Well, I haven’t heard from Braeden in a while. He set out to recruit a team of aviation experts – people who had consulted and built serious vehicles and projects. They helped him refine his idea.
He didn’t write back to me until I wrote this piece about helping disruptions in the midst of the racial justice protests last June.
“As a black person, I find this email completely insulting and deaf.
You say your company keeps the door open and encourages people to get through.
Not only were you rude in our conversations, but you made me completely eerie when I asked to sit down with you. “
I took a step back and tried to see things from his point of view. He got the idea that he thinks White Can be more of a game changer in transportation, set it up like a creative director would, with images meant to impress and inspire, and I said, “Dude, what the hell is that?”
And then I disappeared.
To him, this is undoubtedly exactly what the VC industry is all about – that even a company trying to be accessible doesn’t take color founders seriously. Don’t forget that I had no idea what his background was. In fact, I absolutely assumed he was white because the only Braden I had ever known was a terrible Mets helper from Oklahoma who wasn’t a colored person.
I’m not particularly flowery with my answers. If something is missing, I’ll tell you. If I have any questions, I just ask them. I currently have 1,000 unread emails in my inbox …
But founders don’t know that – especially those who aren’t part of the industry. Especially color founders who expect to get the short end of the stick because they usually do.
After being called, I set up a meeting – but I didn’t do it to take a charity seat.
I still felt there was no way I was going to invest in this crazy flying bus thing, but I wanted him to at least understand what aspects of the story were missing and what context each investor would need to properly evaluate the idea .
We jumped on a zoom and I shared any questions I had about why I had them … and we found that what seemed obvious to him to be knee deep in the room was completely not obvious to me.
In other words, like most founders, he didn’t know how stupid VCs are. :) :)
Every day I get everything from the next big gluten-free snacks to vehicle insurance for fleets, consumer electronics for menstrual cramps to security platforms for companies. No one on earth is an expert in all of these areas. In most of them, I wouldn’t even know where to start. That goes for most investors. We need a founder to hold our hand, guide us through a problem, help us understand the economics and scope of the vision, and somehow convince ourselves that they can do this thing that is different from anything they do have ever done in their life. or maybe unlike anything anyone has ever done.
If you’re Elon Musk, you’ll get a pass. They tweet a screwball idea for a train going through a tunnel that is sucked in from the air, and hundreds of millions of dollars pour in.
Is it possible?
Anything is possible with enough cash.
Does that make Elon Musk better at building or just better at fundraising? Is he supported because he is naturally a better founder, or is he supported because we like to pretend he’s Tony Stark and he can play that role masterfully?
Back to Braeden.
When I got out of the zoom with him, I felt like we made some progress in understanding each other and where we are from. I agreed to take a look at his new playing field via an updated deck. His new goal was to answer the myriad of questions I had – how where would that be? electric flying bus fly? What would consumers pay for? How is that even possible?
We met again around a proper deck. I think I scheduled the meeting for 45 minutes, but we chatted about twice as much. My wife asked me, “Have you been on the phone with the crazy flying bus driver the whole time?”
I had to admit to myself …
Maybe that’s not that crazy.
We spent a ton of time on the deck and the concept story arc. I took part in a conference call with his team – a serious group of engineers of all ages and backgrounds who were experts in everything from aerodynamic design to electrical system design.
I was impressed. These people had built real things before – and they didn’t think it was that crazy.
Am I going to seriously fund this?
Ok, let’s be clear. I have a tiny fund – 15 mm. This company is going to need far more capital than I can shell out. Also, the idea is so complex that it would be really helpful if someone else with a larger team could help with it.
But the original goal – to spend 3-4 mm just to get something off the ground to test the drive? Then maybe spend 30-40mm to get a single vehicle to fly?
Given what it costs NYC to dig a subway station and what went on in Hyperloop, it’s not that crazy.
And what I was slowly starting to love about the idea was how New York it was.
When you’re a Silicon Valley billionaire, you want a flying car – because it’s cool. You have earned enough in life not to have to travel with other people. The unfortunate thing about flying cars or private jets is that they are completely inconvenient, especially electric ones.
You see, the electrical thing doesn’t generate enough electricity from batteries to get the vehicle moving. It is that you have to get the battery moving yourself. That’s the challenge. The battery is the heaviest part of the vehicle. You are not trying to fly the plane, you are trying to fly the battery.
The designers at Telsa understood this from the start – the weight of the batteries shouldn’t be a limiting factor. Telsa is able to deliver the performance it offers because they haven’t tried to push a half-assed battery and powertrain design into an existing car. They designed the best car they could, around the most powerful battery they could get in motion.
Once you understand that, you find that flying with someone in a small jet or car isn’t as convenient as trying to put people on a much larger battery system.
Do you know what else happens when more people ride it?
The costs per person decrease.
It’s something that every New York City public transportation driver intuitively understands: buses are a more efficient and cheaper way of moving people on any scale, such as cost and energy.
However, it’s unlikely that the venture capital machine funding ideas out there, like the guy who’d put hundreds of millions into Elon Musk’s fever dream ideas, would find something bus-like to be cool.
But I think it’s cool – and it’s a very big idea.
The company, Kelekona, aims to make regional travel as easy as a 30-minute flight from NYC to the Hamptons for $ 85, or people in 45 for less than the cost of a train to DC or Boston to bring – not to mention a fraction of the infrastructure. You don’t have to use a superb domain to lay tracks or drill tunnels. As a vertical take-off and landing vehicle (VTOL) with engines spinning, you need little more than a helipad or an empty lot.
It can operate as a single route or as a network of regional hops with replaceable batteries. It can move cargo in and around (and above traffic from) major cities – unless you’d rather wait for that cargo tunnel to be built under NYC.
The first thing we need to do is raise funds. I gave the company a small amount of capital to buy some of that Elon Musk cool – to create the kind of website that demonstrates the ambition and coolness of the concept that I didn’t get in that first pitch.
After that, we need risk-seeking investors who want to work together on something that may be a very big deal after all, and who are willing to open up to an idea without the social proof of a Musk tweet and top Silicon Valley insider behind it.
Visit www.kelekona.com. Contact Braeden and / or me if you’d like to talk more about this. We are looking for brave investors for a “dangerous journey”. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in the event of success. “