Why would an entrepreneur who has raised millions of dollars through crowdfunding live in a van? Vanlife doesn’t seem common amongst the startup and tech crowd, yet Rob Rast is living this alternative lifestyle while successfully running his e-mobility business. In this interview, we cover how living in the van brings Rob closer to his work with electronic bikes and skateboards, plus how those devices can get you around in an eco-friendly way.
In This Episode:
- How Rob’s business led him to the vanlife
- Using e-bikes to enhance the tiny house lifestyle
- The future of e-mobility products
- Important design considerations for mobile entrepreneurs
- Why you should NOT store your bike on the back of your van
Links and Resources:
The 2013 Mercedes Sprinter van is Rob's home
It has a rooftop deck!
He loves to travel with is e-bikes and e-skateboards
He raised $3 million in 30 days by travelling with is e-mobility products
He also flies for fun
Rob Rast 0:00
There was always a big stigma behind it. Or at least when we started, you'd ride around and if somebody saw that you're on an e-bike or an electric skateboard, it'd be like, you know, a dude with a big beer belly sitting on, sitting on the corner, drinking a two liter soda.
Ethan Waldman 0:17
Welcome to the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast, the show where you learn how to plan, build and live the tiny lifestyle. I'm your host, Ethan Waldman, and this is episode 237 with Rob Rast. Bob Rast is an entrepreneur who has raised millions of dollars through crowdfunding for his e-bikes and e-skateboards and yet he lives van life. He lives in a van. And so in this interview, I wanted to find out why someone who is so successful would choose to live in a van when it seems like a pretty alternative lifestyle, and certainly not one you see amongst that startup and tech kind of crowd, and also what the benefits are for him as an entrepreneur, working - well, he doesn't work from his van - but living the van life so that he can be more productive and closer to his work. We also talk about his e-bikes and electric skateboards, both product lines are things that I think are really fun. I enjoy his brand sense of humor and I also see a lot of potential for people living in vans or people living in tiny houses, to use e-bikes or e-skateboards to get around in an eco-friendly way. So I hope you'll stick around for the interview. It's it's a fun one. Alright, see you there.
All right, I am here with Rob Rast. Rob is a pilot, surfer, and serial entrepreneur who lives in his van. He's the founder and president of FLX Bike and Miles Board, two e-mobility companies set on changing the shape of transportation as we know it. Rob, welcome to the show.
Rob Rast 2:07
Ethan, thank you so much for having me on. I'm looking forward to this one.
Ethan Waldman 2:10
Yeah, yeah, me too. So I'm curious. Were you living the van life when you started FLX Bike and Miles Board? Or was that something that you chose to do like after you launched those companies?
Rob Rast 2:25
That was something I chose to do after I launched the companies and partly because I was working in the businesses. It was almost like I had to do it.
Ethan Waldman 2:34
Rob Rast 2:34
I'd be too happy to tell you that story later.
Ethan Waldman 2:37
Yeah, yeah. I mean, that you that you had to do it, actually, I want to finish that story now.
Rob Rast 2:44
So in this industry is is especially challenging. Yeah. For a person like me who I'm a college dropout, I've got no, no formal business training or anything like that. And the whole scope of the business, in my past, businesses just been trying to figure it out as you go. So with that in mind, certainly made some wrong turns and detours along the way. And in our business, when we place orders for stuff, and go and build bikes, we need to put all this cash up front, and we won't see the product for a year sometimes, and then be able to sell it and cash out. So it's very cashflow demanding, a manufacturing business like this. We make electric bikes and skateboards. And in 2019, we, we were facing bankruptcy, we were looking at our at our numbers, like we've got all these bills to pay for product coming in, we're not selling enough. What are we going to do? And so my business partner and I, at the time, were trying to figure out, you know, do we need to shut down this business or what and I met a mentor then it kind of got my mindset straight, he's like, "You just need to only focus on getting sales, launching new products and making sure it works. Like don't get down just go do it." And so from that point forward, I made a bet with my business partner, bet half of my skateboard company on it that our next product launch, we would raise a million dollars, or 3 million actually, and that's when I left the apartment that I was renting to take that rent money and just put it into the business. I bought my Sprinter van which was already converted, moved into that, loaded it up with bikes, and started driving that around the country promoting the product, making videos, and it is really the the all in moment for me going to the van life.
