In each of our podcasts, we ask top hardware entrepreneurs the same 10 questions to better understand the challenges and best practices in starting a hardware company. In Episode 6 of Season 1, Lemnos’s Eric Klein speaks with interviewing John Stanfield, the co-founder and CEO of Local Motion, which was acquired by Zipcar.
- Why did you start your project?
Clement and I co-founded Local Motion in 2010, just out of Stanford. I came out of a product design program there in the mechanical engineering group and Clement was MS&E (Management, Science, and Engineering). We had an idea to try and solve local mobility by building a four-wheeled plug-in electric vehicle that was designed from the ground up to share—something that was designed to be sold to places and not people and really focus on the local sharing of mobility. What we found after about two years was that our real true value in the marketplace was to offer that sharing ability to existing infrastructures. We separated the vehicle from a small piece of hardware and software platform that we now sell to large fleets across the United States and Europe.
- What did you do before deciding to start a hardware startup?
I have a bit of a unique history. I studied Physics in undergrad and didn’t want to build bombs for the Navy. I continued doing my college job, which was wild firefighting. I did that for 12 years, rappelled down helicopters, sawed down trees on fire, and had a great time. But then, I came to Silicon Valley after starting a high-rise window cleaning service-based business in San Francisco, growing that to about 12 times its annual revenue, and selling it back to the original founder. I came down to Silicon Valley and got into Stanford for my graduate work and that’s where I met Clement.
- Have you always been a Maker?
I’ve always been an innovator, a creator, and a builder. I’ve always created things from furniture to two-wheeled electric vehicles in my garage. I started a vegetable oil conversion business in Los Angeles to take any diesel motor and allow it to run on waste vegetable oil. I invented some technology, started a company, and started realizing very quickly that the waste vegetable market is basically a commodities market and it’s very difficult to penetrate.
- What is your day like?
For me, right now, it’s all about just finding efficiencies and shifting between my multiple hats. Generally, in the morning, I come in and try to make sure there are no major problems with our existing platform. That’s checking in with the engineering teams that are working on customer satisfaction to backend software. I’m also basically the hiring manager, and I handle the finances, so I make sure that everything’s in order on the finance side. But the biggest part of my job right now is actually product development on our physical product, the user interface at the cars.
- What’s the hardest part about being a hardware startup founder?
Hiring salespeople is the hardest thing that I have done to date. I would much rather solve a complex mechanism or a technical problem. I really had to learn how to hire sales and marketing people because I’ve never done it before. I had to create a way that I could look at sales roles and sales hiring from a technical perspective. We had to come up with a real, concrete solution-based set of questions.
- Why did you choose Lemnos?
Jeremy and Helen. I really love their vision. You have to fund your company; you have to take the money eventually where it’s offered. We had a lot of options early on with our angels, and we chose to partner with Lemnos. We were both startups and we were all founders. I’m really glad we made the decision because my gut was right. They’ve turned out to be a tremendous resource for us not only from writing us a check initially and helping us, but when we launched the car initially, Jeremy came to the site and he was grinding, cutting, and helping us screw the car together for the first demo. They’re really dedicated to their people and that’s awesome.
- What are the most important tools you use to make your product?
We use Jira in-house to track changes, make suggestions, and push bug alerts. That’s really helpful on the software side. Also, it’s not a tool, per se, but since we have a big piece of hardware still, finding a contract manufacturer that is close by, that I trust a lot, and that I can call any time of day, any day of week, has been essential.
- What advice would you offer to other founders?
The most important thing is to find your product market fit. A strong product market fit is 100% essential to successful products, successful fund raisings, successful sales, and successful growth.
The other thing is do not ever compromise on your hiring. Always hire the smartest person you can find, hire people that are better at jobs you are doing than you are. You can replace those jobs with someone better, more innovative, stronger and more powerful than you are in that role. Never ever waver on that.
- What book are you reading or TV series are you watching?
I have a two-year-old at home, so I don’t have a lot of free time. Generally, I’m home by eight. I put her to bed and get back online by 10, work until I pass out and then, wake up and repeat. Both my wife and I love to get out and play in the woods, so we do that as much as we can. But basically it’s eat, breathe, and sleep, and share mobility right now in really trying to stay ahead of that game.
- What is the best gadget you are carrying now?
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for this question, but to learn more about John, how he approaches his role as CEO, Local Motion’s forays into European markets, how working with a contract manufacturer was a game changer, and more, listen to our podcast.
To contact Eric Klein, you can reach him on Twitter: @lemnoslabs or email: email@example.com.