Changing the Future of Electrification with Brad Hunstable from Linear Labs

Brad Hunstable joins us on episode 132 of the Bigger Than Us podcast. Brad is CEO and co-founder of Linear Labs, a smarter energy company designing ultra-high efficiency motors and generators. Linear Labs’ patented breakthroughs lead to double the torque of competitive motors, increased range, and significantly lowered power consumption.

Take me to the podcast.

Prior to founding Linear Labs, Brad served as CEO and founder of Ustream, a global enterprise software company. Under his leadership, Ustream powered the top global Fortune 500 companies, scaling to $40M in revenue. In 2016, Ustream was acquired by IBM for $150M and became the foundation of the IBM Cloud Video division.

In 2020, Brad won the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year® Southwest Award and was named Top Private CEO by the Fort Worth Business Press. The San Francisco Business Times honored him as an influential young leader in their 40 Under 40 list, he was ranked among the 50 Digital Power Players by the Hollywood Reporter, and honored as Variety’s Producers Guild of America’s Digital 25: Visionaries, Innovators and Producers.

Brad is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and holds an MBA from The Ohio State University where he received the 2017 Entrepreneur and Innovation Alumni Award.

Changing the Future of Electrification

(5:11) I’ll give you a little bit of context. Every motor and generator designed today, the designs date back all the way to the times of Tesla, of Faraday, of Edison. The fundamental architectures have not changed in 100 years. What my dad discovered is a new class of electric machines, both motors and generators. 

Originally, the discovery was a linear generator that was designed to be on this Texas windmill and led to a fundamental breakthrough, that some are calling as big a breakthrough as a major battery breakthrough. That linear generator led to a linear motor, that linear motor led to rotary motors and rotary generators. We have a global portfolio for this at the patent side, we believe that that’s never occurred, no one’s ever controlled the global portfolio for a class of machines. And it’s a really unique machine and technology that produces incredible amounts of torque, and it does it at very low RPMs, and we do it at very high efficiencies much higher than what’s out there. 

A New Family of Electric Machines

And through that unusual set of circumstances — which by the way, conventional physics said this wasn’t really possible — my dad made a discovery. And the discovery is a family of electric machines.

(4:14) We had this wild idea. I wonder if I could take old-timey Texas windmills, and get not just water, which is what they’re primarily used for, they pump water very effectively. Take low-speed wind, and then create incredible amounts of torque, in that pumping action to pump water for cattle or whatever it may be. My broad idea was can we also get some amount of usable electricity in the same device? And the reason that was interesting to me was, I felt like we could bring them to Africa or third world countries or wherever it may be, and change a lot of people’s lives with clean water and some amount of electricity to heat a hot water heater so you can wash your hands or provide some LEDs or whatever it may be. And through that unusual set of circumstances—which by the way, conventional physics said this wasn’t really possible—my dad made a discovery. And the discovery is a family of electric machines.

Fred Hunstable’s “Aha” Moment (Sort Of)

(13:06) Well, if you ask him, it really wasn’t an aha moment. It was a series of painful mistakes and tries. Thomas Edison famously said “I didn’t fail 10,000 times, I found out 10,000 ways it didn’t work”, or something to that effect. And I think there is very much an element to this, you know, the engineering design process is a long one. But starting on this weird area, my dad wasn’t a traditional motor designer or somebody who did it for a living. We started out on a problem that was not what we’re trying to solve, which was how do we bring electricity through this windmill architecture in an efficient and productive manner to third world countries? 

Part of it was we started in a weird place that ultimately led us to something that maybe if you had just gone the traditional ways, you wouldn’t have gone in this weird direction. And so I don’t know if I attribute it to necessarily as much as an aha moment, but I probably attribute it to a lot of really long, hard nights and a lot of mistakes, and a little bit of luck, to be perfectly honest with you.

A Vast Array of Applications

(6:40) 50% of the world’s electricity, on average, passes through some type of electric machine. And electric motors can be very small, like what you might see in a toothbrush, all the way up to very big like what you might see in a mining truck or generator. I’ve seen a dam, like 50 megawatts and these sizes can be all over the map. But our physics is consistent throughout those which were entering the market, initially, sort of in that one note five horsepower on the rotary motor side. 

