Looking at the personalities behind London's small businesses
James South has always followed the beat of his own drum. After a philosophy degree, a few years of travelling and supporting himself by playing online poker professionally, James founded Econogo and launched the stylish, practical and eco-friendly Yogo, the UK's first electric scooter that uses a fully detachable and portable lithium battery that can be quickly charged anywhere.
How did Econogo come about?
"In 2008, when I returned to London after my travels, I wanted to buy a petrol motorbike and stumbled upon electric motorbikes. I hadn't heard much about them then." James began to think about electric scooters from a commercial standpoint. "I found a few factories in China and before I could think about it, I found myself heading to Shanghai." A two week trip during the Spring of 2008, turned into a two year journey, with James living out of a suitcase near the small parts and battery factories in southern China that were crucial to the manufacturing of the Yogo. "I'm not very averse to risk. It has been the biggest adventure of all going to a country where I don't know anyone and trying to make a product that hadn't been done before... on a limited budget!"
How did the business develop?
During the early days of living in China, James quickly realised that the biggest cost and weight component to manufacturing the scooter was the battery, so he knew his focus had to be on that aspect. "I thought that having to charge up the battery at a charging station or bringing a long extension lead to connect the bike from outside was pretty impractical if you lived in a flat. " The other drawback of conventional batteries was the charge time of six to eight hours. These issues posed significant problems to manufacture, but "I always thought of myself as an inventor and I like to take things apart." Eventually, "I realised that if you took the battery out, you could create separate charger units and better capabilities." Luckily, "I was introduced to lithium batteries, which were half the weight of lead acid batteries" and took only an hour to charge. With the financial, business and design help from a few friends and investors, James was able to develop the Yogo's fast charging, removable battery and finally produce the scooter. In April 2010, James opened Econogo's showroom near Kensington High Street. He has also won the green products category of the Venture Candy competition sponsored by The Metro.
How many people work for Econogo?
"I'm a one man band. I've done the marketing, financing, sales, after sales, web site, operations, management... but my girlfriend helps me now too."
What is the best part of being part of Econogo?
"There is an overwhelming [positive] feeling about creating a product and from that create a business. What has kept me going is knowing that I was onto something good and if I could pull it off, I could have my own creation and make that grow."
What is the most difficult part?
"I never know what's going to happen. I always have that worry that tomorrow it could all end."
Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
"One of the greatest things is to believe in something and to do it from concept to manufacture."
Check out the Yogo online at Econogo or stop by the showroom at 8 Holland Street, London, W8 4LT London, 0207 937 4441.