What really drives people to launch new mobility businesses? In a new series, Zag takes an in-depth look at the backstories of Founders to understand the origins of their inspiration.
You’d be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Dany Dätwiler.
He has, after all, kept a very low profile over the years declining all requests for interviews, until now.
Your chances increase slightly if you live in Switzerland as his family business became the largest toy distributor in the country.
Why Zag wanted to speak with him is because the serial entrepreneur now runs a sizeable OEM, employing many staff to produce vast quantities of e-scooters.
“It’s great to be talking with you,” says Dany. “I’ve always preferred to be one of those people who stays in the background but felt it important to share how VMAX came to be.”
Not many people get to be genuine trendsetters but that’s what Dätwiler’s family toy business was.
“We had agents all over the world scouting out the next best toy,” he says.
“We’d then release them into the Swiss market and watch them take off. Quite literally in the case of our RC helicopters and drones.
“We sold all kinds of toys – poker cases, Hello Kitty, Wow!Stuff from Richard North, and so on. The fidget spinners proved particularly popular – we sold millions of those. It was huge fun and a very profitable business, but my goal was always to build a global brand.”
Unicycles & hoverboards
Dätwilers first contact with an e-mobility product he considered selling came in 2014.
“My Chinese agent showed me this awesome self-balancing one-wheeled EV called SOLOWHEEL but I decided it was not ready for the mass market because it was too complicated to ride.”
In the same year at the Eurobike show in Germany he was shown one of the first hoverboards by Johann Fang, who would later become his business partner.
“It was love at first sight,” says Dätwiler. “So I began selling hoverboards as part of our toy import business. It was a massive trend and made me realise, if hoverboards are working, why not e-scooters too.
“Around the same time I’d started using an e-scooter to visit customers of my toy business in Zurich as I lived just outside the city and always had trouble finding parking. It was a big issue and restricted my ability to get around. E-scooters helped me to park anywhere in the city and get to any meeting on time.”
VMAX > OEM
Co-founded by Dany Dätwiler and Johann Fang, the VMAX Global brand was born in 2015 selling e-scooters, hoverboards and self balancing unicycles.
“We bought our first e-scooters from manufacturers in China but the quality wasn’t always great,” says Dätwiler. “One time we had to throw an entire container away as the vehicles were rusty. After two years of trial and error, I said to Johann – why don’t we launch our own factory?”
Hiring their own designers, engineers and assembly staff, the duo took the bold move in 2018 setting up a plant in Yongkang, Zhejiang Province, a strong industrial Chinese city for metals, power tools and electronics.
“It was really important to me to produce a ‘Swiss quality’ e-scooter and to have full control over every component, every supplier and every certificate. Become an OEM and you control the quality. I’ve also seen some really bad working conditions with people sitting on dark, dirty floors and so I wanted to ensure all our staff were treated fairly.”
Besides the batteries and tyres, every scooter that rolls out of the ISO and Amfori-BSCI-certified production facility today is made in-house.
A 5th generation product
VMAX launched with the VX2 e-scooter that is now in its 5th iteration, with a further 11 e-scooter models on the market.
Ranging from £400-£1,300, they are built with an expected lifetime value of 5-10,000 kms per product.
“Our mission is e-quality,” Dätwiler explains. “We want our products to be both affordable and to embody quality, precision and the highest value as this is what Switzerland is known for.”
The VMAX VX4 is currently its flagship e-scooter combining all the technologies the OEM has developed to date.
It features a large battery providing up to 100 km of range, a max speed of 20 km/h and a peak power motor of 1,600W “catapulting” the rider up inclines of up to 33%.
“I myself live in a hilly area of Switzerland with 20% inclines and know first-hand the frustration of having to get off and push an e-scooter up the hill because it wasn’t strong enough, so that was something I was determined to fix.”
The double-suspension at the front and rear, along with 10” tubeless tyres makes it a suitable companion for most terrains.
On after sales, Dätwiler says “we have calculated that a mechanic will save 30-50% of time repairing our e-scooters compared to other models. Core components are housed in the side cover without having to open the deck which saves repair shops valuable time.”
This year, VMAX took an ambitious step by taking its brand across the Atlantic to the US, setting up a new office and fulfilment centre in Los Angeles.
The VMAX LA warehouse is fully stocked with its latest models.
“Later this month at the Micromobility Industries event in San Francisco we will be showcasing our full range of scooters and have them available for test rides. Additionally, we’ll be unveiling a brand-new model at the event,” says Dany.
“Alongside our US management leaders Dani Horwitz and Yoav Dreifuss, and with support from the entire dedicated VMAX team, we’re set to win over the heart of the American market. We believe that our deep-rooted brand values will resonate with consumers across the United States and Canada. In this spirit – VMAX: Time for E-Quality!”