Electric Motorcycle Company Says Poaching By Apple Left It In The Dust

October 20, 2015 0 Comments



It’s no secret that Apple has been aggressively poaching employees from various industries as it ramps up its rumored efforts to develop a car, which truly feels more inevitable with each passing day.

Mission Motors, a San Francisco-based boutique manufacturer of electric motorcycles, claims that it was “left in the dust” after Apple recruited a significant portion of its talent. Of course, for a massive corporation, poaching doesn’t necessarily destroy its mission and future. However, for a small startup, losing key employees can mark the beginning of the end.

Mission was focused on electric superbikes, but last month, the company laid out its plans for bankruptcy. It claims that its employees started leaving for Apple in 2012, and that “about a half dozen” engineers left for Cupertino in the last year alone. Those poaches came at a time when Mission was trying to raise additional money to stay afloat, and there’s no question that losing key engineers to Apple didn’t help. At the same time, it’s rather convenient for a failing startup to blame its fate on one of the largest companies in the world, but it is still likely that the poaches hurt Mission at a time when it could afford it least.

Although Apple has never openly acknowledged that it is looking into building an electric car, it has recruited dozens of auto experts, many of them from automakers such as Ford or Mercedes-Benz. Certainly, as tech giants compete to define the future of personal transportation, they are offering high salaries that can entice talented engineers away from smaller companies, thereby crushing the dreams of many startups along the way.

For his part, former Mission Motors Chief Executive Derek Kaufman feels that the company could have survived if it had not lost key employees, which undermined its efforts to raise funding.

“Mission had a great group of engineers, specifically electric drive expertise,” said Kaufman. “Apple knew that – they wanted it, and they went and got it.”

Mission certainly isn’t the first company to complain about Apple’s poaching of employees. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has publicly criticized the tech giant for trying to poach its engineers, and in February, electric-car battery maker A123 Systems sued Apple for recruiting some of its top talent, thereby forcing the company to abandon key projects. A123 and Apple eventually settled the case on undisclosed terms.

A123 CEO Jason Forcier explained that with an R&D team of several hundred, the company was able to survive the departures. However, for a small startup, he noted that it could be crippled by such a scenario. “The competition for engineers is as stiff as I’ve ever seen it, and I’ve been in this game for 25 years now,” he said.

This point was illustrated earlier this year when ride-hailing app Uber poached as many as 50 people away from Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics lab to help it build a self-driving car. Amid tepid interest from investors in clean tech, startups rarely raise the money that they truly need to compete, according to Forcier. “We put $1 billion into A123,” he explained. “Startups get $10 million to $20 million – it’s nothing.”

According to investment database Crunchbase, Mission Motors raised approximately $14 million. The company has suffered many blows over the years, and although its prized bike never reached consumers, former employees now hold key roles in Silicon Valley’s auto efforts, including an engineer on Google’s self-driving car project and Tesla’s director of battery engineering.

“The Apples, the Googles and the Teslas really benefited from the education that those engineers were given at Mission,” said an unnamed auto industry executive.

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