All posts in “bird”

Boosted Boards founders launch heavy-duty scooter renter Skip

All electric scooters are not created equal. I’ve found ones from Spin, Bird, and Lime to often be broken, shaky, or out of battery. But now the founders of Boosted Boards, which makes the steadiest and safest-feeling electric skateboards, are bringing their rugged hardware expertise to the scooter world. Today, they’re coming out of stealth with a supposedly stronger and longer-lasting dockless electric scooter rental startup called Skip. And the surprise is they’re hoping to only operate where permitted unlike their backlashed competitors [but no guarantees], with a deployment today in partnership with Washington D.C. and plans for San Francisco.

Formerly known by its Y Combinator codename Waybots, the company is exclusively announcing its funding and rebrand to Skip today on TechCrunch. The startup has raised a $6 million seed round led by Initialized Capital via Alexis Ohanian and Ronny Conway’s A Capital, with SV Angel joining in.”High integrity, thoughtful founders with all the relevant experience, demonstrated success, and an eye toward safety make this exactly the kind of investment I love” says Ohanian.

“We think the vehicle matters” Skip and former Boosted co-founder/CEO Sanjay Dastoor tells me. “It’s not the same as rideshare where two or more companies are all using the same car. There’s a big spectrum of quality in the base vehicles. A lot of these companies are buying off the shelf vehicles that are designed for personal ownership. I think these vehicles will need to be designed for a different level of use and upkeep.”

That’s why Skip is modifying bigger pre-made scooters to be more durable, and plans to build its own custom scooters. For the same $1 plus $0.15 per minute price as other services, you get a wider riding platform, full suspension, and head/tail/brake lights. The strategy is that if people feel safe and steady riding Skips, they’ll choose them over the competition. And while low-grade scooters might feel too unstable for the bike lane, leading to complaints about sidewalk riding, Skips are meant to feel secure enough to cruise next to cars.

With so much well-funded competition, Skip will have to hope customers really notice the difference. And its focus on permits could constrain growth. But if riders and cities decide they want a more reliable scooter service, Skip could carve out a solid business while being a better citizen.

Trusting Your Life To A Startup

My Boosted Board was perhaps my favorite gadget ever. After a decade as an unpowered longboard rider, I tested its electric skateboard in 2012 and loved the smooth rides so much I bought one of the first 10 of the Kickstarter. It felt like being able to effortlessly surf uphill. I tried many others and consistently found them to feel much more jerky, wobbly, and unpredictable. That’s not what you want when you’re riding a handle-less vehicle in traffic, and essentially betting your life on some startup’s hardware.

But then I crashed. The human body is not equipped for a 22mph meeting with the pavement. The board performed perfectly, I just hit a gravel patch at full-speed, shattered my ankle, and couldn’t walk for 5 months. In conclusion, even the safest electric skateboards are risky because at high speeds, the form factor’s small hard wheels are too vulnerable to obstructions, and you’ve got no handle to save you. I haven’t skated the two years since.

Yet that’s why I think Skip has a real opportunity. There’s demand for these vehicles. Skip says it sees seven rides per day per scooter. They’re a natural complement to more expensive Ubers that have to wade through traffic. But the whole industry will fall apart if everyone’s getting injured. You can absolutely feel the lack of stability and smoothness when riding a janky or half-broken scooter. I think consumers will choose the safer device if one’s available.

Skip To A New Startup

Skip co-founder and CEO Sanjay Dastoor

“We noticed that small personal portable electric vehicles weren’t only awesome alone” but as an option alongside ridesharing, ridepooling, and car ownership, says Dastoor. “The future of transportation is a combination of these.”

Boosted co-founder Matt Tran left the company two years ago, while Dastoor exited a year ago. They wanted to try an electric vehicle service model, but “Boosted wasn’t really the right place to do that, because the company is still focused on building great hardware for people to buy.” Tran was running marketing and also craved his engineering roots. So together with Mike Wadhera, a founding team member of Involver which sold to Oracle, they formed Waybots.

Last summer, the company tried out a docked scooter sharing model in SF, but didn’t see great results. When they got accepted to YC, like Boosted before it, they started experimenting with a dockless version. Meanwhile, Washington D.C. had opened a pilot program for permitted dockless bikeshare, and Waybots convinced the city to give it the greenlight too. Those scooters now have Skip branding slapped on.

