Now, two of the innovators who contributed to that success have taken on an exciting new venture: co-founders of an electric vehicle company of their own.
Toby Kraus, who led Tesla’s finance team and oversaw product management for the Model S, and Ben Parker, who worked as a battery engineer on the Model 3, co-founded Lightship, America’s first all-electric RV company, in 2020.
Kraus, Lightship’s CEO, told The Cool Down that the pair is particularly motivated by introducing the concept of home electrification to people who may have never heard of it before.
“Electric vehicles and companies like Tesla have been really successful, but that success has largely been concentrated to a specific demographic of people with specific needs,” he said. “In order to meet our climate goals as a country, electrification needs to spread beyond these initial users and into the mainstream.”
For Parker, Lightship’s chief product officer, inspiration struck in the form of gas-powered food trucks parked outside Tesla’s Palo Alto offices, which led him to consider which types of vehicles apart from passenger cars could be electrified. A subsequent case of cabin fever during the COVID-19 lockdown pointed him in the direction of RVs.
After building a prototype battery power system for an RV, Parker realized that he needed a partner with experience on the commercial and fundraising side of things, which is where Kraus came in.
Together, the two embarked on a research road trip where they towed a vintage travel trailer using a Tesla Model X from Boulder to San Francisco. Having gotten through that in one piece, they figured they were ready to start a company together.
Lightship has since gone on to debut its first product, the L1, at SXSW Austin in March 2023, working under an “insane deadline” to build a fully functioning alpha vehicle, all the while creating a new brand and website and also hiring a team to support the vision.
“It was a heroic push but it really brought the company together towards a clear goal, and we’ve been excited about the response we’ve gotten,” Parker told The Cool Down.
“Hiring our first few employees was super hard,” Kraus added. “We had an idea we were really passionate about and also a really high bar for the first people we wanted to hire. It’s tough to convince an awesome person to leave a good job when they can log onto LinkedIn and see you only have two employees.”
The L1 is expected to go into production in late 2024, just four years after Kraus and Parker conceived the idea, with prices starting at $125,000.
“It is amazing to see what a small team of individuals can accomplish when working together towards a common goal,” Kraus said. “When Ben and I first imagined the Lightship, it felt daunting and impossible that we could build a company with such an ambitious mission ourselves … but flash forward a year and a half, a team of just over 20 people was able to do it.”
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