Mission Motors has announced today that they have replaced co-founder Forrest North in his role as company CEO. The move signals a change within Mission Motors that shows the company focusing on bringing products into production and putting them into consumers’ hands. In their announcement, Mission Motors’ Board of Directors have begun their search for a long-term CEO with experience in product development and automotive manufacturing, but in the interim the company will be headed by its current COO Jit Bhattacharya.
The transition, while seemingly drastic, is one that every startup must face as it moves from a visionary and industry challenging mindset to a functional and operational capacity. This movement in management is one that virtually all startups face at some point or another, and something we’ve talked about here in some detail in our “Tradition is not a Business Model” series, so it’s announcement at this point in time isn’t terribly surprising to this author, and storied lesson in entrepreneurship that transcends even into the motorcycle industry.
Speaking exclusively to Asphalt & Rubber, Bhattacharya explained to us the importance of North’s contribution to Mission Motors, and his continued presence in the company’s big picture planning. “We’re now at a point where the needs of the company have shifted from that visionary role, to the need for leadership in a much more operational capacity,” explained Bhattacharya. “Forrest’s vision and personality is such an integral part to everything that’s happened here. Forrest was the leader and one of the founders that was principle to everything we achieved last year, and that’s been critical to us getting to this point in the first place.”
Forrest North will remain on Mission Motors’ Board of Directors, and will continue to serve as a big picture strategist and company evangelist. North was instrumental in Mission Motors’ design and execution of the Mission One prototype, which has been acknowledged not only for its iconic design, but also its stout performance characteristics. As Mission Motors tries to put the Mission One into customer hands, it will need new leadership to help shift the company focus to having a larger emphasis in bringing the Mission One to market, as well as other motorcycles. Both of these goals will require a leader with operational and manufacturing experience, as well as an understanding of the hurdles required to handle government regulations.
“We need to find the long-term leadership that will be able to take this company into the future, so the board has begun a leadership search, in the interim I was the person who knew the company, I’ve been the COO, everybody understands that I know the process, and it’s something that caters to my skills, much more than it caters to Forrest’s,” Bhattacharya told us. Bhattacharya is a mechanical engineering graduate from Stanford, and holds an M.B.A. from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. In his past role as the company’s COO, Bhattacharya had been responsible for managing the Mission Motors’ team of engineers who have developed the company’s technology surrounding the Mission One and future products.
Despite the company’s missed production and timeline milestones, and difficulty raising capital during the recession, Mission Motors’ investors remain bullish about the company’s future, and are continuing to invest additional capital into the San Francisco start-up. While it covered only a brief portion of our conversation, this is perhaps the greatest point we took away from the interview. Having early-stage investors re-dip into funding a company is a strong indication of a company’s continued viability, and commitment by its investing group in seeing Mission Motors only sign “the right” deals, instead of contracting into obligations purely to stay afloat. In venture capital, sometimes the hardest investors to win over, are the ones that have already invested in you, and when they are anxious to continue pouring money into your company, it’s an indication that you’re onto something big, and more importantly that you’re on the path to achieving it.
For a small company like Mission Motors, bringing their bikes and technology into production will mean partnering with larger companies who are capable of large-scale manufacturing. One such early indication as to where Mission Motors is eying partnership already came out last week, as overseas newswires picked up Chinese manufacturer Zongshen’s memorandum of intent to do business with Mission Motors. While it’s unclear if Mission Motors will partner with Zongshen, and that the Chinese manufacturer represents one of those “right deals”, it’s representative of the opportunities abroad that companies like Mission Motors are weighing in their minds.
As Bhattacharya tells us, “with a partnership with someone like Zongshen, all of a sudden there is a potential to merge our technology with something they excel at, which is manufacturing motorcycles for the Chinese market. It’s a chance to take our technology and scale its impact enormously.”
China is obviously a large opportunity for any company at this point in time, especially those in the transportation sector. As we saw in the Olympic games, China has severe problems with its air-quality control, which makes the country and enticing opportunity for alternative fuel companies like Mission Motors.
It’s already a busy year in the electric motorcycle world, and if our discussion with Mission Motors are any indication, you can expect many more announcements in the near future as they continue to move forward with their goals.
Photo: Jason Yu / Asphalt & Rubber