Laurin Hahn is the co-founder and CEO of Sono Motors which is a global mobility and energy service provider. The company has raised over $70 million raising one of the largest crowdfunding rounds in history with over $60 million raised from the crowd. 

In this episode you will learn:

  • The keys to winning in this space
  • Using data to be sure you are building the right product
  • Being mentally prepared for what it really means to be a startup founder
  • The future of mobility

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About Laurin Hahn:

Laurin Hahn is co-founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the mobility provider Sono Motors.

Based on his vision of a sustainable mobility concept independent of fossil fuels, Laurin Hahn founded Sono Motors GmbH in 2016 together with Navina Pernsteiner and Jona Christians. Supported by a growing, enthusiastic community and successful crowdfunding campaigns, a small team of enthusiasts around the founders* developed the first prototype within just one year.

In 2017, the Sion, an efficient electric car suitable for everyday use and accessible to everyone, was presented to the public for the first time. The concept of the vehicle is forward-looking: The Sion becomes the first electric vehicle in series production that can additionally charge its battery via solar modules and offers integrated ride, car and power sharing services.

Sono Motors is currently preparing series production of the Sion. Laurin Hahn is in charge of the areas of corporate strategy and legal & compliance.

Laurin Hahn is a serial entrepreneur with focus on climate-friendly and resource-conserving mobility.

Connect with Laurin Hahn:

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FULL TRANSCRIPTION OF THE INTERVIEW:

Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone, and welcome to the DealMakers show. Today we have a very interesting founder from Germany, and I think we’re going to be learning a lot about cars, about solar, you name it, building and scaling. He’s a serial founder and has done it multiple, multiple times, but without further ado, let’s have him tell us his story. Laurin Hahn, welcome to the show. 

Laurin Hahn: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me. It’s very good to be here. I’m Laurin, from Germany, and founder of Sono Motors.

Alejandro: There you go. As people would say there, “Willkommen.” So, willkommen to the show. 

Laurin Hahn: Willkommen herzlich. 

Alejandro: Good stuff. Originally, you were born and raised in Munich. How was life there?

Laurin Hahn: Right. Pretty good. Right now, through Corona, of course, a bit distracted, but it’s nice to grow up here. A very nice city, nice people, very interesting startup hub because a lot of new companies are growing here. Germany is really catching up in the startup scene.

Alejandro: Did you have anyone in your family who was an entrepreneur because, obviously, it seems that is very much engraved in the family? Many of you have gone out and started companies.

Laurin Hahn: My parents are not, but my brothers are also entrepreneurs. They started several companies of their own. I actually founded my first company when I was 17 with my brothers together. I have two older brothers, and we started a company in 2012 back then. Yeah, that was basically the milestone — my first milestone on the road to an entrepreneur.

Alejandro: How was that? At 17, I remember, I was still playing PlayStation. So, what got you into launching a business so young?

Laurin Hahn: It was good because I learned a lot from my brothers, which are older. They already had some experience with founding or managing companies. I learned a lot, and that was basically for me, the first step into that direction. But, at the same time, I knew I wanted to do something on my own, and I knew I wanted to do something for fighting climate change and do something against it. That’s why some years later, I founded Sono Motors together with my co-founder, who I went to school with, my best friend, which I’ve known for 20 years.

Alejandro: And you’re talking about you wanted to do something about climate change. I’m wondering at what point did you have that first exposure or started to become educated to the problem?

Laurin Hahn: Good question. I think I was 15 or 16 when we started to talk heavily about things evolving, green technology, climate change, what can we do against it? If you go into the topic, you quickly see that burning fossil fuels is one of the main issues here. That’s exactly what we’re trying to tackle at Sono Motors because, with electric vehicles, we can gain independency of fossil fuels, of crude oil with electric mobility, with electric cars. That’s why we started Sona Motors. That’s why we said, “We have to do something about it. We have to take matters into our own hands.

Alejandro: Got it. Obviously, you did this with your very best friend. How was that conversation? How were you guys thinking about this, and incubating the idea, and really that process of bringing the idea to life starting with building the prototype for three years in the garage of your co-founder?

