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After failing, smart helmet startup Skully seeks a second chance

Smart motorcycle helmet startup Skully is attempting a comeback, promising the thousands of customers burned by the company’s spectacular failure last year that the new owners are “determined to make it right.”

Skully, which tried to revolutionize the motorcycle industry with the creation of a $1,500 augmented reality helmet, crashed and burned a year ago, without shipping the vast majority of the 3,000 products customers pre-ordered and paid for. Now a new company is rising from the ashes, to be called Skully Technologies.

Ivan Contreras and Rafael Contreras, a business duo from Spain, have bought the defunct company’s assets with the goal of “fulfilling Skully’s destiny,” Ivan Contreras wrote Monday in an email to Skully backers, a copy of which was obtained by this news organization.

“Although Skully Technologies has no formal obligation to the customers of the now defunct Skully, Inc., we recognize that hundreds of Skully helmet enthusiasts around the world have contributed to this product and were understandably disappointed that they never received one,” wrote Contreras, president of the newly formed Skully Technologies. “We are determined to make this right.”

The original Skully helmets, made by brothers Marcus and Mitchell Weller, promised motorcycle riders a new level of safety by providing a GPS display built into the visor, a rearview camera and voice control. The idea was hugely popular, raising a whopping $2.4 million in an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign in 2014, and then another $11 million the following year from venture capital investors. But the Wellers kept running into hurdles that caused them to delay shipping the product. When Skully ran out of funds and shut down in August of last year, the company had shipped just 200 helmets.

The Wellers also face a lawsuit filed by a former employee, which called the startup a “sham” and claimed the brothers spent company money on cars, meals out and a strip club. That case is set to go to trial in San Francisco in January.

Marcus and Mitchell Weller said last year they would vigorously defend themselves against the lawsuit. Mitchell Weller, reached by phone last year,  said he and his brother “bled blood, sweat and tears” to make the motorcycling  community safer.

The new owners of Skully Technologies haven’t said whether they plan to ship helmets to customers who paid for but never received the product, or whether they will offer refunds. If so, there’s no word on where those funds would come from.

Ivan Contreras and Skully Technologies chief operating officer John Lauten were traveling internationally Tuesday and unavailable for an interview, the company’s marketing director Diane Maier wrote in an email.

The company has a new website to mark its rebirth — skullytechnologies.com — that features a backlit motorcycle rider and the tagline “determined to make it right.” Contreras has set up Skully Technologies’ headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, according to the website, and has assembled a leadership team there to run the company.

Contreras has turned around at least one other company before taking the helm at Skully — he’s CEO of Spain-based electric bicycle and scooter company Torrot, which rose from the dead in 2012.

Lauten was formerly a partner at TechCXO, an Atlanta-based company that finds interim executives for tech companies. He’s also a former Cisco executive.

Carlos Rodriguez, Skully’s former vice president of sales and marketing, said he had no idea about the company’s resurrection until he saw a post about it on Facebook.

“It looks like they have great credentials and have some experience in this industry,” he said of the new owners.

But Rodriguez is skeptical about the owners’ ability to make Skully’s disappointed customers whole. The smart helmet was one of the most complex products he’s ever worked on, Rodriguez said. And even if the new owners have the old Skully technology, it would likely take them six to nine months to get a product to market. They would have to secure manufacturing contracts and find sources for the components that go into the helmets — not to mention update the year-old technology with the latest innovations.

“My concern,” Rodriguez said, thinking of Skully’s original customers, “is that this community has been burned so badly by false starts.”

Roy Freifeld, an early Skully backer who pre-ordered a helmet on Indiegogo for $1,399, said he’ll have a hard time trusting the company’s new owners.

“They will try to get on our good side,” Freifeld, 34 of Oregon, wrote in an email, “but the damage is so big that this will only happen if they hand us helmets for free, which i don’t think they will do.”