We first met John and Clement in the Fall of 2011, just as we were starting Lemnos. Helen and I had spent the late summer meeting with anyone we could find that was working on a hardware company. The introduction came through a venture capitalist we knew and we were off to the races.
In some sense it couldn’t have been more of a stereotypical start up. Two Stanford grads working out of a house in East Palo Alto. From the beginning we were impressed by the shared vision that the founders had. They wanted to change transportation from the ground up. Part of the planned was the embedded boxes that made the vehicle shareable, but when we invested they were also building a new light electric vehicle.
Part of what drew us to them was their domain expertise. While at Stanford [and after] they had looked extensively at how transportation works and what the best options were. The reason they were building a new electric vehicle is that their analysis had shown nothing on the market met 100% of the needs they had.
The company was named Weng Motors, which stood for Where Everyone Needs to Go [WENG]. Even though in the first meeting they said it was just temporary it took another year and a half to find a new one. Lesson learned, what ever name you pick is going to be with you for a while.
We chose to invest even before we had found warehouse space. 60 days later they were the first to move in. Clement had reached back into his network in France and recruited two more French programmers to join the team. As a result French because the unofficial second language of the Forge for their duration [currently it is Russian].
Over the next 18 months they design and built a car from the ground up, along with the sharing system to go with it. They debuted at the Launch conference and even had the president of Israel take a ride.
It was round this time that they [like many startups] hit a cross road. They had secured initial customers and had a working system but were running into issues with the vehicle itself. Between scale manufacturing and the capital required to do it the prospects were not great. Most venture firms didn’t want to fund the amount required to tool up to build a fleet of vehicles and the near term volume was too low for most manufacturers to be interested.
On the flip side the customer traction with their embedded / sharing system was growing. Based on these two trends they made the decision to drop the car. I know this was not an easy decision for the team who had put all they had into getting that first prototype working. They still proudly display it in their garage for all to see.
After that decision it was heads down to build the company around making existing fleets shareable. The team went full tilt with the new business model and started to gain traction. With the announcement of the funding from A16Z it gives them the capital they need to grow. We’re excited to watch what’s next for them.