Lilium Air Mobility Jets – Startup Interview with CEO Daniel Wiegand
At 36, Daniel Wiegand is the founder and CEO of one of the most successful startups of our time. Founded in 2015, urban air mobility company Lilium is working on vertical take-off jets (eVTOLs) to revolutionize personal transportation. Today, it has more than 650 employees and, with a valuation of $3.3 billion, is about to launch its IPO on the U.S. tech exchange NASDAQ. Lilium’s first electrically powered air cab is expected to begin operations in just a few years.
Daniel Wiegand interviewed by Kerl Eyewear
Daniel Wiegand is not only a gifted engineer and visionary, but also a design fan and a convinced wearer of Kerl Carbon sunglasses. We had the opportunity to talk to him about his success, exciting technologies of the future and good design. He also revealed to us what fascinates him about carbon.
Daniel, thank you so much for taking the time. You’ve come a long way very quickly as a founder. What is success to you?
Success, for one, is achieved when you set your sights on something special and it works. For me personally, however, success is not necessarily defined by this functionality. It’s more important to me that my eyes light up when I think about something.
What was the biggest challenge – or let’s call it obstacle – that you faced?
Basically, it’s the same complex challenges as with all hardware startups. Financing, for example, is always a big issue.
I can’t think of a single obstacle. You’re more likely to solve a thousand problems over many years in a kind of marathon. I think the challenge is to keep up this marathon. When you work on such a project for 6, 8 or 10 years, you have to adapt everything to it, your private life, your rest, your motivation.
The special thing about aviation is: You work for years on something that is on the ground. Then there’s that one moment when it takes off. That’s what brings you together as a team.Daniel Wiegand, CEO Lilium
What technologies do you think will change your life in the next 20 to 50 years?
I believe that technologies that address the issue of sustainability will be given the highest priority in our lives. I am firmly convinced that the climate problem, as well as other environmental problems, can only be solved through technology. For me, renunciation and “climbing trees” are not reasonable options for a civilization. We must and can solve the problem technologically and preserve the achievements of civilization. With such a mission, we can also help other countries better, where technology is less available.
That is why I also expect a lot to happen in the aerospace sector. CO2-free and quiet aircraft like our Lilium Jet will come along and contribute to more sustainable aviation overall.
But even beyond sustainability issues, I see major technological changes ahead of us. I’m curious to see what we will learn and experience when humans fly to the moon again, build stations there and then fly on to Mars. And on Earth, too, we are at the beginning of completely new technology. Let me just mention artificial intelligence. It will be a boon in medicine and in many areas of research, including aviation. But at some point we will have to deal with the fact that there is something that is more intelligent than we are. That will change a lot socially and perhaps bring about dangers that we can only guess at today.
What role does design play in your life?
I’m an engineer through and through. But good design inspires me. And we’ve known the importance of design since Apple and before that from many car brands. My co-founders and I have made technical decisions at Lilium with design in mind from the very beginning. We may be the first aircraft manufacturer where a design team is not the development team, but a product design team. We want to create products that people enjoy being around, that they find pleasing and aesthetic, and that they enjoy associating with themselves.
I think our website shows that as well. And anyone who looks at the photos of our demonstrators should also recognize our passion for design. Take the shroud on our 36 engines, for example. It not only reduces noise, it also looks good and gives our jet a very special wing design.
What design objects play a big role in your life?
The biggest role is played by our aircraft. Then come the classics: vehicles, home furnishings, furnishings in restaurants. Lamps are always very interesting. A lot has happened in this area in recent years. Glasses and everyday objects up to laptops and cell phones.
For me, design and technology are very close to each other. Because almost everything we do technically is created for people and has an interface to people.Daniel Wiegand, CEO Lilium
What do you associate with carbon as a material?
Of course, I first associate lightweight construction with carbon. But what has always fascinated me most about it is the first principles thinking that is inherent in this material. I’m a big fan of first principles engineering, that is, of basing technical decisions or design solutions on physics. That you don’t base them on the fact that something has always been that way, but that you “go deep” and ask yourself the question: What determines, for example, why something is light or why something looks the way it does?
The great thing about carbon is that you can align the fibers so that they actually follow this physical limit. The individual fiber is one of the most efficient materials known to man.
With an anisotropic material like fiber composite, you can let off steam intellectually as well as technically, and it simply looks good. Plus, there’s something magical about the fibers shining through. Then you can even see a bit of the thoughts the designer or engineer had while developing the product.
Are there any podcasts you enjoy listening to?
Very rarely. I prefer to be active; I’m also bad at reading books because I get too restless. Instead, I prefer to talk to people when I need inspiration, play sports or do something outside.
Are there still important books in your life? In particular, any that you recommend to founders?
Yes, there are a few startup books that I find very good, for example the classic “The Hard Thing About Hard Things”. Or, what I also found very good is “The Culture Code”. It’s about how to create an environment for teams to work extremely well together.
With many books, however, I tend to read a summary because I’m too restless to take 10 hours to read it.
Are you more of a team player or solo artist?
Team player. I can work through certain things very well on my own, but I need a team for inspiration and energy.
When do you get the best ideas?
Either in conversation with others or actually in the shower. My girlfriend says I’m a dreamer in the shower because sometimes exciting thoughts come to me and I shower for 10 or 15 minutes without realizing it.
Does the responsibility you have at Lilium sometimes keep you up at night?
Yes, it does sometimes. The bigger the company gets, the more you have to deal with this responsibility. But I don’t think it should lead to a situation where you no longer take risks or act in an entrepreneurial way. Then you lose what a startup is all about.
At Kerl Eyewear, we are always interested in meeting exciting people and customers. If you could choose freely, who would you suggest as our next interview partner?
I would suggest Elon Musk. That would certainly be very exciting.
Or my co-founders, especially Patrick Nathen, with his great penchant for design. He probably has 80 pairs of sneakers or something at home.
Daniel, thank you very much for the exciting interview.
Foto credit Picture 1 and Video: Lilium