About twenty years ago when I bought this domain I had some pretty ambitious plans for it: a worldwide empire selling high-end small electric vehicles. As is so often the case, reality intervened and I got sucked out of the field of electric mobility and into the considerably more booming field of web development. What can I say? It was 1999, I was happily stuck in an out-of-the-way college town, and I was trying to get while the getting was good.

But before that, in the spring of 1998, my friend Craig and I had put together a proof of concept of what I hoped could become a pretty cool transportation device. It would be easy now to ret-con some higher purpose into its origin story, but the truth is it grew out of a desire for a cooler way to get to class at the college we both had graduated from a year earlier.

Still, electric bikes were starting to become a thing, and in fact the company we were working for had one on the market. But they were—and mostly still are—too big to really carry around with you. That means they need to be locked up somewhere outdoors (introducing friction into your trip), racked on the outside of a bus or private vehicle (more friction) and the battery either needs to be removable or the whole bike needs to spend some quality time within reach of an electrical outlet (still more friction). Our vision was a compact and completely hands-free vehicle: an electric skateboard that responded to its rider shifting their weight fore and aft by accelerating and decelerating.

It’s been said that one of the worst mistakes when trying to make something people want is to start with a solution, rather than with a problem that said people are trying to solve. So it’s worthwhile to state the problem, which is making trips that are a bit too long to walk, and a bit too short to drive. Running and biking are both alternatives, but there appears to be significant space for small motorized vehicles like electric bikes, electric scooters, and similar vehicles. That space is now attracting an increasing amount of attention, having been dubbed “micromobility”, and having spawned its own podcast and conference series.

I’m still optimistic that a cleverly-built weight-sensing skateboard-like vehicle is a pretty compelling solution to the problem of micromobility. If prototypes getting randomly stolen is a proxy for market demand, my odds (2 out of 3) are pretty good. Still, it’s certainly not the only form factor I’m interested in exploring.

Written on December 13, 2018