When Michael Odiari was pulled over for a traffic stop, the police officer asked for a driver’s license. Within a split second, Odiari found himself staring down the barrel of a weapon.
Odiari said he was lucky. He survived.
The experience — and trying to handle the traffic ticket afterward — inspired the Dallas-based founder to develop Check, a tech solution that aims to solve loss of life and inefficiencies with traffic stops and citations.
The Check app digitizes the entire traffic stops’ process from the initial encounter to handling your citation. It provides a better way to communicate between law enforcement and motorists using Facetime-like services for both parties before an officer approaches a vehicle.
In 2017, 89 people were killed after police stopped them for a traffic violation, according to the 2017 Police Violence Report.
Traffic stops can be deadly for police officers as well as the motorists they pull over.
Fifteen percent of police officers who died on the job so far this year through Oct. 1, 2019 died in incidents related to traffic violation stops, according to FBI Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted Program statistics.
Agencies like the Bureau of Justice Statistics and groups like Mapping Police Violence are looking for better ways to protect the safety of all parties, from training outcomes and video reviews to studies on the statistics of these encounters.
Many companies are working on providing solutions to government agencies across the country. Odiari’s tech startup is one of them.
A former athlete and online cooking show host, Odiari now works to put safety and efficiency at the forefront of law enforcement and the public.
He launched his company in May 2018 with co-founder LaKeisha Turner. Since then, he has graduated from the Founders Institute in Austin. He’ll be featured in Season 2 of “The Social Movement” docuseries streamings on Amazon Prime. It follows 40 entrepreneurs, CEOs and investors from around the world who get together to solve socio-economic issues impacting the planet.
Odiari was recognized as an Up and Coming Black in Tech at the Austin Black Business Journal Honors Ceremony which also celebrated the accomplishments of billionaire Robert F. Smith, chairman and CEO at Vista Equity Partners.
Odiari spoke to Moguldom about the traffic stop that motivated him to launch Check, his recent recognition and how he spent a year-and-a-half researching law enforcement before launching his product.
Moguldom: Why did you start Check?
Michael Odiari: It started from seeing the societal issues taking place in our nation and no one really doing anything about it. It was also because of my own personal encounter during a traffic stop. Plus, the experience of trying to handle a traffic ticket afterward. I felt that there was something that we could do or solutions we could find in order to foster safety, streamline everything and improve on the process, especially the interaction between law enforcement and communities. I wanted to try to find a way, a solution, to bridge the gap of communication between the government and community.
Moguldom: What happened during the traffic stop that motivated you to launch this app?
Michael Odiari: It went from the officer asking for a driver’s license and within a split second, I was staring down the barrel of his weapon. Like I always say, I’m the lucky one. Things could have gone down very different for me. Going through that bad experience and then seeing similar situations taking place in other parts of our nation, really caused me to want to take action. At the time, no one was actually providing a solution. My incident gave me a sense of urgency to go find a solution and do something quickly.
Moguldom: Your incident took place before launching your company in 2018. Since you didn’t have a background in law enforcement, how did you obtain the information you needed for your product?
Michael Odiari: I basically started doing research over a year-and-a-half. I spent 80-plus hours on police ridealongs and also sitting in traffic court doing research and watching the process. I even went to different fire departments and conducted research with them. During that year-and-a-half, I spent a lot of time doing a lot of research.
Moguldom: We see reports throughout the year on people losing their lives during traffic stops. What can your app do to help solve this issue and give users a bit of comfort?
Michael Odiari: Our technology digitizes the entire traffic stops’ process from the initial encounter to handling your citation. For example, if law enforcement were to pull you over for a traffic stop, Check has your back. Before a police officer even approaches your vehicle, you can have a conversation with the officer while they are still in their car via video chat. If the officer does decide to step out and have a conversation, our app can record the encounter.
The country’s divided because we are given one perspective and it’s normally the camera of the law enforcement officer. We can now make it better. We can piece the pictures together by providing the motorist’s side as well. That’s one part of what the application does. We also work on streamlining the citation process so everything you can handle with your citation in-person at the courthouse can now be done with our centralized platform.
Moguldom: What has been the response of law enforcement to your solution?
Michael Odiari: For law enforcement, they see it as a good solution. Before they even have to step out of the vehicle, they have the ability to obtain the driver’s license, insurance and vehicle information. Traffic stops can be a deadly encounter for them. Giving them the ability to make a more informed decision that can save them time and increase peace and safety for both parties — they like that aspect of the platform. Because right now, they don’t know who they are about to approach.
Moguldom: What was it like being honored at a Top Blacks in Tech event where Robert Smith of Vista Equity Partners was also celebrated?
Michael Odiari: It was truly an honor. We were very grateful to the folks within the industry that provide us a platform and paved the way for us. We were honored to be able to share what we’re doing with technology in a space where you don’t see many African Americans entrepreneurs working to solve this problem. It was a great event and it was an honor to be recognized.
Moguldom: You have a background in political science and had your own online cooking show. Did you ever see yourself becoming a tech founder?
Michael Odiari: I never did, to be honest. I always say this path chose me.
Moguldom: You participated in the Founders Institute and graduated last spring. Did you raise any money since finishing the program?
Michael Odiari: We have not raised money yet. We’re going through some pilots with Central Texas agencies right now, but we will soon jump into our fundraising. We’re doing a controlled pilot program. For products, especially a product like this, there are various scenarios you have to test and measure. One thing we are about to do while we’re going through the pilot is, we want people to start gaining the value of Check right away. We’re about to launch the payment portion where individuals can start handling their citations without having to go to court. We’re going to be launching that portion at the beginning of next year.
Moguldom: What have been some notable wins since you launched?
Michael Odiari: A big win was actually getting our first product out. Doing something new like this, there was a lot of technical hurdles. Technology is always changing. Getting the technology together to make the platform was a big win for us. One thing that I came away with is that I thought I was building the startup, but in the midst of the journey, I realized that the startup was building me. I knew in order to get a team to keep going and keep pushing through the challenges, I had to look at myself and see how I could improve so I could help the team achieve our goals.
Moguldom: What do the next five years look like for Check?
Michael Odiari: Increased growth. Really highlighting the platform and creating value. I believe the next five years are limitless. There’s a vast opportunity for what we can do, and what spaces we may even go into. I know everyone always asks where we see ourselves in five years, but we are focusing on where we are now to get to that outcome of growth over a period of five years.
Moguldom: As someone without a tech background, never been a tech founder, what advice would you like to pass on to someone coming behind you, also considering launching a company as a black tech founder.
Michael Odiari: I would say relationships are your biggest assets. Value your relationships.
Written by Ebony Grimsley-Vaz