Neil Patel

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Jay Giraud’s latest startup is taking on the motorcycle industry with game-changing improvements, just as Tesla rocked the world of carmakers and dealers. His venture, Damon Motors has successfully raised funding from top-tier investors like Benevolent Capital, Sol Global Investments, SmartHub, and Predictive VC.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • How Damon is revolutionizing the motorbike industry
  • Your advantages as a startup in a mature industry of well-funded giants
  • How to survive all of the times your startup is going to almost run out of money
  • Building and managing teams
  • Jay’s top advice for others considering launching a startup

For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) that I recently covered. Thiel was the first angel investor in Facebook with a $500K check that turned into more than $1 billion in cash.

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    Moreover, I also provided a commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400 million (see it here).

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    About Jay Giraud:

    Jay Giraud is an automotive tech entrepreneur focused on launching companies that redefine mobility.

    As the founder, inventor, and CEO for three automotive tech startups, Jay has built successful products and companies on unproven business models. By building high-performing teams his startups have found success from forming industry leading-to-market partnerships and created over $200 million in market value to date.

    As a seasoned speaker, Jay knows how to connect with audiences and has spoken at dozens of industry events in automotive and cleantech conferences worldwide.

    Before his startup pursuits, he traveled the world-conquering extreme mountaintops as a top-ranked professional snowboarder. Today, Jay focuses his efforts at Damon X Labs, creating a safer, smarter, self-learning platform for a market of more than 160 million motorcycles sold annually.

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    Connect with Jay Giraud:

    Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:

    Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone, and welcome to the DealMakers show. I’m really excited about the guest that we have today. We’re definitely going to be talking a lot about motorcycles. But more than that about the adrenaline and the inspiring story of all the different events and things that have happened in his life that have allowed him to bring his latest baby, Damon Motors, to life. So without further ado, let’s welcome our guest today. Jay Giraud, welcome to the show.

    Jay Giraud: Hello. Thanks for having me.

    Alejandro: Originally born in Manitoba, there in Winnipeg. How was life growing up there?

    Jay Giraud: I don’t remember. My mom got me out of there before I started to retain memories. [Laughter] It’s pretty cold, I’m told.

    Alejandro: So where did you guys go after that?

    Jay Giraud: Chiloquin, and then Vancouver. I’ve been in North Vancouver since I was three.

    Alejandro: So how was life in the upbringing and growing up in Vancouver?

    Jay Giraud: Oh, it’s awesome. North Vancouver was kind of a dump in the ‘80s and ‘90s. It’s turned into an exceptionally beautiful and really expensive place to live. We always had, no matter at what time, the mountains, trails, lakes, rivers, the ocean, and the snow on the tops of the mountains, which was a big pull for me when I was younger.

    Alejandro: When you were younger, there was a moment in time when you were four or five years old when all of a sudden, you see yourself at 160 kilometers an hour.

    Jay Giraud: Yeah, I was pretty young. My mom’s babysitter, at the time, I don’t think he wanted to hang around the house when he babysat a four- or five-year-old, so he would sit me down in front of him on this big BMW sportbike and rip me up and down a highway when I was really young. Of course, my chin was basically on the gas tank, and all I could see was the speedometer, and I have a very clear memory of that. Of course, I was feeling the air and the wind and all that, too.

    Alejandro: Obviously, that was the seed that was planted to a certain degree.

    Jay Giraud: It certainly was.

    Alejandro: And that seed would prove to grow something great later on. I think that for you, a really big component, and I guess that might have created that ambition and competitiveness, too, was that you eventually became a professional snowboarder.

    Jay Giraud: Yeah. I started snowboarding when I was 12 after five years of skiing on the local mountains. They were a 15-minute drive from our house. Then snowboarding came around in 1989, and I thought that looked way better, so I jumped onto that. Within a couple of years of taking the bus to the ski hill all the time, I wanted to do it professionally. When I was 20, I moved to Whistler to pursue my dream, and I got my first sponsor a month or two later and started coaching junior national students, and I just kept on going.

    Alejandro: And definitely getting injured was a big bummer, but something that took you into the direction of business. So tell us about that transition.

