Sanjay Dastoor wanted a skateboard with a motor. He ended up in the race to corner the e-scooter market.
The founder of Skip—one of three electronic scooter companies on Portland's streets—plunged into the startup scene shortly after earning his master's degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford. In 2011, Dastoor wooed the tech world with Boosted—a motorized longboard startup.
"We were looking for a fun way to get around campus," Dastoor tells WW. "We started engaging with electric vehicles in the bike lane: things that go fast, are lightweight and cover a segment not covered by cars."
Last year, he jumped into the scooter game. Skip has what may be the fastest machines in the business and the most respectful approach to government regulators.
Skip's fundraising efforts fall millions of dollars short of competitors Bird's and Lime's, reports TechCrunch. And whereas Lime operates in 75 cities, Skip has deployed rides in only five.
But Dastoor says the measured approach is intentional. He worked carefully to craft a permit with Washington, D.C.—the first city Skip launched in—after watching other companies like Lime and Bird arrive in metro areas unannounced.
In Portland, Dastoor says, "People were excited before we even launched, because it wasn't a surprise. The response so far has been really positive. Scooters here haven't seen the same kind of backlash they have in San Francisco."
WW spoke with Dastoor about how Portland's pilot program compares to operations in other cities, what the competition in Silicon Valley is like, and how many parking spaces should be removed to make way for scooters.
WW: What do you make of the criticism that e-scooters are just "toys for tech bros"?
Sanjay Dastoor: We see that a lot, and the data just doesn't support it. Looking at the data, we see a different picture in terms of age, income brackets, types of jobs people have, the split between men and women riders—that really run counter to the narrative that this is a tech-bro product. There might be overlap, but [scooters] are really designed for everyone to use.
What about the charge that people are "too stupid" for dockless ride share? The complaints are all about people riding on the sidewalks, or the wrong way.
I'd say it's still early. If you look up news articles about cars from the 1900s, you'll see similar complaints. It's been the same with bikes, mopeds, Vespas—it's part of how any new transit system is looked at. Overall, we are optimistic about people—and investing in education for riders so that responsible ridership becomes habit.
The rap on scooters is they clog up sidewalks. What's the solution so e-scooters aren't reviled?
The truth is that these should not be clogging up sidewalks. But the answer is not to have scooters disappear, the answer is to educate people about where to park correctly.
What is competition in the e-scooter startup scene like?
It's really fun! Literally the first versions came out a year ago. There is a lot of demand and this all happened less than a year from the first version launching. It's a competitive market because there's such a big opportunity.
Are these companies all jockeying for the same investors?
I don't pay too much attention to what other companies are doing.
What single feature sets Skip apart from Lime and Bird?
Our focus is on making riders feel comfortable in the bike lane. It would have been possible to design a smaller scooter, but we chose to design for the bike lane because we think that is the right place for scooters to be. Skip scooters have a suspension system, a wider floorboard, headlights and tail lights—they are built for stability and comfort.
In some articles, Skip has been lauded for "winning the scooter war by following the rules." What does that mean?
There have been some companies that decided the best way to engage with cities is to launch first and then use a base number of riders as evidence that scooters are working well. We've found that working with Washington, D.C., to craft the first permit program helped us understand concerns. By listening, we got to understand what people were worried about and worked out a way to respond.
How many car parking spaces per block should Portland get rid of for e-scooters?
All of them? [laughs] No, I don't think cars will get replaced. But we should be using the right vehicle in the right situation. If you're trying to go on a trip through the Gorge, or are going to make deliveries, a car might be perfect. But often people are sitting in traffic and paying downtown parking rates. So we know that cars aren't right for every kind of trip, and Skip is a better solution for certain kinds of trips. The question is: How do you create a range of options instead of picking just one?
I'd like to see an expansion of protected bike lanes, and not relying so much on car-based infrastructure. We know that when there is less demand for cars, sidewalks expand again. So whether it's for scooter parking space or sidewalk space, getting cars off the road is good.
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