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What building electric motorcycles taught me about investing
4 pillars of my investment thesis, and how I found them in my garage...
Welcome to the second part of My Next Electric’s series on investing in the clean energy transition, specifically the electrification of traditionally fossil-fueled stuff. Post #1 is here and includes the full map of our current investment portfolio.
In each of these posts, I’ll focus on one part of the investment map I’m refining with the brilliant Pete Christensen, our Investor-In-Residence.
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Let’s dive in on my first investment — building my own custom electric motorcycles. I didn’t think of Night Shift Bikes as my first investment back then, but I definitely do now.
Here’s where it is on the map…
When I moved to New Orleans in 2006 for what would be the hardest job I’ve ever had, I came home most days on a very empty tank. I needed a space to process, to do what Matthew Crawford calls Soulcraft.
So I bought a $20 guide to building an electric motorcycle from a guy named John Bidwell and starting buying used and new parts. A hundred late nights later, I built this…
It was a dangerous machine. That yellow front end bottomed out on any minor bump. The range was 20 miles, tops. That brake was. Not. Great.
But it worked. And I was way smarter after than I was before. That bike is still really important to me, not as a vehicle, but as a reminder that doing anything hard is best fueled by what Merlin Mann calls Tolerance for Courageous Sucking.
I think finding your own comfort with the process (whatever that process ends up being) might just be the whole game here -- being willing to put in your time, learn the craft, and never lose the courageousness to be caught in the middle of making something you care about, even when it might be shit and you might look like an idiot fumbling to make it. What's the worst thing that could happen? - Merlin Mann
You can see and hear more about why I build bikes here.
Over the years, my bikes have improved. One big bump came when I found a lighter option than the 4 lead-acid batteries you see on that yellow bike. After talking with builders all over the world trying new things to reduce weight and increase energy and power density, I bought some used Nissan Leaf electric car batteries from a guy in Denver, jammed them into a 2003 Suzuki Savage, and made this…
I called it the Leafy Savage. It got some press. Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus even rode it on his new TV show.
To be clear, Night Shift Bikes is an awful place to invest: crap business model, founder distracted by other things, riskier than any respectable actual business should be.
But it is a kick-ass place to learn. It’s where my obsession with humans switching from gas machines to electric machines started. As I look back at what’s endured build-to-build, I see four things that serve as foundations for our investment strategy today:
A fascination with electromagnetism and electric drivetrains,
An understanding of the design constraints/opportunities of current battery chemistries compared to gasoline,
A deep curiosity about putting batteries in creative places, and
Experience as an educator with helping humans try new things.
In future posts, I’ll dig into more traditional angel investments and how they build on this foundation. But I’m glad we’re starting here. Investing is about learning and staying curious, not about being perfect every check. And building - bikes and companies - is where the most learning happens for me.
For more on builds, past and present, check out Night Shift Bikes.
Thanks for reading; you know the drill.