January 30, 2020

One of the best ways to get customer buy-in for your product is to involve customers in the process of making it.  

That was one key to success for Marine Corps veteran Jay Rogers, co-founder and CEO of LM Industries, which has revolutionized the way vehicles are built. 

LM Industries pairs advanced manufacturing with open innovation tools, crowdsourcing to build smarter, more efficient vehicles for the military and commercial worlds. LM Industries was the first company to utilize direct digital manufacturing, debuting the world's first 3D printed car, the Strati, in 2014. Currently, the company is working on its latest creation, Olli, an Urban Speed Cognitive Electric Shuttle.

Early on in building the company, Jay learned that in addition to crowdsourcing ideas for vehicle designs, having people physically do the work to build their vehicles would cement lasting customer connections. 

He explained how it worked on a recent episode of The Innovators Radio Show and Podcast

“We ended up having to lose control in order to break it down, Barney style, for somebody who was going to be a customer of these vehicles. We were organizing total neophytes who had to understand how to put something together. Some of these people would have arc’ed the battery by putting a wrench down between the positive and negative terminal and not even known that it would spark. Yet having them do the whole part in a period of roughly two weeks, they wrenched this thing into existence with a high degree of precision and an understanding of what they just built when it was done. And so they have all this great knowledge of what a bushing is and how suspension works. And why an internal combustion engine needs after treatment canisters to be positioned in the right direction in order to be able to work for getting carbon and NOx emissions out of the air. All these things they never would have been able to even say or spell before they start.”

A critical mission 

The seeds of Jay’s journey from Marine Corps to entrepreneur were planted during his service in Iraq, where two of his friends died. “I was inspired by knowing them, living with them and working with them and then watching them be killed, I knew that we could do better to fight with the right equipment.

“It may take five or seven years to develop a new commercial vehicle like the Prius, but it takes the military 10+ years on average to develop a new program of record that gets fielded. So we get these need statements from people who get killed in the field by an enemy that adapts quickly. Yet we can't respond quickly with the vehicles that put our troops into harm's way. I wanted to build a business that could adapt to bring in technology more quickly.”

Jay quickly saw that his military service gave him an edge as an entrepreneur. Things like having the right philosophical attitude; and being able to ask good questions, be technologically curious and keep a team together in the face of adversity came naturally to him in his new role as founder.

A willingness to unlearn bad habits and embrace a fresh approach was also important: “It’s not about, how many times you’ve done it as much as it is, were you trained the right way?”  

Still, Jay acknowledges being a little naïve about what it would take to build a company. He compensated by surrounding himself with a world-class team of smart people and taking the advice of mentors like the investor who told him: “ ‘When people tell you your idea is a good idea, maybe you should think about running the other direction, because if it was that obvious, everybody would have already done it. If they tell you it's a terrible idea, you have to make a decision between what might actually be a terrible idea and what might just be really hard. And if you can do it, then it ends up being one of the great ideas.’ And so that's what we were all about.”

Learn more about Jay’s work and what he’s learned through the challenges of building a company by listening to his full Innovators Radio Show and Podcast interview here or skip to the time stamps below. 

4:37: What inspired Jay to be a mission-driven entrepreneur

9:37: What it took to put innovative wheels in motion

15:44: Collaborating to build innovative products takes collaboration

23:38: Setting aside fear to realize an innovator’s vision

26:38: Why giving back is a family tradition for Jay

32:25: Hard times, tough decisions 

39:31: These are the people skills that make for a solid team

44:53:  What it takes to unlearn bad habits

51:24: Takeaways from the world of the digital thread

The Innovators Radio Show and Podcast co-hosted by BMNT CEO Pete Newell highlights the best and brightest mission-driven entrepreneurs — people dedicated to making the world a better place. The show airs Mondays at 11 am PT/2 pm ET on Stanford University radio station KZSU, 90.1 FM, and is streamed at kzsu.org. Past episodes are archived here.