Laurin Hahn: Right. It all goes back to one phone call we had. That was in 2012, where we talked about fossil fuels and the dependency on crude oil, and that we have to do something about it. Then we came to the turning point where we said, “Hey, the transport sector has so much capability to evolve that we have the totally new trend coming up, electric mobility. Back then, in 2012, nobody knew Tesla. Tesla wasn’t produced in [6:12] yet and stuff. Then we said, “We have to do something here.” We looked into what is the perfect electric car? What are the main hurdles of the electric mobility today? Then, we came out with price, range, and infrastructure. So, price, range, and infrastructure are the main hurdles you have for the consumer to buy an electric vehicle. That’s why we said, “Okay. What is the perfect electric car? How does it look?” We came out with the concept of the sign, the electric car we’re producing now, which is an electric vehicle, family-friendly, 250 kilometers range, $25,000 including the AT, and the best thing, solar integration into the whole car body. So, the car is recharging itself freeing stand time. We have also integrated carSharing, rideSharing, and powerSharing, and made sure that we can use the battery for vehicle [7:18] application. We’ve thought into how can we make electric mobility more user-friendly, more affordable, and we worked into a concept? We said, “Okay. Let’s build this.” Back then, we said, “Okay. Let’s not talk about it; let’s do something,” and went to the garage of Jona. You have to imagine; it was a very small garage. It was like 2 meters x 4 meters. It was so small; it was just for one car. We started to build there, our first prototype by hand, and it took us three years. We originally planned on six months, but as always, it took us way longer than you think. Basically, after three years, we had the concept in place. We had the technology in place, and we knew, “We can do something about it.” That was the point when we said, “Okay. Now, we’re founding a company.”

Alejandro: Got it. Obviously, that was a big decision for you because right at the time where you were starting up the business, that’s the time when all your friends were going to University. In fact, you went to University for doing electrical engineering, and you lasted the incredible amount of one day. 

Laurin Hahn: Yeah. That was a good learning for me. What happened is, we went into the garage and built up this prototype, but our parents started questions about it like, “What are you guys doing? Why are you doing this? Does it have any future?” Basically, we didn’t answer them that we had this big plan in place where we wanted to found a company. So, they were thinking like, “Oh, gosh. What is happening to our guys there? What is happening to our sons?” Back then, they said, “Please just study something.” We said, “Okay. We’re going to study something.” I decided on electrical engineering, but I went to University. After the first day, I realized, “This is not my way. This is not the way I want to go because I’m losing four years of my life studying something and coming out, and I can’t do anything more than today.” That was the point where I said, “I will quit after one day and focusing on that one goal to bring this prototype to the street and to found a company.” That’s exactly what we did.

Alejandro: Obviously, I’m not going to ask how the conversation went with your parents.

Laurin Hahn: Oh, yeah. Don’t ask. Don’t ask.

Alejandro: Let’s talk about, then, the decision was made, and you guys have the car being built, the prototype in the garage. What happens next when you guys are already clear that you want to start a business? What were the next steps?

Laurin Hahn: The next step was, we founded a company together with a third co-founder, Navina, which she used to be my roommate, and she got involved in this. Then, we were the three young people of us starting a company. The main, basic question was funding — where we get the funding from. We had to be very efficient at the beginning because we started up as a small company and had the first office in place in the backroom of a tailor’s shop. Basically, a six-square meter back office, so it was a very small room in the backroom of a tailor’s shop. It was so funny because looking back, we had the first supplier meetings or the first meetings with investors in a tailor shop, and they were like, “Hey, am I wrong? Is this the wrong address?” We’re like, “Hey, no, no. This is just starting up.” Luckily, it turned out, we quickly could move to a different office, and it got bigger. And, you know, today, our 400 employees working on the project, a big company, and we made it. But, still, back then, it was a tough challenge to come over it.

Alejandro: I hear you. You guys have raised quite a bit, too. I want to talk about that, but before that, just so the people have a clear understanding of what you guys are doing, what is exactly the business? Tell us about the model, how you guys are making money, and how everything works.

