SoCal Scooter Start-Up
Motors into Biz w/ Ford
Who’s the Hollywood A-Lister that got behind OjO Electric? And how does a small group of retired guys go from kicking around the idea for creating something ‘cool’ and keeping themselves busy turn into a global deal with Ford Motor Company? Find out as OjO Electric co-founder, Dale Seiden, joins Tom Smith to talk about the latest SoCal mobility start-up success story.
Recording date – November 19, 2017
Dale Seiden: we call it a light white electric vehicle. So it’s an LEV. But I have to tell you it really has…it’s as if Vespa met Tesla and it became electric. And it’s for the bike lane. No license required, no registration, no insurance, and it’s really not a bike but it goes wherever bikes go.
Tom Smith: Welcome to iDriveSoCal, the podcast all about mobility in the automotive capital of the United States, Southern California. I’m your host, Tom Smith, and today I’m joined by Mr. Dale Seiden, who is a friend, colleague, and also the founder of a new electric, I’m going to call it a scooter, but Dale is going to correct me, perhaps. Electric scooter company called OjO. And OjO is based right here in the southern California area. Dale, thank you so much for joining me.
Dale Seiden: Tom, it’s a pleasure to be here and it’s really great to see you.
Tom Smith: Good to see you as well.
Dale Seiden: Shocker.
Tom Smith: Dale and I ran into each other at LA CoMotion, an event all about mobility in Southern California, and didn’t know that each other were going to be here so there you have it. Now we have a podcast in the works that’s coming out of an organic meeting and this podcast is just as organic as that meeting. So…
Dale Seiden: We love organic
Tom Smith: Right. So let’s start from the beginning. How did OjO become?
Dale Seiden: Well let me just clear one thing up. I am one of the founders. There’s actually three of us that co-founded the company. Two friends of mine. We and myself, we were just kind of sitting around. We’re electric bike enthusiasts. And this was kind of created out of… it was a labor of love. I mean we love riding bikes and of course we got into electric bikes, and the OjO which is soon to be, and when this comes out it might be, it will be called the Ford OjO electric.
Tom Smith: Congratulations on that. Ford F-O-R-D…
Dale Seiden: F-O-R-D as in Henry.
Tom Smith: As in Henry.
Dale Seiden: And they were very hungry to get into the sustainability, the transportation world and they really went nuts when they saw the OjO. But anyway back to what you had asked. So we were sitting around and we were just saying hey let’s come up with something. We truly were retired and just kind of having fun and didn’t want to not work, so we said you know let’s come up with a scooter something that would be for adults, not kids, because everything’s razor like everything’s a foldable, it’s unstable. So let’s come up with something that really would be designed as if Tesla developed it. And so it would be super cool, super high tech, have great torque, have great meaning to the world, the environment. And let’s see what we can do. And in the words of most the people that have seen it, we nailed it. It’s quite a product and we created a whole new category in transportation.
Tom Smith: I look forward to hopping on one shortly after this this talk. Maybe by the time that I do we’ll have… be able to post it along with the podcast.
Dale Seiden: Are you ready for this now, Tom?
Tom Smith: So I…
Dale Seiden: You’d love it. You just want to ride it home I guarantee you
Tom Smith: I’m sure. Maybe you can get me a deal on one. But…
Dale Seiden: We would do that.
Tom Smith: So…
Dale Seiden: Double, for you, double.
Tom Smith: Thank you so much. So you mentioned… so I mean Ford. That is just…congratulations a thousand times over. That is just so flippin awesome.
Dale Seiden: It really is. It was a big coup for us I would say, but they came to us after being exposed to the product and closed this deal in a very short amount of time. They really wanted…they’re hungry. All the manufacturers are for alternative transportation mobility options.
Tom Smith: And you mentioned Tesla earlier. So, you know, we have some big players in the space when we’re talking about Ford. Was there other companies that were knocking at your door saying hey let’s have a talk about working together?
Dale Seiden: Actually after visiting the licensing show in Las Vegas last May which is when we had a meeting with Ford, we actually did have several automobile manufacturers that expressed tremendous interest in this product. Again it’s so different. You just look at it. It has the distinctive aspect of it. It’s in the light electric vehicle category, not foldable, it’s not for just the last mile. It’s for the last mile and beyond. It’s really to replace your shorter commutes in an automobile and have comfort and luxury.
Tom Smith: Let’s talk about some of the some of the specifics. Range, how does it how does it juice up, is it two seater, is it one seater? Are there accessories?
