Last October, I co-founded Halo Cars, a smart outdoor ads venture designed to bring the targeting and analytical capabilities of online ads to the outdoor world while helping boost driver incomes. Focusing on Halo full-time taught me that entrepreneurship is a game of patience, humility, and appreciation for the small wins
Before I came to Wharton, I was warned by a coworker at Google that entrepreneurship is an emotional rollercoaster full of surprises, last-minute pivots, and a healthy dose of improvisations. All true statements, as I learned later, but one important lesson was left out of the list: the small wins are what make the process incredibly rewarding and all so worthwhile.
Halo Cars was born on Penn’s campus one fine October evening at a Founders Club event. A fellow WG20 convinced me to attend the Pitch Night, an event focused on getting students across all Penn schools to come together and pitch their business ideas in a casual setting to hear feedback from other entrepreneurial-minded students. It was at this event that I first met my co-founder, Kenan. Kenan at that time was an undergraduate senior studying management and computer science. He pitched the broad concept of the technology behind utilizing rideshare ecosystems for targeted advertising, and it immediately caught my attention. As it turned out, I had been ideating about a similar concept while at Google. It seemed like the perfect combination of skill sets and interests. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I received a call from Kenan a week later on a Friday night asking me to officially join the team as a co-founder and fly to San Francisco the following morning for an investor meeting. This was my first small win: an invitation to join a team of brilliant undergraduates and head back to my San Francisco breeding grounds to pitch to a panel of venture capitalists.
From there onwards, life took an interesting turn. I decided against on-campus recruiting and focused all my energies on scaling Halo. The team and I ordered the first MVP of our monitor from China and attached it to the roof of an actual Uber driver’s car (Tony was our first-ever courageous Halo driver, and one we’ll always feel indebted to). Over the course of 10 days, we showed our own ads on the monitor attached to Tony’s car and measured the increase in Google searches for Halo by running an AdWords campaign. In just 10 days, over a thousand people searched for Halo on Google, 9 new drivers signed up on our website, and 2 paying advertisers saw our ads in the wild and reached out to start advertising with us. This was my second small win: A successful but scrappy process to help prove the concept that people not only notice the content on our monitors but are also willing to take action in response to the content being served.
My third small win came in the form of on-campus startup competitions. By some miracle, Halo won both the Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship Summer Venture Award and the Penn Startup Challenge Launch Award. This influx of cash meant that we could grow our fleet and start onboarding paying clients. Slowly we went from one car to three to five and so on. The Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship award also attracted the attention of investors, some of whom we’re proud to call our pre-seed investors today. Having someone trust me and my wildly ambitious goals enough to put tangible money behind it served as my fourth small win — it was a moment that I still cherish to this day.
As Halo expands into multiple markets over the next few months, we continue to face the growing pains of a typical startup: resource constraints, battling the available time in the day, and regulatory roadblocks. It’s the small wins, however, that make each day worthwhile: a rideshare driver stopping by the office to say thank you for helping boost incomes, a savvy client emailing us in excitement about our targeting technology, or a non-profit expressing gratitude over free advertising inventory.