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Bird: Dockless electric scooter startup raises $15 million for US expansion


bird scooterBird

  • Electric scooter rental startup Bird has raised $15
    million to expand throughout the US.
  • It launched in September 2017 in Santa Monica,
    California, and has already been hit with a criminal complaint
    by the city.
  • Dockless bikes have caused some disruption in cities,
    but Bird argues that it’s different.

SAN FRANCISCO — An electric scooter rental startup led by a
former Uber and Lyft executive that has caused chaos in Santa
Monica has landed $15 million in funding to expand across the US.

Bird is a Californian startup that lets customers rent dockless
electric scooters (or “birds”) with the tap of an app then leave
them on the street when they’re done. It first launched in Santa
Monica, a city in Los Angeles County, in September 2017 —
sparking disruption, hundreds of traffic stops, and a criminal
complaint against the startup and its founder.

The startup has since expanded to a number of other
neighbourhoods in Los Angeles and San Diego, and on Tuesday
announced it has raised $15 million in venture capital funding
led by Craft Ventures to fund its expansion throughout the US.

It currently has 50,000 active users, the company says, and has
already seen 250,000 rides on its platform. (It isn’t disclosing
its valuation or revenues.) By the end of 2017, the startup aims
to be in the region of 50 markets throughout the US, founder and
CEO Travis VanderZanden told Business Insider.

But Bird’s roll-out thus far hasn’t been entirely smooth.

‘I think ultimately we all agree Bird is a good thing for the
city’

The first the mayor of Santa Monica heard of Bird’s scooters was
when VanderZanden sent him a message on LinkedIn after they had
launched,
The Washington Post previously reported, and the city has since
filed a criminal complaint against the startup over its failure
to obtain a permit
.

“These scooters literally just began showing up on our streets
last fall,” Santa Monica director of policy Anuj Gupta, Santa
Monica told the paper. “The challenge is that they decided to
launch first and figure it out later.”

Asked if he thinks Bird made mistakes with its launch,
VanderZanden answered carefully: “Our approach is to work with
cities very early on in the process, so we reached out, started a
dialogue with Santa Monica the week we actually launched … any
time there’s new innovation it’s never clear exactly where you
fit into the permitting and regulatory scheme.”

He added: “I’m happy to say in the last month we’ve made a ton of
progress working with the city of Santa Monica … Santa Monica
is an environmentally friendly city. I think ultimately we all
agree Bird is a good thing for the city.”

Dockless bikes have caused mayhem — but Bird argues it’s
different

Dockless bicycles booked via an app are growing fast in
popularity, pushed by a new flock of transportation startups.
They give city-goers a new, healthy, and environmentally friendly
way to get around, advocates argue, and can be left wherever’s
convenient once the user is finished with them, ready for the
next customer.

But their rapid proliferation has caused headaches for some
cities,
as they clutter up public spaces and sidewalks, making it harder
for people to get around
— particularly those with access
needs or in wheelchairs.

VanderZanden argues that Bird’s scooters are unlikely to cause
many problems. This is because they’re in use nearly constantly,
he says, and are collected up by the company at the end of every
day to be recharged before being redistributed to pre-arranged
spots on private property.

A more pressing concern for the startup may be safety,
with a reported 281 traffic stops, 97 citations, and eight
accidents in Santa Monica throughout January 2018
. The CEO
said he wouldn’t comment on the numbers, but pointed out that
Bird will offer free helmets to users via its app. (Electric
scooter users who ride their vehicles on the roads in California
are required by law to wear a helmet. Bird has posted photos
and
videos to its Instagram account
of people using its scooters
on the roads without helmets.)

“On a percentage basis, we actually think Bird is one of the
safest ways to get around town,” he said.

There’s a whole lot of ex-Uber and Lyft employees on the team

Bird’s team is heavily comprised of former employees of on demand
transportation firms like Lyft and Uber. VanderZanden served as
the first COO of Lyft and the vice president of driver growth at
Uber.

VP of operations Stephen Schnell previously worked at Lyft, as
did head of growth Ryan Fujiu, and head of launch Ryan Hupfer. VP
of corporate development Sean Sires previously worked for Uber.

With $15 million in their pocket, the team is hoping to bring
their scooters to dozens more American cities throughout 2018 —
just, don’t call them scooters.

The CEO prefers the term “birds” for the vehicles, he explained:
“We don’t really like the word scooter, … it’s kind of used as
a kids toy, almost. And what we have is almost like a mini Tesla
… it’s a lot more sophisticated, and it’s a great tool to move
people around cities.”


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