    Jay Giraud: We were always injured. There were always injuries. You were never at 100% when you’re snowboarding and competing. There’s always something you’re working around like soar ankles, or shin splints, or recent surgery, or whatever it was. But, ultimately, I think by 26-years-old, my injuries started to outpace my ability to heal, and I needed to actually move on to something else. I took a course called The Landmark Forum, and that opened my eyes to bigger things and bigger possibilities for me. I didn’t know what yet, but I coincided with a recent shock that I took when I watched the bombing of Bagdad in 2003, and I thought there’s got to be a way to get the world off of oil. By 2005, I have declared that “I’m going to give my life to transforming transportation, and if I fail, it would have been a worthy life, even if it takes me until I’m 80 or 90 years old. But even if I fail, and I had given my whole life to that, I would have made some difference, and that would have been worth my life.” That was my conclusion, and I spent five years cowering away from that declaration because it was so daunting and scary, and who am I, a snowboarder with barely a high school education, to do something like that. But by 2008, I realized how miserable I was not pursuing it. That seed I had planted in 2003 was going to keep me miserable if I didn’t face it. So I founded a company called REV Technologies, and we made electric pickup trucks and SUVs. We learned how to raise money, learned how to hire people and all the other nuts and bolts that go along with that, and that eventually led to building electric pickup trucks and SUVs that were able to stabilize energy demand on the power grid for our U.S. Army customers. We had partnerships with Honeywell, SAIC, and the Pentagon, Chrysler. It was a good run.

    Alejandro: How much capital did you guys raise for that business?

    Jay Giraud: $5 million in capital and $20-some odd million in contracts that came from different customers. We were living off of contracts mainly.

    Alejandro: Then, there was a moment that unfolded a sequence of events that were not the ones that you had expected, and it was the pricing of gas that affected you.

    Jay Giraud: Yeah. We had this cloud capability to control the energy on the vehicles remotely. Over a wireless internet connection, we could see the vehicles anywhere within a country that we had deployed, and we could dispatch energy from the battery into the grid or from the grid into the battery. That was pretty valuable. We thought that was what should scale. Around the end of 2011, 2012, natural gas prices wiped out the market we were focused on, which was government and utility fleet customers. They all wanted to go to natural gas vehicles because that would be lower cost of ownership, so we had to make a pivot because there was no telling if or when natural gas prices would climb or when electrical vehicle battery costs would come down enough. This was 2010 to 2012. The cost of electric vehicle batteries was much, much higher then. So, we had a pivot, and I carried the cloud computing capability from REV into a new startup I founded called MOJIO. That was May 2012.

    Alejandro: From REV, when you go through your first baby, your first company, it was not the outcome you had hoped, so what lesson do you think was there for you to learn?

    Jay Giraud: It was actually my fourth company. I had a few before that, but this was my first technology company that was way outside of my abilities, and I’m really, really glad I did it. Elon Musk’s famous quotes are to the effect of, “Even if you think you’re going to fail, but you think it’s important, you should do it.” That’s exactly what applied to my life here. Definitely, what I took away from that experience at REV were a couple of things. You can’t succeed without an exceptional management team, and as much as I wanted to hire a management team that was better than I was, finding them and knowing how to attract them and knowing how to attrack capital that attracts them in order to have money to run the business were skills I didn’t yet have. REV struggled because we didn’t have much of a management team, and we didn’t have the right leadership, which the biggest part of was me. In 2012, when I founded MOJIO, I sought to fix that problem immediately, and I founded MOJIO with three other co-founders. The four of us had a really good experienced and successful VP of Sales; we had a very experienced CTO, CFO, and myself. That really changed the direction and outcome of MOJIO with way more potential to attract the financing it needed to see its vision.

    Alejandro: With MOJIO, what was the business model?

    Jay Giraud: MOJIO is a connected car device that plugs into any device in the world and streams its data to the cloud and to an app on your phone, so you can be connected to any car no matter what. It turns any car into a smart car. We built an open platform for apps, so any app developer could build apps for any car. We distributed it through wireless carriers as a subscription add-on to your monthly phone plan. That was definitely the right business model. It was infinitely less attractive to the venture capital community because of partnering with wireless carriers, which seemed very daunting, but we beat all our competitors, who are much better funded because of that. When you win AT&T, or you win T-Mobile, you win 1/3 of a country’s population in one shot. So we won Deutsche Telekom first, and then Telus, Rogers, Bell, T-Mobile, Metro PCS. Suddenly, over a period of a few years, MOJIO was in nine countries and is still doing very, very well today.

