CTOs you should know: Allen Darnell, Silvercar

by Colin Morris
November 18, 2015
This article is part of a series of 5 CTOs you should know in Austin. Click here to see more.
 
Silvercar was founded on the frustrating realization that the car rental industry hadn't innovated in decades. Tired of hidden fees, subpar service and surprise substitutions they call “PT Cruiser roulette,” Silvercar co-founders Todd Belveal and Bill Diffenderffer decided to use tech to put connected business travelers in a car they’d actually want to drive every time: a shiny, new Audi A4.
 
Since launching in late 2012, the company has raised more than $25 million in funding. This year, it broke Avis’s nine-year winning streak in a consumer poll of North America’s leading car rental company.
 
CTO Allen Darnell came to Silvercar with travel industry experience from iSeatz and Expedia, where he was Director of Planning & Strategy for Hotels.com in Europe. With the Silvercar mobile app recently averaging 1,000 downloads per day and a fleet of connected cars spanning 11 U.S. cities, Darnell has plenty to keep him busy.
 
He took a moment to talk to Built In Austin about how he manages it all.
 

What technologies power your business?

There are quite a few components that make the whole ecosystem work. Native iOS and Android apps. Front-end web apps in Angular (and some Ionic now). Cloud-based apps on Rails. And there is hardware and firmware in each car we’ve also designed and built.
 

What technologies are playing the biggest roles at your company this year?

This year we’ve invested heavily in overhauling our in-car hardware. Pretty soon we'll have the ability via new hardware to use an encrypted virtual key for your phone that will also let us deliver cars autonomously (without a Concierge).
 

What are the biggest tech projects your team is working on this year?

We’ve invested a significant amount of time enhancing our digital and mobile platforms to optimize the overall consumer experience.
 

What are the biggest technology challenges you've faced in the past? How did you overcome them?

Our biggest technical challenge was figuring out how to unlock an Audi with a phone from scratch. After that, everything else seemed pretty easy. We also took on a lot in our technical design for the company, electing to build out all of our own backend systems for pricing, availability, inventory management, fleet, billing, etc. We’re finally seeing the benefits of that strategy now, but it took a lot of work to get there.
 

What are lessons you've learned about working in Austin that other local entrepreneurs can learn from?

Always be recruiting, and never neglect the importance of retention. We put so much emphasis on the quality of our team, and we have a great team as a result, but we set a really high bar to get onto the team. Combine that with Austin’s competitive technology hiring environment and it means getting the right people on the bus takes time. It also means once we get people here, we want to continue to make it a fun and challenging place to work.
 

Austin is known for having a large talent pool of thirsty, young workers. What are the top characteristics you look for in a potential hire?

Above all else potential hires have to be able to work well on a team. We tend to celebrate the accomplishments of the entire team over individuals, and a good team is way more resilient than an individual cowboy, no matter how good they are. Being good on a team means taking ownership of the work you do, and communicating with everyone else on the team. It also means emphasizing and playing to everyone’s individual strengths.
 

How would your team describe working with you?

They hate it.
 
Just kidding… (I hope). More than anything, I hope they know how important their success and happiness on the team is, and how much thought goes into constantly optimizing to build a great working environment where engineering and product talent is respected.

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