Stefan Ytterborn: CEO & Co-Founder of CAKE – Ep. 133

About Stefan Ytterborn & CAKE:

Stefan Ytterborn is the CEO & Co-Founder of CAKE, a Swedish tech company making light and totally silent off-road and commuter electric motorcycles.

They’ve raised over $70 million in funding so far, and their ambitious goal is to create the cleanest dirt bike ever—striving to approach that magical “completely fossil free” goal.

CAKE was listed to Time Magazine’s 100 most important inventions award in 2021, and they’re reimagining electric transportation from the ground up. 

Full Unedited Audio Conversation:

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3:31 – “The insight of realizing that being able to get out there without polluting or disturbing was what got me going. And from there I have a number of stories that one thing led to another. And I’d say that just sharing a few of those perspectives with friends, anything from motorcycling pros riding these bikes, getting back to me saying, ‘Hey, Stefan, it’s amazing. It’s more like skiing power in the woods without the need for snow or slopes – silent and flowy and fantastic.’” 

Reducing Battery Cells Via A Lighter Vehicle

*6:04 – “Everything in the market at the time would be just swapping drive train from combustion engine to electric. Everything else was the same when it comes to sizing and geometry and kinematics and all that. And the thing is that those components or aspects of a combustion engine motorbike, they’ve developed over time to support the combustion and the drive train. While the character of an electric one is totally different and no one was really optimizing the chassis together with the electric drive train. The consequence of that was that they needed to put on tons of battery cells to promote the level of performance they were intending to achieve. My take on that was very different. And my gut feeling told me that if I could build super light instead and therefore being able to reduce the number of battery cells with a lighter vehicle, I could potentially get to the same performance, but with a totally different category or type of motorcycle.” 

Spain To Morocco On An Electric Bike!

*15:16 – “Right now, we have this amazing, actually, a colleague of ours, she’s the business-to-business sales, responsible for Germany, Sinje Gottwald, she’s now riding one of our bikes from southern Spain to South Africa. And she’s just through Morocco at this point, so actually, with an extra battery, able to charge the bike on her way down and she’s come third of the distance but it’s not the practical combustion engine touring kind of experience, it is different.” 

17:57 – “I have a strong belief in product and the proof is in the pudding. So if you actually do it without taking any shortcuts or without cheating, I mean, in this case, we’ve developed everything from scratch to be able to get to that point of actually making stuff as light as possible. So there was nothing off the shelf that we could use. Everything has been engineered and tooled and manufactured to support the low weight in that sense. And I think that what happened was that we got tons of attention from the motorcycling community as well, just because the product actually did solve performance aspects and it rode extremely well and so forth.” 

18:42 – “50% of our customers would be traditional motorcyclists, 50% would be anything from mountain bike people or just people who are curious about the electrification side of things and in need for, a lot of people for urban use, would be people who are figuring out what the future means of transportation would be in the light of responsibility and sustainability matters.” 

Can Sharing Our Failures Increase Competence? 

*21:02 – “The next vehicle you buy for transportation needs should be something which is cleaner than what you used before. With this initiative we’re doing together with Vattenfall, one of the big power companies in Europe, is basically turning every nut and bolt to make sure that we understand what can be improved. So in that process, it’s anything from the general energy being used to produce, how it’s being produced, where it comes from and so forth. But also understanding the aspects of shipping and distribution, where can we produce as close as we possibly can to our users and customers? How can we change our use of material from plastic to something which is a paper based or a plastic replacement so it’s really something that has the intention behind the project, which is an open source project, is being announced on a 6–8 weeks basis on our website, is to inspire the automotive industry to understand where we actually openly share our successes and failures, promoting the idea of sharing competence as fast as we can, and to avoid that people do the same mistakes as we do on this journey going forward.”

Can We Be 100% Fossil Free?

*22:48 – “Will we get to 100% fossil free? No chance. We’ll always leave traces. But we might be able to get to 75 or 83%, which is amazing. And so it’s a wonderful initiative. And we need to be humble about things because everything we do being human beings will leave traces. We just need to improve and make it less conquering or hostile when it comes to our common obligation towards planet Earth and make sure that we change matters, behaviors, means, and attitude.” 

26:57 – (Ross) “Something that I think is very logical to people who’ve lived in Europe but is very foreign to Americans, is the idea of a motorcycle or a bike as being a utility device, as taking your kids with you on the back, as doing your grocery shopping on a bike, and like you said, pulling stuff behind you on a motorcycle. That concept is completely alien to the vast majority of the United States, even though I think it’s an incredible idea that more people should be like, I pick up my daughter on an e-bike on the back every single day from school because I lived in Amsterdam, I lived in Europe for eight years. But people look at me like I’m crazy. They say, ‘Why are you doing that?’” 

28:14 – “There are so many, I’d say, benefits from a commercial perspective for someone who’s last-mile delivery company not turning up with a truck, in a traffic jam delivering whatever it might be from door by door with a big truck, it’s going to be painfully slow. It is painfully slow. And therefore, you can actually promote a much higher degree of efficiency and cost of operation, which every company in the transportation space would appreciate.”

34:18 – “There’s something in Sweden which is I think that is really that has shaped the mindset of Swedes. There’s something called the All Man’s Right and it means that you’re allowed to move freely in nature, wherever it might be. Even on private land, as long as you don’t disturb someone who has their house nearby and so forth…But that has created some kind of a respect towards the environment that also involves, I think, the responsibility created in that sense from when you’re being a kid and therefore there is this attitude, it’s not the full answer, but it definitely, I think, kind of shapes our mindset towards feeling an obligation from a more holistic perspective.” 

38:25 – “What really disturbs me is that there’s so many students in business schools and others these days that are being taught to develop business plans, to be able to structure and speak to a future exit and so forth where like cash is everything.  Where I’d say that my take on that is that make sure to bring something that makes a difference with someone and you’ll become successful.”

45:42 – “My message is let your heart lead and your brain will follow. Because if you do it the other way, if you start by intellectually analyzing an opportunity to fall in love with it afterwards, that is not how I work. And I think it’s a much tougher cookie to actually make that happen. It’s like you’d end up meeting with someone who you wouldn’t find attractive in a bar and then having to learn how to love that that person instead of starting with the positive aspect of things, and then investing time in that idea to see is it working? And eventually make a decision a bit down the road…I think that the likeliness of actually succeeding if you let your heart lead, because something that also is passionate is also the learning curve in that sense, because you’re so influenced by this feeling of yours, the emotion that you dig so deep in terms of the different aspects of that so your insights and your learning curve is extremely fast. And again, that’s how I work.” 

49:21 – (Ross) “Stockholm changed my life forever…the things in the United States that we think of as utopian. And I know that it’s not a complete utopia. It’s dark and it’s cold. I understand that it’s not perfect. I’ve lived there. But so many things that we think of as pipe dreams and impossible here in the United States have just been achieved there in terms of gender equality, cleanliness, the way society is run, infrastructure, internet, health care, education. So many of these things that we just see as impossible are just done over there. And when I experience that first-hand, it blew my mind. I truthfully felt that I was living in some kind of movie. And I know that’s going to sound very silly to you because it’s just daily life. But to me, landing in Stockholm Airport was a pretty life changing experience from the moment that I landed until the moment that I left. So big fan. If it wasn’t so cold, I would have moved there a decade ago. That’s the truth.” 

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