Wednesday, May 28, 2008

To Hype or Not to Hype: Part 1 Interview with EEStor's Richard Weir

By every conservative measure if all goes well, 5yrs from now, you will be living in Richard Weir's world. Just don't tell him that because that's hype and Mr. Weir is not in the business of producing hype. Today, Mr. Weir, the CEO of EEStor Inc. and his team are narrowly focused on things that feed the scientific soul: certification testing, validation testing, proving the efficacy of capabilities, proving the scalability of manufacturing processes, the purity of chemicals and a host of other things that ordinary people don't worry about when they are driving down the road in their gas guzzling vehicles. But it's the new worries of vehicle owners pinched by the high price of gasoline that is ripening the conditions Weir finds intolerable to carrying out his self set tasks which include the small goal of producing a new type of "battery" with 10 times the capacity at 1/10th of the footprint.

Hype. Giving something more attention that it deserves. Memories of the Segway hysteria come to mind: the idea that a new invention could radically change the metropolitan landscape by eliminating the need for combustion engine vehicles (little did we know that things like doors, windows and seat belts would go too. ) Hype. A condition where news travels virally as the concept or idea of something so drastically captures the imagination of individuals that they are compelled to share what they've heard. They can't help it and it can't be stopped once it's put into motion. Today, what's on everyone's mind who doesn't shop at Neiman Marcus is the cost of gasoline.

The idea that what today costs us $373/month in fuel to get us to/from work could tommorrow cost us $16/month. (see savings calculator). Ordinary humans cannot help but let the imagination run wild with "What If!?" Hello 50 inch plasma, hello stainless steel grill. Or better, hello not going into foreclosure on my house, hello feeding my kids, hello end to global economic malaise. Hype hype hype.

Does it keep Mr. Weir up at night that the success of his technology could have such a profound effect on hundreds of millions of people? "We're focused on certification and will continue to do so until we have proven first something we can talk about later" Mr. Weir says in a succinct and matter of fact tone not willing to engage in any hyperbole.

In my 10 minutes with Mr. Weir on the phone, I couldn't tell if his barage of polite "no comments" was a page out of Dean Kamen's playbook or Denny Klein's. Kamen used his organization's silence to create one of the greatest free marketing phenomenon's in history for a product that in the end is really just an interesting 2 wheeled electric skateboard. In the end, Kamen now says "hype is the enemy of innovation" but I'm sure his marketing team is still trying to wipe that strange little smile from their faces several years after the events in question. Or is it Denny Klein's playbook? The guy who received organization
crippling media coverage after he demonstrated a car that runs on water utilising hho gas. In Klein's case, it was a matter of being completely unable to continue producing on his vision due to the nonstop calling, emailing, faxing of his small staff. Some of this lead to Klein releasing a website to handle the frequent similar queries.

But what about EEStor, why don't they have a website to navigate around those issues?
"When we're producing batteries and everybody is happy, then we'll get a website. " A strange choice of words for the CEO of a company whose capabilities are geared towards eliminating what we today refer to as a battery with what tommorrow we will refer to as an ultracapacitor or supercapacitor or better, "does that ipod have a battery or an ultracap?" The latter being newer technology designed in large part to function similarly to the former but differing mainly in magnitude. "We just don't want to get into the hype business."

But planning and intentions do not always hold up when you're working on something so incredibly great, even your best efforts cannot prevent you from responding to one or two questions delivered rapid fire. In the next installation, we will examine Mr. Weir's weaknesses in this area which revealed in part his take on the scope of his technology, his competitors (hint: he can't find one) , EEStor's distribution strategy (expect the word proprietary) and finally, his advice on where to find the best current information on his company. Oh, and for good measure, where EEStor stands with regard to production timetables.