#26: The journey of a 20-year overnight success with Jay Rogers. In this fascinating and captivating interview, I sit down with veteran Marine officer and Local Motors CEO Jay Rogers, and gain tremendous insight into the entrepreneurial mind. We discuss vision, perseverance, and numerous topics on the road to overnight success. You’re sure to enjoy this insight and perspective.
#26: The journey of a 20-year overnight success with Jay Rogers
January 11, 2021 • 54:54
Aaron Spatz, Host, America’s Entrepreneur
Jay Rogers, CEO, Local Motors
I’m Aaron Spatz and this is The Veterans Business Podcast. A podcast centered around the stories of US military veterans and their adventures in the business world following their time in service, its stories of challenges and obstacles and an inside look at how veterans find their life’s work, their purpose in their post-military lives.
Thank you so much for joining The Veterans Business Podcast this week. So excited that you’re watching or listening. And just as a reminder, if you are listening to this on Apple or Spotify or wherever you get your podcast, please note that you can watch the show now, Season 2, on my YouTube channel. So please be sure to check that out and subscribe. And of course I’d be incredibly grateful for if you can just tell your friends about the show and get wider distribution, that is always helpful. And of course I love hearing from you. So any comments, any feedback, please feel free to drop a comment or shoot me a note at email@example.com.
So very excited to introduce our guest to you this week. We have John Rogers, goes by Jay Rogers. Jay is a veteran Marine officer. He served six years before transitioning out and he completed Harvard Business School graduating actually as a Baker Scholar. Once completing business school, Jay co-founded Local Motors and serves as its CEO. So excited. Jay, thank you so much for being on the show.
Thanks, Aaron. Thanks for having me. It’s a real pleasure. And thanks for that kind introduction.
Yes, sir. Absolutely. So no, you and I both share the common bond as veteran Marine officers, but I would love to hear your story of just how you joined, what all did you do, and then just a little bit of your story from your time in service.
Well, I mean, I think, for me, service started late. I was in college. Did not have a record of my family having served, so it wasn’t sort of a natural conversation around my household. And so went to college and got about two thirds of the way through and started thinking about service. A friend of mine had mentioned it to me and it sort of clicked through at the age of 20, thinking about maybe that would be a good thing to do. And it was funny. I had an injury that you’re running a marathon and it ended up being a stress fracture and the Bureau of Navy Medicine did not like that. And so this was in the mid-90s and they were nervous. I think there was a draw down from the previous Gulf War. And these were all things that were opaque to me, but my transition and my application to join the Marines at the time just seemed to take forever.
And so fast forward, as things went along, it ended up being another probably six years before I ended up joining the Marine Corps. I ended up working in China, ended up working as a bank analyst and then came back around to it almost at 27 years old. And my stress fracture healed, the Bureau Navy of Medicine was no longer concerned about it. And it was, again, I mentioned from a friend when I was 27 as I was between careers thinking about going to business school actually at 27. And they said, “You should join the military.” And I said, “Oh, I tried that before, when I was in college, didn’t work out.” And they were like, “Well, you never know.” And it did end up working out at that point. So it was an unexpected joy that came back twice in my life. And so starting my career at 27 as an officer going to OCS, I was certainly the oldest in my class. And that was in 1999.
And so it was a peaceful time in the world. And that was my entry story. That’s how it happened.
Wow. No, that’s crazy. Yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever run into anybody who joined that late coming out of college. And so no doubt, the maturity factor definitely had to play to your benefit though as you’re going through training and just all the different things that you had to go through. So share with us a little bit about what was your MOS, what did you do, all that kind of stuff.
It was funny. I was so naive. When I called up the recruiter originally in college, I said, “Do you want to know my grades?” And they said, “Sure. What were your high school grades?” And I said, “You wanted my college grades?” And they were like, “Oh, you’re talking to the wrong recruiter.” And I didn’t know the difference between an OSO and a recruiter. it wasn’t part of my – I didn’t know. And so I knew a little bit more when I was 27 and coming back around for it, but I also just didn’t have an appreciation for the different services as much and what the different MOS were. So I ended up going in on a flight contract and I went through – as a Marine officer, you go through OCS as a transition pathway when you didn’t do anything in college that was relative, any kind of ROTC or something like that.
So I did OCS in Quantico, Virginia. And then when you graduate, you have no MOS. As a Marine, you go to what’s called The Basic School. And so I went in and I was at The Basic School for six months. And I was lucky enough. I was challenged by one of my instructors at OCS to graduate first in my class at TBS after that six month class. Because in the Marine Corps, if you graduated first in your class, you get your choice of MOS who’s the only one in the class. And so otherwise, you get what you get. You don’t fuss a bit as the Marine Corps likes to say.
So I was lucky enough to graduate first in my class from TBS. So I got to choose and I was heavily influenced by my then Basic School commander, a guy named Colonel John Allen at the time who later on became the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And he was an infantry man. And he said, “What’s this flight contract thing? He was like, “You should be in the infantry, young man.” So before I left his office that day, he convinced me to join the infantry. And that was my pathway to becoming a scout sniper platoon commander and my MOS ended up being what we call it ground intelligence officers. So you go to infantry officer’s course and then you go to sniper school and you go to ground intelligence officer’s course. And you are slated to be a battalion intelligence officer, an S2. That’s in fact a job I never served in, but that’s at least what my training was.
