The Road to Autonomy Podcast

The Road to Autonomy hosted by Grayson Brulte is a podcast featuring unconventional conversations about the future of mobility.

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What’s Next: Insight from an Angel Investor

Joshua Schachter, Angel Investor, and Founder of Self Racing Cars joins Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss what’s next and the current state of investing in the private markets.

The conversation begins with Joshua sharing his thoughts on new trends that he is starting to see emerge and his philosophy regarding investing. One of his key investment traits is the emotional deal in which he invests based on his gut and intuition.

Out of the two-hundred plus companies [that I have invested in] this has probably happened 6,7,8 times, but 5 of those have IPOed.

– Joshua Schachter

Investing in tech start-ups is based on patterns and that is what Joshua looks for when he is making an investment.

By the time people have identified trends, it’s a little lagging.

– Joshua Schachter

While fintech is hot now, it’s an area that Joshua is currently not investing in, despite his experience on Wall Street. Joshua spent a decade on Wall Street working for Morgan Stanley.

Before fintech became an identified trend, Joshua’s long-standing relationship with Jack Dorsey led to an early investment in Square. This conversation evolves into a discussion about reputation and it’s importance in investing.

I will absolutely take it on the chin to make sure that a founder is not screwed over.

– Joshua Schachter

With a great reputation, one can build life-long relationships. To learn a new industry, one must invest. This is one of the main reasons why Joshua created Self Racing Cars. He wanted to develop relationships in a sector where he did not have any connections.

Joshua goes onto explain what Self Racing Cars is and how his love of racing inspired the event. Grayson asks Joshua about how he is planning to maintain the homebrew club feel of the event as it scales and becomes more popular.

This conversation evolves into the current state of markets. With a red-hot IPO market and stocks of electric vehicle companies soaring, Grayson asks Joshua to share his thoughts on the current state of the private market.

It’s a much more slowly moving system. I think venture goes throw waves of contraction and relaxation.

– Joshua Schachter

As a seed-stage investor, Joshua looks for companies that have a market value of $10 – $12 million. Investing at this stage is risky and takes years to realize returns.

With the current global pandemic, Grayson asks Joshua what new opportunities might be bubbling up for investors in the private market. Additionally, why investors are following the herd mentality by investing large sums into loss-making electric vehicle startups.

Expanding upon his thoughts, Joshua explains the difference between enabling and enabled companies. An electric vehicle start-up (excluding Tesla) is an enabled company as the companies depend on battery technology to create and deliver their product.

There are still a lot of enabling technologies that have yet to be unlocked. In the future, new technologies will be invented which completely change the current state of the electric vehicle market.

New technologies (such as autonomous vehicles) will become mainstream one day. But before they get there, there will be a massive round of consolidation in the industry. Grayson and Joshua have a lively discussion around investments in autonomous vehicle companies and the current state of the market.

The shape of organizations will change as consolidation begins. Joshua explains the impact that this will have on the teams that are working on the technology. With Uber ATG being in the news (and eventually sold to Aurora), Grayson and Joshua discuss the program and why it was not in Uber’s best interest to start the program.

Looking at programs and acquisitions, Grayson shares his thoughts on Zoox and why Amazon made a brilliant purchase. With Amazon being the “Everything Store”, Grayson and Joshua discuss why the Amazon Prime Mobility tier might one day become a reality.

Looking at the competitive advantages that certain companies have as they look to enter the autonomous vehicle sector, Grayson discusses why the Apple Store will be one of Apple‘s competitive advantages. Joshua goes onto explain Voyage‘s competitive advantage with master-planned communities. The master-planned community strategy was one of the main reasons why Joshua invested in Voyage.

Closing out the conversation, Grayson and Joshua discuss the current state of the autonomous vehicle market and who will ultimately be the winners.

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Recorded on Friday, December 4, 2020.

Becoming a Chef: Timing, Passion, and Risk

Chef Hugo Bolanos, Executive Chef, and Co-Founder of Búho Rouge joins Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss timing, passion, and risk.

The conversation begins with Hugo sharing his memories of growing up in Guatemala and the influence that his grandfather and father had on his life.

After a bad investment in textiles, Hugo’s father took a huge gamble and moved the family to America to provide his family a better quality of life for his family. Twenty years after moving to America, the family was able to achieve U.S. Citizenship.