    Alejandro: Wow. How big is MOJIO today?

    Jay Giraud: It’s millions of connected-car subscribers on multi-year cellphone plans or connected vehicle plans.

    Alejandro: Definitely, a good footprint there. For you, it’s time to live your baby, live MOJIO, so what was that like for you?

    Jay Giraud: It was something that I thought was the right thing to do and was inevitable. MOJIO, as soon as we landed, our lead investor from Deutsche Telekom, I knew MOJIO was going to find its first big success in Europe. As much as I would have loved to have lived in Europe, that was not really an option for me with my family. So we started the process of finding someone with considerable European Telecom experience who was able and willing to spend a great deal of their time, if not all of it in Europe, to grow MOJIO’s footprint with ten countries with Deutsche Telekom Services. Ten countries on a silver platter, you don’t turn that down, so that was good. That was really, really exciting. That was the best thing for me, as a shareholder, and for the company, and for all of our shareholders in the company. That gave me a bit of a six-month time to think about what’s next. Actually, I tried very hard to take time off. I didn’t do a very good job of that. In the summer of 2016, I went off to Jakarta in Indonesia for my best friend’s wedding. That precipitated the events that led to Damon.

    Alejandro: What happened there because I know there was an almost drowning situation.

    Jay Giraud: Yeah. That was interesting. As a motorcyclist, since I was 19, I always thought, “I just wish I could ride on the streets with a whole bunch of other bikes instead of cars. It would be way better because cars are always cutting you off, and they can never see you. If you cut off twice a day by cars, you’re having a good day on a motorbike. It’s so frequent; it’s so normal to be cut off, where they just don’t see you—I can get into all the statistics of it. In Jakarta, riding with thousands of other motorbikes around you, where nobody follows any of the rules like red light, green light, it doesn’t matter. That was a bit more than I had ever dreamed would be cool, and it was wild and crazy and dangerous. If you don’t do it, you’ve got to get off the road because you will be in others’ ways. So you find yourself just succumbing to the way people ride and commute. While I thought it was kind of fun and exciting and wild, it was also a real eye-opener that in Jakarta, alone, there are 22 million people who buy a Suzuki or Kawasaki or a Bajaj motorbike which are not given the choice of safety if they could because the motorcycle companies don’t produce any solutions that make their motorcycles safer. It had nothing to do with whether you could afford a better motorbike; you’re not going to get a safer one. It’s not just 22 million people. As I started to reflect on this, it’s 1.5 billion people that depend on a motorcycle. They have no choice. If you want to get to work or if you want to get to school, or you want to go get food, you will get on a motorcycle. There’s no other way. So you’re taking a massive amount of risk on a day-by-day basis on behalf of you and your family. As a society, I think it’s crippling. I spent a lot of time reflecting on that as I rode for seven hours from one side of the island of Java to the other with my best friend on this first or second day we were there. When we arrived that night, it was 6:00 pm, the sun was setting, and I went for a dip in the ocean, and I duck-dived under a couple of waves, not knowing I was following the direction of a riptide. After only a couple of ducks, I was 200-300 out from the beach. I couldn’t swim back against the riptide as much as I was trying, and eventually, I was losing my ability to stay above water. I wanted to call out for my best friend because I could see him on the beachline, and he’s a surfer. That’s why he was there. He was also a lifeguard, so he knew how to save people out of the water. Eventually, I just gave up, and I yelled for help before it was too late. He came at an angle. He knew exactly how to swim against the waves. He came at an angle, grabbed me, and easily took me back, not against the riptide. The next day, we rode back. Two days later, we were back from one side of the island to the other, and it was seven hours, again, on the motorbike to think about how differently I saw everybody, and I saw the world, and I saw the problems. I started to see the problems of the motorcyclists in Jakarta as my own problem, sort of extending what I nearly just lost to everybody out there. That really changed everything for me.

    Alejandro: Let’s talk about what you did next to bring this company to life.