Laurin Hahn: Yeah, sure. Just formally, Sono Motors envisions a world in which every car on the street is electric and shared. This is where we want to go, and that’s why we built the company on two pillars. First, is Sono Motors as a car manufacturer. So, we’re developing and selling cars. Secondly, we see ourselves as a mobility service provider, so carSharing, rideSharing, and powerSharing. Building up the company on two pillars is very interesting because we sell cars to customers, and they use it on a daily basis for carSharing, rideSharing, and their own and make money with it, and we get recurring costs, so we can get recurring revenues for it. So we’re building up a peer2peer carShare without having any investment in it. A very nice business model, very interesting, if you look at the whole automotive industry, will evolve. What you have here, actually, is a hundred-years-old industry, which is now, all of a sudden, in the last three years changing — massively changing. We have a huge disruption here because they have to move from the combustion engine to electric vehicles. They have to move from the normal business model of selling cars to mobility service, and the whole industry has to deal with the fact of autonomous driving. Those three pillars bring up a window of opportunity where you have big oil players, so powerful, so good at what they did the last 100 years, standing at the same line as we do because it’s totally new to them. This window of opportunity is open for, I think, the next one or two years where we exactly come into and bring a new product to the market and have the chance to meet a new market, a totally new market, which is [14:30].

Alejandro: Got it. There’s definitely a lot happening in this space. When you guys started the business back in 2013, obviously, nobody knew that you guys were going to have such good timing because I think that timing, also as an entrepreneur, is everything.

Laurin Hahn: Right.

Alejandro: Obviously, for a company like this, you guys need money. How much capital have you guys raised to date?

Laurin Hahn: We have raised in total, something like 75 million. Funding was one of the toughest challenges we had, just to be very honest. I think every entrepreneur listening to this podcast knows it, especially if you have a business model, which is hardware, it’s even harder raising money than for a software business model. 

Alejandro: Why do you think that’s the case?

Laurin Hahn: It’s about scalability. It’s about are they making it? And it’s about how much investment do you need upfront to be able to break even? Basically, if you have a software-based business model, it’s always like you can come to the market very early, you can scale it up very easily, and it’s there with five people on the team. Whereas, if you have a hardware business model, you have processes, you have product development, you have a lot of funding required to come to the start of production, and it’s a totally new and different thing. The opportunity is big — no question about it. If we succeed, this will be a multi-billion-dollar company we’re having.

Alejandro: How big do you think the market is?

Laurin Hahn: You have 100 million cars being sold every year. That’s basically the market. And we’re having right now, 1.5% sales of electric vehicles, but it will change to 80%, 90%, maybe even 100% electric vehicles being sold in the next 10 to 20 years. So, the market opportunity is huge. But the question is, who’s going to make it? Is a new player going to make it, or is an old one going to make it? If you look at the iPhone, for example, or the WhatsApp, MSN example, then you say you can make it as a new player. You just have to be at the right time; you just have to be with the right product and have to have a solution, which is really user-friendly.

Alejandro: Absolutely. I know that in this case for you guys, there was a big breakdown that led into one of the most incredible fundraising stories that I’ve heard in a while. What happened during that negotiation that really got you guys thinking, “This could be the end”?

Laurin Hahn: Ah, a good one. What happened was, we had several successful funding rounds in the past, but then had a bigger one coming up, the Series B, last summer. We had negotiations going on with one investor, nine rounds of negotiations. Six months it took us. It was all fine; term sheets were signed. We wanted to go to the notary. It was almost finished, and this turned around. The investor we talked to changed his way, and he completed wiped off the terms we agreed on. We had to make a decision. Are we continuing like this, or are we going in a different direction? Continuing like this would mean that we’ve sold the company for a bad price and made the decision that the sign would not come to the street, just the [18:47] would be taken off of this company. We said, “No. This is not the way we want to go. This is completely not the way why we started the company, and we want to do something about climate change and change something for the better. That’s why we decided on a different way. We decided to go with the community, with the community we built around our brand and came up with the idea to launch one of the biggest Crowdfunder campaigns that has ever been made. That’s what we did. Our Crowdfunder campaign started in December 2019, where we raised in one month 53 million euros, 60 million dollars.

