X Factors: Cornellians Build XBoard to Shake Up Skateboarding Industry
How can you make something that hasn’t been made better in a long time, better? For Jeffrey Ly (’16) and Eric Berg (’19), this question was a challenge; however, it wasn’t an insurmountable one. Since first pondering that question, the duo has created and developed the XBoard: the world’s first “trickable” electric skateboard.
The skateboarding industry is on the verge of a change, and Jeffrey and Eric want to arrive at its forefront. The team noticed the rise of electric skateboards as a means of transportation, but they couldn’t help noticing that these new, heavier electric skateboards made it more difficult to do the tricks that make using a regular skateboard fun.
“We wanted to preserve everything that makes a skateboard great,” said Jeffrey. “Our tagline is zero compromises.”
The XBoard team has made a lot of progress in pursuing that goal. They’ve added fellow Cornellian Aaron Wisner (’19) to help with the electronics design, created their innovative XGlove and XWheel technologies, and won $10,000 in the New York State Business Plan Competition. The team has also developed an accomplished board of mentors, including Blackstone LaunchPad at Cornell’s Managing Director, Felix Litvinsky.
Jeffrey and Aaron recently took some time to share the story behind their ride with XBoard, and offer their thoughts on entrepreneurship:
What’s the vision behind XBoard?
Jeffrey: The vision is to create an electric skateboard, but with a twist. Electric skateboards are designed mostly for transportation but don’t have the ability to function for what we know skateboards to be. We want to have the speed of an electric skateboard, but be able to unleash that creativity as well.
Can you explain the technology that makes you different?
Jeffrey: For skateboarding, you require a lot of creative freedom. Our bread and butter is XWheel. It delivers power to the wheel without inhibiting the tricks a normal skateboard would have. Next is our control interface: XGlove. The smart glove turns opening and closing of the hand into acceleration and deceleration of the board. It helps you perform all of the tricks without having to worry about holding a remote.
Aaron: There are other electric boards that exist, but they’re designed for transportation, and most are longboards. If you tried to do tricks with it, you’d break it. Our motor is integrated into the wheel, so it gives the same form as a regular skateboard wheel. Our battery is also embedded into the physical board so that it can perform like a regular skateboard, except we can power it. We want it to be seamless. With XGlove, you can read speed on your hand and determine your acceleration or deceleration based on flexing.
Who’s your target market?
Jeffrey: Our initial target market is skateboard enthusiasts. There are people who are looking to push the edge, whether it’s in technology or other ways. They spend $1,000+ on the sport. We envision we’ll spill over into people who want to be transported from place to place. Our target market is skateboard enthusiasts, and there are about 1 million of those in the U.S. alone.
How did you size your market?
Jeffrey: We talked to a lot of industry leaders. Industry partners gave us insights on the number of boards that are built, the number of wheels that are built, and more. We went to X-Games in Austin and got a lot of positive feedback. A lot of people say that they have to bail out of a trick because they don’t have the speed they need.
What tricks can you do with XBoard that you couldn’t do with a regular board?
Jeffrey: For a regular skateboarder, there are pain points people come across. It could be they’re too tired, it could be that they need more speed, but either way, we solve those pain points.
How do you divide tasks among the team?
Aaron: We each have our own specialty. Jeffrey is great at pitching, and he’s won 4 pitch competitions now. He focuses more on the business side. He’s our CEO. Eric has got the entrepreneurship spirit, and he’s our CTO. I’m more the one working on the prototype and making the software. My title is Chief Electronics Designer.
As experts in pitch competitions, what makes the perfect pitch?
Aaron: After watching Jeffrey, I can tell you it’s his enthusiasm. When you see him pitch, you know he genuinely believes this has potential. A lot of it is the content, but 50% of it is being able to convince them with your tone and your way of speaking that, “I believe in this, and you should too.” He’s always moving his hands, pointing at stuff, and doing other things while other people just read off slides. It’s about engaging the audience, and other pitches become forgettable even if the content is good as a result of that.
Jeffrey: It’s about making something that you’re really passionate about. Going out and being able to do that is what’s really fun for me. You always want to share your passion.
What drives you both to keep working on XBoard?
Aaron: It’s about genuinely wanting your idea to succeed. If you’re in it to be famous, or to get money, it’s not going to work. You have to want it to work because you want it to work, not because you want any personal gain. I enjoy doing what I’m doing, and that’s what drives me.
Jeffrey: Anyone in entrepreneurship will tell you if you’re in it for the money, you’re in it for the wrong reasons. It’s about the passion; it’s about the desire to innovate and create something new. The thing that drives me is the joy and challenges that come along with the experience. Being able to develop new ideas, make new connections, get feedback, and work with a team. It’s like a mini-family to have the relationship we’ve built. It’s hard to create that outside of a startup.
What’s your biggest piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Aaron: If you have an idea, don’t hold back on it because you think someone else has an idea that solves that same issue. Your product can solve that issue, and you can do it in a way that’s completely different from how other products have. Don’t throw away a product idea because you think someone else has something. You can always find a way to make yourself unique.
Jeffrey: Today entrepreneurship is really saturated. What sets you apart is you. You need to have a passion to change the world and create your product. Letting your passion shine through is something that’s important.
For more on XBoard, visit the website.