Wow. Well, that’s crazy. Yeah. And no doubt, with Colonel Allen, that’s fantastic to see his own career progression, and you know what, I actually knew that guy or maybe I didn’t know him personally, but I’ve definitely talked to him.
Oh, I sat in front of him, stood tall, and I definitely knew him and he definitely was persuasive. Otherwise I would have been a pilot.
I think his words were: You’ll never command something for seven years. You’ll command your own airplane, but you won’t command other people. And if your desire is to lead Marines, go be a platoon commander. And that was my desire. I wanted to lead Marines. And he was right. I never regretted it for a moment. Never have.
Cool. Yeah. That’s super cool. Well, and then, I mean, of course, share with us a little bit about your experience in and then your transition out.
Well, to pre-stage a little bit about this conversation too in terms of what does it mean to be in life in society and business when you’ve been in the military, you know, I was older, I was 27 years old. I had been in business for almost six years. And so I had been in a startup and I had been a banker for a period of time. And so the business was kind of there. It was natural for me. So when I went in, I was more curious about what I was going to learn from service. And so for me, everything was in that lens. How is service different than business and how is business different than service?
And one, I think the first thing that struck me over the head is that the training that you get is so good in the military. We go to college and maybe you go to business school. At the time, I hadn’t. I did later on. I went to Harvard after the Marine Corps. So my training quite simply wasn’t as good in business as it ended up being in the military. Things like the rapid response planning process that we have in the military is a really good analog for budgeting in a company. How do you respond to a global emergency in six hours and deploy a Marine expeditionary unit? So it shows how you can get a lot of people together for new situations that arise and respond. And everyone uses their training to respond and know how to get things done. And so for me, that was really the biggest difference in terms of how to respond and how to apply training to new things in life.
And so I started there. And then after that, I think leadership for me was much more about how do I inspire people, motivate them, and I became very interested in the subject of leadership. In the Marine Corps, we have 14 leadership traits and principles that we work – I’ll never forget them. I’ve worked on them. I think I’ve tried to improve upon them as they apply to civilian life because some things are missing a little bit. But for me, being a scout sniper platoon commander was the first job. My Marines, I trained with hardcore and they ended up having the first kills of Operation Enduring Freedom – Philippines. And those came in meeting engagements that they never expected to be in, which is so much more about what’s the job of a sniper and what is their job of gathering intelligence and also being more of an independent operator if within a battalion or regimental minus scenario.
So that was my first real experience in leading Marines who are in combat. And then I think after that, things became very different after September 11th. And just the way in which we deployed, my other deployments to Iraq were complicated and changed after Abu Ghraib. There was so much, you know, you’re basically in and around an insurgent environment. There is no frontline. I was with a multinational division most of the time. And so I found my tours of duty to be challenging and awesome and some of the best experiences of my life. Had some administrative jobs too while I was in the Marine Corps, but the ones that stick out the most were leading Marines and that’s why I joined.
Yeah, that’s fantastic. Yeah. Thanks for sharing that. And yeah, certainly, I can’t imagine having lived as much life as you’d already done at that point prior to going in. As you mentioned earlier, how that kind of colored and lensed your perspective going forward. And so I’m curious. As you were getting ready to make that decision, I’m curious what that decision looked like for you as you’re contemplating going out and then going to business school. What did you end up learning through that in terms of the – as you’re talking about earlier – service and business and how those two lined up?
Well, you could put your finger on the point of probably two of the great moments in my life growing up. One of them was to leave civilian life and joined the military, which I tried and failed due to an injury. I’ll speak about that in a second. And then the other one was to get out of public service or military service and go back into civilian life because I did them at odd times. And I think maybe it’s worthwhile hearing how those things happen.
So here I am, I’m 19 years old, I’m excited to serve and I try to join and the Corps and the Navy doesn’t let me in. And they do it because of an injury that they think could be systemic. It was what’s called a spiral femoral neck stress fracture. So it’s like a Bo Jackson injury. You could have early hip replacement surgery. And so they just don’t want you in if they’re going to have to pay for you to be injured. I can understand it now. At the time, I didn’t understand it. I think I’ve just got an injury, I’ll get over it. But you really understand that – and I give credit to Naval Medicine and military medicine that they do understand they’re going to take care of you forever once you join. So they want to know that they’ve got a healthy quantity before you started. So I was a little naive when I started and I really understand why that didn’t happen.
Then bodies heal, things change, and I ended up reattacking that at 27 with some experience underneath my belt. I was fully well-educated as a collegiate graduate and having been in business in two different scenarios. And I still had a yen to want to learn how to lead. Even at 27, I hadn’t led really many people at all. And so I’ve hadn’t been responsible. I had followed a bunch of people, and I think that, you know, there was an old Latin phrase that was in my high school called ‘ducere est servire’, which basically translates to ‘to serve is to lead’.
And so I think serving, for me, was something that I had done a lot of and I wanted to learn how to apply that to leadership. I felt like I’d earned it at 27 where I might not have known it at 19. And so I was ready and I really was. By the time I joined, you can see it in my skin. You could feel it. It wasn’t so much about business. It was just more that I kind of knew how to suck it up. So even at 27, I was ready to follow and that made me a better leader at the beginning. And so I would have done it for the rest of my life.