Ethan Waldman 4:36
Yeah, so, wow, that's that's a unique story. I feel like you kind of went nuclear and just combined your your life and your work together.
Rob Rast 4:44
Yeah, there is no separation at all for me at this point.
Ethan Waldman 4:50
And so was that, that bike that that raised $3 million. Was that is that the Babymaker?
Rob Rast 4:57
That was the Babymaker. Yeah. So we had 30 days, it Did 3 million like an hour before midnight on the 30th day, and then they let us extend it for another 30. And it went on to raise $13 million in two months. So...
Ethan Waldman 5:10
Rob Rast 5:10
That was kind of the product of it was a perfect storm because COVID hit right then and bike sales started exploding. But it was just just luck. And also just just pure dedication. And the van life certainly helped with that.
Ethan Waldman 5:24
Yeah, a buddy of mine who's who like, would never buy an e-bike, like a traditional e-bike, because he thinks they look too nerdy definitely texted me an Instagram of the babymaker and was like, "Dude, look at this bike."
Rob Rast 5:37
Ethan Waldman 5:39
So you definitely hit it there. Yeah.
Rob Rast 5:41
Hell yeah. I love hearing that.
Ethan Waldman 5:44
What is your, what's your van? Like, tell me tell me what it's all about.
Rob Rast 5:48
So I got a van that was converted already. And it was actually, I was on Craigslist when I was first exploring. I was like, "Oh, vanlife sounds cool. Let me see what's out there." And I saw this one that looked really nice. And I knew nothing about vans. So I kept searching and there is nothing that came close to it in terms of price. And you know, how it was inside. So by the time I contacted this guy was a few days later. And he's like, "Oh, you know, sorry, this van has sold already." I was like, "Oh crap." And so I emailed him again. "Well, did you get your asking price for it?" "No, I got about 5k under." So I said, "Alright, I'll come with full cash right now. Will you sell it to me instead?" He's like, "Yup!" And so I just jetted up there. Because the buyer was out of state. Jetted up there.
Ethan Waldman 6:35
Rob Rast 6:35
Pulled the cash out, gave it to him. And I got the van. It's a 2013 Mercedes Sprinter is the long, extended wheelbase. And it's fully built inside. It's got a queen bed, two burner propane stove, 50 gallon water tank. It's got solar panels, it has a deck on top, which is super cool. I love going up there. And I'll just do some yoga or some tanning. It's got a shower inside, a closet, and the tiniest fridge you can imagine.
Ethan Waldman 7:06
It's great, though. I mean, and and you know the nature of starting a business. And I'm sure doing something like what you've done, where you're doing a big crowdfunding launch and then having to kind of scramble to like, then put that money to use and like do all that stuff. It's like, you probably don't have much time to keep up an apartment or a house. Probably don't even want to spend a lot of time commuting back and forth from an offense to where you live.
Rob Rast 7:36
Yep, that's been huge, is the time savings. I just typically I'll park it right behind my shop. And so I wake up in the morning, roll out of bed and I'm at work. Same thing leaving at night. And I'd notice before when I was living in an apartment, you know, there's nights when you're grinding until midnight, one, 2am. And the last thing you want to do is pack up everything, go drive home. f you can just go from the computer where you're grinding and it just roll into bed, it's great. So it's it's been a massive, massive time saver. And to be able to funnel that time into more work has been huge.
Ethan Waldman 8:15
Yeah, absolutely. So are you are you based anywhere in particular? Are you still kind of living that nomadic lifestyle going around showing your products? Are you, are you based somewhere now?
