Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Now that is what I call entrepreneurship - e-Go

Tony – a deeply trained engineer with years of experience and Giotto a designer/engineer were flying friends and saw an advert for a competition to create a new type of plane that fitted in below a certain weight restriction. And if they could design and build something it might open up a completely new opportunity. But for them it was purely the challenge to see if it could be done.

Their good fortune was they won the competition. I bet their families did not think the same!

The plane takes on microlights – which are frankly very Wright Brothers – canvas and scaffolding mainly.  Tony and Giotto came up with a radical new design, using state of the art materials, a wankel (rotary) engine and a superb design – so it does not look like a crop sprayer from the 1950s as many light aircraft still do.

If you like iPads and great looking design – e-Go is for you!

From the design stage to see if they could do it – they realized they also had to invent production methods, build ovens to cure materials, create completely new engineering processes. This was cutting edge stuff.

Once they burnt through the meager prize fund – they continued to boot strap, using cow sheds, garages, kitchen tables and the main buzz that I got was to se how they had harnessed the wonderful talent pool around Cambridge to volunteer their time. Industrial designers, engineers, software, pilots, race car engineers, electronics, and much, much, more. At various stages of the hard long slog there must have been around 35 – 40 volunteers. Yes – OK they were fed in fabulous food and drink from time to time.  But to be honest Tony and Giotto have had a huge level of probono skilled talent to get this far.

Software start-ups are used to community-based code writing, sharing and so on. But in leading edge technology and engineering – almost completely unheard of.

The passion and commitment of Tony and Giotto is what gets them their charisma and the design and novelty just appeals to the geeks and investors around Cambridge. 

And because of their hands on approach they were also able to interlock design, build, test, re-test and finalize all at a great speed. Maybe not fast enough for their investors – but just try building a completely new type of plane from a design idea in your head on a kitchen table laptop!

Once they hit some early stage milestones – like detailed drawings, scale models, and could show progress they raised their first round of serious funding. This got them to their prototype. They are now in another funding round to get the plane into a “production” state.

Solid orders are coming in as well. There could be more but anyone who is familiar with the Everett Rogers innovation adoption curve will recognize that they need their early customers to encourage later stage adopters to follow.

Will they make money?

Hope so – they are at the very start of a completely new category and maybe it will take time to get the volume of sales going that they can feel it is a commercial success and investors are happy. But the real measure of their success is the creation of a new single-seater and surely they will create their own competitors in due course.

So two people, passionate about flying, engineering and design have gone from a “let us see if we can do it”; to raising money; researching materials, methods and systems; holding on to investors; growing a wonderful pool of volunteers; building a prototype to demonstrate it can do what it says and surely they will then go on to achieve real sales. Why not?

The project is not without risks and barriers – but it seems to me since they have got this far – they can tackle the next stages of the journey too.

Why I admire this is because it is not a low barrier to entry – website based venture. We see those around every street corner as there is an explosion of incubators and accelerators and yes of course they play a very valuable role – they create a general buzz around entrepreneurship, provide training and every so often a real venture comes out of the fog.

A company like e-Go can only be done by people who have been there and done similar things before, carry depth of knowledge and insights. What they do is create a disruptive technology  and then others can follow in due course.

Well done Tony and Giotto

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Sound bites for entrepreneurship

There have been 8 sound bites – that have impacted the nature of my work in entrepreneurship. Some of it has come from Ashrams, some from CEOs, some from research and others are just kind of in the air. 

These sound bites are listed here and will be explicated – in brief - in the coming weeks so that if any of the sound bites has a particular appeal we can reflect on them together in a discussion to follow.

Here is the list:

When the mind is full of little thoughts where is the space for big ideas (Vedanta Ashram, Bangalore)
We are not a small growing company – we are a big company starting small (Scott McNealey – Sun Microsystems, California)
Think big, act fast and be fearless (MIT – one of the faculty at a conference, Boston)
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high…(Tagore, India) – Sorry this is a poem – not just a soundbite!

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

We need risk tolerance more than risk mitigation to alter society (Vyakarnam – based on a co-authored paper with Sahakian et al, 2008, UK)
Affordable loss as a principle to stimulate enterprise (Sarasvathy et al and home truth common sense, USA)
Seek forgiveness not permission (Unknown but all over the internet)

 Entrepreneurs are not made or born – they are killed (Peter Dawe - on a train journey from London!)