And then kind of getting through to the other major moment in my life is to why I get out. Two of my friends were killed on our final deployment in Iraq. And given everything that I had learned, I was pretty frustrated. I was in my early 30s and I was pissed off about the pace of technology development. We were fighting in vehicles and with war making machinery that I felt like could be better. And I felt like the United States, if any country as a whole, could make their gear better, it would be the US. Also, understanding some of the difficulties of designing and developing equipment and systems in businesses, I felt like I understood why it wasn’t happening, why we were not fighting with Up-Armored Humvees and why we were being able to get beaten by insurgents who could figure out how to fly a plane into a building or hit a roadside bomb in a different way that would constantly disintegrate the best defenses that you had. It was really frustrating to me and I couldn’t do enough about it as a Marine and I wanted to do something about it.
So I said to my boss, I had just run the INDOC for what was then setting up as MARSOC. So my next billet, my next orders were to go to MARSOC, which is a great opportunity. And as a young captain, having gone through that with the experience that I had as a ground intelligence officer was very, very tempting. And the Marine Corps had never been part of Special Operations Command. This was a new opportunity. I would have had the opportunity to be the second or third platoon commander ever to serve in those billets. I was tempted.
So those that have gone through those kinds of INDOCs and what it takes to get orders to do those things, you understand that it doesn’t come all the time. It’s rare. And so I was very tempted, but on the other hand, I also was tempted to do something with my desire to change the pace of technology in systems and vehicles. And that was tempting. And I asked my boss at the time, he was a military Marine general. And I said, “What should I do?” And he said, “Look,” he said, “You’ve already put in seven years. Service for you is just about how do you want to affect your country and what do you want to do. And you have the potential to be a four-star general or you might top out as an O-5 or an O-6. You just don’t know.”
And he said, “But if you feel like you can go get something done and it’s in your control in civilian life, then go do it. But the only thing that I would say is that whatever you choose,” and he left it for me, he was like, “If you go back to civilian life, you were living out for seven years. You need to go to school again.” And I was like, “School, no way. I’m too old,” all these kinds of things. And he said, “I’m not asking you, I’m telling you. You’ve been off for seven years. You have lost touch with what it means to launch a business. You need the time to think about it, bake it, figure it out.”
And I was full of vim and vigor and wanting. I felt I could do anything, but it was great counsel. So I applied to Harvard. I got in. For two years, I tested my theories about what I wanted to do in business. And I don’t think I ever would have been able to succeed in business. And I think what he was imparting with me as a final shot is you had the training in the Marine Corps that got you to where you were to do as well as you did, take the training in business like top flight training and do the same thing. So it was an extra two years, but it was worth its weight in gold. So that’s a little bit of history about how I got into it and how I got out of it.
No, I love that. And thank you for sharing that. That’s an incredible perspective and obviously some sage advice as you’re making your exit. And no doubt, I’m sure it was a bit of a difficult decision, but I can tell you had your eye on something else, right? You’re looking at the service component of your life and what you do from a more macro level. And you’re like, okay, I can affect change at this level. And I mean, we all know, right? The career progression and what it takes to get to where we all would want to be and how many years and all that stuff. And then you’re thinking also some of these other passions and other projects and other things that you’re thinking about and how you could then turn that around and create something even greater through that.
Fantastic story. So you jump out, you go to Harvard and then you’d mentioned just a second ago that you kind of iterated through a few different ideas while you’re in school. And so kind of tell us, give us the genesis story of Local Motors and where did that come from?
So just like innovation, the life process can be messy. And so I’ll share with you sort of my full process of what I was going through. I left the Marine Corps to build this vehicle business. I wanted to put technology in at the pace at which software was being developed. I wanted to see that technology show up. An example would be: if you could think of a new device that you would want to see on a car, usually it doesn’t show up for five to seven years. Like even a new USB port takes a while to get into a vehicle. And so that was frustrating to me. Originally, I had thought about it in terms of armor and armament and communications on military vehicles, but I knew it was applicable to commercial vehicles.
And today you see movers like Elon Musk who have put together things like an electric vehicle, but it’s just first innings. There is so much to go in these vehicles – autonomy, connectedness. They’re not going to be vehicles in the end in the way we think about them. They’re going to be basically productivity devices, where today, even in a Tesla, you get in the vehicle and you’re the pilot of the vehicle, which is a bogus job for a human.
There’s so much you could and should be doing, including things like sleeping, relaxing, talking, working, all of these things. And until full autonomy and connectedness comes along, we don’t recognize exactly how much time we’ve wasted for 110 years in Henry Ford’s vehicles, if you will. And God bless that vehicle. It made us more productive and now it’s time to take it to the next level. It’s time for that time where we go physically to go experience something, to go buy something, or to go meet someone, or to go experience a smell, a taste, a vacation, a job, anything. We can make that time more useful every five minutes, every ten minutes, every hour, so much productivity.
So I was inspired by it, excited by it, but I didn’t know if I could do it. I felt like it was a really hard job. And what I didn’t know is I had been in complex warfighting environments and I had thought maybe I should have another option on the table. So I thought about doing consulting in high risk environments for a period of time while I was at business school. And I talked to consulting companies like McKinsey and Booz Allen and other people like that. And as the war drag on, I thought there was an opportunity to basically build up a high-risk consultancy business in war-torn areas, working on science and technology policy in those areas.