Rob Rast 8:25
Based mostly at my office here in San Diego. But we're launching a new product next week, actually next Monday, October 17. It's called the Weapon.
Ethan Waldman 8:40
Rob Rast 8:36
It's an electric mountain bike. So it's made to be off road, do downhills - like the most fun mountain bike riding you can imagine. That's what this product is made for. So for me, my goal is to take the van out and take some bikes out and just go camp out at you know, some of the best mountain bike parks we can find. Then riding there every day making videos, getting people on the product, and just showing people what these bikes can do. So that's something super fun that I'm looking forward to.
I hope you bring bring us some in the Northeast. There's incredible riding in Vermont and New Hampshire and Maine.
Heck yeah, give me the name of some places if you got any.
Ethan Waldman 9:15
All right, all right, after, you know, after the call. I'll give you a few names. Although it is you know, it's no San Diego here. We're getting, we're coming into a long and cold and snowy season. So so maybe in the spring,
Rob Rast 9:28
I bet. We'll get some snow tires on it.
Ethan Waldman 9:29
Although fall mountain biking is some of my favorite.
Rob Rast 9:31
Ethan Waldman 9:31
Yeah, totally. Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, I would say that like the majority of of the listeners of Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast are either living or interested in living in, in a tiny house on wheels. And I've noticed an interesting trend, which is that people who get really into living in tiny houses oftentimes realize, I mean, now they're realizing it before but they realized that like, a tiny house on wheels that weighs, you know, 10 - 15,000 pounds and requires a huge truck to tow... It's not the right thing to travel in. And so they end up building out a van to travel because they want, they still want to be able to like, kind of have that feeling of bringing their home with them. And the van is is small enough, but then I think that there's like a third layer to that, which is that from the van, you need some way to get around. Like, personally, you know, you don't want to drive everywhere. You want to experience wherever you are on a bike, or on a skateboard or on foot. And so I feel like the like tiny house, van, and e-bike, right, it's like the trifecta of perfection of like, personal freedom and mobility.
Rob Rast 10:49
Totally. So, my first big van trip, when I got this thing, I threw in, I had two Babymakers in the back, and three electric skateboards and still room for more. But it's awesome because, especially when you go to somewhere where it's crowded, or like the beautiful tourist destinations, parking is not fun. Or especially at 20 - 22 foot vehicle, you finally find a parking space, you'll be a mile away from where you need to go. And if you if you want to make good time, which I always want to do, I always want to do things fast, right?
Ethan Waldman 11:23
Rob Rast 11:24
Just grab a skateboard or bike and ride it to where you're going.
Ethan Waldman 11:27
Rob Rast 11:28
The other part of that too is, the slower you're going, the the more you see. So when you're driving your van, you're going a lot faster. You get onto a bike or skateboard, you can slow things down, stop a lot easier. Stop at a, you know, beautiful cliffside or whatever it is, the beach. Walking, you can see potentially more but you go a lot less, less far. So it's
Ethan Waldman 11:49
Rob Rast 11:49
The sweet spot, in my opinion, the e-mobility products, for that last mile, last 5 - 10 miles that you want to get around.
Ethan Waldman 11:59
Yeah, it seems like that, that market is just exploding. I mean, I live in Burlington, Vermont. And it's a very like, like, bike friendly. And there's a lot of people who commute by bike. And just like, the number of those bikes that are e-bikes now has just like exploded, it feels like in the last year or two.
Rob Rast 12:20
Oh, totally there. There was always a big stigma behind it. But at least when we started, yeah, you'd ride around. And if somebody saw that you're on an e-bike or an electric skateboard, it'd be like, you know, a dude with a big beer belly sitting on, sitting on the corner, drinking a two liter soda. And he'd say, "That's cheating. You're lazy!" What are you doing, bro? You probably drove here. I'm out here having having the time of my life, get some exercise as much as I want. And like, what do you care? Right? It's not a race.