    Jay Giraud: I guess I got back to Vancouver, and I still was not working, so that was good. I had a lot of time to plan, think, and research. I dove right into it and started to think, “Can you make motorcycles safer?” I’ll be totally honest with you. I wasn’t sure you could. It didn’t make sense. How are you going to make something that doesn’t stand up on its own safer? Of course, I knew about collision warning systems. I bought a Tesla. I thought, “I’m going to buy a Tesla, and I’m going to use this thing until I reverse-engineer how everything works in my mind, and I need to find a CTO who is going to know how to do this.” I went on a long eight to nine months process of interviewing people and getting to know different potential CTOs. Dom (Dominique Kwong), my co-founder at Damon and I, really hit it off, and we spent five months together about everything Damon. I think within a couple of months, he knew exactly how to do it. It was awesome. Three months after we founded Damon, we had two prototypes that were fully functional, and we were able to validate for ourselves while riding down the highway the idea that you could create a bigger bubble of time and space around you to give you more reaction time. Simply put, it’s a collision warning system that doesn’t exist on motorbikes. As normal as they are on cars today, it was unclear if or how you could do it. You don’t want sounds in your helmet. How do you communicate to the rider that there’s a threat without increasing distraction on a motorbike? It’s ever more critical. We had that to figure out first and foremost.

    Alejandro: Wow. What’s the business model of Damon?

    Jay Giraud: The business model is to sell motorbikes. There are a lot of other opportunities there, but ultimately, we need to get a Damon motorcycle in as many people’s hands as possible. There are a ton of analogies for a time when there was an industry change that never went back: steamships, diesel freighters, airplanes, jet planes, cellphones, smartphones, film cameras, digital cameras, where the legacy companies held onto the past. They had infrastructure; they had bureaucracy; they had supply chain contracts; they had labor unions that prevented them from changing. DVD rentals and Netflix. There are so many good examples where all of those legacy aspects of the business prevented them from changing, even if they could see it coming. I’d say the car companies couldn’t see Tesla coming, but the motorcycle companies can most certainly see the next Tesla motorcycles coming with Tesla as an analogous example. That doesn’t mean they can make changes. In fact, for the most part, they probably can’t. Damon has an opportunity not just to sell motorbikes, but to offer them on a subscription plan, which is what we did at MOJIO, which is how we beat all of our competitors to reduce the payment friction; to reduce the risk, the safety friction; to reduce the noise and emissions friction; to reduce the buyer friction. We’re not going to sell through third-party dealerships. We’re going to sell online, exactly how 81% of Tesla’s are sold. When you stack up those benefits, those value propositions, it becomes exceptionally compelling. Our competitors can chip away, they can have a bit of this, they can have a bit of that, but if they don’t have the whole stack, it’s going to be really hard to compete with us. That’s, in a nutshell, what we’re doing.

    Alejandro: In a nutshell, as well, could you break it down? You have different bikes on the way that you can pay for this on a monthly basis is like $199 or something like that. What are the price points of those bikes? They’re racing bikes, but how would you describe them to the people who are listening and watching?

    Jay Giraud: The motorcycle that we have today is called the HyperSport. It is a race-style bike, but it’s a street bike. It’s the Tesla Roadster if you will. It’s the tip of the spear, and it exists at a higher price point in a very premium segment where we can introduce new technology that is expensive. You can’t introduce it onto a million low-cost bikes on day one. You have to get there by cost-reducing and commoditizing over many years. So you have to start at the top of the pile. The HyperSport is designed from a platform that we call HyperDrive. HyperDrive is a battery, motor, and the chassis all in one. The battery is not like your 6-volt battery. It’s a 250 lb. lithium-ion battery that encompasses 80% of the mass or HyperDrive. The bike is mostly battery, just like the Tesla is mostly battery. It’s not a tiny thing. The motor is nested inside it. HyperDrive has certain components that we’ve invented that allow us to build any motorcycle from it that we want. It can be a HyperSport, but it can be an adventure bike, commuter bike, or a cruiser bike. Inside the battery, the number of cells we install at the assembly line allows us to introduce a low, medium, and high version of each bike or a beginner, intermediary, advanced version of each bike. When we introduce a model, we’re also able to introduce three sub-models with every model at the same time, all from one engineering exercise, all from one capital investment. We can have 12 different motorcycles from one investment, where normally, you would have had to produce 12 different engines,12 different chassis, and12 different gearboxes and transmissions in the gas world.

