The electric vehicle revolution needed a vanguard - a group of people with fresh ideas.
In 2015, a group of young people in Sweden came together, inspired by the potential of the electric car revolution to make the world a better place. But they noticed a concerning paradox: electric cars were being built in the same way as combustion engine cars - big, heavy, and overpowered... That means bigger batteries and more energy to charge and operate, whilst at the same time being marketed as environmentally friendly. Electric cars were inefficient by design: because this was what the market demanded.
At the same time the average occupancy of vehicle trips was only 1.2 people, driving slows speeds for short distances in urban traffic. The data showed a logical need for an agile and lightweight electric vehicle with all the latest tech and a cool design.
They knew that if people could get the market excited about a lightweight, energy efficient EV, we could use much smaller batteries and much less energy to charge, enabling us to deliver a lower cost car with a smaller carbon footprint that still meets or exceeds the needs of the target marekt.
The math was pretty simple: heavier cars = more battery + more energy to operate
Thus, Uniti was born.
Our engineers attacked the challenge aggressively from day one. In dark rooms, deep within Lund University, Sweden, we started from fundamental datasets and first principles. Seeking to challenge every convention in the auto industry we literally "scienced the sh!t out of it".
The process was hyper-creative and the team was extremely dedicated. Working long hours, we designed a product that felt more in sync with the next generation. A vehicle designed like consumer electronics, not cars.
Waiting in the green room at a tech conference in Berlin in 2017, I met Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple. We had a short discussion about Uniti and some of the similarities with a fledgling Apple. I gave my speech, followed by Steve, who mentioned while one stage:
"Why do we make electric cars large? It turns out, in engineering we design to solve inefficiencies, and the battery is clearly the electric cars Achilles heal" Steve Wozniak
My role was that of an entrepreneur. I seemed to do pretty well in the beginning. But in my attempt to transform into a CEO capable of making it happen, I soon learnt just how difficult it is to manufacture electric cars, and to build an actual business (and not just a startup). I failed to raise large enough capital to get production going, and we remained in a severely underfunded state for years on end.
The journey of Uniti was certainly a whirlwind of highs and lows. Highlights included the U17 event, where we showcased our prototypes to a large audience of people from around the world, including thousands of people who physically attended. We also succeeded in gaining some funding, affirming the faith people had in our mission.
But while everyone knows that a venture like this is extremely risky, it didn't reduce the burden of worrying about investors losing their money. So many people believed in us, invested in us, and lost millions of dollars. This motivated me deeply to work out how to mitigate this risk in future.
But despite our eventual bankruptcy shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic, the journey of Uniti was not in vain. It was a testament to the power of a dream, the courage to pursue it, and the resilience to keep going in the face of adversity.
As I reflect on my journey with Uniti, I am filled with a sense of pride and gratitude. For what we were able to achieve, and for the incredible team of people who fought for our mission. We may not have reached the destination we had in mind, but we certainly blazed a trail in the electric vehicle revolution.
Uniti was a vanguard of the electric vehicle revolution, a beacon of innovation and sustainability. And while the journey was challenging, it was also incredibly rewarding, and I'm so proud to see our team go on to do great things. In fact, many ended up founding their own successful and funded companies within the mobility ecosystem.
Questions I get all the time:
Q: So what is happening with Uniti now?
A: Uniti will now rest for some years. I want to develop such a vehicle one day, but I want to do it with my own money, not investors. That means I need to play the game of capitalism in a broader sense for a while. There is also a team in Sweden working to keep the dream alive!
Q: What were the main causes behind Uniti's failure?
A: After much reflection, it was 3 things that were the main causes:
1. It was too risky and capital-intensive for institutional investors in Europe, and we were ill-equipped at the time to raise the billions of dollars needed to pull it off.
2. I did not prioritize my health and wellness. I just charged on, with no sleep, living in the office for months, and putting only company objectives first. I was constantly traveling, and constantly raising capital. The burden was heavy, but I kept on pushing for years on end. In this state, it is difficult to maintain the mental clarity needed for success. So, for any entrepreneurs that read this: prioritizing your health is a part of your job and you need to take it seriously.
3. COVID certainly complicated things. In Q4 of 2019, we allowed people to order the Uniti One vehicle in parallel to building it, with a very tight schedule and budget to deliver the production-intent version. This would further validate the market so that once built, we had a strong case for our investment roadshow that we had planned in London. Unfortunately, at this time, we were told that we couldn't get parts shipped as many of our suppliers were in Hubei province, China. Given our budget at the time, we couldn't afford the alternatives made locally in the UK. Our investment round was cancelled, we couldn't get to London and everything was locked down.
Q: Why didn't you pivot?
A: "We did. We shifted to a model in which we could leverage the existing vehicle platform of another Chinese EV manufacturer, just adding our technology and design. This vehicle would be called the Uniti Zero, the precursor to the Uniti One, and this strategy was communicated to investors at our annual general meeting who agreed that it was our only shot. We did follow through with that vehicle build and got the car on road legally in Sweden. Unfortunately, that deal fell through on account of financial constraints on both sides as our time continued to run out.
Q: The press often glorified you, once even calling you the Elon Musk of Europe. But at the end, they vilified you, once even naming you the Elisabeth Holmes of Europe. What was that like?
A: "Truth be told, I'm nothing like either Musk or Holmes. The media, in their quest for sensationalism and ad revenue, in today's wildly competitive landscape, has to amplify the extremes to get the clicks. Much the same as many startups. But I'm aware that this is simply the price of admission if you want to put yourself out there and take this kind of risk".
Q: What have you done since shutting down Uniti?
A: "We did make an attempt to revive the project, but it was not the right time and did not have the right team so that attempt was quite short lived. I sailed over 20,000 km from Sweden, down the coast of Europe, across the Atlantic ocean and to the Caribbean. This has been a vital time for reflection and learning, to rebuild, and get back to work building solutions to problems in the world."
To anyone out there who reads this, who wants to fight for something they believe in, just know this: You may fail, it may hurt, but you must have courage. You must try.