Flying back to Colorado after working for Edison2 in Virginia, I landed in Washington DC, switched planes, checked my ticket and found my seat in coach, seven rows behind first class. The men on either side of me were friendly, and we were soon engaged in conversation. They were both innovators, one in medical, the other in education. Out of habit I was pitching Edison2 and their vehicle and flipping through the latest images on my tablet computer. And as usual, guys were digging the car.
I glanced up and saw a man who looked like a plump version of Al Gore. He was stowing his carryon at the last row in first class, next to the bathroom for coach. The men beside me said it was him. If anyone needed to see what was on my iPad, it was Al Gore, and we found ourselves hatching a plan to get my tablet into the hands of the former Vice President.
The plane pushed back. I took a photo and texted Edison2 that Mr. Gore was on the flight. After takeoff I started cutting down a presentation as my seat mates kept tabs on Gore and the flight attendants. The plan was to get the presentation down to three minutes and make a move when the attendants and beverage cart were past us. I worked quickly, but with Gore on board, the attendants were in top form and soon the beverage cart was looming. My hands began shaking as I trashed slides in earnest and came to grips with what I was about to do.
The cart passed. I timed the presentation at three and a half minutes. It would have to do. I pulled myself together and rose as my co-conspirators whispered, “Do it! Go for it!” I walked up the aisle and stopped short of the bathroom just behind Gore’s seat: “Mr. Gore?” I asked.
His large head turned slightly. His voice rumbled “Yes?”
“I have something I think you’ll be interested in,” I said, passing the iPad slowly over his shoulder. The first slide was an image of the Edison2 consumer prototype above the slogan: The Right Solutions. The Right Time.
Mr. Gore turned and glanced at the screen. I watched in surprise as he slowly reached for it. He pulled it toward him and didn’t hand it back. “I’m going into the bathroom,” I said, “I’ll be back in three minutes.” I leaned further in, reached slowly over his shoulder, pointed at the screen and flicked my wrist. “All you do is swipe from left to right.”
He nodded and said, “OK.” I slipped into the bathroom next to his seat, set my watch for 3 minutes and tried to calm down. The watch beeped, I flushed to announce my exit and stepped behind Mr. Gore. “I’m back,” I said quietly.
The presentation was on the last slide. I had just landed three minutes undivided attention of a former Vice President. Mr. Gore turned, handed me the iPad, looked at me and said, “Thank you. Good luck with that.”
I thanked him, plucked the tablet out of his hand and disappeared, paranoid his security guy might take me down. Being inside Mr. Gore’s space was far from trivial, but this was a one-time shot: a former Vice President on a 3 hour flight with a stack of paperwork, and the perfect excuse to be that close – I was just using the bathroom.
When I got home I called Edison2’s CEO, Oliver Kuttner. The call connected instantly without a hello. “Did you talk to him?!” he blurted out.
For two years Oliver has been courting the big automakers. He’s pushed his 6’4″ frame through glass doors at towering headquarters, carrying everything from tiny lug nuts to a complete left/right suspension assembly, slung over his shoulder like a giant bazooka.
During my flight, Oliver had called the executive director of Edison2’s board. The director asked if I might try something; Oliver had no doubts. I shared a truck with him as we pulled a multi-million dollar prototype from Colorado to Virginia, and we shared his car on Edison2’s home turf for two weeks.
Oliver described his call with the director: “He asked me, ‘Do you think Eric will try to talk to him?’ I told him, ‘I know this guy. He won’t let this go. He’ll do something. He might sit there for twenty minutes, but he’ll figure it out and make a move.'”