Meet the Real Mother of Invention: Persistence
Like any sane human being, Jonas Eliasson hated commuting. Like any good entrepreneur, he obsessed over a solution, and eventually found it.
Here was the problem: To reach his architect’s office in Stockholm, Elisasson had a tedious walk to the commuter train and an even longer walk to his office once in the city center. All that time cut into his time with his family and the time he wanted to spend exercising. Biking would combine the commute and exercise, but a bike wasn’t welcome on the train. He tried in-line skates, but they were impractical in a busy urban center. He needed to come up with something different.
Human need drives innovation.
The planning began in 1998. He thought on the train, on his walk to the office, and at night instead of sleeping. He kept thinking after he moved to Denmark and co-founded an optical touch-screen developer. Ten years later, after several versions of sketches and plans, Jonas built the first crude prototype of an upright three-wheeled scooter powered by a driver pushing pedals. Now three years–and several more prototypes later -- Jonas has taken delivery of the production-ready version of the “Me-Mover.”
Because it has three wheels, the Me-Mover is much more stable than a classic two-wheeled kick-scooter. It’s more practical in a city than a skating scooter like the Trikke, and its proprietary propulsion and gearing system move it faster than either. It is less expensive, more environmentally conscious and burns more calories than a Segway. (In fact, a guided city tour program in Denmark recently cancelled plans to use the Segway and will be using the Me-Mover instead.) And it folds in seconds into a unit that can fit easily on public transportation. This Me-Mover promo video shows how it works.
Innovation Starts with the Problem
Whether the Me-Mover becomes as Jonas describes it on his website, “The simplest, most attractive and convenient choice” for transportation, remains to be seen. But his story is a great example of how inspiration comes to market.
It starts with “the pain.” How can you save time on a city commute and get an aerobic workout? How do you reconcile urban transit and sustainable energy use? These questions guided his designs and drove him to keep trying.
Innovation strikes when you aren’t looking for it.
The propulsion system is the breakthrough that makes the MeMover possible, and the ah-ha moment came to Jonas when he was in-line skating near the beach. Jonas started skating on a cement sea wall built on a 45 degree angle. He found that by alternating his skates downward on the wall, gravity made skating both fun and effortless. The MeMover’s propulsion system mimicks the gravity-induced thrill he received that day.
The moral: Inspiration comes from everyday experience, especially if you have prepared your thinking to look for it. Inspiration rewards the prepared mind.
Then, it proceeds through iteration
Starting with his initial ideas over thirteen years ago, and proceeding through several notebooks filled with crude drawings, Jonas evolved the Me-Mover through several progressively more innovative versions. In the end his built five prototypes, before arriving at the production model.
And it comes to market by testing
Jonas has used the prototypes to introduce thousands of users to the MeMover, and he systematically adapted his product to reflect their feedback. The production model comes with disk brakes, a propulsion system that gears up for hills, and a cambering system that allows it to sway in turns like the world’s best skaters. That makes it speedy and surprisingly fun to use.
The product testing also gave him his marketing plan. From feedback on the prototypes, he learned that endurance runners liked MeMover as a low-impact training tool. As a result, runners have become the initial target for the product’s introduction, as well as the city tour market where it will attain visibility worldwide.
Jonas’ persistence has led to an engaging and highly innovative solution. My guess is there will be a financial payoff in the marketplace. If there is, innovation and inspiration will be rewarded—after 13 years of hard work. The moral is obvious: there is no innovation without persistence.
TED ZOLLER | Columnist | Director, Ctr for Entrepreneurial Studies, Kenan-Flagler
Ted Zoller, PhD, is Senior Fellow at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and directs the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC Chapel Hill. He is the founder of CommonWeal Ventures, a venture advisory service, and advises entrepreneurial firms and founders worldwide.