Destrehan native receives nationwide attention for creating Drivesoft – software that’s paving the way for in-car computers
Drivers are witnessing the phenomenon of electronic navigation systems that help with directions while sitting in the driver’s seat and other new technologies like instantaneous video conferencing and music downloads in your car – and Destrehan’s Jack Cali is putting fuel to the fire in the auto-electronics boom with an invention that is drawing raves from auto enthusiasts across the country.
What if you could bring all the capabilities of your home computer like email and office software with you on the road – would you?
For Cali, the answer to that question is simple – why not. After all he is the mastermind behind one of the first in-car computer systems, Drivesoft.
Cali, who hails from Destrehan, emerged from high school a 1990 graduate and a car audio entrepreneur, owning Car Stereo of New Orleans in Metairie and says that it was his boredom with ordinary audio equipment and the uprising of chain stores like Circuit City and Best Buy that made him decide to find a way to create and sell a different product that the “big boys” didn’t have.
“In 1998 and after seven years of selling car audio products at my store, I was getting really bored with many of the products I was dealing with,” said Cali.
“The larger stores like Circuit City were moving into the area and the pricing wars began, which left a lot of us smaller guys fighting for every dollar we made.”
Cali says that the idea for Drivesoft really started when he decided he wanted to have the 5,000 songs he downloaded off the internet in his car.
Several trashed prototypes and $10,000 later, Cali finally found a solution that worked, Drivesoft was born and his business journey branched out in a new direction.
“I can remember realizing that I now had a good product that my competitors did not have and that would be the key to making my car audio business successful,” said Cali.
But Cali wasn’t past the finish line yet. He soon realized that no one in the New Orleans area really understood the concept of putting a multi-media computer in a car and no one was willing to pay for it. He would end up having to have to travel across the country to find a buyer.
“A friend of mine, Enrique Style, knew about Drivesoft and told me that an audio company he was working for might be interested in developing a car computer product,” said Cali.
“So I packed my bags and drove to Tempe, Ariz. to work hand-in-hand with a large car audio manufacturer, ADST.”
Cali was promised $65,000 by the company if he could develop a working prototype in time for the 2001 Consumer Electronics Association’s World Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
He did and more than 3,500 dealers at the show expressed interest in the product, but three months later ADST would fold and go out of business and Cali was left with no product to stock the shelves of the stores who wanted to buy Drivesoft.
Cali says that by this time he was broke and too proud to call home for money, so he got in his car and drove to Los Angeles in search of a sign.
“After a few nights of sitting on the beach at the end of Santa Monica Boulevard with my back turned to Los Angeles – and to the country for that matter – I decided that it was do or die, or move back to my folks,” Cali said. “And I wasn’t going to do that.”
With that in mind, Cali got up the next morning and started hunting down people who simply looked like they had money. He had to sell his product hard and he had to sell it fast.
Cali worked endlessly on his sales pitch by memorizing it and learning to recite it really fast.
“One of the first people I approached was at a gas station on Sunset Strip,” Cali said. “It was one of the guys from the R&B group Jodecee.”
After a not-so-bad sales pitch about Drivesoft, Cali wrapped up his first sale and was well on his way to making more contacts in the Hollywood area.
A few months later, he got a phone call that would ultimately light the way to bigger and better opportunities. It was the break he’d been waiting for.
“I got a phone call from some crazy-sounding guy, screaming loudly on my voicemail saying that he wanted to install my computer in the celebrity cars that he was building,” said Cali.
The voice on Cali’s voicemail was none other than that of “Mad Mike,” the electronics installer from West Coast Customs and MTV’s chart-topping hit Pimp My Ride.
After five very persistent voice messages, Cali decided to see what West Coast Customs had to offer and made his way to Inglewood, Calif., but admits that he wasn’t sure what to expect upon his arrival.
“I was a little nervous arriving at a place that had razor wiring along the fence and electronic gates in the middle of a not-so-friendly neighborhood,” said Cali.
But the rest is history. He made a deal with the car-building company and one of the first vehicles to get custom installation of Drivesoft was rapper 50 Cent’s Hummer, courtesy of West Coast Customs and Jack Cali.
A film producer walked into the shop one day and said that he wanted to build cars on television.
The crew at West Coast Customs was at first a little hesitant, but agreed to give it a shot.
Lights, camera, action – and within the first season, that new and fresh show – Pimp My Ride – became the No. 1 program on cable TV – and Cali’s Drivesoft made its on-air debut in episode No. 15.
Cali says that within 3 minutes of the episode, the viewer emails started flooding his inbox and his Web site had over 10,000 hits by the next day.
Drivesoft has since been featured on eight episodes of Pimp My Ride and the company has sold several thousand systems to consumers worldwide.
Cali says that many companies have tried to create similar products, but in most cases they have failed and points out that Drivesoft‘s biggest edge against competitors is its never-ending ability to be upgraded.
“When you buy a Drivesoft in-car computer it is Microsoft Windows based and is fully upgradable for years to come,” said Cali.
So just how much does one of these car computers cost? According to Cali, the in-dash unit retails between $2,299 and $2,599. Not bad for a multi-functioning system that can go everywhere you go, huh?
The 7-inch touch screen can be installed into almost any vehicle and is similar to the installation of a standard car radio. Most parts are 100 percent replaceable and, in most cases, repairs can be completed within 30 minutes.
Cali has come a long way from the 14-year-old boy who installed car audio and alarm systems for neighbors in his parent’s Destrehan garage, and is living proof that hard work and a passion for success can take you a long way.
Cali was awarded the New Orleans CityBusiness Silver Award for Innovator of the Year in September for his development of Drivesoft and says that there is definitely more in store for his consumers.
“Imagine getting off of work, hopping into your car and turning on the oven in your house from behind the wheel or setting the temperature of your air conditioner and kicking on your jacuzzi while driving down the highway,” said Cali. “That is the future of Drivesoft.”
For more information on Drivesoft, visit www.drivesoft.net.