Dale Seiden: So it’s a light electric vehicle but we could throw a personal light electric vehicle in there. It’s really designed for one person. It can… it’s so robust, the motor so…it’s 500 watt hub gear hub motor. Two people can hop on this without a problem, but I wouldn’t say, you know, it’s the safest thing in the world for two people to get on a wide CPS. But it is without question the versatility of it, the utility of it, and the technology of it is incredible. You asked about juicing up. It’s very interesting. We actually have something that nobody’s done obviously because we are just closing in on the patent for it, and it’s got an onboard charger. And there’s actually retractable cord and plug that when you open a little door on the front, it looks…you think it’s now an appliance. So it’s literally this luxury two wheel appliance that’s buzzing around the road. So where ever you go charging is only as far as, for example, that 110 outlet on the wall to your right. All you’d have to do is plug it right in there and it charges. So you don’t have to wait to get back home to charge it. It’s pretty amazing.
Tom Smith: And how long does a charge take?
Dale Seiden: Charge from zero to full is about five and a half hours. And then wherever you go you just plug it in. So your chance of going down to zero unless you’re just trying to go your 25 miles straight on is pretty slim.
Tom Smith: So then what about infrastructure? Do you see in the future I pull up to the grocery store, I lock my OjO to the bike rack looking thing and plug it in while I go get my groceries?
Dale Seiden: It’s exactly what’s going to happen. As a matter of fact, we are going into universities all over the country and we’re actually developing a charging station that is super high tech. Actually one of them’s solar, the other one’s not. So we’ve got some really neat things we’re working on. But that’ll actually be like a bike rack that you would just take a regular cable or a good chain bike lock which is very simple lock to that and plug it right in. And it be a, you know, a waterproof plug connection. So we’re actually developing that as well.
Tom Smith: Is it a bike? Is it a scooter? What is it okay for me to call it in your…
Dale Seiden: It’s… we call it a light white electric vehicle. So it’s an LEV. But I have to tell you it really has…it’s as if Vespa met Tesla and it became electric. And it’s for the bike lane. No license required, no registration, no insurance, and it’s really not a bike but it goes wherever bikes go.
Tom Smith: I want to talk a little bit more about how the Ford deal came together because I think that’s a really significant piece of your story. But before we get to that, the three founders. What are the background of these guys?
Dale Seiden: As far as the three original founders, myself, Don Rattner, Alan Shapiro, and actually there is a fourth who’s our design guy Bill Woodward. Amazing guy. Let me go to Don Ratner. He’s really a genius, and a visionary, and an accomplished successful businessman. He was in the toy business. He was one of the largest partners with Disney in their licensing. So that kind of ties a license piece of it together. Alan Shapiro’s family. And Don, he was the Supersoaker, which you probably played with as a kid. That was his. So you know…and it goes on and on. Lot of license deals, fast moving consumer products they call it for these big companies. Allan Shapiro, amazing guy. Family owned a very large plumbing supply company called Vermillion Pipe and Supply who they sold years ago. They sold it years ago to a company which is now Ferguson Enterprises which is very big on a national basis. And Allan’s been in the plumbing distribution business for most of his life. So he’s really smart in that part of it. And me, as you know from our affiliation, I founded a very large grill company, outdoor kitchen appliances, and stainless steel manufacturing those appliances for residential. And I also design restaurant kitchens and built very high end restaurants that the best quality…I was known for the best quality in that building from scratch organically. Everything you see in a restaurant kitchen to make it operate. And so it makes money. So if you tie all those together and then you take Bill Woodward who’s our creative design guy, of course he designs based on our input. But you take those four pieces, put them together and it is a powerhouse foundation for the company.
Tom Smith: I want to get to the Ford, but just before I do because this ties into it too. Three, arguably four, successful professionals in their various disciplines. But how do you guys gather to beat out what I would assume would be lots of other people desiring the same deal that Ford bestowed upon you when none of you actually had…nobody worked on vehicles before, much less a light electric vehicle that creates a category.
Dale Seiden: Correct.
Tom Smith: How?
