On the surface, John West doesn’t seem like a man who’d design a small, cheap jet ski for urban millennials. The 68-year-old has no formal engineering education, lives in rural Wisconsin, and comes from a generation known to hanker for “big” everything—from cars to motorcycles, houses to boats.
But West has, in fact, developed a modular jet ski that young people can store in their apartments and transport in the trunks of their compact cars. West believes that millennials can and will afford the product’s $3,495 price tag, versus at least $12,000 for the typical jet ski, according to his company and competitors’ websites. And although it’s an ambitious goal that would take years to achieve, West envisions his “kick-ass waterkart”—dubbed BomBoard—inspiring in millennials the type of cool rebel ethos and lifestyle that nearby motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson so successfully ingrained in West’s baby boomer generation.
“I’ve had some people say, ‘a guy your age is developing this product for the younger generation?’” West says, seated at a table in BomBoard’s headquarters and workshop in Whitewater, WI, an hour southwest of Harley-Davidson’s hometown of Milwaukee. “I’ve had that same need for speed my whole life. That doesn’t go away even though I’m an old, grey entrepreneur.”
West, BomBoard’s founder and CEO, has always had an affinity for anything with a motor in it, particularly boats. As a child growing up in a Chicago suburb, he often occupied himself in the bathtub with toy tugboats. At age 10, using a blueprint in an issue of Popular Mechanics, he built his first boat in his basement from two sheets of plywood and an outboard motor, he says.
Years later, a successful career as an executive and entrepreneur with two engineering technology companies, Numeridex and Cimlinc, gave him the financial means to buy much bigger toys, from jet skis to sailboats to 48-foot motorboats, he says.
“If it was out on the water, I had to have it,” West says.
After selling Cimlinc in 2000 for an undisclosed sum to Boeing, West moved with his wife to Whitewater, about 35 miles southwest of his alma mater, Carroll University, where he studied business.
About six years ago, West got the “entrepreneurial itch” again and decided to start tinkering with motors and see what sorts of product ideas he could come up with. He had watched as the big jet ski players—Sea-Doo, Yamaha, and Kawasaki—made their machines larger, heavier, and more expensive, so West decided to create something that was smaller, lighter, and cheaper, he says. Along the way, he hatched a plan to break the craft into four “bite-sized chunks” so customers wouldn’t need a trailer to transport it.
It took plenty of sweat and blood to create a prototype that West was satisfied could attract investment. (He says he’s got the bruises and scars to prove it, including one on his finger from a table saw.)
BomBoard has two issued patents and … Next Page »
Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: email@example.com