Business

Another scooter company? Yes — but hometown player Bolt believes there’s room to ride

Miami Beach-based Bolt Mobility launched in Miami in April as part of the city’s District 2 downtown pilot program.
Miami Beach-based Bolt Mobility launched in Miami in April as part of the city’s District 2 downtown pilot program. Bolt

Bird. Lime. Jump.

Pick a four-letter word in 2019, and there’s a good chance it’s also the name of an electric scooter rental company.

Now, a Miami Beach-based outfit is riding into the market, on the belief that there is still plenty of demand for two-wheelers to go around.

And yes, it too has a four-letter name.

Bolt, officially known as Bolt Mobility, was founded in March 2018 by entrepreneurs Kamyar Kaviani and Sarah Haynes, with investment from Miami-based firm Rokk3r Fuel and California investment group The Yucaipa Companies, founded by billionaire Ron Burkle. It launched in Fort Lauderdale and Northern Virginia in March and, with the start of the City of Miami’s District 2 pilot project in April, Miami.

Its brand ambassador is, of course, Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt

A city spokesman said data on ridership levels for the pilot had not yet been compiled. So far, Miami has recorded only one claim of a person falling off his scooter. There have been no other reported accidents or injuries, the city said. A bill signed Tuesday by Gov. Ron DeSantis made scooters legal throughout Florida.

In an interview, Will Nicholas, Bolt’s executive vice president of operations, said Florida’s low-tax environment proved key in deciding where to open up shop.

“The [talent] bubble is bursting in the Bay Area,” Nicholas said in an interview. “Not all engineers have to reside there — or New York for that matter. There are a lot of compelling reasons to live in Florida for that group, both culturally and financially.”

The company currently has more than 20 employees at its headquarters in Miami Beach. All workers — including members of its street-charging team — are hired directly by the company. (Some other companies use contractors.)

Bolt declined to state revenues or ridership. But company reps say the fact that it is already an exclusive provider in a large city, namely Richmond, Va., makes it a legitimate competitor to the scooter giants like Bird, which has been valued at $1 billion.

“We’re doing the grassroots work to make ourselves the best option for cities,” Nicholas said.

Bolt’s business proposition resembles its competitors’: central business districts are being revitalized. And as investment in public transit languishes, electric scooters are uniquely positioned to capitalize on the trend. They are cheaper than a car, more predictable than ride-sharing apps, and in most cases leave riders less sweaty than a bike — a major asset in sunnier climes.

But what makes Bolt’s scooters stand out from the flock?

Nicholas points to a handful of attributes. Unlike most scooters, Bolt’s footholds are located on either side of the riding board, which the company says allows for greater balance — and, in theory, a safer ride. Bolt’s software is also designed so you don’t have to take a picture of the scooter after you park it.

Oh, and the scooters come with cup holders.

Reviews of Bolt’s software on Apple are largely positive, with a 4.3 rating out of 5, though there are a few complaints about glitches. The company actively responds to reviewers that have flagged issues.

Bolt’s lack of presence on the U.S. West Coast has made it less well-known than its competitors in the tech press; neither Wired magazine nor TechCrunch.com has covered it. Harry Campbell, a respected gig economy blogger and founder of TheRideShareGuy.com, said he knows Bolt thanks to its gold-medalist spokesman.

Riding a Bolt costs $1 to activate, plus $0.15 per minute — the standard rate for most scooter companies. But scootering is a low-margin businesses: An estimate published on Forbes.com suggests an operating cost to a company of about $3 per ride. A Miami Herald reporter’s recent Bolt trip of 0.93 miles cost $1.75, meaning a company like Bolt may lose money on a given ride.

Bolt says it is currently cash-flow positive in most of its cities. Jeff Ransdell, the Miami-based managing director of Rokk3r Fuel, believes Bolt is here to stay.

“The e-scooter industry has grown a lot in recent years, with different players entering the field and prompting some to ask: How many of these companies do consumers really need?” he asked rhetorically in a statement. “As a strategic investor in Bolt, I’m biased, but I’m bullish on the micromobility space because of the massive need urban dwellers all over the country, especially Miami, have for reliable, affordable transportation options.”

This story has been updated.

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