Dale Seiden: Well a lot of creativity, a lot of vision, a lot of identifying an absolute need to improve transportation on a worldwide basis in cities all over the world. What’s interesting is when we conceived this and it was an organic creation from Santa Monica where we have our corporate office. When we conceived it, the need was miniscule compared to what it is today. It was like barely scraping the surface. Today the need is just based on all these foldables you see and all these other, you know, electric bikes and all kinds of things that are going out there. And then you read about Volvo is going to be an electric cars only within the next six years I believe is what it is or seven years. It goes on and on. So everything is kind of just morphed from when we started. We had no idea. We were kind of doing this for fun, and to help the planet, and to come out with something that was super cool because we’re all about really the cool factor and whatever we’ve all done. And we’ve got some strategic partners, investors I should say in the company that are amazing. Very well-known. And when I say strategic we weren’t looking for money like most these companies that startup. Kickstarter and things like that. We were self-funded, and these investors came out of the woodwork who happened to be friends of my partners, myself, who said I want on that bandwagon. They look at this as kind of our, and I’ll use this term “beats moment” is kind of the thing from what Jimmy Iovine experienced. And we have really created what we feel is this whole new category of the next area in transportation. Not your last mile, not your foldable, not your toy-ish kind of thing. It is a real piece of smart transportation that you ride instead of driving your car.
Tom Smith: The Ford deal. You mentioned before we started the podcast the timing that it came together. Just shocking from start to finish. Summarize that.
Dale Seiden: So one of our strategic partners, the guy that used to be the president of Warner Brothers for their consumer products, he started the division. That’s really what most these big studios make their money on is the peripheral things that go around. Consumer products, kids toys, whatever it might be. So this guy was very close with somebody with the licensing company who brokers many licenses for many companies and handles Ford. So I’ll cut to the chase. We went today, we had a meeting with these guys. They loved the product but now we had to go to the next step with Ford and they were able to get a meeting with us at the licensing show with Ford. And this was just a thought we had because Don Rattner was so big in the licensing business. He’s always built products by taking a brand that’s known. It’s a very smart way to…it’s a great business model when you think about it. So we went there and the head of global licensing for Ford basically and his group of people. You know we did our whole presentation there and they went nuts. They just went nuts. And we had a contract finished in three months. That usually probably takes a year and a half to two years I would guess for a company like that. But you know they have a new president and CEO who’s really into technology and mobility and those type of things, so our timing couldn’t have been better. They were as anxious to do this as we were.
Tom Smith: Sounds like timing couldn’t have been better. And so many like…everything.
Dale Seiden: Yeah right. It’s absolutely true.
Tom Smith: What does the Ford deal look like? I know you have the Ford logo on your business card. You said the name is going to be now Ford product. What is what is the big picture of the Ford dealer?
Dale Seiden: Well here’s what’s really interesting. The way we’ve done this from a marketing strategy standpoint, it is actually going to be the Ford Oval with the Ojo Electric which is our company, our product company, underneath. So we are going to be co-brand heroes so to speak. So the Ford obviously is iconic on a worldwide basis. One of the most well-known if not the most known brand in the world. They do unbelievable in Asia and Europe and all those places, not to mention here. And but we are actually going to have the OjO name on there as I guess you would call it a co-branded product. Although our relationship with them is really a partnership of brand. Being able to use their brand. It’s pretty amazing and it is stellar. Stellar to see that oval with the OjO electric underneath in chrome. We’re both heroes on the product. The product is a mega hero with both these names.
Tom Smith: And it’s a global agreement?
Dale Seiden: Global.
Tom Smith: So am I going to be able to buy an OjO at my local Ford dealer?
Dale Seiden: You’ll be able to buy once they are available which is just after the first of the year. One model special for the Ford dealers, and then we’ll have 11 different styles including the most amazing one I think, which is the Ford Woody inspired OjO that is so incredible. It’s nostalgic looking. It’s got the authentic 1959 Ford emblem on the front.
Tom Smith: Ford is going to have a model that they sell in their dealerships and then you’re going to have a Ford branded model that you guys are selling elsewhere.
Dale Seiden: Elsewhere. And elsewhere like Best Buy is going to be…we’re already in Best Buy with the OjO product. But we are actually going to have a destination showcase showroom just like Best Buy has with Apple, and with Microsoft, and all these different companies…
Tom Smith: A store within a store kind of thing.
Dale Seiden: Yeah a store within a store. SWAS for short. We are actually going to be in Best Buys with the SWAS’s. They…Best Buy is a very interesting company and it’s been hard to…it’s kind of interesting. Where do we actually sell this? What’s the best channel to sell the OjO? Is it car dealerships, is it motorcycle shops, is it scooter stores, is electronic stores? Is it appliance stores, kitchen appliance stores? But we feel that the real target for us or the best partner for us is the Best Buy store and having this destination showroom. We’re going to have like a Tesla showroom in Best Buys.
