Lit Motors founder Danny Kim is a lifelong builder. His childhood Lego creations gave way to intricate musical instruments and rock-solid mountain bikes by high school.
Danny studied biology and physics at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, but left after a couple years, uninspired by the traditional career path. He trained as a Land Rover mechanic, earning ASE certification to rebuild automatic transmissions.
Like many adventurous young 20-somethings, Danny then traveled the world solo for over a year, visiting 106 cities in 28 countries on 4 continents. He observed the dominant form of transportation around the world: two-wheeled vehicles.
After returning to the US, Danny embarked on an unheard-of DIY project: building his own “perfect SUV”. He stripped two Land Rover Defenders to the frame and completely redesigned, re-engineered, and rebuilt the pair.
The truck project nearly killed Danny, literally. While welding beneath a 500 lbs chassis, Danny was nearly crushed when a stand failed and the chassis fell to the ground. This near-death experience led Danny to reflect on why he was building such a large vehicle when most people drive alone. His “a-ha moment”: cut the car in half, balance it, and make the perfect vehicle for getting around the city. Thus the C-1 concept was born.
With this concept in mind, Danny enrolled in the Rhode Island School of Design, earning a degree in Industrial Design and Sustainable Transportation. He spent all his studio classes directing small teams of engineers from Olin, Brown, and MIT to create initial C-1 prototypes.
After graduation, Danny considered further studies, but decided it best to start working on the C-1 in earnest. He moved to San Francisco, California, and founded Lit Motors in February 2010.
Danny began raising money, putting together a small team, and building prototypes. An early 1/4 scale prototype excited a property owner so much that he gave Dan a three-year lease with less than $12,000 in the bank!
One of the first people Danny met in San Francisco was legendary venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson, who provided key advice: don’t develop a product without first determining a market. With that in mind, Danny and the team applied Lean Startup methodologies to get real market feedback on a Minimum Viable Product C-1, as chronicled in our Harvard Business School case study.
Once we determined a market, Danny felt comfortable investing more time and effort into de-risking the technical aspects of the vehicle. Over six months, we built a variety of prototypes, culminating in our full-scale driving prototype which we unveiled onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt SF Startup Battlefield.
Designing the next prototype would require additional funding. Lit Motors raised $1,700,000 from investors including Mark Pincus, Kim Jung-Ju, Kelly Slater, Steve Rocco, Scott Belsky, Damon Way, and Yves Béhar. With a team of 32, including Amory Lovins, Daniel Smith, and Mason Peck, the company embarked on a journey to create a more robust and advanced prototype.
With our EP-4 prototype complete, technical risk was reduced in the AEV’s mechanical platform, drive by wire steering, and stability algorithms. We partnered with Eric Stromswold and his team at Cayuga Astronautics, and began testing the vehicle on city streets, race tracks, and even on ice.
As testing for the EP-4 continued, we recruited dynamicist and godfather of modern CMGs, David Bailey. We also recruited former executive director of marketing and sales for Qoros Automotive, Stefano Villanti, to head our AEV production and business development.
While riding his Ducati Motorcycle at Laguna Seca Raceway, Danny was involved in a near death accident caused by misplaced sandbags in the runoff area. He sustained severe fractures, requiring a hip replacement and confining him to a Wheelchair for 6 months.
Danny has recovered from his motorcycle accident, with a reignited passion to develop a safe AEV and make dangerous two wheelers a thing of the past. Together, the team begins working on their next advanced prototype, taking the next step towards production.