COMPASS: What was the trigger for starting your own business?
MATE RIMAC: My parents tell me stories of my obsession with cars even before I could walk or talk. As soon as I turned 18, I bought a 1984 BMW E30 and raced it. Soon, the gas engine blew up. That was the trigger to start my dream project – to build an electric race car.
I wanted to prove that electric propulsion systems can be used to power the new generation of sportscars and make them better, faster and more exciting. I’ve been told many times that I can’t do that. But we wanted to show that it’s possible to start from a garage and become a world leader within a highly competitive industry in half a decade.
The result is Concept_One, that combines all our know-how, technology and experience. With a power of 900 kW / 1224 hp, the Concept_One reaches 100 km/h (62 mph) in 2.5 seconds, top speed is 355 km/h (221 mph) and the battery capacity of 90 kWh allows up to 350 km (217 miles) range.
Because you’re based in Croatia, a country with no big automotive clusters, do you face particular challenges in finding the right skills?
MR: Starting the company in Croatia was a huge challenge. We didn’t have any financial government support, local investors or a market for our products. In addition, Croatia never had a car industry, so it had no experienced people. As a result, we can’t hire people with automotive experience. Young or old, Croatians have to learn the automotive world from scratch when they come to us. However, in Croatia we have a lot skilled people with DIY DNA. If you can’t buy something, you have to find a way to fabricate it yourself.
More and more people from all over the world are joining us, but the majority of people are still fresh from university. Young people are enthusiastic and eager to work, however, and fit into the company culture.
Forbes chose you as one of the top 30 entrepreneurs and game-changers under 30 in Europe in the category “industry.” What do you think makes you a “game-changer?”
MR: The recognition from Forbes and other relevant opinion makers is a good sign we are on the right path. An entrepreneur has a clear vision and the drive to achieve it and to turn it into reality. But once you have decided on a goal, you have to be all in. There are many sacrifices, lots of work and responsibilities. But if you love what you do, you have no trouble living it.
How would you describe your strategy and vision?
MR: In the beginning, my ultimate goal was to build my own car from scratch. Since then, our objectives and focus have shifted. Today, the goal is to supply solutions to other manufacturers, not only in the automotive industry, and to become a full electrification partner for the global automotive OEMs.
Our ambition is to push the boundaries of technology further and further and to explore new possibilities to make cars more exciting, faster and smarter. Rimac technology can be used for many different applications, and we are active in the automotive, naval and aerospace industries.
What is your innovation secret?
MR: We are not profit driven. We exist to raise the bar.
We are a fast and flexible team, and we develop our technologies as rapidly as possible. We strive to make our development process less bureaucratic and standardized.
I believe that bureaucracy and standardization hold back the development of the car industry and prevent a swift implementation of new technology. One of our biggest advantages is our vertical integration. We are developing all vehicle, powertrain and electronics systems in-house, which enables a high degree of freedom and flexibility.
Speaking of bureaucracy, do you have a plan for how to prevent the creation of functional silos at Rimac as it grows?
MR: When the organization is small, the flow of information comes naturally. As we are growing, we are finding challenges to share knowledge and experiences among different groups in the company. We have realized that knowledge management won’t happen by itself and really believe that the 3DEXPERIENCE business platform from Dassault Systèmes will help us to structure the information flow and collaboration across different teams.
Aston Martin is one of your partners. How do partnerships fit into your growth and financing strategies?
MR: Being a partner for other car companies and a supplier for some of the most demanding systems in their most advanced vehicles means a lot, both for our supercar customers and for other OEMs. This is a good example how our two business units complement and help each other.
Our B2B activities are 90% of our business; out of the 250 people in our company, most of them work on projects for other OEMs. Some collaborations are public, but most are undisclosed. Our customers push us to get better on every level. It is a huge challenge to satisfy the requirements of big OEMs. But in the end all of their requirements help us to make better products and be a better company.
Rimac technology also has been applied in wheelchairs, watercraft and bikes. Do you worry about dividing your attention and energy among too many fields?
MR: I believe that the technologies developed for one field – for example, supercars – can be used to improve many other products. We have demonstrated this already with our Greyp Bikes, wheelchairs and some other applications. The challenge is to find the balance and still be able to focus on developing world-class products in each category. We are trying to solve this challenge with core-technology development teams that are very focused on one product, plus application teams that apply those technologies to different applications.
You say your ambition is to reshape the way of mobility. However, only eight units of your car “Concept_One” will be produced. How do you reshape mobility with just eight cars?
MR: I think it is inevitable that all forms of transport – not only cars – eventually become fully electric. The Concept_One is showing what electric cars can do and what we, as a company, can provide others. But of course it is irrelevant in terms of volume. Our real impact is in helping many other companies to make exciting, clean and smart vehicles. You will see our technologies in many other brands’ products. However, I believe that the real change will come with autonomous vehicles, and electrification will be a consequence of that.
What are some of the low and high points of this adventure so far?
MR: There have been many successes, but even more near-death experiences for the company. It was incredibly difficult to finance the company as Croatia doesn’t have a single venture capital fund. International investors avoid this region and focus on Silicon Valley and other international innovation hubs instead. In the first four years, I never had the money in the account to pay the next salaries and rent, but somehow we always managed to do it on time. It was a huge challenge on all fronts – technologically, financially, organizationally and personally.
It was a rough ride and we’ve come a long way, but we are still only at the beginning of our journey.
Speaking about finance – what is your strategy for attracting investors?
MR: Raising money has been the most difficult task since the company’s inception. Doing things the way we do enabled us to be very capital efficient, but developing complex products like electric supercars and powertrain systems requires some capital. Rimac cannot be compared to other technology companies such as those you will find in Silicon Valley. We need to do crash tests, safety tests, etc. When an app crashes, somebody might be mad. But when a car has a problem, somebody can get hurt. That’s why our investors are more strategic people from the industry.
What would you do differently, if you could? What one thing would you not change?
MR: If I knew what I know now, I would probably do everything differently. It was a very steep learning curve. I guess that I had to push myself out of my comfort zone a lot to get where we are, which forced me to adapt and learn fast.
The best advice I would give myself? Stay under the radar for as long as possible. There is too much hot air in this industry and too many people walking around wasting other people’s time. The one thing I would not change is our strategy – focus on technology, vertical integration and being a provider for the OEMs. ◆