Ethan Waldman 12:50
I agree with the sentiment that like, you know, there is a stigma around around e-bikes. But then you make a good point that like anybody who says that you're cheating probably drove there.
Rob Rast 13:04
Totally. And it's come a long, long way since since then.
Ethan Waldman 13:08
Rob Rast 13:08
Like once you once you try one out and you sit on it, right? You're like, "Oh, I get it. It's just more fun."
Ethan Waldman 13:13
Rob Rast 13:14
It's that simple.
Ethan Waldman 13:15
The which is, like for somebody who maybe is living tiny or doing the van life and they're thinking about like adding some e-bikes to the mix, you know, which is, which is the one that you find is like kind of the most popular with the van lifers, just in terms of being compact and being easy to kind of deploy? I guess, is the word that I'll use.
Rob Rast 13:38
Great question. The Babymaker II is our lightest bike. It's one of the lightest e-bikes ever made. Actually, it's about 33 pounds. Typical e-bikes are talking 60 plus pounds. So this thing super light, you can pick it up with one hand, throw it over your head. If you've got a little garage area in the van or just the spot to park it, bike rack, it's super easy to carry. Use a normal bike rack, you don't need a special e-bike bike rack, strip it off and it can run run. It's also very affordable. So Babymaker's definitely go to It's our most popular model. The Babymaker II actually, that just came out. And then skateboards?
We've got the Phantom and the Sex Panther. Both of which are are crazy portable. If you've got a tiny home, and I always carry my Sex Panther in my in my Sprinter van wherever I go. It's so convenient.
Ethan Waldman 14:32
And also just major shout out for the for the Anchorman, I'm guessing that's an Anchorman reference. I hope it is.
Rob Rast 14:39
It is. That it is.
Ethan Waldman 14:42
I love the names of all these things. I think anytime you see a company that has a sense of humor, it's just it's more fun. It's just more fun to engage.
Rob Rast 14:51
I'm glad you see it that way because not everybody loves the names. We get some people some grouches are gonna say, "How could you name it that? I'd never ride something that's says Babymaker on it." And we're like, "We don't want you to ride it if that's your attitude."
Ethan Waldman 15:05
Yeah. Yeah, it's like you're, you're the Pit Viper of of e-bikes and e-skateboards.
Rob Rast 15:12
Ethan Waldman 15:14
I don't know if you're familiar, like Pit Viper, the sunglasses company.
Rob Rast 15:17
No, we absolutely love their work. They do some really incredible stuff.
Ethan Waldman 15:21
Yeah, yeah. Well, here's the question, because like, I didn't, somehow I missed out, I missed out on like, growing up skateboarding. And yeah, and I can see how, in terms of being compact and easy to bring somewhere there, you know, you can't beat that. Um, you know, is it is it too late for me? Or like can can adults learn how to skateboard and get around on one of these things?
Rob Rast 15:51
Absolutely. So that's the thing with the electric skateboards. You've got a remote,
Ethan Waldman 15:55
Rob Rast 15:56
and you just press forward to go back to stop. So like, if you could play a video game, which has like 15 different buttons, this has one button basically, forward, go backwards, stop. And on normal skateboard, you've got to balance on one leg and throw one leg down on the street and kick as fast as you can.
Ethan Waldman 16:13
Rob Rast 16:14
This one, if you can just stand there and balance a little bit, you can do it. Like if you can stand up, you can ride a skateboard. It's got three modes. So you can start it in easy mode, and just just chill and cruise until you're comfortable with it. We recommend that for the newbies. But we've got people coming in all the time as interns or new employees who have never touched the skateboard, and by the end of their internship, they're absolutely shredding like more than, more than I do. And I've been skating half my life.
Ethan Waldman 16:42
Nice. Which do you think? Because like the the Sex Panther looks kind of like a longboard. And then the Panther's like is, like that smaller skateboard look, which which is easier to learn. You think?