So I thought about morphing my idea a little bit and being a consultant in and using my military training. The idea didn’t end up panning out for me and I wanted it to be more direct and start the business that I did. And so as I made the joke, it sort of goes, and I think it’s applicable, you know, it’s an overnight success 20 years in the making. And so I’m on year 13 right now. And it’s every bit of the full-on job and I’m so glad that I took it. But I think that if you’re going to commit to doing a world-changing business, better commit to world-changing timelines to be able to make it happen.
And no doubt, I love that phrase: a 20-year overnight success. That’s awesome. So that’s so true though. I mean, I’ve read stories, and this isn’t necessarily the same as business, but you’ll read stories about people like in Hollywood, right? Where did this person come from? Well, they’ve actually been working in industry for 20 years and you didn’t know who they were. No, no, that’s crazy.
They say that about George Clooney.
I mean, people are like, “Wow, he’s just a successful actor.” That kind of thing. I mean, there was an interview that I read, it wasn’t until he figured out how to think like a casting director when he went into a casting call instead of thinking like an actor. And for years, for eight, nine years, he was just like, “I’m an actor. I can do this. I’m great.” And then he was like, “No, I’m a casting director. Why do I keep losing? What do I want?” And then he started to win and took him nine years. Henry Ford didn’t make his first vehicle successful until he was 42 years old. And so, I mean, sometimes these complicated things, human interactions and products take some time.
Yeah. No, I mean, it’s similar to another episode I’ve recorded previously. And we had talked about solving business problems and you really do got to put yourself in the shoes of the other person or where’s the problems point of friction coming. Instead of thinking about it at one side, you got to think about it from the other side. And so, I mean, the whole George Clooney example, that’s a great example. So 13 years in on a 20-year overnight success, and I’m cheering for you. You’re absolutely going to get there. I was on your website. I’ve checked out some of what you did. But for those that haven’t checked you out yet, would you mind just kind of sharing with everybody what you are working on, what’s been happening in your world?
So the insight that I had when I was in the Marine Corps is get technology into vehicles – or the desire, the mission, we call it like an end-state or an intent or a commander’s intent, something like that, that was get technology into vehicles more quickly. Airplanes, boats, cars, military vehicles, that kind of thing. So then I started to peel the onion back and you do sort of your initial preparation of the battlespace. And you start to think about what it is and what I realized very quickly was that it’s actually the tooling intensity that goes into making a vehicle that stops innovation from happening.
And so to break that down into very simple terms, to make a vehicle, any kind of vehicle, we stamp them out of steel or reform them out of aluminum. Those tools that punch a sheet into a shape that’s then riveted and welded and put together into what we call a body in white and then is clad with various kinds of actual facia and other things like that. And there’s still no vehicle. It’s just a stamp that you’re looking at. Those tools are hundreds of millions of dollars.
So the way that we work is we eat per line of vehicles. So one kind of Cadillac versus even another kind of Cadillac, hundreds of millions of dollars of tooling difference. So what happens is once you spent that money on a shape, you don’t want to change it. And then if you can imagine every fastener and ledge and hole and mucket and rubbery seal and piece of adhesive and small device and little computer and all of the things that go into make-up are really well-engineered, survivable, robust system, and this is going to get metaphysical pretty fast.
But robustness is what Henry Ford taught us to build. Keep it the same, you know, he paraphrased as having said, “You can have any car you want as long as it’s black.” I think Frederick Taylor was more of the progenitor of that in scientific management, but the idea was, look, it’s hard enough to design a vehicle that works and is reliable. Just don’t ask us to customize it. Like it’s exactly the same every time. And that’s all he could do because there was no digital production. And so we all lionized that phrase and the economy of scale from mass production was born. And for a hundred years, we have assumed that you can only make money when you make a lot of the same thing.
Well, if there’s anything that I’m going to leave a mark in this earth or a dent in the universe about is that that no longer applies. When you have digital instructions that can give a robot or a system instructions on how to make something, there’s no cost really in changing the thing from one unit to the next. So it means that there’s no benefit in actually making a lot of the same thing. Now, there are a hundred reasons why someone who could look at it and try to punk out that theory, but they’d be wrong in theory and then you just have to figure out how to put it in practice.
And so for me, putting it in practice was really what I had to get about doing. And that’s what I’ve been about is how to make an economy of scope work, which means that you gain an economy, meaning you gain profit, by making lots of different things, as opposed to gaining profit or having economy by making scale of a lot of the same thing. And that happens through a modern digital pathway. It means, you know, if you think about it, we’ve had a 30-year love affair with the internet and it’s been wonderful and we all use it.
We’re talking over Zoom today, but I can’t touch, taste, and smell the environment that you’re around. Like I see those wonderful things on yourself, a little red, white, and blue car, but I can’t quite see as well a little mini thing of like a TIE fighter and maybe some Star Wars things, Lego. I’m catching a little bit of what’s behind you, some Star Wars and stuff, but I can’t really commune with this. There’s a telescope down there and that kind of thing. We could probably have a much more robust conversation if I was really in your world.
