As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing CEO & Co-Founder of LM Industries John B. Rogers, Jr. LM Industries exists to shape the future for the better. LMI makes technology forward products using the four pillars of our innovation ecosystem: co-creation, microfactories, direct digital manufacturing, and lab partnerships. The team begins every product with community-powered, human-centered design and by reinventing manufacturing with microfactories, we create big things on a smaller scale for the local communities that actually need them. LM Industries’ process breaks down the barriers to sustainable product development — reducing waste, consuming less energy, and ensuring we use only the materials we need. We have the unrivaled capacity to make the improbable come to life. Based in San Francisco, LM Industries is the parent company of Local Motors and Launch Forth. Rogers founded LM Industries after serving for seven years in the United States Marine Corps, where he was an Infantry Company Commander. He has worked as a consultant for McKinsey & Co., as an investment analyst at Ewing & Partners, and at a startup medical device company in the People’s Republic of China. He serves as the Chief Investment Officer and Director of the RBR Foundation, a philanthropic foundation focused on education and healthcare. A graduate of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Rogers holds a Masters in Business Administration from Harvard Business School (Baker Scholar).
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
In 1999, I joined the US Marine Corps, and my service absolutely changed and molded my path going forward. I served two tours, my last one in Iraq where I recognized firsthand that the vehicles we were using in combat were insufficiently protected and technologically outdated. The painfully slow speed of modernization led to the loss of two close friends. Had the vehicles they were in been more efficient, the outcome could have been different. These tragedies inspired me to create vehicles in a new way — one that allowed for constant improvement, quickly. From that mission came Local Motors, a vehicle manufacturer that creates upgradable, smart, and sustainable vehicles through microfactories and 3D printing. Along the way, we created Launch Forth, our co-creation company that brings together a community of global design experts to envision the future. Fast forward to 2018, and I lead LM Industries, the parent company to both Local Motors and Launch Forth that brings together the magic of co-creation and the speed of microfactories to reimagine how we manufacture large products at a sustainable scale for communities and large brands, worldwide.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Standing on the back lawn of the White House introducing the 3D printing of vehicles to the President of the United States.
Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
LM Industries’ vision for the future in large part depends on microfactories — small scale, 3D printing manufacturing — exactly the opposite of what you’d think of for stereotypically mammoth, conveyor belt factories. A microfactory built to meet the needs of the community it’s in — from the products it produces to the people employed there. Microfactories are also a sustainable alternative to today’s manufacturing plants, promoting less waste with small scale production (we build what is needed) and recyclability thanks to technology like 3D printing.
How do you think this will change the world?
This will change how local economies operate. Microfactories bring employment opportunities while also still giving the community a say in what it is creating. The community knows best what they need and the local microfactories help create timely solutions. For example, vehicles intended for an island community have vastly different requirements for those of Arctic conditions.
This will change our consumption habits. First and foremost, we will make fewer things. Microfactories will only produce what is ordered — there will not be massive surpluses or parking lots of vehicles sitting idle with bows. Thanks to microfactory’ technology, people can get exactly what they want, as our products are fully customizable, tailored for each individual project and can be upgraded over time.
This will ultimately change how manufacturing impacts the planet. If we can disrupt mass manufacturing, we can begin to decrease our carbon footprint. 3D-printed products require fewer resources to build, and they’re easier to recycle. Due to demand and upgradability, we will make fewer products to start with and the majority, if not all of our vehicles, will be electric. Lastly, once we have more microfactories in more locations, the environmental cost of transporting goods will decrease, as what is made will be used locally.
