you would a car," he says.
Kim's earnest, driven nature attracted an early mentor in Robin Chase, CEO of French-based Buzzcar and a co-founder of Zipcar, a pioneer in the U.S. car-sharing space.
"Smaller, cheaper and more fuel-efficient is the future. What's more, women traditionally shy away from motorcycles. So what Danny's developing does address those gaps. He's got what it takes to make this work," she says. "Ideas are cheap, but start-ups are tough. They require persistence and tenacity, and he has both."
Such characteristics persuaded pal James Reidy to be Lit's first investor; he plunked down a five-figure sum to help Kim set up shop in the tech-centric Bay Area. "Danny is a dreamer, but he's also a very nuts-and-bolts guy," says Reidy, a Portland, Ore.-based investor. "He de-risks the company by doing a lot himself, whether that's engineering or design. With any start-up, the more you delegate, the more your burn rate goes up."
Kim is as unlikely a champion of fuel-efficient transportation as he is a candidate for pop culture success. "I'm a college drop-out," he says with a laugh. "I thought I'd go into real estate, surf, get married and have kids."
He still surfs. As for the rest, his time is consumed by Lit Motors -- a name he chose in reference to his desire to light a flame under the transportation status quo.
Born and raised in Portland, Kim quit Reed to tinker with Land Rovers, which he would strip down and rebuild with an eye toward bigger guts and improved fuel economy, "sort of the ultimate SUVs." It was while building one that he had an epiphany. He was welding beneath a car frame when it came loose and started to crush him. Pure reaction saved his life: "I stiff-armed the frame, and since I was on a creeper on rollers, I was shot out from underneath."
The event was life changing. "It just made me ask, 'Is this project literally worth my life?' I decided it wasn't, and I would find what maybe was." In 2004, his first eureka moment: applying a gyroscope to a two-wheeled vehicle. He enrolled at the Rhode Island School of Design, and got access to classes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"I realized I needed to get the engineering, business and design components together if I was going to make this idea work," says Kim, who describes himself as a very picky consumer who would rather make his own products -- his glasses, guitar and surfboard -- than buy something he doesn't see as perfect.
For nearly five years, he tinkered with his plan while doing other work to pay the bills. In 2008, he applied for a patent for the C1's inner magic, and once he got it last year, things accelerated. Family and friends provided $40,000 in seed money. Today, he has $800,000 invested in his current prototype and more dedicated to building the first road-worthy C1.
Word of his mission has spread especially among investors and more than "seven or eight automakers," a few remaining in close touch with Kim. He won't discuss the nature of the conversations, but he implies that these well-known U.S. and European brands are keen to see if the C1 could and should be part of their portfolios.
Whatever happens, the venture has given Kim invaluable insights into what it takes to effect change on a large scale. "You learn fast that you need to reduce your risk, leverage creativity and have a presentation that will unlock funding," he says. "But ultimately, you have to believe fiercely in what you're doing. The rest will fall into place."
"I realized I needed to get the engineering, business and design components together if I was going to make this idea work," Lit Motors founder Daniel Kim said of his C1.
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