Alejandro: Very cool. Let’s dig into this a little bit because probably the people that are listening are now with their mouths open. Walk us through that experience and that process because you literally built the process and the way to accept those contributions, whether it was in the form of investments or donations directly via your own platform rather than using one of the players there that were doing crowdfunding in Europe. So, why did you do this?

Laurin Hahn: Oh, that was crazy because when we planned this crowdfunding campaign, we looked up to see if there was any platform meeting or matching our requirements. Then we came to the conclusion, “No, there is none. There’s no platform where we can have equity, debt, and donation at the same time. There’s nothing like this.” So, we had to build our own solution. We sat down together with our marketing team and asked them, “Can we build something like this?” They said, “Yeah, let’s try it.” We had just one month left, and very time-crushing the whole team worked on it and did a great job. We came out with our own platform, built up our own platform where we could launch a crowdfunding campaign with debt, equity, and donations. 

Alejandro: So, Laurin, here, you guys launched this really big-equity crowdfunding campaign. What I was wondering is, how long did it take from beginning to end until you had the platform up and running? And also, from beginning to end until you were able to raise the 53 million?

Laurin Hahn: Yeah, sure. Basically, we had one month to prepare everything. We had this huge time pressure that we had to start the campaign at the beginning of December, shortly before Christmas, this is a good time. So we had this small window of opportunity to launch this campaign, and we made it with a lot of tears and sweat, a lot of long nights. We launched at the beginning of December, the first of December, this campaign. Then we had this campaign running for 50 days until the 20th of January. It was crazy because, before Christmas, this went very well. Between Christmas and New Year’s, it didn’t go well because, obviously, there’s nothing happening. Everyone is on vacation; everyone is having dinner with their families. Then, it picked up again. There were some crazy times. We had to do a lot of marketing efforts, a lot of efforts to get the boys out, to get the story out, and really worked through the time. It was one of the toughest times in my life, a lot of work, no Christmas, no New Year’s, just working 24/7. But it was good. It was really good because we as a team showed that when we had a big problem, we could turn this into an opportunity, and we could make a success out of it. That’s the best thing you can show with your own company.

Alejandro: That’s amazing. One of the questions, Laurin, that typically I ask the guests that come on the show is — you’ve been at it now for a while, since 2013. You’ve had the ups and downs, and this crazy story with funding is remarkable and super-inspiring, and I’m sure that a lot of people that are listening are going to really be inspired by it as well. If you had the time to go back and have a chat with your younger self, with perhaps when you were at that garage thinking like, “Hey, am I going to do a company around this thing, or what going to be the next chapter for me?” What would be that one piece of business advice that you would give to your younger self before launching a business, and why knowing what you know now?

Laurin Hahn: Good question. Two pieces of advice I would give. The first thing is, really build the product, which is in need for the customer, which is really making our lives better. And don’t believe that — show it by data. Show it by example. Show it by facts. That’s very important. Don’t build up a business just believing that your product is the best one. Show it with data. Bring customers to the product. That’s very basic advice that I can give, but it’s so important. The second thing is, be aware if you’ve found a company — it’s one of the toughest things you can do. It’s going to be 24/7. It’s going to be a job which is changing your life, and you have to work very hard to be successful. The chance that you fail by founding a company is so high, there are so many failures, that you have to work so hard to make it a success. So if you start a company, do it, go for it, be foolish, but also be realistic, and be realistic about the work ethic you have to put in. This is not an easy job. This is not like something that you can do on weekends. This is a fulltime job you really have to work on, and that’s the advice I can give.

Alejandro: Very cool. Then for the folks that are listening, what is the best way to reach out, Laurin, and say hi?

Laurin Hahn: Hit me on LinkedIn. Hit me on Twitter, Slake, or email. Just some way. Spell my name, and you will find a way to reach out to me.

Alejandro: Amazing. As they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Laurin, thank you so much for being on the DealMakers show. It has been a pleasure.

Laurin Hahn: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. It was great fun, and I hope I could give some insights there.

 

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