Eyes forward. Whether on the bike or in the design room, you can count on Brian focus on the task at hand.
As VP of Software, Brian Oberholtzer has been key in shaping and optimizing the end-user experience for Karoo users. He brings an impressive palmares to a team that shares his passion and depends on his tech prowess.
There are many faces behind Karoo, and, whether they know it or not, Brian is the team member that Karoo users indirectly interact with the most. As VP of Software, Brian bakes in every little bit of nuance and optimizes the end-user experience for cyclists who ride with Karoo. From big firms to small start-ups, Brian is a veteran member of the American consumer technology scene, bringing a depth of experience that drives Karoo’s software development. It goes without saying that Brian is a dedicated cyclist who understands and studies what exactly a cyclist would need in a head unit.
I sat down with Brian in our NYC office and asked him to tell me how he came to join the team, his love of athletics and cycling, and how he discovered his passion for software engineering.
Brian, running as a high school athlete.
“I was a varsity cross country runner in college, but once I graduated I didn’t maintain the same level of competitive training. I kept running just to stay fit. During a busy period in which I had so many job changes, running was one of those things that was a constant in my life.
“I cut my teeth on software with a firm called Olivetti, soldering circuit boards and whatnot. It was an interesting mix of hardware and software. After that, I worked with myriad companies on early Windows projects, including managing a team that developed sound drivers. MS-DOS, Windows 2.6… the software industry was rapidly evolving and I had a lot of career moves.
“Before I knew it, I found myself working at Siemens and raising a family. The work-life balance was surprisingly good: I coached softball, and got back into serious running, to the extent that I completed the Boston Marathon. I also went back to school and got my Master’s in software engineering. It was an amazingly busy time.”
Hardware, software, a master’s degree. Brian had already amassed a well of knowledge that would later prove critical to his role at Hammerhead. There was one more piece of the vital experience he brings to Hammerhead still missing, and he found it in 2007 when he caught ‘the start-up bug,’ working for AnySource Media’s early internet-based video navigator. In 2010, he moved to PRIMA Cinema, a service for getting movies into your home cinema system at the same time they came to theaters.
“I began working for a startup called Zonoff out of San Diego in 2013 as VP of Engineering. Their thing was home automation, and it functioned almost like a Karoo for your house. The concept is very similar: the house has sensors that a central device connects to and receives readings and outputs for, and allows the user to automate and control certain things as they desire. Despite that similarity, what was most important for me at Zonoff was learning how to grow and manage teams. We hired tons of engineers quickly and we had better be sure that we used them well.
“There were a series of acquisitions of Zonoff that suddenly turned south. Teams were moved, grew, shrank, and everything became erratic and unpredictable. I was ready to do something new, and made my exit once I was confident that we were in a position for the developers to not be destabilized by my leaving. It was during this time period that I got into cycling. My wife was having a hip problem and recommended we try to get into cycling for exercise. We bought a couple of Cannondale road bikes and I haven’t looked back since.
“Maybe it was due to the stress at the time but I just went totally bonkers for cycling. I was feeling pretty fried and I decided I would take some time to just go and ride. I joined my local cycling club, the West Chester Cycling Club, and got a gig as a contractor for a software consulting firm. I would work for a few weeks at a time training companies in how to manage teams and engineers and then take some time in between contracts to ride my bike as much as I liked. It sounds ideal, but it was pretty rough. I would be traveling between home and various cities a lot, and during one break I got in a serious cycling accident. I needed to find another way to bring my work experience and my passion for cycling together.
Brian leading Hammerhead CEO Piet Morgan through on a ride through rural India
“I came across Hammerhead while looking for a new head-unit, and was immediately interested in their novel use of Android. I got hold of Piet [Morgan, Hammerhead’s CEO]’s email address and sent over my resume.”
Piet was eager to deploy Brian’s breadth of skills and experience on Karoo’s software landscape. In March 2018, Brian joined the Hammerhead team.
“I haven’t looked back since. It wasn’t easy, but what I brought to Hammerhead — automation, processes, and team building — was a lifetime journey of professional development. And I’m so excited to be at a company where I can use that lifetime of experience and marry it to my passion for cycling.”
Invigorated by the team’s energy, Brian is compelled by the vast horizon of the product’s potential, and its impact on his own life as a cyclist. Thirty years into a storied career, his professional talents and personal interests perfectly align, inspiring all of us at Hammerhead to do the same.