Amber: Hi, I’m Amber Ambrose and this is BusinessMakers USA live, coming to you today from San Antonio, Texas. This may be our best crowd yet. I should also mention this is brought to you by Insperity, inspiring business performance. Thank you Insperity. Last but not least I would like to say we’re also, obviously, in front of a live audience of business leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators here in San Antonio, so thanks for joining us, y’all. Without further ado, my guest tonight is Eric Bell, the Co-founder of Blue Duck Scooters. Thank you so much for joining us tonight, Eric.
Eric: It’s a delight to be here.
Amber: Awesome. First of all, we’re going to get your elevator pitch.
Eric: Hi, Eric, Blue Duck Scooters here. We are a disruptive e-scooter sharing business based right here in San Antonio. This is an electrically enabled scooter. It goes about 16 miles an hour. It has a range of about 18 miles. They’re for rent, just like your ride sharing economy would be. So, you download our app, it will show you where the nearest one is, you can essentially reserve it for five minutes. When you walk up to it, you turn it on via QR code and you’re off cruising at 15 cents a minute.
Amber: There you have it. Based right here in San Antonio. Ok, Eric, so I have a couple questions for you, I hope you’re ready.
Eric: Go, shoot.
Amber: Why scooters, first of all?
Eric: Why not? I come from a kind of political family going back a few generations, and wonkily we’ve been talking about transportation policy and addressing real problems in urban areas for generations, not just in San Antonio, but in every major city where parking and congestion and density are real issues. This particular scooter was the first thing that I came across that really allows the private sector to come in and innovate around moving people around efficiently and affordably without burdening the public sector to come in and spend billions of dollars building rails, and trains, and streetcars. I’m for all those things, too, I’m just tired of all the waiting for those options for people to come around. If the public sector can’t do it then in the interim we’re going to address a lot of those problems. The kind of example that I like to use is we’re here in the Pearl, which is like the north anchor of San Antonio, it takes us about twenty minutes to get downtown, it’s about 2.7 miles. That’s absurd. That is the nature of the problem. It takes, when it’s not raining outside, 8 or 9 minutes on one of our Ducks at $1.75/$2.00 depending on how quickly you go.
That’s the kind of stuff that—those are the type of problems that we are solving, and not just here in San Antonio, but for us it’s about we’re really looking at a massive deployment of scooters at every major public university that exists below the Mason-Dixon line. We’re really focused on user experience, efficiency, affordability, access, and for us as a tech company we’re really focused on getting young folks onto our platform and beginning to change the way that they think about getting around in a dense, urban environment.
Amber: Sure that makes sense. And you mentioned college campuses, because I know there are a couple of ride share programs around the country using electric scooters similar to what you are doing without using a dock. However, you have a different market that you are going after, which I totally just gave away with this question. But why did you choose college campuses?
Eric: We think cities, particularly where our competitors are going right now, which is what I call the homecoming queens, which are: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, they’re high tax, high regulation, and they’re regulatory quagmires. It’s going to take years for these places to figure out how they’re going to properly regulate this type of technology. We’re providing a service to a university or a university president or a campus of students that’s much more actionable from an onboarding process and also from a negotiation process. City councils, county governments, they have great intentions but they’re not exactly fast-moving entities, as we’ve seen many a times around here. Our theory is that colleges are just a much better launching point for us and it’s an immediate pipeline into our target audience.
Amber: Not having a dock is great, because then you don’t have to have a centralized location, it’s easier for people to find, and to park. However, it does create problems on the other end. How do you hope to solve that so there aren’t just scooters laying about in people’s yards? That you don’t have just piles of them in the middle of the Pearl district clogging up people that want to walk through. How do you answer to that?
Eric: Let’s first be fair and say that it’s guaranteed someone is going to throw one of these in the river.
Amber: So, you’re prepared. That’s good.