“We’re the first permitted [dockless electric scooter] system operating anywhere” Dastoor believes. “A lot of the story around dockless scooters has come from SF, and from companies that have launched without informing anyone or working with anyone.” That’s led SF to ban unpermitted dockless scooter rentals. “What we saw in DC was the opposite. We’re working with the cities to deploy, share data with them, and engage with the community, and we’ve seen none of the backlash that we’ve seen in SF.” Still, the startup wouldn’t guarantee it won’t go rogue and launch unpermitted in the future.

As for why Ohanian chose to fund Skip amongst the slew of scooter startups, he tells me “I’ve been looking for an answer that is going to be a high-quality, collaborative, and sustainable solution to the urban congestion crisis that is already upon us (and getting worse) — then Sanjay told me about Skip. Here was not only a last-mile solution, but also a company providing it that understands how to work with cities as well as deliver a best-in-class software and hardware experience.”

Designed To Deter Complaints

Skip could get along better with cities because it’s built the scooters to discourage a lot of the most annoying scooter behaviors. The Speedway Mini4 36V 21Ah scooters Skip modifies can get up to 30 miles at 10mph per charge, which means they’re less likely to have dead batteries by the afternoon like the useless vehicles-turned-paperweights from competitors that I commonly stumble across in SF. To keep them charged and off the streets at night, Skip has a crowdsourced charging program where people can get paid to pick up, plug in at home, and drop off scooters.

The durable hardware is meant to need less service so you’re less likely to rent a broken, or worse, half-broken-but-I’m-late-so-I’ll-ride-it-anyway scooter. You can adjust the handlebar height, they go up to 18mph and dual-suspension flattens road bumps.

As for keeping Skips from getting strewn in the sidewalks and obstructing pedestrians, Dastoor claims his company’s vehicles have more precise location tracking than competitors. That could help it tell the edge of a build from the center of the walkway. Combined with requiring users to photograph the scooter standing upright, and hardware in the vehicles, Skip is hoping to force users to park them properly. “They have to have the intelligence in them to give info back to the city or back to the operator to make sure they operating correctly” Dastoor says.

Unfortunately, Skip hasn’t solved the lack of helmets problem. Dastoor tells me “We’ve been looking at a bunch of ways to improve access to helmets” but for now there’s no on-vehicle compartment for them and the company merely encourages users to wear them.

Personally, I think that’s crap. Sure, Citi Bike and other scooter companies don’t offer them either. But if these are meant to be serendipitously rented for short periods, it’s crazy to think anyone other than regular commuters will bring their own helmets. I think cities should demand them. And if they don’t, an inevitable scooter fatality that could have been prevented will make permitters more cautious. At least Skip says you have to be over 18 and plans to add ID verification for that soon.

“I don’t really have a comment about our unit economics” Dastoor sidestepped, but notes how much cheaper a $1.50 or $3 ride is than hailing a car. We’ll have to see if competition spurs a scooter price war. For now, though, the well-equipped Skips have led customers to “want to use it over and over.” Still, with Lime reportedly trying to raise $500 million and Bird recently closing $100 million as they race to invade the world, Skip is starting late with a much smaller piggybank.

Competition aside, Dastoor cites maintaining relationships with cities as the startup’s biggest threat. Luckily, he says it will soon announce some big-name talent with experience here. I expect it’s hired someone like former Uber policy chief David Plouffe who already has connections.

Scoot To The Future

Where the dockless vechicle rental market goes is a mystery. Maybe it turns into a fundraising war, with the most aggressive deployers locking up markets, and the losers vaporizing in giant money bonfires. Maybe the cities get fed up, kick out the unpermitted, and only issue approvals to those with the best glad-handing or the best safety. Maybe users get tons of options on price, quality, and availability to choose from.

But absent the bad behavior spurring backlash, many who try dockless electric scooter and bike rentals love them. With traffic-jammed city streets and scarce parking, we could use ways to get cars off the road.

Eventually, I think we’ll see a ton of short rideshare trips turn into scooter cruises. And at today’s super low price point, walking could turn into a luxury depending on how you value your time. Even at minimum wage, you might save money paying $1.75 for a five-minute, one-mile Skip rather than walking for 20. Dastoor concludes, “It becomes part of their transportation routine and I think anything that does that is around to stay.”

San Francisco will regulate electric scooter sharing

Electric push scooters have recently hit the streets of San Francisco. Over the last couple of weeks, LimeBike deployed some scooters in conjunction with local festivities in the city. And just yesterday, Bird launched its scooters in San Francisco. Spin has also deployed some scooters in the city. As it stands today, these scooters from companies like LimeBike, Spin and Bird are currently operating in a bit of a legal gray area.