Imagine if you were building a vehicle together, you were using the vehicle that I was building. It’d be incredible. But over the computer, we can only see and hear. And I was deeply interested instead of APIs that were data APIs, I was interested in atomic APIs. I wanted the physical to become real like Star Trek, where it’s like, boom. And then all of a sudden, the person appears, you know, or the Klingon appears if you transported the wrong person.
And so I wanted to see that stuff. Or like in Iron Man, JARVIS, you know, he’s like, “I want this, I want this, I want this.” And he puts it together digitally and then it becomes real. Seems like sci-fi, but it’s not really when you are used to an internet. Our kids are born in the way where they use Minecraft and they use Roblox and these other things. They build virtual worlds. And Minecraft is a great example. Kids were building Legos and have been for 60 years, but Minecraft is virtual Lego and they play with them differently because there’s no cost of changing things up in Minecraft and you can’t step on a sharp piece of Lego if you leave it out in your room. So you build them everywhere and you make these amazing castles. So you think, oh my gosh, kids are done with Lego because they can do so much more in Minecraft.
Turns out, not. It just helps them to make Lego better. And so now they still build Lego but what they’ll do is they’ll blow away their Minecraft world, but they’ll keep the Lego that they’ve been working with for years because they built it. And so that physicality but the modularity is something to really tap into. So digital manufacturing was what I was after. And sorry about the long monologue on it.
No, I love it.
I just got really inspired about why it was necessary and why I did it.
No, I absolutely love that. And it’s clear. I mean, you’re obviously passionate about solving this problem. And no, I like the Minecraft versus Lego comparison because, yeah, you are dealing with the ability to model something. And so like you said a minute ago, being able to manipulate things digitally, but you still can’t replace the physical. You still can’t replace actually being there or actually making something. It is a whole different experience. What do you think the effect of 3D printing has had on this process? Is that going to become a larger part of what you’re working with?
So, I mean, for me, 3D printing was something that was around for probably 25 years by the time we started. And so sometimes technologies just don’t fully mature at the pace of which you want to apply them. Think of the electric vehicle. Baker electric cars were out in 1903, but people are talking about Tesla and Nissan and a lot of the other great electric vehicle manufacturers now as if it’s brand new. Well, it wasn’t brand new. It just wasn’t energy dense, it’s power dense. The things that needed to make a personal consumer vehicle weren’t there yet.
So 3D printing, 25 years in. First, we had stereolithography and selective laser sintering and a bunch of different ways to do additive manufacturing, if you will. And I saw an opportunity in the time that I was starting out Local Motors to industrialize 3D printing, which basically meant that instead of – most people today have now seen a little 3D printer, like an Ultimaker or MakerBot or Prusa or LulzBot or whatever the manufacturer is, and you make a little thing, it’s typically like a build platform that’s like a foot by a foot by a foot.
And it takes a long time. It might take 12 hours or 14 hours. And then if you imagine making a car out of that stuff, you’d have to take a bunch of 12-hour components and put them together and it would take like two weeks to make a car. That’s not industrialized. And also the materials are not industrialized. They’re not strong, they’re not resistant. They’re not vibration proof, UV proof. It’s just not a technology that works for making a car.
So what I wanted to say is what if you could print faster and what if you could make things that were industrial and they were repeatable, that ‘if’ was like starting all anew 25 years into the history of 3D printing, it didn’t exist. But the theory of being able to take a digital file was still sound. Digital file make it real. And so we started with 25 years of history with no real knowledge about how we were going to industrialize 3D printing. And we started from the material science side. We found a partner in Oak Ridge National Lab. Great team at the manufacturing demonstration facility. If it had taken 12 hours to produce several grams of 3D-printed material, we were looking at the opposite. We were looking at trying to flip that ratio and take like one hour and print 12 pounds of material.
And so we thought, okay, well, if a vehicle could be a thousand pounds, then that might take, I don’t know, it might take you a hundred hours. So that wasn’t the worst thing in the world. It still wasn’t fast enough. So we used that idea and we 3D printed the first vehicle in the world. Guinness Book of World Records in 2014. And that was a roughly 2000-pound vehicle and it took us 44 hours to print. So it was heavy. But it was faster. 44 hours was faster. And then by the time two or three years have gone by, we were able to print something that was double the size, half the weight and in roughly eight hours. And so we were quickly coming up the curve of industrializing a lot more reliable in the print. And that’s really what we spent our time trying to do is totally change manufacturing.
And if you look now at the new vehicle space that’s out there, if I took Fisker and Nikola and Tesla and V Vehicles and Next Autoworks and Optimus Ride and May Mobility and you name it, I mean, Aurora Technologies, Waymo, all these things. There’s all these people who are focused on battery and autonomy. And then a few of them that actually make vehicles, Ford, Fiat, Chrysler, other things like that and then even Tesla and Nikola is a car company. Or Rivian. These companies, they are making vehicles traditionally. They’re super-forming or hydro-forming or stamping and it’s the same quotient – still doing what we talked about. Hundreds of millions of dollars in tooling.
