Foundr Magazine Podcast with Nathan Chan

Konrad Bergström and X Shore have set out to change the boating industry, one electric motor at a time. 

Timing is everything for Konrad Bergström.

So when he first got the idea for X Shore in 1996, he trademarked the name immediately, but didn’t launch the company he had in mind just yet. It wasn’t the right time.

Bergström wanted to build safer boats, but he realized that the boating world was lagging behind the automobile industry when it came to details and design. Instead of forcing his dream, he chose to wait.

Over a decade later, inspiration to launch his boat company struck once again, but this time the dream had become bigger. With the world beginning to fully embrace electric vehicles, he wanted to build and sell a sleek, top-of-the-line, 100% electric marine craft.

“This makes actually more sense on the water,” Bergström says. “Because it’s an open area where you are getting fumes, and you are getting noise disturbance, and it’s actually taking more energy to drive in the water.”

Twenty years later, in 2016, X Shore developed its first working prototype. Today, Bergström and his team are ready to change the world’s view on how boats are powered. Not only do they hope to reduce pollution and the impact on wildlife with their electric engines, but they also hope to improve the overall boating experience for the consumer.

But long before Bergström would design his first boat, he started with headphones.

One Journey Ends, Another Begins

If you ask Bergström, he’ll say that he’s never experienced what a real job is like. He’s just experienced different ideas.

From an early age, Bergström has had an entrepreneurial spirit and a knack for creativity. At just 16, he moved to New Zealand, launching a distribution company for windsurfing gear called Thule Roofracks, among other projects. However, his greatest achievement was founding Zound Industries in 2008, where he served as its president until April of 2019.

While at the skateboarding fashion company WeSC, Bergström helped the brand to create a line of fashionable headphones. Wanting to take the concept one step further, Bergström founded Zound and turned it into an electronics giant, specializing in headphones and speakers. The company created many popular headphone brands such as Urbanears, and held licensing deals with audio behemoths like Marshall.

During his 10 years as president of the company, they would go on to sell over 20 million products in 135 countries. Despite the strong sales, Zound and Bergström parted ways over differences on the direction of the company.

“I always think that things happen for a reason,” Bergström says. “So I have moved on and I wish them all the luck. And I did build a fantastic company, so that’s never gonna go away, even if I don’t have any ownership anymore.”

The separation from Zound allowed Bergström to give all of his attention to X Shore, which had gained new life in 2012 after Bergström saw the rise of Tesla and its technological advances. With the electric revolution for automobiles well underway, he felt that concept of the electric boat would also take off.

“We started the electric product in 2012, and basically, I thought it was going to be easy,” Bergström says. “Looking at the internet at some lithium batteries and some engine, like, how hard can it be?”

Very hard, as it turned out.

Over the next four years, the team would work on the concept before completing their first working prototype in 2016. And although it took years longer than he anticipated, Bergström was glad that they went through the growing pains.

“That one, by the way, looked like crap,” Bergstorm says about the initial prototype. “Sometimes, an idea on paper is very far from getting it industrialized. So it takes time, especially with such a big product, to go through all the details and find solutions that economical, so you can have the margins and survive as a company.”

Let the Other Guy Build the Tech

Bergström and X Shore don’t want to recreate the wheel. Rather, they just want to right the ship.

With Tesla and other companies openly releasing their electric technology, Bergström didn’t feel the need to develop his own tech for boats. Sure, he’d have to develop some things on his own, but for the most part, why not use what’s already out there, he figured.

“X Shore, of course, has some of its own technology,” Bergström says. “But basically, we are piggybacking on the automotive industry.”

With armies of engineers grinding away on this type of technology, which is changing all the time, it made more sense to have others advance the technology and for X Shore to translate it into a marine environment. Not to mention, this approach helped their bottom line.

“Instead of having like 100% of the development cost, say that we are paying like 3%,” Bergström says. “But it’s still a lot of money. … We have the first mover advantage of building a new segment, but we are not driving the technology.”

