The Missing Link

Imagine being able to watch a television show, access the Internet, use Microsoft Office suite, and listen to your complete music library from the driver’s seat of your car. That vision has been four years in the making for Los Angeles-based VeaLink Inc., maker of the networking multimedia console that incorporates all of those elements and more.

Unveiled at the Extreme Autofest in Pomona, California, in October 2004, VeaLink is the brainchild of cousins Ryan Russell, 28, and Ray Cahill, 27. The multimedia console — which the pair first installed in a friend’s car — runs on Windows XP and features touch-screen monitors that allow for navigation between a CD/MP3/DVD jukebox, television programming, FM radio, GPS system, and the Internet.

Russell, company president and a former Navy electronics technician, began toying with the idea for the product in 2001, after successfully customizing an Xbox gaming system for use in his own car. “I wanted a full-blown computer in my vehicle,” he says.

With some of their own money and a $15,000 cash infusion from a private investor, Russell and Cahill, an exercise-science major, spent the next four years creating a prototype. They began selling the product in the fall of 2004. “From that point, we were able to generate enough direct sales to keep us afloat,” says Cahill, the company’s vice president, who credits early exposure at the Extreme Autofest with helping to create buzz for the new product.

With five employees and an expected $350,000 in revenues for 2006, VeaLink has toured with the Dub Magazine National Car Show and Concert Series, and been installed in the magazine’s executive edition 2006 Chrysler 300. The system has also been featured on MTV Cribs and on Outdoor Life Network’s Rock the Boat series, which included a customized version of the system for two speedboats.

Russell, who directs product design and development, while Cahill handles sales and marketing, says an in-house tech team handles most of the product manufacturing. Larger orders are outsourced to a contract manufacturer. VeaLink is sold wholesale to specialty automotive retailers nationwide, and the price ranges from $1,800 to $2,800, depending on the options selected.

Looking to establish relationships with retailers such as Best Buy and Circuit City, Russell and Cahill say their biggest challenge is overcoming the ghosts of mobile consumer electronics vendors whose products didn’t live up to expectations.

To break through that barrier, the pair spends much of their time educating customers on the value and reliability of their product. They also highlight the fact that VeaLink is designed from the ground up; it’s not simply a “traditional” system modified for automotive use. “Once we get over that hump,” says Cahill, “consumers usually warm up to the idea.”

Expect to see even more retailers and automotive manufacturers embracing mobile electronics over the next few years. According to the Specialty Equipment Market Association, retail sales of mobile electronics within the specialty automotive equipment industry reached $4.2 billion in 2004, up from $3.83 billion in 2003. In its 2005 market study, the group says that, as