Disrupting A $32B Market:1st African American With A Software Patent For Alcohol Monitoring

Written by Dana Sanchez

Rodney Stearns is disrupting a $32-billion market and he’s doing it in the alcohol monitoring space with a solution that’s helping keep people of color out of jail.

The first African American in the world with a software patent in this market space, Stearns has never been to college a day in his life, “and I’m the president and founder of a tech company,” he told Moguldom on the sidelines of the Black Enterprise TechConneXt Summit in San Francisco.

A paramedic and former member of the military, Stearns had a friend who was killed by a drunk driver. “I wanted to do something,” he said.

So he developed two alcohol monitoring apps — CheckBAC and Sobr1. They double as panic buttons, recording audio and video in real time in case of emergencies. And they cost a fraction of the traditional ignition interlocks and scram devices people have needed to monitor themselves in the past. Courts see Stearns’ devices as a way to keep people out of jail, he said.

Through his company, Driven By Safety Inc., Stearns is inspiring others to develop tech. “Inspiration can come from anywhere and there’s enough information on the internet,” Stearns said. “You can do what I do. I’m living proof.”

You can see Stearns demonstrate how the app works. Here’s more from that interview with Moguldom.


Rodney Stearns: If you’re familiar with “Shark Tank,” you may have seen the show about the Bluetooth breathalyzers. Well I’m the software guy. Our software is used by three of the major manufacturers of the breathalyzer. The reason we did this is that in the alcohol monitoring space, people of color are made to spend a lot of money — $450 a month for the average ankle bracelet if you’re convicted of a DUI or anywhere from $150 to $400 a month for the ignition interlock.

The average family can’t afford that. I came up with a solution — $25 a month. The way CheckBAC works is you download the app, you get a breathalyzer, and you turn it on. It connects via Bluetooth to the phone and records audio and video in real time, facial recognition, it does it all. It records everything I’m doing right now. It happens in about five seconds. I blow on it and it’s going to calculate my BAC (blood alcohol content). It’s going to upload this to our management portal, and the probation officer is able to see this in real time. If I had any trace of alcohol it would send an alert in real time to my probation officer saying I’m in violation of my probation. They get video verification, they get facial recognition software and they get GPS location.

Moguldom: How is this helping people of color?

Rodney Stearns: This allows courts to keep folks out of jail. It costs about $196 a day in Los Angeles to jail someone. If they can’t afford to be monitored, they’re placed in jail. For $25-to-$50 a month, the person is out of jail, they’re with their family, and they’re not spending their rent money trying to stay out of jail and losing their job. This is so compact you can use it at work. When you’re required to take a test, you can easily just go to the bathroom or to your cubicle. It’s silent, no one can hear, it’s dignified. Just because you make a mistake, we don’t want people feeling like an outcast.

Moguldom: How does the app work?

Rodney Stearns: We have two apps: CheckBAC (the enterprise app) and Sobr1, the retail version. The retail app works a little different. You’ve got Lyft, Uber, taxis, designated driver, hotels within walking distance — this allows you to make a decision at a bar, at a game, not to drive drunk. We also have a panic feature. In this day and age emergencies happen all the time. You hit that panic button and it starts recording audio and video in real time. You have preselected heroes that see that live stream and video. What’s your GPS location? They call the police. You can still dial 911 from the app. Lifeline will show up (on the app). We design our apps around saving lives and changing lives. You have video evidence on multiple phones in case the perpetrator takes your phone.


Moguldom: Who is your market?

Rodney Stearns: Right now we’re disrupting a $32 billion market. I’m the first African American in the world to have a software patent in this market space. Courts are now using us instead of the traditional ignition interlocks and scram devices, so courts are seeing this as a way of keeping people out of jail. A lot of the DUI courts are run by grants. If you’re paying $450 a month and you have 1,000 people and you only have a $300,000 budget, you can cover 100 people for three months and then your money’s gone. This allows you to cover everyone in your court and be part of their social responsibility and rehabilitation. It can reduce recidivism and it can also help keep families together.

Moguldom: Why did you attend the Black Enterprise TechConneXt Summit in San Francisco?

Rodney Stearns: We are looking to hire more African Americans to come work with us. I believe in letting others see that you don’t have to play football. You don’t have to play basketball. You can make millions and millions of dollars in tech. It’s about inspiring other African Americans to see that you don’t have to have your MBA. You don’t have to go to Stanford. I was a paramedic before this. Never been to college a day in my life and I’m the president and founder of a tech company. I was military. I had a friend that was killed by a drunk driver and I wanted to do something. Inspiration can come from anywhere and there’s enough information on the internet. You can do what I do. I’m living proof.

Moguldom: Do you have investors?

Rodney Stearns: I have one investor. That’s all we’ve ever needed.

Moguldom:  Are you looking for funding?

Rodney Stearns: Yes, we are looking to raise $1.5 million and we have 7 percent-to-25 percent that we’re willing to give up. That allows us to scale to $40 million-to-$60 million in revenue.


Moguldom: Hows that going?

Rodney Stearns: I’ve turned down money. You can’t just take money from anybody. I’ve had athletes that wanted to get involved and I was like, “But you bring no value to my company.” We’re not in a niche market. I have people’s lives in my hands. I don’t want to put someone in jail because our system failed and because we just didn’t have the right people around us and the right programming. There are smart people out there. They want to change the world and we want to make sure we’re looking for investors that help us change the world — not just look at us as a way to make money but help us save lives.

Moguldom: What kind of skills are you looking for?

Rodney Stearns: You don’t have to have a degree. Caz, our CTO — he’ll put you through the wringer. If you have the skills that he deems necessary to help scale, then you can come aboard. I’m not one of those guys who’s going to say, “Oh I want to make sure you spent $400,000 on college or you can’t have a job.” There’s people who’ve been coding since they were 12 and they don’t need a degree.