Part of motorcycle racing is like ice fishing. You're in a car or a van going to the local track and you talk with your friend, just chat, so the drive doesn’t end up being a drag. It's a feature of the experience. We were driving to the local track and Derek's telling me, "Yeah, I'm thinking. I've been studying electrics, and I think I can make an electric vehicle."
I said, "First of all, it's a tiny industry. The development cost is just overwhelming, and as soon as there's any advantage, the big four, Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki, are going to get into it. Building a brand, and building a distribution network; it's high product costs, high inventory costs," and I just couldn't think of a good reason to do it.
Then, there was a mental breakdown at one point between him talking about what it could do, and me thinking, "Well, let's just give it one evening a week, to see if it has any potential." Part of my interest in doing it was born out of the culture that we came up with. If I had an idea, I would pitch it to somebody and then we’d build a team. I would have, say, seven people. I built a snowboard company that way; I had an idea and I told one of my skateboard buddies. He was working for a skateboard company and he said, "I hate my job. Have you got that idea yet? I want to quit and I want to work with you." That's the way these brands, these projects, would emerge.
In this case, this one was Derek's idea and it was me supporting him. For me, there's no difference between my buddy supporting me in an endeavor and me supporting my buddy in an endeavor. It's really that basic notion of what we do. That's this area. That's all I knew. I'd been from one project, to another project, to another project, and Derek and I are pretty similar. We didn't go to Ivy League Schools. We went to San Francisco State, and we put ourselves through college. All we know is to do it ourselves.
If you come from a family that doesn't have a bunch of means, the only way to make something of substance is to do it yourself. Part of it is driven by that really basic thing, "Oh, you've got a house to build? I'll help you build it." I had some reservations — this project, electric motorcycles, is a hell of a house. I'm not claiming that it was the smartest move, but I would be lying if I said anything different. That's where Alta came from.
I don't think we’re there yet as a company. My view on business is there are constituents that make something successful. We put a lot of those constituents in — smart people, good design, right timing. It's a tough project and a huge engineering endeavor because modern gas bikes don't leak oil anymore. They don't really do anything wrong anymore; you can go into the showroom, buy a bike, and it's freaking going to work. The thing's probably not going to need anything for five years, except for chains and tires.
The expectation for a new bike is enormous, so what we're doing is nuts, for sure. The bike has got to deliver on its promise: 40 horsepower, 250 pounds, 30 minute moto race. It delivers on that stuff, and there's a business. Then you get a foothold in it and you establish a brand. This is the time where brands can be made, because if Honda and Yamaha and everybody else have an electric bike, you ain't getting in that door. We're basically creating a portal, a door, into an industry by our own chutzpah, saying, "We can do it." Part of that is NorCal and this area we live in, where the heroes of this area are Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk — these guys with gigantic balls who just fucking do what they say.
Coming up in a working class environment, that's how we operate — you do what you say and if you say it's going to deliver on those numbers, you probably got a shot at it. Hopefully, everybody is working hard to make it happen, because that's what succeeding takes. It's like racing. If we let up a little bit, somebody's going to pass us. If we let up a little more, the whole peloton is going to pass us. We have to be on it, totally on it, all the time.