That’s why the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is currently looking to create legislation, in collaboration with SF Supervisor Aaron Peskin, to “create appropriate permits and requirements to regulate motorized scooter sharing in the public right-of-way,” an SFMTA spokesperson told TechCrunch. “In the meantime, shared scooters are not explicitly covered in the Transportation Code.”

In separate letters to Spin, LimeBike and Bird today, the SFMTA let each company know it is aware they have respectively placed shared electric scooters on the sidewalks.

“As you may know, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is developing a permitting program for motorized scooter sharing systems,” SFMTA Director of Transportation Edward Reiskin wrote in the letter. “We request your cooperation as we finalize the legislation and permit application.”

The SFMTA is asking each company for their respective business plans, detailing how they will comply with the city’s requirements around the use of sidewalks, plazas and other public spaces. The SFMTA also wants the plans to describe if and how the scooters will use any bike racks or other existing infrastructure, if there will be any new types of infrastructure built, how it will ensure there’s not over-concentration of scooters in one area, how many scooters the companies plan to deploy and how the companies will ensure the scooters are maintained.

“We will not tolerate any business model that results in obstruction of the public right of way or poses a safety hazard,” Reiskin wrote.

Since these companies have already deployed their scooters, the SFMTA is asking to receive a response by the end of next week. While scooter sharing isn’t explicitly outlined in the city’s transportation code, it is illegal to place a scooter in a way that obstructs the sidewalk, the SFMTA spokesperson said. It’s also illegal to ride these scooters on sidewalks, and ride them without a helmet.

“The SFMTA would urge any potential operators of new transportation services to work closely with the SFMTA prior to launching a new program,” the spokesperson said. “While we welcome improved mobility options, we want to carefully consider the potential benefits and impacts of any new private transportation service to ensure that it serves the public interest.”

LimeBike, which unveiled its scooters last month, has been in communication with elected officials and the SFMTA, noting that there are no city ordinances that prohibit a shared scooter system in the city, a LimeBike spokesperson told TechCrunch. While the city works to regulate scooter sharing, LimeBike says it is a limited pop-up program.

“As a Bay Area headquartered company, LimeBike is fully committed to ensuring we are positive contributors to San Francisco,” the spokesperson said. “We are excited to continue working with the SFMTA, Board of Supervisors and community as the formal permit process is developed, to identify mobility solutions that meet the City’s equity goals and help connect all parts of the city.”

A JUMP bike alongside a Bird scooter in San Francisco

Earlier this year, the SFMTA granted an exclusive, 18-month permit to electric bike-sharing startup JUMP. The program is designed to enable the SFMTA to collect data and assess if a program like this will work in the long-term. Similar to what the SFMTA did around car sharing, the aim is to better understand the needs and impacts of this type of mobility service.

I’ve reached out to Spin and Bird and will update this story if I hear back.

This former Uber (and Lyft) exec just raised $15 million for his controversial e-scooter startup: Bird

Travis VanderZanden. If you’ve been following the fast-changing transportation industry, it’s a name that may sound familiar. Until September 2016, VanderZanden was VP of growth at Uber and before that, COO of its fierce rival Lyft, which had acquired his on-demand car wash company, Cherry, in 2013.

It was a dramatic few years for VanderZanden, once he joined the ride-hailing race. Not only were his employers experiencing growing pains, but Lyft sued him for allegedly breaking a confidentiality agreement when he joined Uber, with the two sides later settling for undisclosed terms. Little wonder that after leaving Uber, VanderZanden wanted to take some time off to decompress with his wife and two daughters.

That was the idea, anyway. The thing is, VanderZanden, whose mother drove a public bus for 30 years, says he couldn’t stop thinking about transportation. Within six months, he was testing out different short-range electric vehicles. By last summer, he’d quietly launched his newest company, Bird.

Now, VanderZanden’s dockless electric scooter company is the talk of Santa Monica, Ca., where it’s based. That’s largely because over the last six months, Bird has plunked roughly 1,000 “Birds” on the streets of the city — and people are riding them: 50,000 people so far have taken 250,000 rides, he says.

But Bird, which just moved into Westwood and is easing its way into San Diego, also has local officials in all three places somewhat flummoxed — and not entirely delighted. A Washington Post piece published earlier this week characterized Santa Monica Mayor Ted Winterer as highly irked that VanderZanden reached out to him — via a LinkedIn message — after putting Bird’s scooters on the streets.