And then there’s us, alone by ourselves, where we’re out here and we’re saying no more tooling. We’re just going to digitally manufacture the vehicle. And we will take software. We’ll take batteries. We’ll take drives. We’ll look across this huge ecosystem of players. Happy that they exist because we’re not going to reinvent the wheel. And our one kernel is we’re going to know how to make a vehicle with no tooling costs. So you want to change, we’ll swap it up. You don’t want this battery, we’ll take this battery. You don’t want this drive, we’ll take this drive. You don’t want this autonomy kit, we’ll take this autonomy kit. And like software, we will use an open hardware API to bring in everything. So we’re really actually totally different than anybody else that’s out there in the vehicle world. We’re upending Ford, upending Chrysler, upending Tesla, upending Waymo. They’re all focused on a different ecosystem. And we want to bring a new product quickly through a new method. And that’s kind of what we built.
Wow. Wow. Well, I’m excited. I’m excited to see the progression and where it all plays out. Because I mean, like I said, I was on your website. I could get a rough idea of what are some of the things that you’re working on, but the way you’re explaining it, I mean, that’s the real vision. That’s the long-range plan in terms of what this looks like down the road or even what you’re working on right now. So just share with us what are some of the challenges that you’re facing right now. And maybe the better way to ask this would be, what’s a recent challenge that you’ve overcome? And then what is another challenge that you’re currently working on?
Well, Aaron, one of the reasons why I wanted to talk on this podcast was because I wanted to share something that most people don’t see. For business thinkers, they can really grapple all the things I just talked to you about, which is, oh my gosh, disruptive elements, makes so much sense. We started the business with that on our website. We’re 3D printing vehicles. It’s amazing. And the thing is your customers, they’re sort of more like, “I don’t want to know how you make it. I just want to know that it’s awesome.” So it’s been interesting. Because for business thinkers, I talk a lot about the digital manufacturing revolution and now that’s happening, but you won’t see it so much on our website, because it just gives the customer a reason to second-guess your product. And so for us, we talk about our product.
And so one of the challenges has been aligning the MO, the modus operandi of the business, digital manufacturing, with the marketing of a new product, and that marketing a new product is what does it do for me? Not how did you make it effectively or efficiently. But as a user, what does it do for me? And users for shared mobility are municipalities, they’re business buyers. Also users are the riders who use the mobility. And so if you think of Uber, who is the customer? I mean, the customer is Uber driver, the customer is maybe the Toyota that is creating all the Priuses. And then it’s the end rise rider who’s riding in an Uber or Lyft or a DiDi, Ola, whatever it is.
So the point being is that we have a really long downstream of users and customers, and we’re speaking to them. What is the utility of a productive mobility experience, mobility as a service, shared mobility? And they could care less than it was 3D-printed. There are a few of them that would want to know, but for the most part, it’s “Does it talk to me? Is it as quiet? Is it relaxing? Does it give me a great experience? Can I charge my phone when I’m in it? Can I watch virtual reality? Can I show my friends my YouTube channel that I’m going in? Can I shop while I’m there? Can I see into a building when I go by it? Can I know what the history of this national park was when I drive through it, by seeing the dinosaurs roaming the earth outside through the very window that I’m driving there? I mean, these are real mobility experiences, and I don’t care that it was 3D-printed. I just want to know that it’s awesome.
Yeah, no, I love that.
It’s been a challenge.
Oh, I can only imagine the size and scope of that challenge is. I mean, you know, being in the space I’m in, being a marketing agency, I mean, it really is helping people connect to their clients or to their customer base. And so like you said just a second ago, you may have this incredibly innovative process and product and this entire backend, I mean, it’s just like any software experience. People don’t care so much about what the magic behind it all, which is vitally important and, I mean, that is praiseworthy and awards-worthy and that’s history making stuff right there.
But the consumer or the user is so focused on, like you said a second ago, their experience. So what pain points am I solving for them? And am I speaking it to them in their language? It goes back to what we’re talking about just a few minutes ago. I’m going back through my notes that I can’t even read. Oh, yeah. The thinking like a casting director instead of an actor. So thinking like a consumer instead of an engineer, I guess would be it.
But in a sense, it’s like back to what we talked even earlier in the conversation about following and leading. If you think you’re going to lead by giving everybody what you did that’s great, you’re going to lose. If you listen to what other people do need and want and work with them on that, then you’re going to win together. And I think that that’s about humility. It’s about, yeah, my team has carried the weight of the world on their shoulders to get this digital manufacturing thing done. I mean, crash testing. We hold the public safety in our hand every time we put a person in a vehicle. And if I said to someone, I wanted to 3D-printed because it was more capital efficient, but they were in an accident, got hurt, they would hate me for that.
And so the thing is you got to make it better and tell them why it’s better. And later on, you can have a beer over how you got there, but it’s not their story to own and they don’t need it. And so I think that that’s been a wonderful challenge to market a product that comes from a disruptive method where you’re not marketing the disruptive method, you’re marketing the disruptive product.
Right. Yeah. And like you said, it’s high-stakes, right? I mean, it’s not like making a new table. I mean, you’re making a way for people to move and to have experiences. And so safety is obviously a top priority. And so that’s a record, that’s a win-loss ratio that you need to have 100% on the win side or is as close to as possible. And so I can only imagine the amount of challenge that alone has introduced or crept into the whole process. Because like you said, I mean, you can have an amazing product, but if it’s not safe, then, I mean, that could stop you right there.