Rob Rast 16:54
Sex Panther, you've got more real estate. So it's a it's a bigger deck, and you can get off road wheels on it, which are more forgiving. So if you're running over big curbs, or things like that are not paying attention. He's run over massive rock, you can usually get over it just fine. So Sex Panther is the easiest to learn on. The Phantom is just more portable. So we see a lot of college students or people that are doing a lot of commuting, get the Phantom. You could even stick it in the locker like 24 Hour Fitness, which is where a lot of us van lifers like to go shower. So that's great. But either either one there, they're both super fast, crazy range. Me personally, I use a sex Panther more.
Ethan Waldman 17:38
Okay. Because it works every, it works 50% of the time every time.
Rob Rast 17:44
Ethan Waldman 17:47
No, I think your Sex Panther probably works every time as long as it's charged.
Rob Rast 17:51
Yeah. It's illegal in 15 countries.
Ethan Waldman 17:55
Yeah. You see, you know, it's like, which came first actually the e-bikes or the skateboards?
Rob Rast 18:04
The e-bikes, we started working on those in 2014, launched them in 16.
Ethan Waldman 18:08
Rob Rast 18:09
Launched our first skateboard in 2018. So about two years into it. And we had all the infrastructure there as we're like, "Why, you know, why not do skateboards?" That's something I've always wanted to do. Boosted beat me to it when they launched in about, 2009 or 2011 - I forget.
Ethan Waldman 18:25
Rob Rast 18:25
And they're unfortunately out of business, now. They grew too fast, flew too close to the sun.
Ethan Waldman 18:31
Rob Rast 18:32
But a lot of their customers are switching over to our boards.
Ethan Waldman 18:35
Nice. Nice. Well, that's a that's a good position to be in, I suppose.
Rob Rast 18:39
Yeah, I guess so.
Ethan Waldman 18:40
Do you...? So you you started on the bikes, and then you like went smaller for the skateboards? Do you have an idea of like, you know, going doing electric I don't know what would be a step up from a bike but like something between a van and a bicycle? Does this exist?
Rob Rast 18:59
Yeah. So I mean, electric cars is an absolutely huge business. I don't know if I'd want to get into get into that. There's so much competition. And it's even more complex than bikes, which are already challenging for a guy like me. But there's a couple things that that I would really love to work on. One is electric surfboards, or hydrofoils, just because they look so much fun.
Ethan Waldman 19:22
Rob Rast 19:22
And the other, electric airplanes. We're just getting to the point where the battery technology is dense enough to have enough energy per per kilogram or pound to be able to fly airplanes a reasonable distance, and it's only gonna get better. So it's not a question of of, can you do it? It's just when will it be practical? And we're getting there. So I'd love to be one of the people in that industry.
Ethan Waldman 19:49
It's a cool industry. We actually, there's a company called Beta. They're making I think electric helicopters here in Burlington. They're based at the at the airport here.
Rob Rast 20:00
Interesting. Are they like quad copters?
Ethan Waldman 20:02
Rob Rast 20:04
Ethan Waldman 20:04
I think so. Yeah.
Rob Rast 20:06
There's a lot of cool stuff going on in that space. It's really interesting.
Ethan Waldman 20:10
Yeah, yeah. There's one that actually combines hydrofoil and a plane and I'm blanking on the name right now. But it's essentially like a small plane that uses ground ground effects essentially to, like, fly really close to the water, but it gets up on plane using a hydrofoil.
Rob Rast 20:28
Yeah, I've seen it. It's like a, I don't know what they call it a sail plane, but it's it flies like six feet above the water.
Ethan Waldman 20:35
That's so cool. Yeah. I love that. So you're a pilot, were you a commercial pilot before you got into developing products and bikes?