Why is that important? Well, one, 70% of all the motors in the world are under five horsepower. So it’s an incredible market opportunity. And two, we provide incredible amounts of torque for that volume in that weight, which has real market opportunity, not just to build a great business, but also to have a really big impact on energy.

(8:29) Obviously, there’s a business to it, which is we want to go into five horsepower and below which will look like things like light electric vehicles, it could be small golf carts and scooters, it can be pumps, it could be air conditioners, it could be conveyor belts, variety of industrial applications.

Performance and Efficiency 

(9:14) We believe we’re a premium product, meaning we’re giving you more performance. I’ll give you an example. In these light electric vehicles, so think of a like a wide electric motorcycle, or like one of the scooters that are now going electrified. If you take out the current motors, and you put in our motor in the same volume, we increase the range of those about 100% by just replacing the motor, and we’re going to give you more torque to go up the hill more effectively, or whatever it may be. So it’s more performance.

(10:22) I will note that we use about 30% less copper than most motors. Our manufacturing process, we think over time, will be more efficient and less wasteful. And usually, those are things that result in savings. We’re just now entering the market, but our general sense is, we’re going to be more expensive, but certain customers are going to pay for that performance. Because if you can eliminate things like your gearbox, in a golf cart, or even eventually in a car, there’s significant savings to the system in terms of weight, and in terms of efficiency, in terms of costs. Those things translate into dollars. And so we believe that this is a premium product, and you will be able to realize other costs if you pay a little bit more.

Using Energy to End Human Suffering

Four million people die a year from pollution-related diseases. Two million people die a year from the lack of clean water. Wars are fought, started, and used as a weapon of suffering because of energy.

(2:54) We believe Linear Labs is the future of electrification. Our vision is to see if we can end human suffering through incredible feats of engineering, particularly around smarter energy utilization.

(7:35) I do believe, and we’ve talked about this before the podcast is that you can simplify almost all human suffering at its most basic level, I think fundamentally, is an energy issue. 

Four million people die a year from pollution-related diseases. Two million people die a year from the lack of clean water. Wars are fought, started, and used as a weapon of suffering because of energy. Even pandemics like the one we’re in now, you could make a case at its most basic levels an energy issue. The United Nations has come out and said that kilowatts per capita is the most simple way to measure the suffering of a society. So it’s something that we’re very passionate about.

The Pain and Velocity Framework for Startups

(11:59) The framework that I typically like to use in startups is what I call pain and velocity. Pain implies that I saw some sort of real problem for you as a customer. And if I do that, then my assumption is you’ll pay a premium to solve your problem. 

Velocity means that you can pay me quickly. It doesn’t do a startup, a lot of good if you can eventually get to market and I get to do a ten-year program or a five-year program and go through all these hoops because the long sales cycle and a long process cycle is a significant engineering effort. That kills startups. And so you need velocity as well. How can I get in the market, get revenue, get the cash, very rapidly? Pain and velocity, if you can find those, I believe is a winning formula for any startup.

Leadership TIPS for Team Motivation

You have to be compassionate to the fact that people aren’t robots, and you’ve got to really care.

(18:23) I think you start with a really powerful vision, and an opportunity. That motivates people, as much as anything, right? If you’ve got a really big idea that they can get in, that you’re motivated around intrinsically, that’s a powerful driver. 

There’s an old army general told me something called TIPS, which stands for talk to people, keep them informed, be predictable, and be sincere. 

Talk to people means you actually talk to them. You know, you don’t just shoot emails, you can’t lead over email, that effectively. You got talked to people. “I” stood for: Keep them informed. Informed people make better decisions. You can’t ever tell everybody everything in the company, but you should have some biased transparency. Be predictable means be consistent in how you approach a problem, how you talk to people, how you approach situations. Being predictable consistently is an important trait of stability. And then you know, sincere people are sincere. We’re sincere in that people are people that have their own hopes, dreams, challenges, things go on in the background. 

You have to be compassionate to the fact that people aren’t robots, and you’ve got to really care. People can read through nonsense if you don’t care about them. They’re not stupid. If you only care about the money in the exit, then you’ll probably have a tough time rallying people behind you.

Before we go, I’m excited to share that we’ve launched the Bigger Than Us comic strip, The Adventures of Mira and Nexi.

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Raj Daniels