Chris Carson, Founder and CEO, Hayden Ai

Chris Carson is a Silicon Valley-based serial entrepreneur, investor, and thought leader with over 20 years of experience raising capital and building high-performance organizations. His areas of interest include artificial intelligence, machine learning, computer vision, robotics, and digital transformation. He is also a veteran U.S. Marine who participated in the liberation of Kuwait and earned a pivotal role as a special operations team member in the Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team (FAST).

Currently, Chris serves as the Founder & CEO of Hayden AI, an award-winning company revolutionizing how organizations solve problems with its mobile perception platform to speed up transit, make streets safer, and create a more sustainable future.

The Inception Story Behind Hayden AI

In 2007, Chris completed his Ph.D. from Waseda University, where his research was focused on simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), a type of computing where a device generates a map of an environment in real-time.

Years later, while riding a bus in San Francisco, Chris noticed that the bus driver kept pressing a button that took a picture of an illegally parked car in the bus lane. It was a light bulb moment for Chris. “The perception system that my co-founders and I built following that bus ride is now upending the status quo in traffic management and so many other sectors,” said Chris. But Hayden AI’s mission goes well beyond this use case. Chris and his team plan to develop artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to revolutionize how governments and businesses solve real-world problems.

Standing Apart from the Crowd

“Our use of edge processing combined with artificial intelligence sets us apart from other technology companies,” reveals Chris. This patented perception system is incredibly and uniquely accurate. When conducting automated bus lane enforcement – the company’s flagship product – for  transit agencies, Hayden AI installs its AI-powered camera systems on transit buses. These systems use computer vision to automatically detect events on the street and edge processing on the vehicle itself to determine if the event captured amounts to a traffic violation. Because of this, only a minimal amount of data is transmitted to the cloud, keeping the data secure and saving human resources.

Additionally, Hayden AI’s privacy-first approach ensures that its customers – typically government agencies and their industry partners – can advance their goals while vigorously protecting privacy and civil liberties.

Onwards and Upwards

As the CEO & Founder of the company, Chris says that Hayden AI’s growth has been rapid from the start. Right after its launch in March 2019, the company was able to close its first seed round after only three months. On the technology side, Chris reveals that Hayden AI is expanding its uses for its patented perception technology beyond automated bus lane and bus stop enforcement. The new use cases include school buses, street sweepers, streetcars, garbage trucks, and law enforcement vehicles.

Moreover, the company is expanding its offerings to include Digital Twin technology that will enable government agencies to build dynamic, 3D models of cities and utilize geospatial analytics to monitor city assets, simulate policies, and model city infrastructure. In addition, Hayden AI is looking forward to growing its international customer base, particularly in Europe, the Middle East, and Australia.

A Strong Focus on Client Commitment

At Hayden AI, client commitment is always at the top of its core values. More so, the company’s process is designed to be agile, responsive, and collaborative, constantly reacting to customer feedback and establishing a culture of consistently going the extra mile. This resonated with how Chris and his team go above and beyond to meet client expectations.

At one time, when Chris and his team ran a pilot automated bus lane enforcement program with one of the largest transit agencies on the West Coast, the client asked them if they could use Hayden AI’s perception platform to identify issues with their bus stops. Keeping track of bus stop maintenance – which bus stops need new shelters, benches, or updated signage – is a big challenge for agencies. Even though this type of asset management was not in the initial scope of the pilot, Chris and his team were thrilled to be able to put their technology to use for this additional request. “Any way we can make our perception system more useful for our customers is a major win for us,” shares Chris.

Overcoming Challenges

One of Chris’s biggest challenges as a leader is hiring the best talent. Currently, Hayden AI is targeting many segments dominated by large businesses that have occupied the space for years and succeeded in cornering the market on industry knowledge. Therefore, disrupting this sector requires engineers who think outside the box and strategists who can identify which use cases can make the most impact with Hayden AI’s perception technology. As part of Hayden AI’s growth strategy, attracting the right talent with relevant industry experience and recruiting subject matter experts is imperative.

“As CEO, I’m overcoming this challenge by making people my priority,” mentions Chris. Last year, Hayden AI strengthened its talent pool by adding key team members with strong experience in computer vision, hardware, transportation, and cybersecurity.

Promoting a Positive Work Culture

“What we’re trying to accomplish at Hayden AI is huge: we’re revolutionizing how organizations solve problems with AI and machine learning,” shares Chris. “Grounding myself and my team in the hugeness of that mission helps us stay motivated and on track while also giving us the space to experiment with new ideas and even fail.”

Likewise, Chris is also focused on creating a positive working environment at Hayden AI. “Our culture promotes learning and personal growth. However, what sets us apart from other companies is the importance we place on building a strong culture that emphasizes not only the value of cultivating strong working relationships internally but one that also recognizes the need to maintain a balance that allows our team members time to focus on their families,” adds Chris. Hayden AI offers remote work opportunities and an unlimited paid leave policy to make this happen. Besides these, the company also hosts various team bonding and family-friendly programs that make work more integrated and accessible and some leisure time to get to know one another. In addition, numerous recognition awards for employees based on their performance, contribution, and teamwork are given every month.

Learning the Art of Perseverance

The most important lesson that Chris learned from his early years is perseverance. According to him, launching a start-up is like the first day of school, where everything is new and, at first, seems very daunting. “But gradually, over time, by putting in place the right processes, surrounding yourself with the right people, and putting in the appropriate amount of effort, things start to become clearer,” adds Chris.

At a start-up, every day brings a new challenge, and while the stakes are higher than they are in high school or college, the strategies and tactics used back then still apply. Therefore, for a serial entrepreneur like Chris, mastering the art of perseverance comes in handy when adversity knocks.

Celebrating the Career Milestones

Be it obtaining his Ph.D. or starting his first company, or being recognized as an Entrepreneur in Residence by his college, Chris has achieved numerous milestones that not only depict his hard work and dedication but also his passion for technology and innovation.

When it comes to Hayden AI, Chris achieved the mileposts one after the other. “In two short years, we’ve gone from a handful of employees to nearly 100; from a sketch of a prototype to a fully operating, revenue-generating piece of technology, and from a group of people with an idea to a company that dislodged an incumbent to be awarded a multi-year, multimillion-dollar contract with one of the leading transit agencies in the world,” shares Chris.

Moving forward, team Hayden AI’s next milestones include executing another round of funding, additional use case development, and ultimately deriving unicorn-level valuation for the company.

A Day in the Life of a Start-Up CEO

With teams working in both international and domestic time zones, Chris has endless responsibilities to fulfil. This surmounts to a never-ending, round-the-clock work day.

Chris credits his U.S. Marine Corps training for teaching him about combating stress and staying calm under pressure. He considers the issues that he and his team face at Hayden AI to be pale as compared to the challenges the brave men and women in the armed forces face every day. He also believes that providing steady leadership regardless of the situation comes with the territory of being an effective leader.

Beating the Pandemic Odds

When the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns were first declared in the US, Hayden AI was barely one year and at a crucial stage of finalizing its funding. However, due to the situation, Hayden AI experienced a few setbacks. Such challenging times taught Chris a critical lesson that flexibility is the key to both surviving and thriving as a start-up.

“We fought hard to continue existing as a company in those perilous times: we launched new products that weren’t anticipated in our initial product roadmap, we filed additional patents, and we stayed tenacious,” shares Chris. “This nimbleness has become integral to our company culture and has enabled us to adapt our technology to new uses.”

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