This brings up a really good point that maybe what I’ll do is I’ll cut an edge here, maybe disagree in a little bit, but in the end, maybe we’ll end up agreeing. You know, it’s funny. From a military perspective, you do a job where you know you’re at risk and you know that the answer could be that you sacrifice your life, well-being, health for the greater good. You serve and protect and defend the constitution of the United States of America, okay? We often talk about why you go to war. You do it for your brother and sister to the right. and the left of you. It’s why you fight. But in the end, your top level goal is to serve at the behest of the Constitution and the American public.
And so I took that into the business because what I was saying is, you know, it really isn’t a zero-defects mentality that we need to work on. That’s what we need to get away from here. If you look around, vehicles kill people all the time. It used to be Mothers Against Drunk Driving. And then later on, it became “don’t text and drive”, which is really what it is right now. And so the Department of Transportation Secretary of Transportation says that 90% to 95% plus of all accidents are human-engendered, which means that actually the bar is pretty low to do better because we have a lot of accidents. We kill a hundred people roughly a week in the United States, killed due to vehicle accidents. And 95% of those are human-engendered. And those are just the people that die. I mean, we really got to stop texting and driving. We got to stop distracted driving, but we don’t. There are only so many police out there that can enforce it. We don’t.
And so for me, the bar was pretty low, not a zero-defect mentality. And it wasn’t rolling out and be like, “Oh, we can afford to kill this many people because that’s less than the dying.” But the point being is we had to have the conversation, which is to say the serving, the protecting, defending the Constitution and the United States, people are going to get hurt on the way to doing it, but the greater good is what we’re after, and I think in this particular case, we don’t say people are going to get hurt. But what we do is we say, if you think autonomy is dangerous, why don’t we just try it for a little while because it might be better than the alternative, which is people texting and driving and being distracted and killing people. The zero-defect isn’t the only thing. I mean, I’ve taken from the military is that you can’t always have that mentality if you want to achieve something safer or better.
Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, we get drilled in our heads, right? You’ve got to have the 80% solution. We’re not looking for 100% solution because your 80% solution is going to change anyway. But no, I do agree with you because when you think – I mean, just taking the safety and death stats and I even think I’m pretty sure I’ve heard Elon Musk quote this also, which has been like, yeah, I mean, the rate of accidents or the rate of defects, the rate of whatever negative attribute we want to measure, is substantially, if not on an order of magnitude, lower on an autonomous vehicle versus when we’re piloting.
Because like you said and like we all know, I mean, how many accidents do you pass by on the highway? And there’s a pretty high chance that texting and driving was a part of that or some type of distraction that or some type of human-introduced problem. And so, no, I mean, I think it’s awesome. I think it’s awesome what you’re working on, and I think we do agree.
So you said a phrase earlier that I think that just – I don’t know why, but it really caught my attention and I would love to hear your perspective on this. And again, if you agree to disagree, it’s all good. Actually, it’s kind of fun, right? But the phrase “what if”, I find that phrase to be in many ways the essence of the entrepreneur. It’s the what-if questions of, well, what if we could do this better? And I’ll stop there and I’ll let you jump in, but what’s your thoughts on that?
Well, people, a lot of times where that makes my head go because a lot of times people will come to me, seeing me having started a business with a big goal, and they’ll say, “I want to be an entrepreneur, but I don’t know what I to do.” And I hear that a lot. Meaning, like, “I want to be an entrepreneur, but I don’t know what I want to do.” And my answer to that is usually: Then don’t be an entrepreneur yet because you’re missing the what-if. But if somebody comes to me and they say, “Hey, what if the following things could happen?” and there’s no discussion of “I want to be an entrepreneur,” they’re far more likely to be a successful entrepreneur because that question is annoying them.
So that’s where my head goes when you call that out, you know, it is that insatiable curiosity as a first piece. Howard Stevenson was one of my professors at business school. Another guy named Bill Solomon was too. And these were people that were deeply into the idea of entrepreneurship. They both had different definitions, but I’ll share with you what their two definitions were because they were real definitions.
Howard’s definition was that entrepreneurship is relentless pursuit of an opportunity with means currently beyond your control. So if you think about the what-if as the opportunity, and the relentless part of it you’re relentlessly pursuing an answer to a what-if or a solution to a what-if or a result of a what-if, and you’re doing it with means currently beyond your control, you’re like, well, I’m going to make this happen; I’m going to build a whole business in an economy, but I don’t have enough money to do it. And for other people, it’s time. I don’t have enough money, time to do it. Or hands, I can’t, but I need more hands.
And so that is Howard’s definition of entrepreneurship. And I think it sort of got right almost at that edge of the what-if. Bill Solomon’s definition was an entrepreneur is somebody who holds people, opportunity, context with one foot, and deals with another foot, and holds them all together. I’m an entrepreneur, drawn and quartered by these four things, but I’m going to pull them together versus letting them tear me apart. And so let’s go over them again. I have the people I need, I have the opportunity that’s in front of me, which is more of the what-if, and then I have the context like this, the right time in the world to do it, and then I have the deal. Can I put it together for an amount of money where I can make money doing it? People, opportunity, context, the deal.