The approach has also allowed X Shore to keep its staff smaller, which includes not having an in-house engineering team. That’s basically unheard of for an innovative company such as this. X Shore has partnered with automotive giants such as BMW and Rolls Royce to help find the best solutions for maximizing speed and driving range.

Despite not having an engineering team in house, it doesn’t mean that X Shore is done innovating. They still have a lot of work to do in order to become a leader in the marine industry.

“We spent around 50,000 engineering hours so far,” Bergström says. “And I think that we are going to have to spend another 50,000, so it’s a total of 100,000 engineering hours.”

Next Up

Bergström is excited to start selling boats and shipping them, starting sometime next year. More importantly, he’s ready to bring more awareness to X Shore, which includes unveiling the third generation of its product in January.

When he first started to openly share the idea of an electric boat, the reception wasn’t warm. Now he feels, the timing is finally right. Proof lies in the company’s recent investment campaign, which raised €1.5 million.

“With a product like this, I needed the car electric revolution to go first,” Bergström says. “When I talked to people in 2012 and said that I’m going to do an electric boat, they are like, you are crazy. But now when we are at the tradeshow, everybody is like, oh that makes sense why didn’t anyone do it earlier.”

Even if people are still skeptical about the concept, however, all they’ll need to do to become convinced is take a ride.

“Once you experience the power of silence, you never go back,” Bergström says. “It’s truly amazing.

Tips for Inspiring Creativity

Konrad Bergström has built a career around opportunity and creativity. A founder of multiple businesses, he’s always kept his eyes open for new concepts and has kept his ideas free flowing. Since 1980, he’s created businesses that ranged from snowboarding contests to stereo headphones. Bergström now is onto his next adventure, X Shore, where he hopes to change the world of boating by making it greener and quieter.

If you’re in a creative funk, here are three tips from Bergström for inspiring creativity:

Be Patient

Bergström initially wanted to start the boat company in 1996, so much so, that he trademarked the name X Shore before actually creating the company. Unsure of the direction he wanted to take, he waited until 2012, when after witnessing Tesla’s new technology with electric cars, he was inspired. It only was then that he knew wanted to build boats that were fully powered by batteries.

If at first you don’t find the right concept you feel comfortable with, especially when it comes to creating a business, be patient. Pursue other interests, and along the way, you may get the inspiration you were looking for in the beginning. Even if it takes 16 years.

But Also Be Persistent

“It took me a long time on different things,” Bergström says, “But sometimes, time is what you need because when you can think things over and over again, it does make you come to better conclusions, especially when you work in design.“

X Shore launched its first working prototype in 2016, nearly four years after officially moving forward on building an electric boat. However, just as Bergström was patient in coming up with the initial concept for the company, he was also very persistent when it came to the design and functionality of the boat. He wanted everything to be just right before releasing it to market.

Look Around You

Bergström was raised in a home of creative individuals. His mother was a theater director, his father was an engineer, his grandmother exposed him to nature, and his grandfather was an innovator in medicine with over 200 patents. Wherever he looked, he saw a creative role model.

However, according to Bergström, you can be inspired anytime and anywhere. You don’t have to be from a family full of creative individuals. It’s more about exposing yourself to different environments, people, and settings. You just have to “change rootings” as Bergström puts it. You can draw inspiration from playing with children, products you’re buying, or even the food that you’re eating.

“You just have to open your senses to make the right choices when it comes to creativity,” Bergström says.

Interview by Nathan Chan, feature article reprinted from Foundr Magazine, by Nick Allen


Key Takeaways

  • The series of unconventional jobs Bergström held from a young age
  • Why Bergström trademarked the name X Shore in 1996 but didn’t launch it for two decades
  • How Zound Industries took over Bergström’s life for 10 years, and what ultimately led him to walk away from the company
  • Why Bergström decided to let the electric car revolution play out first
  • The growing pains that came with creating a working prototype for electric boats
  • How X Shore piggybacks on the automotive industry
  • Bergström’s plans to start selling and shipping X Shore boats in 2020
Direct download: FP278_Konrad_Bergstrom.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:04am AEST