Who Will Win LA's E-scooter Wars?
Los Angeles — it’s not just beautiful weather, traffic and the Hollywood Walk of Fame — it’s also the largest shared micromobility market in the U.S. with six operators permitted to deploy up to 6,000 vehicles each.
And despite the open market policy, the competition shows no signs of slowing down.
In June, Santa Monica-based scooter startup Veo expanded east from Santa Monica into L.A. Newcomer TukTuk launched in November. Bird, which went public via SPAC in 2021, announced in December that it was merging with Bird Canada after revealing that it had overstated revenues for the last 2.5 years and might not have enough cash to survive. Spin was acquired by Tier in March and pulled out of L.A. by the end of the year, close on the heels of Lyft, which left L.A. and Santa Monica. Meanwhile, Wheels was acquired by Helbiz and dropped out of both Culver City and West Hollywood (it is still operating in L.A.).
With six companies still in the running and Bird’s growth-at-all-costs strategy over, is it possible that a smaller player will win the City of Angels? We present four dark horse contenders.
Superpedestrian: The Second Mover Advantage
Cambridge-based Superpedestrian was founded in 2013 out of an MIT research lab and got its start building an electrified wheel to turn any bike into an e-bike. The company first launched its e-scooters in 2020 and in Los Angeles in 2021.
The privately-held company has emphasized city relations and safety over rapid growth.
Though hardly small —it operates in 60 cities in the U.S. and Europe — the company joined the industry late in the game, something it calls the “second mover advantage.” Focusing on technology that solved some of shared micromobility’s biggest pain points, like sidewalk riding, Superpedestrian could zig where Bird and Lime zagged. Though so far, Superpedestrian has rolled out its pedestrian defense technology only in Chicago.
“Micromobility has had big names attached to it from Uber and Lyft to Ford,” said Zach Williams, director of policy and government partnerships for Superpedestrian. “But I think the reality is that at their core, these businesses are or should be somewhat boring and behind-the-scenes. They're logistics businesses where you move stuff around cities as effectively and efficiently as possible.”
Williams declined to say whether the company has achieved profitability in L.A., but said that he is “cautiously optimistic” about the future.
Boaz Bikes: Black-owned and Community-funded
Boaz Bikes, which is based in Dallas and currently operates in six markets, is raising funds to launch in L.A. in April.
“L.A. is the city that other cities look to,” CEO Emil Nnani told dot.LA. “Which is absolutely crazy. But they look to L.A. and they say, ‘Okay, what is L.A. doing?’”
Nnani founded Boaz Bikes in 2018 after seeing how dangerous e-scooters could be. “I knew that safety was going to be a huge issue. And coming from a mechanical background, I just knew I could create a safer model.”
Boaz primarily deploys seated scooters, which some operators say is the safer option compared to traditional standing scooters due to the lower center of gravity, though there are limited studies comparing the safety of seated versus standing scooters. And instead of deploying only in affluent downtown areas, Boaz focuses on transit deserts where mobility options can be few and far between.
“I feel like we have a head start in this space since… we had no choice but to build a cash flow positive model due to the lack of funding,” said Nnani.
Adding, however, that the company is cash flow positive during the busy summer months, but operating at a loss due to the slower winter months.
That said, Prabin Joel Jones, ex-CTO of Bond Mobility and founder of Freshkart, told dot.LA that he’s doubtful that any of the current players in the market have achieved profitability.
“For any new venture like shared e-scooters, at the beginning, you do absolutely have to burn cash to expand,” he said. “...But it cannot sustain for a very long time. You will absolutely have to find your path to profitability as soon as possible.”
Unlike the competition, Boaz is crowdfunding its next raise at $1.94 per share.
As for competing with bigger players, Nnani pointed out that Spin left not only L.A. but also Detroit last year, one of Boaz’s strongest markets.
“We already operate at a level of excellence compared to our competitors, so we already know that we're going to beat out our competitors [in L.A.]. And, you know, hopefully force them to leave the market as well.”
TukTuk: A Self-made Scooter Entrepreneur
New arrival TukTuk, funded wholly by founder and CEO Yahya Dabbagh, might herald a new age of the self-made owner-operator who doesn’t rely on VC funding.
Although the company was first founded in 2019 with test launches in L.A. and Ventura county, TukTuk took a long pause during the pandemic and only re-launched in Los Angeles in November with 2,000 scooters.
The new operator might be small, but Dabbagh told dot.LA he sees an opportunity in the market in neighborhoods that have less competition.
“So we'll be sure to go to some areas of [the] city [which] will be low competition or nobody — or one or two max,” he said. Operators tend to congregate in more lucrative areas like Venice and Hollywood, meaning that in some neighborhoods, TukTuk could be at an advantage.
In addition, unlike Bird or Lime, the company doesn’t have to worry about a bloated HQ driving down revenues. TukTuk operates out of a storefront warehouse in Palms and doesn’t have 100s, 1,000s or even 10s of employees which helps it cut down on overhead costs.
But what if you could go even smaller? The rise of the independent operator model where one person owns and manages a fleet of 100s of independently sourced e-bikes or e-scooters could be the future.
According to Vince Cifani, CEO and cofounder of micromobility platform Joyride, his company speaks to Bird fleet managers every single day who want to switch over to an independent operator model. Fleet managers are classified as independent contractors and do not own the vehicles — which means they also take home only a share of the profits.
So why can’t a fleet manager who is already managing their own fleet simply buy and brand their own scooters and take home all of the profits?
Joyride is offering independent operators the tools to do just that, giving scooter entrepreneurs access to the technology component and even helping existing customers finance their vehicles.
“Nothing beats operations experience,” said Cifani. “You have to be on the ground… moving heavy vehicles, carrying them into trucks. And so at the end of the day, it’s an ops game.”
Cifani estimates that independent operators need about $200,000 to $300,000 to launch their own business.
Could Bird fleet managers — who already manage a small fleet of vehicles and are paying a portion of their profits to Bird — simply own and operate their own e-scooters?
Maybe.Though Los Angeles could be a tough market for smaller operators to compete with the fees required by the city of L.A. and the high cost of insurance.
Either way, as 2023 unfolds, new winners and losers will emerge in Los Angeles with ripple effects throughout the global shared micromobility market.
“[Los Angeles] is such a proving ground,” said Superpedestrian’s Zach Williams. “We just know if we can make it work there, we can make it work anywhere.”
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