And so what I like about that when I think about the what-if is whether it’s Howard’s definition of relentless pursuit or whether it’s Bill’s definition of people, opportunity, context, and deal, the what-if is pretty central to both of them. There’s more to it in entrepreneurship than just the what-if. That’s why I come in if people say to me, “what if,” they have a chance, but can they put the other things together? And that’s why military folks, I think, often have more than they think. Because if they say, “what if”, they’ve already got so much of the other thing done. They know people. They know how to work with bad leaders and good leaders and good followers and bad followers. They just get it. It’s in their training. So they’ve got that nailed if they’re already saying, what if they’ve got the opportunity nailed.
And context and deal, that could be trained. Context, is it the right time? Or do I need the patience to be able to start my ambush at the right time? You get that as a military person. And a deal is, you know, then that’s really more about the financials. What’s it going to cost me and how much am I going to get from it? And that can be trained in business school or even in short courses that you can take online. So I think the military people are really well disposed if they can say, “what if.”
Yeah. I mean, that phrase just jumped out at me. Because that that’s the conversation I’ve had with other people. And specifically in the context of this conversation, it is that curiosity of like, man, is there a way to do that better? You’re like, “Well, what if we did this? What if we thought about it another way? And what if we got a little bit more creative and solve this problem?” I mean, the problems that you’re solving, I mean, you’re determined to solve a problem that hasn’t been completely solved yet. And I think that’s probably the other end of that statement is yet. You’re trying to go from what-if and then you’re like, okay, well, we’re not there yet, but we’re going to get there. And so you’re on that relentless pursuit. But I love those definitions. Absolutely love both of those definitions. I think those are absolutely just very, very clear.
I realize we’re already getting to the tail end of our time. And so I absolutely want to be respectful to you and the time that you’ve already given me. So, I mean, I think it’s probably most appropriate at this point to flip the table back to you. And if there’s any other bits of business advice or entrepreneurial guidance, lessons learned, anything that’s gnawing at you that you haven’t gotten a chance to get off your chest yet, I would love to give this last segment back to you.
Great. So I think that for final words, I think, one, thank you for having me on. It’s a pleasure. Thank you for everyone who’s listened on the podcasts. It’s just a joy to share experiences. This is long form. So it’s not like you’re 40 characters or a quick one minute. So thank you for all of your time for those that are listening, and for Aaron, your questions. I would leave everybody with a thought that sits large in my head, something that I think about. And it is the following phrase quote, which is that kindness without intelligence is weak and feeble and intelligence without kindness is dangerous, but the two of them together provide the shortest foundation to humanity. So I’ll say it again. Kindness without intelligence is weak and feeble and intelligence without kindness can be dangerous, but the two of them together provide the shortest foundation to humanity.
And we are all on this earth to be able to achieve things that make it a better place for our fellow men and women and for the earth itself to pass it down to future generations. That is more where kindness is. But intelligence is what it takes to get it done, thinking about all the other stakeholders that are around you. And if you only think about the way you win, you’ll be dangerous because you won’t have the kindness to think about other people. And so when you go after business or you go after things post the military, I would encourage you to keep kindness and intelligence balanced in your life in order to be able to find a foundation on which we can build humanity.
We live now in the last 200 years with an exponentially growing population. We have seven billion people on the earth. 250 years ago, we had in the hundreds of millions. And so this is something that’s very real. It takes a lot more kindness and intelligence to build a foundation of humanity because we have limited finite resources. And so I think that our children today, not even grandchildren, are growing up in a resource-constrained world where they need those guideposts in order to be able to find their new heroes and to be heroes to other people. The idea of Clark Kent and the idea of Wonder Woman and all these other people that are out there that are in the history, they were in the history of looking backward at a world that had so many fewer people. In The Last of the Mohicans, as an example, was a last of a Mohican in a world where there were literally just a hundred million people in the world. And so it takes a lot to find the Gandhis of the world that we need today and the Henry Fords and other people like that, and keeping kindness and intelligence together is a good guidepost or set of guideposts to ge there.
Jay, I just want to thank you and thank you for sharing that. Thank you for taking so much time with me. And I’ve genuinely enjoyed our conversation. Just thank you so much.
Thanks, Aaron. It’s a real pleasure. I look forward to doing it again in the future.
Wow. What a remarkable conversation. One, the time went super-fast in that conversation, but man, there were so many just great golden bits of advice. We’re just talking about the what-if question, the definition of entrepreneurship and there’s so many other things there. I won’t try to recount all of them for you. But no, I love his perspective on wanting to serve as to lead, that Latin phrase that was from his high school. And then the whole thinking like a casting director instead of an actor. And I know that was a very short thing that we talked about earlier but I do think it’s important and I think it is another angle as an entrepreneur or as anybody in business really. It’s putting yourself in other person’s shoes. It is that empathy. It’s caring for people but it’s getting a little bit strategic. And so instead of thinking about what you want, thinking about what the other person wants. Or instead of thinking about the problem that you’re solving for yourself, thinking about the problem that you’re solving for the other person and speaking about it in the way that they care and that makes sense to them.
But no, I just want to thank you so much for tuning in. I really do enjoy producing this for you. If you have any comments, feedback, we’d certainly welcome those. I would love a comment or any other interaction with you on social media. It’s a true delight. And if you really are enjoying any of these episodes or any specific episodes, feel free to share it out on social media and you can tag me on it also, just so I know because then I’d be able to thank you. And so I just want to thank you for being there and I can’t wait to see you next week. See you.