When five people emailed Chris Hoffman to offer him $25,000 each for their own versions of his one-wheeled electric motorcycle, the RYNO, he knew he had a viable business on his hands.
But rather than heading for his garage and building them himself, he took the advice of his business partner.
“We have to build a business plan that shows how this will scale,” Tony Humpage, now the COO of RYNO Motors, told him. So that’s what they did.
Two and a half years later, everything is going according to plan, with Hoffman in New York showing off the RYNO, which is just about ready to go into production.
A Tough Sell
It’s easy to doubt the company. The RYNO is unlike any product on the market. It uses self-balancing technology to stay upright (though it can fall forward or backward). The rider controls it by leaning and pushing on pegs with his feet, and there’s a hand brake. The New York Times rightly compared it to “skiing with no legs.”
It’s presented as a hip personal mobility vehicle (“it just looks like the future,” Hoffman said), but it’s not far from being a goofy electric unicycle. At $5,300, it’s expensive.
It’s easier to ride than a motorcycle or scooter, but harder than a Segway, the chief competitor. Hoffman admits it looks difficult to ride, which could scare people away. And it’s limited to a speed of 10 mph and a 10-mile range.
But RYNO also has an answer to each of these criticisms. Yes, it’s expensive, but the price will “incrementally come down, year after year.” It’s cheaper than a Segway, according to the Times. And you can sit down instead of stand all day.
The RYNO isn’t all that difficult to ride; a 10-15 minute lesson should suffice. It’s meant for moving around a warehouse or mingling with pedestrians, so 10 mph is “plenty fast,” Hoffman said.
The low range is limited by current lithium ion battery technology, and Hoffman says RYNO can get it up to 25 or 30 miles in a few years. In any case, the battery packs are easily removable, so customers can buy an extra set and swap a drained pair for one that’s fully charged. (RYNO has not finalized pricing for battery packs and other parts.)
The RYNO offers upsides that the most obvious competitor, the Segway, does not. Riders are sitting, not standing. They’re lower to the ground, which Hoffman says makes interactions with people easier. A policeman riding a RYNO can be eye-level with a pedestrian, rather than looming above him. And it’s easy to dismount for a quick transition to walking or running.
And, as I learned in a brief ride in Central Park on a freezing afternoon, it’s unlike any other way of moving around. It’s fun and it’s eye-catching. Even in the frigid weather, a ton of passers-by stopped to gawk, ask questions, and take photos.
Even if those questions are answered, this is hardly a sure thing. This RYNO a high-tech, unusual luxury product. Yes, there will be a small set of “early adopters” — about 1,500, Hoffman estimates — who think it’s awesome and will pay anything to get one.
But in the long-term, it takes more customers to stay in business.
Hoffman knows this. He’s no wide-eyed inventor who believes it’s just a matter of cranking out as many units as possible to get rich. He’s confident the company will succeed — ignoring investors who offer less than $1 million — but doesn’t make huge promises.
“A lot of companies, the biggest mistake they make is they think it’s gonna be huge, and they tool up” for mass production, Hoffman said. Then, they “either don’t get the volume,” or they blow through their capital.
RYNO’s business plan is to move forward slowly and scale carefully. Though it has received interest from security companies and industrial customers (whose employees move around large areas), it isn’t quite sure who its customers will be, or what they will use it for.
The RYNO is made mostly from off-the-shelf parts, which makes production easier. Hoffman spent 15 years as an industrial engineer in the auto industry and 5 years in consumer products, so he’s not new to large-scale production and sales.
RYNO has raised about $2 million so far, and is looking for more investors. It wants to break into the electric bike market, which is especially huge in Asia.
“At minimum, you can build a nice little brick and mortar business that breaks even in about four years, with sales numbers that are comparable to Segway, which is not a breakout product,” Hoffman argued. And that’s his “super conservative” prediction.
There’s no future in which everyone rides a RYNO and gives up their car or public transportation pass. But a future in which some companies see the RYNO as a good way for their employees to move around a warehouse, and a good number of individuals just think it’s a cool way to ride around downtown San Francisco, is easier to imagine.
The bottom line, Hoffman says, is “We’ve been really efficient with cash, and gotten an awful lot done.”
So far, so good