Wanting to achieve the American Dream, Hugo wanted to shoot for gold and enter the restaurant business by becoming a waiter at 17. At that time the required age to be a waiter was 21. During the interview, the manager of the restaurant offered Hugo an opportunity as a runner, but he had to prove himself.

During that time in the kitchen, Hugo developed a relationship with Chef Fred Iwasaki who would become his very own “Mr. Miyagi”. Wanting to learn to be a chef, Hugo asked Chef Iwasaki to teach him.

The Chef replied:

I will not pay you anything. If you want to come in, I will pay you in lessons. You come in the morning, you clean the bathrooms, you clean the floors, and if you can hack it- at the end of the day I will teach you a lesson every single day.

One day a chef did not show up for work and Hugo got his first big break as a Line Chef. When the restaurant closed its doors, Chef Iwasaki took Hugo to cook at the Oscars as part of the Wolfgang Puck Catering team. This was a life-changing moment for Hugo which would go on to alter the course of his career.

At that time in his life, he wanted to work at the Cheesecake Factory, which was always busy and looked cool. Hugo went through six interviews, including a physiological test and he ultimately did not get the job.

I tell myself all the time when I drive by the Cheesecake Factory, if I would have gotten that job, it would have changed my whole life. It would have taken me down a different road.

– Chef Hugo Bolanos

After being turned down for the Cheesecake Factory job, Hugo received a phone call from his mentor, Chef Iwasaki, who invited him to join him once again cooking for Wolfgang Puck Catering. This time it was not for the Oscars, but a private party at the home of the actor David Carradine in Beverly Hills.

Hugo was in charge of driving the catering van this evening. This evening turned into a make or break moment. When the party was over, backing out the van, Hugo crashed into Wolfgang Puck’s prototype Mercedes.

With the fear of getting fired, Hugo went into the party to inform Chef Wolfgang Puck that he had crashed the van into his car. Wolfgang asked if was OK and told him that it was fine.

You have to get over your own fears to see what you are capable of.

– Chef Hugo Bolanos

The next day, Hugo had to report to Spago for a demo for Chef Charlie Trotter. Feeling like “death”, Hugo shows up and has no idea what is about to happen. Will his parents get a phone call. Will he lose his job. What will happen?

During this time, Wolfgang Puck and Chef Lee Hefter were talking about the event and how it went. Wolfgang told Chef Hefter about the incident which did not go over well, to say the least.

As Wolfgang makes the rounds during the demo, he locks eyes with Hugo and says:

You are that stupid kid who hit my car.

Wolfgang calls over Chef Hefter, who respects Hugo for the fact that he showed up at Spago after the incident. Chef Hefter transferred Hugo from Catering to Spago to repay the debt. Once again it was about timing as Hugo owned the situation.

Hugo ended up spending 10 years at Spago working his way up to #3 in the kitchen. When famous chefs such as Daniel Boulud or Alain Ducasse would visit Spago, Hugo would ask to join their operations for a summer to learn new cooking techniques.

He made it happen and paid his own way. The world’s kitchens were Hugo’s internship.

You cannot cook great food or give a great experience unless you received that great food. Received that great experience and seen that for yourself.

– Chef Hugo Bolanos

From Spago, Hugo transferred to the Hotel Bel-Air where he created the annual End-of-Summer Barbecue. This conversation evolves into a discussion around not giving up when facing obstacles in life.

With COVID-19 impacting the world, Hugo’s dream of opening his own restaurant was starting to diminish. Having to make a big life decision, Hugo pivoted and shifted to a takeaway restaurant business – Búho Rouge.

With takeaway food, packaging and ingredients are crucial. Grayson and Hugo have an in-depth conversation around packaging and foods that can be packaged for takeaway and delivery.

Building upon packaging, Grayson asks Hugo for his thoughts on cloud kitchens and what the experience will look like for customers when the food is delivered.

I am looking for whatever that next platform is.

– Chef Hugo Bolanos

Closing out the conversation, Grayson and Hugo discuss culinary experiences and why they are important for the hospitality industry.

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Gas Stations of the Future: Electric Charging Hubs

Colin Roche, Co-Founder & CEO of Swiftmile joins Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss gas stations of the future – electric charging hubs.

The conversation begins with Colin telling the story of how entering a raffle during a Christmas party and eventually winning an electric bike inspired him to co-found Swiftmile.