The message reportedly offered to introduce Winterer to Bird’s “exciting new mobility strategy for Santa Monica.”  Winterer says he responded: “If you’re talking about those scooters that are out there already, there are some legal issues we have to discuss.”

Legal issues and other complications, as it turns out. For example, according to that same post story, local police officers issued 97 citations involving Bird scooters in the first six weeks of this year; the city’s fire department has responded to eight related accidents, some including minors and adults; and according to a senior marketing and communications manager for downtown Santa Monica, there have been been numerous complaints of the scooters being left in front of doorways, in the middle of driveways and on wheelchair ramps.

Despite outward appearances, VanderZanden insists he hasn’t stolen from the playbook of his last employer, which under the leadership of longtime CEO Travis Kalanick taught employees to ask forgiveness — not permission.

He paints a rosier picture of that exchange with Winterer, for example, telling TechCrunch that the “first week we put Birds out in the wild [in early September], I emailed the mayor directly about how excited we were and the impact we thought we could have.”

Bird employees have since met with Santa Monica’s director of transportation and mobility and had “a series of really productive conversations,” says VanderZanden, noting that with “any new innovation, you have to work with the city to figure out how you best fit into the regulatory model.”

In Bird’s case, he says there isn’t an existing permit scheme currently, though the city plainly disagrees. It filed a criminal complaint last month, citing Bird’s failure to obtain the same kind of permit it asks food vendors to secure; the two sides meet in court later this month.

Naturally, VanderZanden thinks the focus instead should be on the benefits of Bird’s scooters, which can be used by anyone over the age of 18 who has a valid driver’s license, who agrees to wear a helmet,  and who will stay off the sidewalk (not that Bird can enforce the last two).

For starters, they are cheap to use, he notes. In addition to a driver’s license, new customers need only plug a credit card number into the app. After that, it’s $1 per ride, plus 15 cents per minute, and riders can go as far as the scooter’s electric charge will take them at a top speed of 15 miles per hour. VanderZanden says some have made it to LAX. Others have ridden from Santa Monica into downtown L.A.

VanderZanden says that Bird is willing to share some of the data it’s collecting with cities. “We really want to work with cities and go in early with figure out how Bird best fits in. We realize we’re just one part of the transportation puzzle.”

VanderZanden, who says Bird ships riders free helmets when they request one from the app, also says it does its best to educate riders, including on where to park Birds (near bike racks, ideally), where to ride them (bike lanes), and via stickers that it plasters on the floorboards of the scooters that list safety regulations.

He stresses, too, that Bird employees begin collecting the scooters at 8 p.m. every night, clearing all of them off the street and only returning them to the fronts of coffee shops and other local businesses — at their own request, he says — by 6 a.m. the next day.

As for what happens if someone when injured, we gather that Bird pays if one of its scooters breaks on someone but not if a rider is being reckless. VanderZanden declines to get into specifics, offering instead that, “Every mode of transportation is dangerous . . . but you can’t protect against people not obeying traffic laws.”

At any rate, investors don’t mind at all that Bird is still figuring things out. It just closed on $15 million in Series A funding, including from Tusk Ventures, Valor, Lead Edge Capital, and Goldcrest Capital.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the round was led by Craft Ventures, the new venture fund cofounded by serial entrepreneur David Sacks. Before Cherry (and Lyft and Uber), VanderZanden was VP of revenue at the enterprise software company Yammer, where Sacks was cofounder and CEO. In fact, when VanderZanden left to start Cherry, Sacks wrote him a check for $500,000 — the biggest check Sacks had written to a single company as an angel investor at that point.

Indeed, if the company starts looking for another round of funding very soon, it will be even less surprising. While VanderZanden calls Bird “first to do dockless electric scooters,” competition is springing up around it — fast.

Last week, Spin, a dockless bike-sharing company that brought its wares to South San Francisco last August, announced that it’s working to launch stationless electric-scooter sharing. Two days later, LimeBike, a Spin competitor, similarly revealed plans to build its own dockless electric scooters. Bird’s own scooters are made via an exclusive manufacturing agreement with an unnamed company.

It’s the kind of battle that VanderZanden has seen before and seems prepared to fight — though he takes a far softer tone publicly than the famously combative Kalanick.

“People are taking notice of how quickly Bird is growing and they want to pivot in and clone us,” says VanderZanden. Yes, that could eventually create clutter for cities, he acknowledges. Still, it’s better than all the greenhouse gases being generated by cars and trucks.

“Preventing car ownership is the goal of all these companies,” he says. ” I think if all of us are successful, that’s fine.”