Of course, new mobility has unintended consequences. For example, we thought that the advent of ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft would bring less personal car usage and therefore less traffic congestion in inner cities. In fact, the reverse has been true. Keeping this in mind, one unintended consequence which we want to avoid is accelerating the adoption of personal cars that carry a great deal of unused passenger space on every trip. Just because we can make vehicles, doesn’t mean we want to avoid the sharing economy. Keeping this concern in mind has caused us to focus first on a vehicle like Olli, a low-speed first and last mile electric autonomous shuttle which carries up to 12 people.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
Losing two of my friends due to inefficient military vehicles was the catalyst that propelled me to fix the way our vehicles are manufactured. Behind that idea are the microfactories — without them, the vehicles cannot be produced. After being in the Marines, my eyes opened to the world of manufacturing and how so many vehicles are still being created with a Ford style of manufacturing, a model that hasn’t changed in over 100 years. It’s archaic, inefficient, and bad for the environment. But with microfactories, vehicles are able to be custom printed in just a few hours — in fact, we can print Olli, a low-speed, electric, autonomous vehicle, in just 10 hours.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
Community support from day-to-day members to potential employees to business leaders to political organizations. To continue expanding our microfactories across the country and world, LM Industries will work to find communities where local economic growth is desired and the people have a passion for solving their own problems.
Many people in America have rolled over and accepted a false future whereby manufacturing goes to other countries as a matter-of-fact. This will only be our future if we cease to believe in the can-do spirit and ingenuity of our citizens. I believe that the country who put a man on the moon first, inspired and lead the creation of the Internet, can solve the problems of meaningful local work in an increasing robotics society. With the advent of our vehicles and our microfactories, we are calling on Americans and citizens around the world to take up the charge and make meaning in their local communities.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.
(Please share a story or example for each.)
Number one, it’s not going to be “two times more expensive and take two times as long.” People aren’t going to “call you crazy at first and then say that you were a genius later.” Not true… It’s going to be five times more expensive, take five times as long, and people are going to call you crazy all the way along the journey.
Number two, if you fight with a pig, you get dirty and the pig just smiles. The lesson here is to pick your battles and operate where you can have the most decisive impact. You only have so many hours in your day; don’t waste them.
Number three, ignore the world when you make your product and the world will ignore your product.
Number four, as a leader, learn to be vulnerable and listen. Henry Ford was often quoted when asked why he chose to make the Model T, “If I had asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me faster horses.“ In this case, if Henry Ford had asked customers and listened, he would’ve heard exactly what he needed to make, they (the customers) wanted things that went faster. He could’ve been more vulnerable.
Number five, As Ben Horowitz said in his book, “The Hard Thing about Hard Things,” is that they are hard. But if you can endure them, they can help to build your brand and make it very sticky.
The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?
Technology moves quickly. One must be a constant learner, remain inquisitive, and seek mentors to learn from. Push yourself to keep your technical skills current, even if new developments don’t seem directly related to your current job. Otherwise, you may need to play a massive game of catch up before you can head off in a new direction in the future. Staying ahead of trends and building a network of forward-thinking peers and leaders will help you remain inspired.
Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?
Air mobility and everything that surrounds it. My belief is that, just like the cell phone displaced the copper wire line phone, the road network and the ground vehicles are too inefficient to cope with changing demographics and peoples’ needs. When mobility takes off the road, we will achieve a different use of real estate in the built environment.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
There are many lessons and many mentors whom I respect and have followed in my life. Principles are often most meaningful when they are ones that you have had to put into action personally. For me, the leadership traits taught in the US Marine Corps are the most enduring. They are loyalty, tact, unselfishness, courage, knowledge, endurance, bearing, judgment, justice, enthusiasm, dependability, decisiveness, integrity and initiative.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
In uncertainty, take a breath, pick a direction, make a decision, act, do it all again.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
At LM Industries, we are the world’s first Digital Vehicle Manufacturer. Our global community of 200,000 contributors have conceived Olli, a welcoming, low-speed, self-driving shuttle. Our microfactories have made them real in 8 global locations, and we are growing. In one year, we will have hundreds of vehicles deployed. In two years, thousands. If you believe in the future of mobility as a thesis, the biggest wins aren’t going to come from software alone, nor are they going to come from big factories. The winners are going to be innovative, third-wave companies who know how to harness community, regulation, insurance and finance; and marry them with class-leading hardware and software. Come visit us and we will give you a ride into the future. (36 seconds 😉
LM Industries — we are THE Digital Vehicle Manufacturer, the world’s first OEM with software’s agile business model. (7 seconds)
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Twitter — Jay Rogers