Taking a step back in history, Colin shares the story of how he came up with the idea for Penagain during an all-day Saturday detention during High School. Penagain has gone on to sell millions of pens around the world. Colin tells the story of how he grew the business, secured manufacturing, and had a positive impact on society.

Grayson steers the conversation back towards Swiftmile and asks Colin about one of his first bosses, Alex Edelstein who told him to:

Go Make Something Happen

– Alex Edelstein

Later Alex Edelstein became the first investor in Swiftmile after a dinner in which Colin said:

What if the world really adopts these PETS (personal electric transports)?

– Colin Roche

Alex wrote the check on the spot, reinforcing the strength of life-long relationships.

2015 was a banner year for Swiftmile as the company raised its first investment and was one of the winners of Verizon’s Powerful Answers contest. Swiftmile won $250,000 and developed a long-term relationship with Verizon.

What is the big picture? How can we impact the world?

– Colin Roche

Colin asked this question to his team prior to entering the contest. Today, Swiftmile is having a positive impact on the world by increasing renewable transportation in cities around the world.

With investment and guidance from Thayer Ventures, Swiftmile is expanding into the hospitality industry.

A big part of our plan is working with hotels.

– Colin Roche

By having a micromobility hub at the hotel, guests will be able to experience cities in new and fun ways with little to no friction. The hubs will end up becoming part of the experience and integrated into the hotel’s guest app.

Micromobility solutions are also being deployed on Military bases to assist troops moving around the base. Colin discusses Swiftmile’s current deployments at U.S. Military bases and the positive impact that their solution is having on base life.

From cities to hotels to Military bases, Swiftmile is aiming to become the gas station for micromobility solutions.

Swiftmile will become a gas station for scooters.

– Colin Roche

Building upon this comment, Colin expands upon this statement while taking history into account. This evolves into a conversation about Standard Oil and the initial roll-out of Standard Oil gas stations.

Grayson raises the question, what would Standard Oil be without Henry Morrison Flagler? Would there have been vertical integration and distribution innovation that would have allowed Standard Oil to stay ahead of the competition?

Staying ahead of the curve, Swiftmile is planning to add new forms of charging to the stations while planning for the eventual consolidation in the micromobility industry.

Closing out the conversation, Grayson asks Colin about the economics of micromobility charging and why charging infrastructure is one of the keys to enabling profitable scooter deployments.

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Shangri-La of Mobility: Robotaxis

Alvaro Ramis, VP of Business Development and Alliances, Bestmile joins Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss why robotaxis are the Shangri-La of mobility.

The conversation begins with Alvaro talking about his career which started in banking and later the travel industry, before joining the mobility industry. Throughout his career, Alvaro has always had a focus on innovation.

My background is someone who feels extremely comfortable with uncertainty.

– Alvaro Ramis

Staying on the theme of being extremely comfortable with uncertainty, Alvaro joined Car2Go in 2014 as Chief Marketing Officer. When he first tried a free-floating car-share service, Alvaro thought the following:

It was that moment when I opened that car with my app that the lights turned on. I walked into the vehicle and the panel told me hello with my name. I was like man, this is the future. I fell in love.

– Alvaro Ramis

Bringing this conversation full circle, Grayson asks Alvaro about the current state of free-floating car sharing. The market is stagnating due to competition from Uber and Lyft and the inherent asset-heavy business model.

Staying on the topic of asset-heavy business models, Grayson and Alvaro discuss who is going to own the autonomous vehicles on their balance sheet. Will it be the banks? Will it be rental car companies?

Alvaro go into discussing who will “go to school” to learn the model of asset-heavy mobility as the industry and venture capital firms continue to focus on asset-light companies. Without the asset, there is no mobility service.

The future of mobility is about electric, shared, and autonomous.

– Alvaro Ramis

While the future may be electric, shared, and autonomous, it has to be profitable. As autonomous mobility companies continue to focus on the robotaxi business, they are starting to diversify into trucking as there is a clear path to revenue and profitability.

Waymo has their Waymo Via service which is focused on the delivery of goods and Aurora is now expanding into self-driving trucks. Both Waymo and Aurora were solely focused on the robotaxi market until the path to revenue and profitability was marginalized for the short-term.

The end game is the robotaxi. That is the big prize. That is the Shangri-La of mobility. It’s the biggest market by a lot.

– Alvaro Ramis

Is there a path to profitability in the robotaxi business? With highly indebted businesses, Alvaro makes the comparison to the telecommunications industry.

