Why I joined an unknown startup with no money

“Have you been drinking?” That’s what my old boss from Navistar asked me last March when I let him know that I was thinking about accepting a job at an unknown and unfunded startup that had its sights set on building electric trucks.

“No. Should I be?” I quipped back. I accepted the job at Thor Trucks the next day. Nine months later, in December, we delivered and launched our first prototype–the ET-One, a fully-electric class 8 semi-truck.

The ET-One, Thor Truck’s first prototype

I expect many of my colleagues might find themselves asking the same questions I was asking myself before I became Thor Trucks’ Chief Product Officer last year. Building commercial trucks is a capital-intensive business, and my former boss and mentor had plenty of reason to raise his eyebrows at my decision. But by electing to change course and join a “risky” startup, I felt as though I was making the choice to save my career. Having been in the auto industry for 23 years, between jobs at Navistar and BYD Motors, I knew it was time for a change.

I was born and raised in Mumbai in the ‘70s and, like many of my peers, I was always interested in mechanics. I wanted to be a pilot at first but planes turned into trucks, and before I knew it, I was in Chicago for college and even founded my school’s chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers. I then became a chief engineer at Navistar, leading the product strategy technical team among several other roles at one of the largest commercial trucking manufacturers in the United States.

My career was sailing along, but something started to change around eight years ago. The EPA began to pass down rules that mandated lower emissions standards in the trucks we were making. To meet the demands of these regulations, I saw Navistar and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) like Ford and GM invest massive amounts of money to make micro-improvements that were barely meeting these new emission requirements. Addressing compliance each year was becoming a daunting, expensive, and unsustainable process. Our customers were also feeling that shift.

It was around then that electric vehicle technology was making vast improvements, becoming cheaper and, for the first time, looking like a viable alternative to the cumbersome and intricate diesel engine. Given the path we were going down with the EPA on our backs every year, the idea of designing a new kind of truck from scratch was becoming immensely appealing. That’s when I chose to make the shift to electric and moved to BYD as Director of Truck Development.

But the real leap of faith was yet to come. A few years into the job at BYD, the phone rang. On the other end were two laid-back but brilliant twenty-four-year-olds from sunny Los Angeles who told me they were building an electric semi and wanted my help.

I spent the next few weeks contemplating the fate of the industry and knew that, deep down, I wanted to be part of a movement that challenged the industry and brought smart design and sustainability back. I felt like OEMs had forgotten about what mattered and there was a reluctance to think outside of the box. Dakota and Gio, Thor’s founders, had the passion I had been looking for, and I valued their authenticity and commitment to the good of the industry instead of to the stale protocols that had reigned for far too long. I had made up my mind.

The early days with the ET-One at Dakota’s ranch

I went home that night and told my wife that I was thinking about leaving a 16 billion dollar company for a $1,600 one. She told me I was crazy but smiled, and asked me to call my old boss and mentor–the rest is history.

-Pri

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