3 Takeaways from the Scooter Revolution for Startup Founders
What startups can learn about disruption and innovation from the dockless two-wheeler revolution
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
If you live in a major metropolitan city then you've seen them, zipping past you on a busy street, laying in a heap on the sidewalk in front of your house or waiting outside your favorite coffee shop. That's right, the scooter revolution is upon us. The two biggest players, Bird and Lime, have dropped thousands of the dockless, electric two-wheelers in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles as well as smaller metros like Detroit, Denver, Salt Lake City, and the list goes on. While the hype is definitely being felt across the country, this popularity hasn't come without its challenges, particularly from a legal perspective.
Founders often struggle with how to best launch their products and with about a million trains of thought, it can be hard to know where to start but a lot can be learned from from Bird and Lime's success and challenges.
Ask yourself is the hype worth the risk?
When you Google "Lime" or "Bird" the majority of coverage you see talks about a general shock and awe storyline, outlining how these companies deposited hundreds of scooters in cities across the country "seemingly overnight." No official roll out, countdown or launch party. No social media campaigns or influencer integration, just "poof!" and they were there. While consumers (especially in younger demographics) were seemingly thrilled to try out the new, low-friction mode of transport, others (particularly city officials) were dumbfounded that a company would take such a risk in introducing a new product so abruptly.
Unfortunately for Lime and Bird, many cities fought back. Denver, only a 30-minute drive from the Techstars offices, very quickly took legal action forcing all the scooters to be removed shortly after they flew in. It appears the scooters are following the Uber/Lyft model under the assumption that rapid adoption will give way to eventual acceptance of a "new normal" and force cities to strike a deal to leave the scooters.
So what's the lesson here for entrepreneurs? While advocating breaking the law is usually not in your best business interest, it seems the ask for forgiveness rather than permission model is working for these companies. They've decided that the payoff in public attention was worth the risks of legal recourse and it appears to be paying off, at least for now while consumer demand is high.
But how do you make similar decisions when you're considering how to introduce your company to the market? Whether you're offering will disrupt the status quo or simply improve an existing product, these decisions are important. My advice is to seek out a mentor, or two or as many as you can talk to. We've seen mentors make a tremendous impact on countless companies here at Techstars, whether it's how to take a product to market or even flipping what you thought might be the best business model on it's head to companies that completely pivoted as a result of valuable mentorship relationships. Getting advice from peers that have experienced both success, and failure is vitally important and allows you to learn from the collective backgrounds of those who have already learned important entrepreneurial lessons.
Sometimes the model is more important than the product
What's clear with the success of companies fueling "scootermania" is that this new business model is clearly solving a pain point for consumers. The scooters themselves are hardly innovative, in fact they are pretty basic in our modern, technology-powered world, but what is innovative is the business mode they're built on. By removing nearly all of the friction for the rider, companies like Lime and Bird are proving that there's immense opportunity for investment in ubiquitous transportation. As transportation, especially in big cities, get increasingly challenging and expensive, these alternative methods could be the silver bullet to public transportation adoption--solving the first mile, last mile challenge that has plagued city developers and public transportation advocates for years.
As with any major shift in culture or behavior, there are growing pains, and in this case those may be real pains from falling off said scooter or tripping over one in your driveway, but nonetheless important lessons as we look to continue innovating to improve our daily lives. And sometimes even the bad kids on the block can provide insight into how pushing the envelope can ultimately pay off.