The winter came. It came together with snowy sidewalks, cold weather and more news about investors’ chilling interest in scooter-sharing companies. More precisely, VCs are very cautious about startups’ financials. Vandalism, government regulations, charger fraud — these factors pose a significant threat to the bottom line and the whole phenomenon of electric scooters. But initially, expectations were much more optimistic.
Envisioned in sci-fi
If you take a wider perspective, electric scooters are the reincarnation of self-moving walkways envisioned by sci-fi writers 100 years ago: efficient and sustainable transportation mechanism, a commodity available to everyone at any time. Out of all transport that humankind has invented (apart from airport walkways), electric scooters are the closest to self-moving roads. By stepping on a scooter, user practically steps on a moving platform that gets her from point A to point B in a matter of minutes.
No matter the weather or time of the day, the idea of the service is to run and provide people with value at an acceptable price. And if you have a moving walkway on your street, the government can’t make you put it at home for a night. It’s always outside, always working and reliably transporting people. Sounds too good to be true, but this is the world scooter companies are trying to build.
Threat coming from everywhere
While we can spend a lot of time dreaming about moving walkways in distant 2050s, the harsh reality meets electric scooters with hostile cities. Surprisingly, there are so many factors influencing your business when you run it in a real world!
One of the most discussed problems is government regulations and vandalism. The first one, albeit a tremendous problem in the short-term, should start to vanish in 2019, as scooter startups are starting to present successful case-studies showing significant benefits to municipalities. The momentum is going to be reinforced by a soon-to-be-announced association of micromobility companies, jointly lobbying for better regulations in the new markets.
Vandalism and missing scooters are more of a financial problem. If vehicles get systematically destroyed before breaking even, the business won’t run long. Bird and Lime already introduced their sturdy custom-made scooters, however, it’s not clear how they will affect the bottom line. If Bird was spending $550 on its $300 Xiaomi scooters, how much does the new Zero model cost?
Lime, while expected to roll out fresh sturdy Gen 3 scooters, decided to put on the streets a totally different model, manufactured by a no-name Chinese firm. Weird move, but Ok.
Missing scooters problem got to a whole new level with a $32 kit to convert shared Bird scooter in a personal one. The same source also published ways to “privatize” Lime scooters. That issue is expected to be solved with the arrival of custom-made vehicles.
Stealing a scooter is bad for its company, but buying one is not beneficial either. Retention is the best-kept secret of micromobility sector for a reason: while it was expected that a lot of people will use scooters for commuting, they actually did this. They did it once, they did it twice, three times … and then their personal scooter arrived from Amazon, ending the stream of recurring revenue flowing to the scooter company.
Even though companies are trying to adjust their prices to local markets, their huge costs don’t allow to do it properly. That’s why we have a situation when the average employed person can have:
12 thousand rides in Seattle, USA
3 thousand rides in Wroclaw, Poland
4 thousand rides in Zaragoza, Spain
Per year with a gross salary.
Such a pricing strategy creates a conflict out of nothing — one brand with identical marketing and positioning is a premium tool in one country and a commodity in another.
Communicating the value
In my first escooter article I was wondering if people would still use scooter-sharing services when they calculate that it costs $2500 a year to commute with them. Micromobility ecosystem still doesn’t have an answer for that, and that’s the problem of both Marketing and Operations departments.
Users simply don’t recognize that they are paying for mobility and opportunity of not taking care of their scooter. It’s unclear how cool it is NOT to take the vehicle in the metro, or how convenient it is to come to work by bus and go back on a scooter. Only after buying one for themselves, people realize the benefits of the sharing model. But they won’t go back after shelling out $600-$1200.
An electric scooter is not a classic technology product. Although Apple iPhone costs $1000 both in the US and in Mongolia, there is always a cheaper option from Oppo for $100. Such a variety of pricing options is not the case for scooter sharing market and this is not going to change soon.
Lime was testing the subscription model called Lime Prime, but the tests have ended months ago. And since we haven’t seen the results, we can assume it was a failure, probably caused by huge charging costs.
Problems with the current model
Currently, it costs about $4–$9 to charge a scooter by contractors — an incredibly high number for 3 mid-range city trips. Can you imagine the bus driver getting $1.5–$3 from each of his passengers during the day?
With a shrinking bounty, charger market transforms from individual actors, collecting 3–4 scooters every other day, into organized teams putting a serious effort in their job. They optimize routes and craft own instruments in order to capture as many scooters as possible in 7 hours that they spend on this “side gig” daily. Isn’t it a sign from the Invisible Hand of the market?
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how effective are chargers, since a part-time contractor will never reach an efficiency of the full-time employee.
As we start talking about real problems and solutions, the excitement goes down. Check the famous Gartner Hype Cycle in 2018. Micromobility hype was so sudden and the progress was so fast, that no edition of the chart includes it. Scooters are a huge leap, but the process of service improvement is far from being done. So I’m introducing you to another important step in the evolution of electric scooters: efficient charging.
Bearing in mind all the problems affecting the financial stability of companies, I came up with a model based on new scooters with swappable batteries. Replacing all juicers and chargers with full-time employees allows the company to improve efficiency, take control of its city, reduce costs and offer more stable jobs. This win-win model can be 100% vertically integrated, as well as used in a global transportation franchise.
This autumn a lot of scooter companies were focusing on Spain, so calculations were done based on this country.
The first new element of the model is the scooter. That vehicle is similar to the one used by Neuron Mobility, Singapore-based startup that launched e-scooter sharing service before Bird. Their dockless scooter lasts 40km and has a swappable battery.
In the proposed model, employees on cargo electric bikes are replacing the batteries in the majority of vehicles every day, while in some of them they change the battery twice a day for operational effectiveness. Same people rebalance 10% of the vehicles in the city.
Cargo e-bikes from China start at $500, but, in the proposed model, a long-lasting solution costs $2000.