Tom Smith: And when does that start? Does that start next year as well?
Dale Seiden: That’s starting right after the first of the year.
Tom Smith: Okay. So 2018’s going to be big for Ojo?
Dale Seiden: Yeah. Going to be a big year. And for Ford too.
Tom Smith: What goals do you guys have for OjO over the course of the next three to five? Is there an exit?
Dale Seiden: There is…you know if I told you there wasn’t an exit I wouldn’t be telling you the truth. I mean obviously we…I love the work and you know. But we’re seasoned and, you know, well-healed my partners and I.
Tom Smith: But at the beginning of this though you were explaining how oh, a few retired guys that were buddies kicking around saying blah blah blah. Fast forward to about 10 minutes ago in this story, it sounded like a pretty aggressive startup. Couple of guys sitting around, kicking the tires on…
Dale Seiden: Tom, what’s really crazy is it became bigger than us. We didn’t expect it. We weren’t looking for investors. Investors came out. Once we got a few investors that just wanted then we figured we’d cap it off at a certain amount. It was nothing to find people to invest. You know I say nothing. They all believed in us because they knew our backgrounds. It’s quite a group. You know some of the names I can’t mention right now, there’s a big, big time celebrity and I’ll just tell you it’s a she and she invested a lot of money. And again it’s a Beats moment kind of thing. Which is exciting. But we have our goal.
Tom Smith: And you mentioned that to me before and I’ll respect the need for not disclosing here. Why can’t we disclose?
Dale Seiden: Well let’s just say today I can’t disclose it. But it’ll be disclosed after probably May is I believe when a feature film comes out.
Tom Smith: Okay. Okay. That’s what I was is there is some big thing that…
Dale Seiden: After that we’ll see a lot of things happen and it’s pretty amazing. And the other group, I mean the other people involved they’re just amazing people. They’re advisors, they’re investors. This is a great team we want. And your question was where are we in five years? What are we looking to do? We’re not looking to exit tomorrow, but the next day we are. No. I’m kidding. No. But you know our whole thing is you know we want to build a company, we want to make it really successful and we’re on our path, a good path to doing that. You know, to having that happen now. But we are going to expand the product line. We are coming out with…I mean nothing short of astonishing, a foldable OjO that I can’t even disclose. It’s so cool that we can’t even…we’re going to keep it secret, you know, until such time that we are in production with it. But it’s going to make all the other foldables out there have to rethink their game.
Tom Smith: Is it a OjO hoverboard like in “Back to the Future?”.
Dale Seiden: Don’t think we didn’t think of that. No it’s just it’s the style, it’s the design. It’s patented. You know we have patents on it and it’s also the materials that it’s going to be made in and the type of… My background is manufacturing so. And one of our strategic partners is a brilliant manufacturing guy, a very successful guy who sold his business and he’s actually overseeing the product development on this stuff. It’s pretty amazing. I mean the story about OjO Electric is going to be one for the books.
Tom Smith: So you said you have 11, 12 models right now?
Dale Seiden: Yeah 12 which really just comes down to the…
Tom Smith: Color schemes?
Dale Seiden: Color schemes. Yeah.
Tom Smith: And then you mentioned the product lineup is expanding to something foldable. So is there going to be basically the two different lines with lots of different colors or do you have more lines coming?
Dale Seiden: The foldable at this point I’m not sure how many colors. Right now it’s one color. Pretty awesome color. We will continue to evolve the OjO Commuter Scooter is what we call it. Now the Ford OjO it’s still going to have the name Commuter Scooter, that’s the model.
Tom Smith: What’s the price tag going to be on it?
Dale Seiden: Well right now it’s at $1,999 and I’m not saying $19.99 cents so it’s $2,000 let’s say. And after the first of the year we’re going to go up a very small amount once we reset with the Ford name on it. And it’s going to be $2,150.
Tom Smith: And it’s available now in various locations. But where do we want to send people from the podcast to learn more, to buy it, to follow you etc.?
Dale Seiden: Go right on OjOScooter.com. And you can learn about everything, see the videos we have, the how to videos which are amazing and they’re fun to watch.
Tom Smith: The company the new category is OjO Scooters OjoScooters.com. My friend Dale Seiden thank you so much for joining me. One of the founders of OjO scooters. And that brings us to an end of this episode of iDriveSoCal. I’m Tom Smith, until next time.