Published on July 17th, 2018 | by Kyle Field0
The Future Of Light Electric Vehicles: #CleanTechnica Interview With CEO Of Boosted, Jeff Russakow
July 17th, 2018 by Kyle Field
Boosted has not just set the bar for what an electric skateboard is, or even raised the bar — Boosted IS the bar against which all other electric skateboards are measured. Its first generation Boosted Board enabled riders around the world to escape their containerized vehicles and instead, to explore their cities, villages, and neighborhoods as they are, raw and exposed.
Riding around on city streets connects a person with a city and its community much more directly than in a car. Each bump and turn of the road is felt, each restaurant teases the senses differently when you feel the scent-filled breeze tugging at your clothes. People are closer and the city is more alive in person on an electric skateboard.
To get a glimpse of what really makes Boosted tick, I connected with Boosted’s CEO Jeff Russakow to explore how a Stanford PhD ended up as the CEO of a skateboard company, to talk about Boosted’s new line of boards, and to explore his plans for the company going forward.
Jeff spent his undergrad and graduate years tooling up his technical skills in Mechanical Engineering at Princeton and Stanford before specializing in robotics, dynamics and controls, AI, and autonomous systems as the focus for his PhD. With those chops, the path his career took from Adobe to Symantec and Yahoo seem like a strange pathway to take before taking the reins of a Silicon Valley skateboard company.
When I probed into his career path, Jeff shared that while at Stanford, he was frustrated that battery technology continued to be a limiting factor for the technologies he was working on. When he finished the program, he moved out of the space into a tech career path where he honed his leadership and technology skills. He share that, “I kinda famously said to my buddies I’ll see y’all in 20-25 years,” which was about the time he hoped battery technology would finally catch up to the solutions he was dreaming about while at Stanford.
While Jeff honed his business and leadership skills at some of the top companies in the Valley, battery technology was also being perfected, thanks to the booming consumer electronics industry, followed by the electric vehicle revolution. “In that time, those technologies have finally arrived so I knew it was time for me to come back,” Jeff shared.
As Jeff began looking for the right place to plug back into the industry, he connected with the founders of Boosted and was hooked. “I was introduced to Boosted and to the founders of Boosted by investors and when we met, it was kind of like meeting brothers. Literally John and Sanjay and Matt (the founders of Boosted) dropped out of the exact same PhD program I finished 23 years ago.” He found that they shared his passion for great technology and had built up a segment-defining product — the Boosted Board.
Jeff was enthralled from the start at how easy to use the product was and because of that, how it had a unique ability to engage a completely new set of customers. “75-80% of the people who buy Boosted boards were not skateboarders before buying a Boosted board, ” he related. The ‘blue ocean’ customers Boosted continued to attract was a testament to the robust, intuitive design of the board that has come to define the category of electric skateboards.
The ability for customers to so quickly get on the board and get moving using the handheld controller is really just the beginning for the company. The tagline for Boosted on Jeff’s LinkedIn profile hints at his designs for the company, noting that, “Boosted is the leading innovator of light electric vehicles and last mile transportation, including the market-leading Boosted Board.”
Boosted is not its Boosted Board. That’s just the form factor that made the most sense to develop the real product inside the product that is Boosted — the compact electric vehicle powertrain that powers its first light electric vehicle. Unconvinced that this was accidental phrasing, I probed what he meant and Jeff shared that, “We are definitely in active development and commercial scaling of other form factors as well. That’s including some of the scooter and bike form factors that people would expect as well as some things that might be a bit more novel.”
Jeff’s passion for Boosted’s mission carried him forward as he continued, “Boosted has always been the premium provider of light electric drivetrains. The reason our skateboards are so superlative is that we have always viewed ourselves as a vehicle maker since day one. So we are more of a Tesla of light electric vehicles and so we have always built things that mechanically, electrically, from a software point of view are super high performance, vehicle grade, street grade.”
The electric powertrain is the heart of the Boosted experience and it was given a significant upgrade just prior to the introduction of Boosted’s new line of boards, many of which include the longer range battery pack as a standard option. The new pack takes Boosted’s typical 6-7 mile range and doubles it to an impressive 14 miles of range. “Our version 1 and version 2 had 7 miles of range. Our new longboards have 14 miles of range. At that range, our models started to scratch the itch. 14 miles meets most people’s needs.”
Expanding the heart of the Boosted experience – including its tightly honed and amazingly precise handheld controller – has the potential to not only transform the electric bike and scooter segments, but to create entirely new ways for urbanites to get around in their worlds. “We want to take a lot of those same technologies and provide them to a lot of other form factors as quickly as possible.” Jeff shared that Boosted was targeting to have its first new product ready for the market in 2019 as the company looks to, “reinvent transportation, especially in the last mile,” Jeff shared.
The focus on new forms of light electric vehicles are the natural extension of feedback from Boosted’s customers. “Increasingly, people recognize that cars just don’t work that well anymore,” Jeff shared. They have found that riding a Boosted board is often the most time efficient, cost effective, fun form of transportation and those characteristics resonate with customers. A large part of that is due to the efficiency of the vehicle. No more moving around 4,000 pounds of car just to get to the store, not to mention parking, insurance and all that. Just find an excuse to get to the store and hop on the 17 pound (or lighter) Boosted board.
Boosted’s relentless pursuit of building not just an electric skateboard, but of building a “Last Mile Vehicle” has resulted in a board that, in its third generation, is robust enough to put on 2,000 miles | 3,200 kilometers per year. That same tech was packed into the Boosted Mini which has a footprint only slightly larger — though quite a bit heavier — than a normal skateboard and comes in at just $750. That’s a whopper of a deal for a product line that has sat comfortably above the competition at over $1,000 each for several years.
The new, smaller boards mark the beginning of a much longer expansion that will take Boosted not only into new form factors, but into new geographies as well. Boosted does not ship to many of the world’s consumers today including Asia, Latin America and the Middle East — all of which represent thousands of potential customers for Boosted’s current and future lineups.
The expansion into new markets will happen as Boosted continues to improve on the magic trifecta of range, weight, and cost in its boards. Customers put cost first, reaffirming that the best product is the one y0u can afford, followed by range and weight. “Obviously, we are looking to improve all three,” Jeff shared. He acknowledged that, “$1500 is still an aspirational price point for many folks,” and shared that they have been “trying to get to a price that’s 2/3 to 1/2 [of the standard Boosted board] for the mini.”
Another way to crack the pricing nut is by increasing the number of users that ride a Boosted vehicle. When I dug into Boosted as a sharing platform, Jeff shared that, “we are definitely interested in being a provider of vehicles,” for one of the many vehicle sharing platforms out there. He noted that, “we have had a huge amount of interest from those players.”
The opportunity for Boosted to jump in as the preeminent provider of ride sharing vehicles could not come at a better time as scooter sharing and bike sharing providers struggle to find vehicle platforms durable enough to withstand the high utilization and harsh treatment shared vehicles are subjected to. Jeff is keenly aware of how well suited Boosted is for the occasion, seeming to clip on his cape as he said, “that whole part of the market urgently knows that they need a street quality vehicle.”
Boosted to the rescue! Yes, it sounds aspirational today as there is a noticeable lack of electric skateboard-sharing services out there, but it is hard to deny the durability of Boosted’s boards and the potential for scaling that durability vertically into ride sharing and horizontally into new form factors. I have to hand it to Jeff, he has vision and with his background, he is well positioned to take Boosted to the next level.