    Alejandro: Right.

    Jay Giraud: So we’re talking a massive reduction in cost and time to have a whole line of motorbikes that hits a very wide number of customers. That’s at the heart of what makes Damon unique. Then, layering onto that the collision warning technology, a system that makes the motorcycle safer, all the way around in 360 degrees, a problem that has never been solved before, for people, like yourself, who used to ride. Everybody used to ride. They don’t for a reason that comes back to risk and safety and comfort. Life change, financial change, family change, moving, they always translate in one way or another to that risk. We’ve got to lower the risk. That’s a big part of it.

    Alejandro: How does that technology work?

    Jay Giraud: It’s called co-pilot, and co-pilot is your co-pilot. On a motorcycle, you have a truncated field of view. When I take my eyes off, when I look over to check my blind spot, I lose sight of the car in front of me. That doesn’t happen when you’re driving a car. But on a motorcycle, it happens, so riders do this [demonstrated on video]. So we have to do it faster than that so that we’re trying to not lose sight of the taillights of the car ahead. When you’re on a motorcycle being cut off, not seeing a car that brakes all of a sudden, being t-boned in an intersection, these are the most common ways people get into accidents, and 75% of the time, they’re caused by drivers. So co-pilot is cameras and radars and other sensors, all the way around the bike, and they see in 360 degrees. While I can focus on one object as a human and pay attention to that one vehicle, the co-pilot can focus on 64 in every direction. It can actually understand what the real threat is and then notify us. So in a Ford collision warning scenario, if a car is braking really hard in front of me, my handlebars vibrate. So even if I’m shoulder-checking, and I can’t see the car braking, I can feel the car braking, so it’s extremely effective. My handlebars never vibrate unless that car is braking in a way that I need to deal with right now. So it buys you that extra second to react and pull the brakes or swerve before it’s too late.

    Alejandro: That’s amazing. Jay, for Damon, how much capital have you guys raised to date?

    Jay Giraud: We’ve raised $30 million.

    Alejandro: These types of projects are very capital-intensive.

    Jay Giraud: Yes, they are.

    Alejandro: I know that you’ve had to go with some moments of running out of cash. How do you deal with those moments and with that uncertainty? What does it look like? How do you brace the struggle like that?

    Jay Giraud: You start with an exceptionally strong-willed and patient co-founder who doesn’t get emotional or get heated up when things get scary. Then you hire people who are great, but you also have to have a vision and a mission that they really actually believe in, and they actually believe it’s possible and necessary and needed, and they want to give themselves to that more than they want to go work for the highest-paying company. Then, you keep the vision alive. You show that the vision can evolve and grow and get more specific and achievable with time. I guess if you have all that—in my first company, it didn’t, so I know what it’s like to try to have that but not have it. If you have all of that and then you’re faced with a wall at the end of the road, what I’ve learned is that your team will see you through because it’s not just you on your own trying to achieve that goal; it’s everyone, and they own it as much as you do in their minds. There were four or five times when we were out of money in ’17-’19. The best story is mid-October 2019. We had an opportunity to unveil our first HyperSport prototype at CES. We didn’t have bodywork or even bodywork design. We didn’t even have a designer, actually. In mid-October is when we met that designer, but we didn’t even have a designer. We needed to be on the showroom floor at CES, the biggest electronic show in the world, on January 7th. We had an opportunity to do a major partner and unveil a partnership. We were out of capital. Our team was getting the last paycheck at the end of October. They needed to work 12 hours for all of November and December, through Christmas, then we needed to build a website that showed off this bike. We needed to build the bike. We had the collision warning system working, but we didn’t have a motorcycle or a prototype. We needed to design it, build it, 3D print it, assemble it, paint it, somehow get it on a truck that we didn’t have and a trailer that we didn’t have, and get it all the way down to Los Vegas from Canada, across the border, over Christmas, and hire a marketing team to fly up from LA to do the website design over Christmas and New Year’s. No one was getting paid until Mid-January—well, after that. No one was getting paid all the way through January, and at CES in January, the whole goal was to drive orders. If we could prove that customers wanted this bike and drive orders, the theory was we would attract capital, and the staff would finally get their salaries again. It was all for a maybe. It wasn’t even for a certainty; it was for a maybe that we would get to CES and get orders, and that would get capital. That’s exactly how it worked out. We were basically running on fumes in the gas tank, literally, all the way to Los Vegas.

