By Carlo Versano, Jacqueline Corba, and Bridgette Webb
Skip, an underdog among the electric scooter companies jockeying for position in the "micro-mobility" market, won a coveted permit this week to operate as part of San Francisco's pilot program by using an old-fashioned strategy at odds with the "move fast and break things" ethos of Silicon Valley: be nice and follow the rules.
Skip CEO Sanjay Dastoor said Friday in an interview on Cheddar that the company wants to serve "not just the people who are riding the scooters, but also their neighbors."
He said after working with ー not against ー San Francisco's Municipal Transportation Agency, Skip devised an operation that would take into account the needs of pedestrians, drivers, bikers, the disabled, and the poor to build a micro-mobility system that suits all San Franciscans.
"These are all people who matter," Dastoor said.
It's in direct contrast to methods of Bird and Lime, the venture capital darlings with billion-dollar-plus valuations, which dropped their scooters seemingly overnight on streets and sidewalks throughout San Francisco this spring. That "launch first, ask questions later" model popularized by the ride-hail business ー also in San Francisco ー created instant backlash in a city known for its openness to innovation.
SFMTA reportedly received nearly 2,000 complaints that the scooters were impeding right of way, obstructing sidewalks, and creating general chaos. Soon after, the city passed a law requiring permits.
Dastoor said Skip recognized, based on an earlier pilot it did in Washington, D.C., that working with local officials from the outset would be more productive and enable his company to secure permitting. "We've seen cities more open to trying new things," he said. City officials, it seems, just wanted to be involved in the planning and oversight.
Following the surprise decision Thursday ー another relative unknown, Scoot Global, was the only other company whose application was approved, while Lime, Bird, Uber, Lyft, and Spin were all passed over ー Lime CEO Toby Sun said in a statement to Cheddar: "San Franciscans deserve an equitable and transparent process when it comes to transportation and mobility. Instead, the SFMTA has selected inexperienced scooter operators that plan to learn on the job, at the expense of the public good."
But Dastoor pointed out that all of these start-ups are relatively inexperienced, since the industry itself is less than a year old.
He countered, "One of the things we're more experienced with that most players is the idea of operating a system that doesn't draw controversy and complaints from the people who aren't riding these scooters."
San Francisco's spurning of the best-known and best-capitalized players for a pair of scrappy upstarts is the culmination of a long conflict between tech and the once-bohemian city.
Axios business editor Dan Primack said in a separate interview on Cheddar Friday that, even though the San Francisco pilot is small (Scoot and Skip are granted 625 scooters each, with the option to double them in six months), approval is important for publicity and funding, given how many investors and tech reporters call the Bay Area home. Many will be watching to see how exactly this technology works in a regulated environment, he said.
It wasn't all disappointment for Scoot and Skip's rivals, though. Santa Monica also announced Thursday its picks for a local scooter pilot, offering permits to some of the losers in the San Francisco draw: Lyft, Uber, Lime, and of course, Bird, which is based in Santa Monica and has a fraught relationship with its own hometown.
That pilot is actually slightly bigger in scope than San Francisco's but less significant in the future of scooters, Primack said.
"San Francisco matters more."
For full interview click here.