William Santana Li & His Driving Force
Knightscope CEO - Profile
William Santana Li was born in New York City, to parents from the outskirts of Shanghai, China and Bogota, Colombia. The family was robbed in Queens; so they decided to move to Stamford, Connecticut when Bill was around 5. He attended Stamford High School, and spent his summers earning college credit taking classes at both The University of California, Berkeley and Yale University. Bill chose to attend Carnegie Mellon University, turning down a full scholarship from Connecticut College; and after graduating, he faced a large debt from student loans. Thankfully, his summer credits from Berkeley and Yale helped him graduate his program of Electrical Engineering a full year early, saving him time and money.
When planning for after college, Bill’s aspiration was to track down a career that would excite him. After purchasing his first car, his interest turned towards automobile design and production. He applied for fifty intern positions, from nearly every automaker, and was rejected by all of them—all except for his number one pick, Ford Motor Company, for whom he was given two different offers. After graduation, he was hired by the same division he had previously interned at and began working with an advanced ignition engineering group. He worked on the 6.8L V10 engine, for vans and trucks, and subsequently went on to be a systems engineer on the Ford Escort / Mercury Tracer team. Bill was then promoted to vehicle engineer for the Lincoln Mark VIII.
Later, Bill shifted departments to work on strategies for the development of new products, including the precursor to the Ford Escape and a new product concept for Ford of India. He was then stationed in the United Kingdom, where he joined the “Top Guns” in a special assignment: saving Ford of Europe. Bill has described this experience as being both empowering and intimidating, as he was yelled at his very first time speaking up. After putting months in towards his own solution for the turnaround, he eventually decided to speak up again. This time, he drew attention in a more positive light: this plan of his led to great advancements towards his team’s efforts, and moved Ford of Europe in the right direction.
After Europe, Bill was relocated to Detroit, where he served as an assistant project manager for Ford of Brazil. He quickly received a double promotion to director of mergers and acquisitions in the strategy group. Soon after his promotion, he learned that pending European legislation would require Ford to take back European cars at the end of their lives, which could have potentially bankrupted Ford Europe. Bill convinced Ford to invest $250 million in a wholly-owned subsidiary; this would become the world’s 2nd largest automotive recycler, once again saving Ford of Europe.
At 28, Bill became the youngest senior executive of Ford. He was in charge of 600 employees and handled $150 million in sales. It had taken him 23 executive reviews to get the initiative approved; he called the experience surreal, taking great enjoyment in the quick city to city travel as he bought 22 companies in 11 months. According to Bill, at one point, he took 16 flights in just 5 days. He credits Ford for teaching him many of the important skills that have helped him in his career, hailing it as an awesome training ground.
After a market crash, Bill led a merger project with a car company that was attempting to create an earlier concept of Tesla. They reached the prototype stage on designing a new car, but after 9/11 the project fell through. Out of nowhere, Bill received a call from an active law enforcement officer in Dallas, asking for help in creating a new high-quality law enforcement vehicle purpose-built from the ground up as no other automaker was willing to make the investment.
The effort raised tens of millions of dollars in equity, had garnered $1.2 billion in preorders, and was on the last step in securing a $310 million-dollar loan from the U.S. Department of Energy – the same loan mechanism that Tesla had utilized. Unfortunately the loan program was effectively shut down by the federal government, declining loans to 2 major automakers and 3 startups. Bill said this experience taught him three important lessons. First, one cannot rely on the government as a primary financing source. Second, investors will be reluctant to fund a highly investment-intensive product if it takes years to begin to generate revenue due to the high level of risk. Third, a project must begin to produce this revenue quickly.
Using all of the lessons he learned in his time at Ford and other startups, Bill has created Knightscope, a company that aims to revolutionize security by using self-driving technology, robotics and artificial intelligence. His goal is that intelligent robots will be fully integrated into the industry-wide law enforcement and security apparatus, which he believes will be a game changer for business economics and will change the way of thinking about incumbent industries. Bill wants there to be indoor and outdoor security guards enabled with new advanced capabilities protecting all people, which will help prevent mass shootings in schools, movie theaters, and synagogues and allow the public to feel safe wherever they visit and work.
Knightscope is backed by over six thousand investors and is growing rapidly now that it has built a scalable business. They release new software every two weeks and new hardware several times per year. However, Knightscope has a lot of work to do before Bill’s vision can come to fruition. You can learn more about investing or scheduling a free demo at www.knightscope.com
Written by Alexander Fleiss & Edited by Derek Chiang & Devaansh Mahtani