Innovation That Matters

Wise Words with Jack Al-Kahwati

Mobility & Transport

Jack Al-Kahwati is the man behind Velo-1 – a smartphone controlled electric bicycle that can control gears and suggest safe routes. Here he fills us in on how business is progressing since we first covered the startup.

A bicycle with intelligence. This is what Jack Al-Kahwati had in mind when he came up with the idea for Velo-1 – an electric bike that can take instruction from a smartphone in order to control the gears, navigate the safest or quickest routes and share data via social networks. As traffic increases, roads become increasingly hazardous and it can be difficult, not to mention dangerous, for cyclists to make snap decisions about which route to take. The Velo-1 was developed with a cyclist’s mindset as paramount importance. It is meant to offer an intuitive approach to a cyclist’s journey through collecting data on the regularly used routes and using this data to inform future suggestions.

Jack has a background in aerospace and mechanical engineering. After working on engineering helicopters, airplanes, ground vehicles and cell phones, he decided to combine his passion for green transportation with his experience in order to do his bit to innovate the world of urban travel. We caught up with Jack to find out how his urban transport ambitions were coming along.

1. Where did the idea for Velo-1 come from?

My brother had just moved to LA for his first job out of school as a banker. Everyone says that you need a car in LA, but his commute was only five miles and with traffic being so bad, I suggested he should just ride a bike. So, he took my advice and started riding to work. But, it turns out, riding with a suit is pretty tough. After a few months, he got transferred to another branch that was 15 miles away, and that’s when he started looking for another option. He looked at all of the other options, but nothing was ideal, until he stumbled upon electric bicycles. Unfortunately, he wasn’t too keen on the design and functionality of Chinese ebikes, so he asked me to build one for him. I thought that was a great idea, so I quit my job and have been working on that ever since.

2. Can you describe a typical working day?

Living in a tiny apartment in San Francisco, I tend to try to get out of the “office” as much as possible. I’m either cruising to Techshop, a cooperative manufacturing space, to work on Velo-1 or at a local coffee shop emailing my team members, or working on our pitch deck.

3. How do you unwind or relax when you’re not working on Velo-1?

Rock climbing. It turns out all of my co-founders workout at the same rock climbing gym, so we go there as often as possible.

4. What’s the secret ingredient to success as an entrepreneur?

It’s an equal mix of craziness, passion, and stamina.

5. What drove you crazy when building your business?

Having to learn new skills. As an engineer, you don’t really have to use the right side of your brain that much. As an entrepreneur, you’ve got to use the whole thing.

6. What motivates you to keep going?

Riding my invention. Bringing something tangible to reality is awesome. 

7. If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would work on finding co-founders right away.

8. Where do you see your business in five years, and how will you get there?

I’d like to branch out and design other transportation vehicles, like small urban electric cars. They are functionally very similar to electric bicycles…just bigger.

9. If you weren’t working on Velo-1, what would you be doing?

I would probably be designing fighter jets in some remote location in the middle of nowhere.

10. Tell Springwise a secret…

My road bike is broken, and I’ve been trying to fix it for 3 weeks now. Maybe it’s time I take it to a proper bike mechanic.

11. Any final words for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Find something you love. Quit your job. Travel. Then get to work (in that order).

You can read more about Velo-1 here, or visit the Velo-1 website here.