    Alejandro: Wow! What an incredible story, Jay! For the people that are listening to get an idea of the scope and the size of Damon, is there anything you can share, like the number of employees or anything else?

    Jay Giraud: They were about 52 at my last check, but I think we might be higher than that, 52 employees. We have staff in Bogota, San Francisco, Petaluma, Kitchener Ontario, Nova Scotia, Berlin, Paris, and Milan, Italy. About two-thirds of the staff are remote; about two-thirds are in Vancouver. Our top management team are all moving their families to Vancouver right now, literally, this summer. We have almost 50 patents filed. All the technology is our own. We invented the motor, the electronics, the battery pack, the collision warning system, the AI, the neural nets, the cloud, the app. It’s 100% Damon proprietary. We don’t license technology. And it wasn’t just for fun. It was absolutely necessary to achieve new levels of power and range in such a small space, much smaller than you’ll find under the hood of a car. We have $30 million raised. We’re closing another financing round right now and starting production in about a year. Oh, I didn’t mention the biggest one, which is $28.5 million in projected revenue from existing preorders. The bikes are selling themselves. I think we sold 127 units last month, and it was the best presales month yet. So a few million in sales month-over-month happening almost organically in presales.

    Alejandro: Well, congratulations. Almost organically. Congratulations. Let me ask you this: imagine I’m able to put you into a time machine, and I bring you back in time. Basically, imagine the wealth of knowledge that you have right now, and you’re able to have a chat with that younger Jay that is coming out of the drowning in Indonesia, and thinking about this company, and you’re able to give yourself one piece of business advice before launching Damon. What would that be and why based on what you know now.

    Jay Giraud: It would just be words of encouragement, as funny as that may seem. The words would be: never forget how hard some times will get, and you’ll get through it, so don’t ever doubt.

    Alejandro: That’s it.

    Jay Giraud: There have been countless times when there were so many sleepless nights when you worry, and you can’t stop thinking about the problems you’re working on or the problems you have to face. You do doubt, despite all my experience and all of my this and that and whatever else I’ve got going for me. I still doubt. I still worry. I’ve had this conversation with myself many times that I think worrying keeps me alive. I think worrying keeps the whole thing alive. Not worrying would lead to bravado, which would lead to ruining one’s self. You’ve got to be magnanimous and enigmatic through the process and maintain a level of unsureness and modesty, or you could just rub people the wrong way. You have to be very confident, but you can’t tell people how it’s going to go. I thought many times what the advice would be that I would give myself, and going even further back than Damon: hire the best people around you. Hire the best people you can. Make sure they’re better than you. Give them room to be themselves, to be their best. Listen to your team, and get out of their way. It’s easier said than done. Those things were what I didn’t have at REV and what I quickly corrected at MOJIO. But even at MOJIO, one of my biggest failures, for sure, was, I move fast. I move fast in everything. I figure things out; I obsess over the details all the time, and when I share something with somebody, it sounds like the idea just popped into my head when, really, I’ve been thinking about it for months, and I’ve been collecting data and examples and proof points and evidence. Then I expect people to understand where I’m going, even though they just heard it for the first time, and I’ve been working on it for two months in my head. You can only go as fast as the slowest person on your team. If you don’t bring your team with you, you’ll stretch the tension in the elastic band too far until it breaks—one of the key challenges I had with my co-founding team and me at MOJIO. You have to bring your team with you on the vision, on the journey. You can’t just be on your own out on the far end, like the fastest running dog in a pack, or you’ll be on your own. That’s been the biggest one for me to learn is to not just hire the right people but make sure that we’re all going to the same vision together, and that things will work out on their own time—not the timeline you ever want, but the timeline that’s right.

    Alejandro: Absolutely. Jay, thank you so much for sharing that, and thank you also so, so much for being on the DealMakers show today.

    Jay Giraud: It was cool. Thank you—a good conversation!

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