Chief product officer Martin Malmqvist explains that there are many things that can go wrong when heading Radinn’s product development.
— We have a product where we take a large number of lithium-ion battery cells — which is in itself a somewhat immature technology — and package them together with a host of electronics and software, which we then use to drive a jet motor. We then take all of these sensitive electronics and batteries and place them in a wet environment in the shape of a piece of sporting equipment. Lastly, we put this gear in the hands of inexperienced users and allow them to ride full throttle at 60 km/h in, sometimes, very violent conditions…
In 2018, Swedish serial entrepreneur Mathias Bergman had just left his own startup when a friend — who’d heard the news — called.
— He said that I had to join this, Bergman remembers. ’This is so typical you, we’re gonna scale and go mass-market — it’s a ’dream of surfing’ and it sort of has your name on it.’ He was chairman of the board at Radinn.
Mathias, a former surfer, told him that he had to try the product first and travelled to a first, smaller event in Ibiza. At the time, the price for a jetboard was around €20,000.
— The first time I saw it, I asked myself: is it for real? And that’s the thing, it’s so unreal. Still, the price point made me think that it wasn’t for me, but more for the chosen ones. Maybe some adventurers could afford it, but it was more for the yachting people. However, more importantly — it was really funny, and after trying it for the first time, I quickly understood that this actually is for everyone. That remains our ambition today.
The range is not primarily for the ones that are surfers today. It’s for common people — and the brand states that almost anyone can use its jetboards.
— I can use it with my wife and her friends and with my kids and their friends, says Mathias Bergman.
— Part of the key here is that you’re in total control of the vessel yourself, Martin Malmqvist continues. You have a controller in your hand that you use to set the speed. So, it’s just one button and the more you press it, the faster it goes — it’s very intuitive. And then you learn to use your body to steer left and right. So, this puts you firmly in the driver’s position as opposed to, for example, wave surfing, where you need to interact with the wave, or kitesurfing, where you need to learn how to control the kite in the wind. So, there’s not necessarily any interaction with, or dependency on, the elements — it’s completely up to you. Another factor is that you can take it slow — you don’t have to stand up the first time, and you can lay flat on your belly or sit on your knees.
Your products include several granted patents, with even more in the pipeline.
— Yes, the main one is the modularity of the board where we have split the vessel into three parts — the board is one of them but that’s just a piece of plastic and doesn’t contain moving parts or electronics, Malmqvist explains. The motor part, which we call a jetpack, is plugged in from beneath and is separable, which gives you the option to have several different board shapes but one jetpack that can move between them. It also makes it easier if something breaks in the jetpack and you need to send it to be repaired, you can take it out and ship it much easier than if it was integrated into the board. We have many ideas about where we want to take the technology in this product. However, truth to be told, I don’t think anyone knows for sure how all of this will look in just five years — because there’s so much happening across the industry right now.
So, how to reach the mass-market? The key to industrialisation, Martin Malmqvist shares, is to work continuously on cost-reduction, new products, and exploration of new production techniques
— Right now, he says, we’re not nearly at the sales volumes that we expect for the future. So in everything we do, we’re gearing the company towards much higher volumes, and that includes the type of production and manufacturing techniques that we employ. In the past, it’s been fine to have a lot of manual labour and time-consuming processes, but going forward, everything must be much more efficient. So, we need to invest in manufacturing capabilities that are scalable, while at the same time developing the electronics and software side with features for battery safety, connectivity, and everything else that will be needed if you want to be a serious player in the mass-market.
— By doing a product, making a product design, design for manufacturing, design for fulfilment, and design for repairability, we can produce it really cheap, then lower the pricepoint — and reach the mass-market, Mathias Bergman explains. The production in itself is a real hurdle for a company becoming global. With a global reach, you need to find out how to conquer production as well. We have our own facility today, but we’ve been depending on other actors in, for example, China, However, with Covid and macro perspectives entering the world, we have to bring it home, closer to the R&D department but in order to do that, we have to conquer every IP of every piece in our product. And, the product is not only the hull and the plastic part but a battery and a jet. And it’s not ending there — then we have to conquer the fulfilment on a global basis, how to store all the batteries, how to keep stock, and transport it globally. ’We’re building a machine that builds the machine’ is a quote from Elon Musk. And, it’s a perfect one, with all the challenges that come with becoming a mass-market product.
Radinn’s products are popular in the US, and both the growth and the growth potential are strong — 95% of Americans live within an hour of water.
— For our products, you need a lake or a river, which you have pretty much everywhere. This is actually the revival of the lakes. You don’t need the wind, not the waves, not an ocean, and not being dependent on nature opens up a lot of possibilities, says Bergman. He continues:
— This dream has been here for 50 years or so — we see old pictures of people setting a motor engine back on the surfboard — but technology hasn’t. Now, it’s probably in line with batteries becoming more and more available. If you see the EV sector and e-mobility on land, it happens everywhere. If you go to a city today, you have the onewheels, the scooters, you have bikes, and of course, you have the electric cars — it never stops. So, why shouldn’t it happen on water? Of course it will.
Four years in with the company. How has the journey been?
— Challenging. It’s been Covid, freight crisis, semi-conductor problems, and now it’s a war and inflation. It’s been everything.
Radinn recently tested a new concept on a surf club close to its head office in Malmö before the launch of the world’s first ’rental-approved’ jetboard.
— Being able to use it at, for instance, resorts, makes a lot of people able to try it, says Bergman. We’re now selling our boards to rental operators around the world and we’re also talking about other ways of not owning the product, such as a subscription model. Because everybody can’t own it. If you’re living in, say, New York, you probably don’t have the space for it.
Will you continue to work B2B? Or B2C?
— We started as a B2C and D2C-only concept — and maybe that was the best way in the early days with rich people, yacht owners, maybe the President of Google, and a lot of famous people buying the boards. But it was low numbers. Then, we understood that the B2B perspective is really interesting, and today, we are B2B first. We’re building on much longer-term relationships with our dealers, agents, and distributors around the world. If you choose a bigger partner, they want to do it for the long term but they also have bigger demands against us as a company and we had to have that time to prepare for these challenges and to meet these demands. When these partners then increase our volumes, it affects our margins and makes it faster and easier to scale as a company, so that is the strategy that we’ve been choosing for now.
In the surfing industry, are you the bad guys?
— If you remember when the snowboard entered the slopes, all the skiers hated the snowboarders. And I’ve been there myself with the kitesurfing when all the windsurfers really hated us. It’s a little bit like that in the beginning. But the thing is, I believe that our products open up for the beginner and is good for the professional as well. It’s a complement — and it’s something else. I usually say to a surfer that it’s a mix of longboarding and snowboarding in really deep snow. And — you still get the feeling, Bergman concludes.