AUSTIN, Texas -- The past month has been one wild ride for Ben Forman and Geoff Larson, the creators of a weight-sensing electric skateboard called the ZBoard.
In late February, Forman and Larson were well on their way to plowing through $50,000 worth of personal funds they had set aside to develop a prototype of the ZBoard. That's when the duo, both 24 years old, decided to sign up for Kickstarter, an online platform that allows people to raise money for creative projects.
They posted a video on their Kickstarter profile describing the board's Segway-esque functionality: Lean forward and put pressure on the board's front foot-pad to accelerate and lean back on the rear foot-pad to engage its brakes. They offered incentives to donors, such as free shipping, and they set the fundraising goal at $10,000. Within four days, the project reached that goal, and after three weeks on the site, ZBoard has netted nearly $190,000 in funding.
Then, early last week, as the Kickstarter cash continued to pile up, Forman received word that a short video he had submitted to Startup America's South by Southwest Pitch Contest had won.
The prize included free flights to the South by Southwest conference in Austin, free badges to the show (which start at roughly $850 a pop), the opportunity to pitch the business to an audience of attendees and some face-time with entrepreneurial heavyweights like Steve Blank and Steve Case. Blank, an entrepreneurship professor at Stanford University, encouraged the L.A.-based founders to tap local research universities for assistance with developing the technology further. (Perhaps the hover board from Back To The Future 2 is in the works?)
As if recent events couldn't get any better for ZBoard's co-founders, who dreamt up the business as a senior project while studying mechanical engineering at the University of Southern California in 2009, Austin police shut down a short street outside the city's convention center, where South by Southwest took place last weekend, providing a perfect strip of pavement for ZBoard demo rides.
The ZBoard starts at $500, and Forman says they've already pre-sold 200 orders ahead of plans to ship the first boards out in April. The "classic" model provides up to 5 miles of range and can reach top speeds of 15 mph. The more expensive "pro" model takes riders as far as 10 miles on a single charge with speeds up to 17 mph. Charging both models takes five hours.
As Gizmag recently noted, motorized skateboards, "while awesome, are nothing new." In recent years, powered models have included the remote-controlled Fiik electric skateboard and Metroboard, among others. But what separates the ZBoard is its hands-free weight-sensor system, which makes the board feel more intuitive and more like a normal skateboard than previous motorized designs.
Despite having a 400-watt motor attached to it, the ZBoard rode just like a normal board when I took it for a spin at South by Southwest. Except my feet weren't touching the ground. Plus, the ride didn't end the way it usually does when I've hopped on skateboards in the past: with a face-plant.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report misstated the length of time it takes to fully recharge the ZBoard. It takes five hours, not one hour, to fully recharge the ZBoard.