The truth is that not realizing the vision for this company is a huge disappointment. Our dream was to change transportation for “regular people” to something practical, sustainable, affordable, and cool. We aspired to be the fast-moving vehicle platform for innovations from a space in high flux: the deliberate first mover. I believed, and still believe, that with resources we could deliver a lighter weight electric vehicle, purpose-built for the daily drive; that we could integrate the newest battery and electric drivetrain technology more quickly with our lower minimum efficient scale production system; that we could lead the charge into the full benefits of a connected vehicle, a peer-to-peer and traditional carshare-ready vehicle, and someday an autonomous vehicle; that we could introduce a buy local option to a manufacturing industry whose focus is very nearly the opposite; and that in doing so, we could bring incredible value to consumers whose needs have been so narrowly represented by the incumbent automakers.
Our vision attracted some very talented and dedicated people to our ranks. We built a network of support from strategic partners willing to invest time and money in our venture’s future. We found incredible support from our Early Adopter customers willing to overcome the quirks of a scantly funded commercial pilot program with us, and from eager would-be Triac2.0 owners with high hopes for a well-fitting Clean Commuter solution. I will take this opportunity to offer my most heartfelt thanks to all of you for dreaming differently with us, and my most sincere apologies for not delivering the conclusion we worked so hard to bring about.
In the spirit of openness that I had hoped to promote within this company, and in the hopes that our lessons can help other entrepreneurs avoid the same mistakes, I will share three things that I would have done differently given the opportunity:
- First, I would and will only start companies with a solid base of equity partners in the management team capable of achieving the first two years worth of milestones. Not doing so cost this company valuable time in the development of a more complete product as our ownership passed over desperately needed, world-class talents who were not surprisingly unwilling to work without a significant ownership incentive. If a majority of a startup company’s shares are owned by non-value added investors, you are at risk of fighting a zero-sum game with deep misalignment, rather than taking a collaborative “build something great” approach. Startups are hard enough without wildly conflicting interests.
- Secondly, for a complex, capital-intensive business such as ours, I would seek an enabling venture partner early in the process. There are few things more frustrating than sitting on projects that could differentiate your company and product in important ways while competitors continue forward. Furthermore, I believe a strong VC partner can help open important doors: for major development partners who may otherwise be unwilling to jump in and cooperate with a startup; for top talent; for other funding sources during future rounds; etc. Holding on too tightly to percentages and control of an organization that is not equipped to succeed can cost everyone everything.
- Third, I would bite off chewable pieces. Given that very few startups have more cash than they know what to do with, there is almost by definition a capital pinch inside new ventures. There would have been much more value in building one of our sub-systems (such as the traction battery pack or the connected in-vehicle infotainment system) perfectly than a complete vehicle “prototypy.” These complete mini-products could potentially have generated some cash to fuel the larger business goals, or at the very least represented the capabilities of our team well as well as the quality-intent of our product. This strategy is probably situational, and may just look clearer in hindsight, but I have that at the moment so it’s worth mentioning.