Grayson agrees with the comparison, but he states the case that the robotaxi business will not spit-off nearly as much cash as the AT&Ts and Verizons of the world. Robotaxi companies will not be able to pay a 4%+ dividend.

However, the Beeps and Voyages of the world which operate in controlled environments with captive audiences will be able to generate large amounts of cash and eventually become extremely profitable.

Once you have an enclosed environment, you can add more services around it. Also, you are not fighting for that customer in a similar environment that you would have in a traditional ride-hailing market where you would have to buy the supply and demand which is a race to the bottom.

– Alvaro Ramis

Autonomous vehicle companies operating in these environments will not face the same customer acquisition costs as the robotaxi business.

However, a majority of autonomous vehicle start-up founders are still attracted to Shangri-La, while Oliver Cameron, CEO of Voyage is instead focused on the riches in niches business model.

Building upon the business model conversation, Grayson asks Alvaro about the current state of autonomy in Europe. Europe is behind the United States in terms of funding, deployments, partnerships, and legislation.

To operate an SAE Level 4 autonomous vehicle in Europe today, companies have to apply for an exemption. This process is cumbersome and challenging with national security issues playing a large role.

National Security is a huge issue for the deployment of autonomous vehicles. Grayson and Alvaro go on to have an in-depth conversation about national security and what has to be done to ensure that remote operations of AVs are secure.

You cannot allow artificial intelligence or autonomous vehicles to decide where to go when a terrorist attack happens in a city.

– Alvaro Ramis

The issue of terrorism and the potential of a terrorist attack is very real and it is an issue that the autonomous vehicle industry needs to plan for as they build out their remote operations. As part of VW’s autonomous vehicle deployment for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the Government required remote operations in case of a potential incident.

Closing out the conversation, Grayson and Alvaro discuss the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles in China.

Shangri-La is not technology per se, its the problems that it solves.

– Alvaro Ramis

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American Success Story: AutonomouStuff

Bobby Hambrick, Founder & CEO, AutonomouStuff and Chief Autonomous Officer, Hexagon joins Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss the founding of AutonomouStuff, the acquisition by Hexagon and why AutonomouStuff is an American success story.

The conversation begins with Bobby telling the story of how he founded AutonomouStuff in a barn in his backyard and eventually sold his house and rental properties to scale the company.

I was born with this natural innate motivation and this drive to succeed. I have always taken this fearless approach to accomplish whatever task I had on hand.

– Bobby Hambrick

As the company grew, Bobby reinvested every dollar that the company made back into the company to help it grow. He grew the company without venture capital as he invested in himself and his company. Every month Bobby operated the company it was was profitable.

The conversation naturally evolves into SPACs and why companies are going public with little to no revenue and zero profitability. Grayson and Bobby discuss the importance of operating a business that is profitable.

Building upon this, Bobby shares an insightful story from when he was interviewing an engineer who did not know how to use tools. This opened his eyes in a meaningful way.

Hard work and common sense can get you a long way. To be a successful entrepreneur, being smart is not enough. You have to be able to understand how things work and even more important is the power of the relationships that you have.

– Bobby Hambrick

The ethic of hard work was ingrained into Bobby during his time growing up in the Midwest. The Midwest historically has had a reputation of hard work. Understanding this, Bobby founded and scaled the company in Morton, Illinois.

As Bobby was contemplating selling the company to Hexagon he thought about the following:

If I am going to sell to a larger company, I want to take care of the people who helped me. They are like family to me.

– Bobby Hambrick

As part of the transaction, there was a clause that AutonomouStuff would stay in Morton for good. The impact that AutonomouStuff has had on the town of Morton cannot be measured. It is felt at the dinner table when employees discuss building the future and their travels around the world.

CES 2020 was one of those moments when it all came together when Hexagon showcased AutonomouStuff right next to the Google installation. Bobby goes on to explain that is merely just the beginning for AutonomouStuff. With the resources of Hexagon, the future is extremely bright for AutonomouStuff.

While the future is bright for AutonomouStuff, the rest of the industry is going through growing pains.

This is marathon This is not a sprint to whoever can show the best concept of driving around in the urban area. This is a serious business, people are spending billions of dollars and now they are realizing that it is not that easy.

This is probably one of the biggest engineering challenges of mankind.

– Bobby Hambrick

Closing out the conversation, Bobby shares his advice for entrepreneurs who want to start their own business while staying true to their roots.

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