Riding electric boards is hot. Future Motion has raised $3.2 million for its one-wheeled electric skateboard, dubbed Onewheel.
The Onewheel is part of a wave of electric skateboards, hoverboards, and other devices that help people get around faster. It was part of a wave of personal transportation devices on display at the 2016 International CES, and it was just one example of how electronics and wireless connectivity are changing the transportation experience.
The financial backing comes from Deshe Holdings, which led the round, with participation from sports marketing leader Paul Crandell.
“I was interested in personal transportation, and it has turned out to be a nonstop, wild ride,” said Kyle Doerksen, CEO of Onewheel maker Future Motion, in an interview with VentureBeat.
Onewheel has been labeled a “hoverboard,” but it shares very few characteristics with the two-wheeled boards that caught the public’s imagination — and occasionally caught on fire — during the past year. As its name suggests, it is a board with a big wheel embedded in the middle.
It is the brain child of Doerksen, whose company is based in the beach town of Santa Cruz, Calif.
“I grew up in the Canadian Rockies and snowboarded a lot,” Doerksen said. “I loved that feeling of floating on powder. It’s clean transportation, and you can stand on it without wobbling.”
He became a product designer at Ideo, the industrial design and product creation company in Silicon Valley, and started tinkering with the Onewheel concept because he was always late walking to meetings along the Embarcadero in San Francisco.
“I was thinking it would be great to have something that I could use to zoom along to my meetings,” he said. “I saw the sensor technology going into smartphones was making motion sensors a lot less expensive and higher quality. I started building prototypes. I was working on Onewheel long before any of the hoverboards happened. To me, the concept was about recreating the feeling of snowboarding on powder.”
He founded the company in 2013, and launched a product at CES in 2014. While the product doesn’t have obvious electronic parts, it actually has a lot of expensive technology in it. The $1,500 board has a full-blown computer inside the wheel, with gyroscopes, accelerometers, and Bluetooth connectivity. The board weighs 25 pounds and it has a range of about six or seven miles.
“It’s a system you couldn’t build easily with off-the-shelf components,” Doerksen said.
The device connects to your smartphone, which you can use to control the experience of riding the device. And it has an electric motor with a big lithium iron phosphate battery that allows you to zip along on straightaways.
The board can go at a speed of 16 miles per hour. Doerksen said you can learn to ride it in a minute or two, and you can become proficient at it within a short time. It is, he said, a lot easier to learn than a skateboard or snowboard. Part of the reason is that the board is self-balancing. You lean forward to speed it up, and you lean back to slow it down.
Doerksen said the money will be used to expand the company’s current team of 10 people. Future Motion will expand operations and is quadrupling its manufacturing capacity, since there has been so much demand. (The company hasn’t disclosed its sales figures.) It is also expanding distribution and service to Europe. Onewheel was just awarded the prestigious ISPO Brand New 2016 award at ISPO, the world’s largest sporting goods show in Munich, Germany.
The company is setting up a research and development team at its headquarters in Santa Cruz. That’s a good location since it’s home to a lot of pro extreme sports fans who surf or ride mountain bikes. The fact that the Onewheel can be used off-road is very appealing to that crowd.
“Ever since I first tried the Onewheel, I knew it was a category-defining product,” said Elie Deshe, partner at Deshe Capital, in a statement. “Personal mobility is the next technological wave, and Future Motion’s Onewheel is uniquely positioned to lead the industry. We’re glad to support Kyle and his team during this exciting period of growth.”
Hoverboards have experienced some trouble in the market, as videos of poorly made versions bursting into flames have gone viral. Onewheel also had to deal with a copycat at CES. Bloomberg witnessed U.S. marshals raiding a Onewheel clone booth at CES for allegedly infringing a patent for the single-wheeled board product.
“We launched at CES and so we know the significance of launching there,” Doerksen said. “We have multiple patents and it was clear we needed to take action” in shutting down the clone maker’s booth.
He said the company, which makes its boards in San Jose, Calif., doesn’t cut corners on components. This means the board is a bit of an investment, starting at around $1500. Over time, the price of the product should come down, but it won’t compete with a $50 or $100 skateboard anytime soon.
“Our market is different, like for people who are retired from skateboards,” Doerksen said. “Onewheel is more about floating. Our market is older, and it’s for people who appreciate high-quality products. It’s definitely easier, as it has stabilizers and it’s a pretty forgiving ride.”
Additional funding was contributed by DSCN Capital, Hallett Capital, and Lighthouse Capital. They join existing investors Rock Point Capital; Urban.US; Scott Cannon, founder of Mailbox (acquired by Dropbox); and Charles Crowe, former board member of Quiksilver.