By Peter High, published on Forbes
Jay Rogers is the founder and CEO of Local Motors, a company focused on low-volume manufacturing of open source motor vehicles designed using micro-factories. Local Motors produces its own vehicles, including the Strati, the world’s first 3-D printed electric car, and the Olli, and autonomous, electric powered bus.
Rogers has entrepreneurship in his DNA. His grandfather was an entrepreneur from whom Rogers drew inspiration. He headed down an academic and professional route that seemed appropriate for a future entrepreneur, having graduated from Princeton and Harvard Business School, and having spent time in consulting and in banking. Among the aspects of his experience that he believes to have had the most profound impact on his career was a seven year stint in the United States Marine Corps. He learned about leading in precarious situations with imperfect information.
Peter High: Jay, you founded and run Local Motors. It is a business that combines several leading trends: open source technology; micro-manufacturing; 3-D printing; self-driving automobiles; “pretail”; co-creation. How would you describe Local Motors business?
Jay Rogers: Local Motors drives the commercialization of high technology products, using co-creation and micro manufacturing. When you drive the commercialization of technology products, which we do for own accounts and some other large businesses that have similarly complex high technology products, it is about changing a hundred-year paradigm in mass manufacturing. We are now using the crowd. We are using a bespoke community that we build with suppliers and customers. Then we are changing the way we think about manufacturing. We have a mass oriented way of thinking about product commercialization. In our business, our most successful product is a self-driving shuttle, Olli, and it is where we eat our own dog food. It is a new area and it is one where there is strong customer interest and user interests for a lot of reasons. To get the products out, companies that are more traditional in the industry have a much longer timeline because of the way their processes are set up.
High: You mentioned the bespoke community ecosystem that you have developed. Much of the creation depends upon that strong collaboration with the community. How do you foster that? How do you select them and how do they select you?
Rogers: This is something that we are passionate about. We have moved into what Steve Case calls “a third wave” of internet enabled businesses. We think about community not as numbers but as relevance. Our community is something that is a breeding entity and nothing is more real in this age of questions about re-shoring jobs, of constant upheaval in union memberships, and of micro degrees where a college degree is under attack. When we think about a community, we are looking for businesses and individuals to join in an effort that has relevance to something they know. We stand up that community around what is, at best, a project, and we scope carefully what is needed in that project. If we are looking at something that needs metallurgy or material science or integration or controls or flight experience or knowledge of unmanned systems, those are the kinds of things where there is a cognitive surplus of people out there that simply are never going to work for you. You need them more than they need you. You can strike a transaction around a project if you can be open about what you are doing. The way we build a bespoke community is by being clear about what you are looking for and open about the projects you are working on. That has been a big shift. One of the first things that large companies learn about the way we do things is that open development allows them to build a breeding team.
High: You have worked with several leading brands such as General Electric, Lego, Domino’s, and Airbus Group. What are some of the specifics of these partnerships? What are the ways you engage with large enterprises? How do they think of you relative to their traditional manufacturing?
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