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.
The Early Years
A Familiar Career Path
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.
Around the World in 365 Days
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.
The Perfect SUV
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.
Back to School
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.
Lit Motors is Born
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.
Starting a Company is Hard
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!
Proving a Market
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.
Prototypes, Prototypes, Prototypes
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.