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Uniti: A Vanguard of the Electric Vehicle Revolution

Updated: Aug 5

Vanguard: Noun - a group of people leading the way in new developments or ideas.

Lewis Horne on stage U17 launch event

In 2016, I founded an electric car company in Sweden. I was inspired by the potential of the electric car revolution to make the world a better place but 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.

Plus, I knew that if we 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.

Uniti team building the uniti one car

Our engineers attacked the challenge aggressively from day one. In dark rooms, deep within Lund University, Sweden (where Bluetooth was invented), 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 deep discussion about Uniti and some of the similarities with a fledgling Apple. I gave my speech, followed by Steve, who then walked on stage and directly asked:

Steve Wozniak
"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

But while the market and even the titans of industry repeatedly validated the concept, we still failed to raise large enough investments from venture capitalists to get production going. The capital-intensive nature of the business, intense competition, and supply chain concerns made VCs extremely timid and as a result we remained in a severely underfunded state for years on end.

Crowd on stage looking at Uniti One prototype

The journey of Uniti was certainly a whirlwind of highs and lows. Highlights included the U17 event, where we showcased our prototypes to an audience of hundreds of thousands of people from around the world, including over 3500 who physically attended, and the rounds of funding that we gained, 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 during 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.

Lewis Horne headshot Uniti Electric car CEO
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 joined me on this journey. We may not have reached the destination we had in mind, but we certainly blazed a trail in the electric vehicle revolution.

Uniti EV team on stage after launch event

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 still intend on producing the Uniti One, 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. But I'll probably pick it up again in the future.

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 huge but I was obsessed so I just 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 really messed us up. 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 and booked in London. Unfortunately at this time, we were told that we couldn't get any parts shipped as most of our suppliers were in Hubei province, China - ground zero for COVID-19. 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 - our supply chain basically vanished overnight.

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 large Chinese manufacturer, and just add our unique 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. But unfortunately, that deal ended up falling through on account of financial constraints on both sides and our time kept running 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. But I've always known that dealing with it is simply the price of admission if you want to put yourself out there and play at this level."

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 all around the Carribean (despite having never sailed before!). At the time of this writing, I'm sitting aboard my yacht in the Rio Dulce river, Guatemala. I've assembled a team and we are busy building solutions to problems in the world ever day."

Q: So what do you do now?

A: "My team and I work with entrepreneurs and brands around the world. We specialize in helping our clients gain clarity, eliminate obstacles that impede growth, and help them to reach their full potential. Most of our clients are Americans, and they call it 'rainmaking', but really it's just creating leverage by using ai and automation, aligning product, market, brand, and messaging, and then accelerating in a systematic way. We focus on increasing revenue and profitability, and given our background, this usually also means gaining investment or creating a liquidity event for the firm. Other than that I do various speaking engagements and producing content to share some of what I've learned."

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