Zero Motorcycles CEO advises obsessing over strategy

By The Associated PressFeaturesAssociated Press

In "Pass It On," AP reporters ask executives to share insights that will resonate with anyone managing a business.

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Sam Paschel is the CEO of Zero Motorcycles Inc., a privately-held company based in Scotts Valley, California, that designs and makes electric motorcycles and powertrains, including fleet vehicles for police and the military. It was started in 2006 by Neal Saiki, a former NASA engineer.

Q: What advice would you give your younger self about managing people or running a business or problem-solving? What did you learn from your early mistakes?

A: From the business side, I would stress the importance of getting the right team into the right structure as quickly as practical. On a personal level, from my early mistakes, I took away the importance of finding balance and the insight that sometimes stepping away and coming back fresh is the best advice.

Q: How much do you pay attention to your competition, and what do you try to learn from them?

A: Zero Motorcycles is a small brand in the scope of the broader motorcycle market. We are a challenger brand with a disruptive product. Because we are so fundamentally different from 99 percent of the conventional offerings, we look at the competition in an effort to understand the areas where we need to conform to industry practices and standards to connect with consumers, and where we can break from convention to meet our consumers' needs most effectively.

Q: What advice do you have for small business owners in this moment, given the current environment of rising interest rates, a tight labor market, etc.?

A: Obsess about your strategic direction and make explicit trade-offs that are consistent with your strategic choices. Focus, don't straddle. You can measure the convictions you have in your core strategy by how often you say 'no'.

Q: How do you manage work-life balance?

A: For anyone who is driven, this can be a huge challenge. In order to find a balance, you need to be clear on your priorities as an individual and about what kind of life you want to live. Once you understand the larger picture for yourself, it's easier to make clear decisions about where and how your work and life fit.