Rob Rast 20:44
I was never a commercial pilot. I've always just done it for fun. My dad was building an airplane when, when we were kids in the garage. He never finished it because his businesses got busy. So I kind of want to complete this circle. I just bought my first airplane last year. And now my goal is to take my dad flying, but I just love to do it for fun. I'll throw the skateboards in the back, fly out somewhere, rip them around, have some fun. And there's nothing like it, like I think all of us van lifers we just want to see more of the world. And to be able to see it from another dimension from up high is, is absolutely life changing.
Ethan Waldman 21:21
Totally. Yes. And talk about a form of transportation where weight is very important, especially, you know, in a small plane. I'm sure that the lightweight bikes and boards make a difference.
Rob Rast 21:34
Yeah, it's it's massive. You're supposed to do before every flight weights and balances. So you're literally like doing all these calculations. Like how much does luggage weigh? How far back Is it from the engine. And it's really important to make sure that you're within legal limits and safe limits, even more. So by that point.
Ethan Waldman 21:53
Nice. I want to like circle back a little bit to kind of the van life and being an entrepreneur. Do you have any advice for for someone listening who is maybe already an entrepreneur who's who's living either tiny or in a van or they're thinking about it, like any design considerations, or just things to think about when it comes to living tiny and also being an entrepreneur?
Rob Rast 22:18
Totally. So if you're full time mobile, in you know, tiny home, vanlife, internet, obviously, is huge. All all businesses are run online nowadays. So that's, that's a massive consideration. You want to have a comfortable space to work in, maybe you're just going to a coffee shop. That works. That's cool if you park at a coffee shop and do that, but I think you should definitely design into your space. A nice place to work. Mine's not that comfy. To be honest. Sitting at my, on my wooden bench seats with the pullout table. Yeah, it's really fatiguing after after just an hour or two. My feet are like hanging in the air, they can't even touch the ground because the seats are so high. So that's definitely a consideration you want to make in the design of your space.
Ethan Waldman 23:07
That's a really good one. Just if you are planning to work from that van to make sure that there is a comfortable workspace.
Rob Rast 23:15
Yeah, there's some really cool cool spaces, you know, check YouTube, Instagram, wherever, yeah, where people have just on the side of the van hold bench table, and then they use regular office chairs in it, and they'll just strap them down when they go and that looks like a sweet setup to me. I'd love to have that.
Ethan Waldman 23:34
Yeah. Yeah. And also, I mean, there's I've seen many van lifers and known some personally who, you know, really use their van, like, that mountain biking is, is what they're most passionate about. And that's why they're mobile. And so you know, rather than keeping - and mountain bikes can be really expensive for a nice one. So like, rather than keeping your like mountain bike that like is worth what a like used Toyota Prius is worth on the back of your van, you know, you actually build a space inside the van so that it's just you know, it's not exposed to the elements to the road grime and just like theft.
Rob Rast 24:12
That's super, super important. Yeah, you don't want your $10,000 mountain bike on the outside of your vans. People will unfortunately steal your shit.
Ethan Waldman 24:22
Yeah, it's true. It's sad. Rob Rast, this has been so fun, fun to chat with you. I, do you have, I don't know if you sent me any. But if you have any pictures of the van, I'd love to include them on the show notes page for people to check out your setup.
Rob Rast 24:39
Awesome. Yeah, I'll send you some some pics of the van. And hopefully, we'll be taking this thing out to Santa's, what's it called Santa's Village in SoCal. It's a it's a mountain bike park next week. So I'll do some videos vlogging there so people can check out what it's like to have this thing in the field with with the bikes in it.
Ethan Waldman 24:58
All right. Sounds good. Rob Rast, thanks so much for being a guest on the show.
Rob Rast 25:03
Ethan, thank you so much for having me. It's been an absolute pleasure.
Ethan Waldman 25:07
Thank you so much to Rob Rast for being a guest on the show today. You can find the show notes including links to FLX Bike and Miles Board, as well as a complete transcript, over at thetinyhouse.net/237. Again, that's thetinyhouse.net/237. As always, I'm your host, Ethan Waldman, and I'll be back next week with another episode of the Tiny House Lifestyle Podcast.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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