you believe in it, and keep watering, like stuff will sprout and continue to sprout over time."

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This episode is sponsored by Lockton, click here to learn more