Eric: But, what is a little bit different about electric scooters vs. the traditional bike sharing model is because of the nature of the technology, we actually have to collect it every evening, we have to charge it, we have to service it, and then we have to re-deploy it the next morning. Our data platform, essentially, our dashboard tells us exactly where they’re going, when they’re going, why they’re going, how they’re going, who is spending money, who they are going with. All that stuff gives us a lot of leverage to figure out, like, if there’s going to be six scooters at Local Coffee every morning, because we know there are already six going there every morning, it allows us to negotiate with the guys at Local Coffee about deploying them in the morning and then, obviously, picking them up.
Because they’re geolocated, we can just pick them up. If somebody decides to take one or decides to leave it in the street, we have their name, we have their credit card number, we have their driver’s license. That kind of stuff is going to happen but the rough edges around the public space stuff, I don’t think are nearly as important as the good faith stuff, which is, we are the only scooter sharing company right now that has the ability to geofence or limit the areas where they can go. That allows us to barter with the city of San Antonio, the county of San Antonio, or any university around particular sacred spaces that exist on their campuses.
Amber: So, my next question is, actually, you talked about the technology, I would love to know what were the important things to put into the technology to work seamlessly with the actual device?
Eric: So, we have our own custom hardware process. A device that attaches to the scooter that integrates with the motherboard, the batteries, the components, the tires, the motor. That device has the ability to do diagnostics throughout the scooter. So, like, we can pull up our dashboard and see if a tire is low, or a battery is low. We’ve built a kill switch into the device itself, because it’s geolocated, if one of those things happen, say there’s a low tire and we don’t want somebody getting on a scooter that’s not 100% safe, we just turn it off, remove it from the platform, take it down, somebody collects it, services it, recharges it, and re-deploys it.
Amber: Is this your own patented design? How did you source this? What was product development like?
Eric: Currently, we purchase commercial product and we mod basically everything that exists inside of it. So, that includes its ability to go up hills or down hills, or not. It includes our ability to turn off—there’s essentially a weight sensor in there, and we also do some modifications to the battery as well. So, there’s the existing unit, there’s our modifications, and then there’s our hardware which connects to the satellite, connects to the unit itself, and then also connects through our app. Then, there’s the app itself which is really the only thing that matters besides the scooter, which is, when I pull up my app, is there one near me? How easy is it to get on it? And, dockless, go about the rest of your life stuff.
Amber: Speaking of, where does the Duck part come in?
Eric: Who has read Larry McMurtry’s novels on Lonesome Dove? Ok, so, Blue Duck was the villain in that. He was an actual outlaw from the old west, not a nice guy, but an interesting one, certainly. To a certain extent, without being law breaking, we look at the idea of this type of technology as kind of outlaw transportation technology. This is going to be a thing, like, this is rideshare all over again in 2011. It’s going to change the world for the better, but in the meantime we have to go about doing out business, which is getting as many of these to people who need them and getting cars off the road, and freeing up congestion, and doing all the things that our local government is not currently capable of doing.
Amber: Do they actually quack?
Eric: At present they don’t.
Amber: Is that in the plans?
Eric: We’ve talked all about—there’s currently a bell on it. Because it’s electric, it doesn’t really make noise, and so one of the components is making sure you have something when you’re riding to alert people that you’re coming at 15 miles an hour behind them while they’re walking. We’ve toyed with some really fun ideas, which is turning that into a duck call, or installing some technology inside of it so when you walk up it quacks. Those are all fun problems to solve, but right now we’re really trying to just get thousands of these things out there to people.
Amber: So, Eric, I actually want to talk about you now because this is not your first foray into creating something. You’ve been in business for a long time now and I see that you’re a philosophy major? I would love to see how that all plays in together, your background, how it led you down this path to entrepreneurship.
Eric: Jungian Fellini was my thesis. Also, a jazz musician.
Eric: We’ve been in the venture space and the private equity space for decades. I’ve been in it for over a decade.
Amber: Who is we?
Eric: Our family, our company, our cadre of folks we do stuff with. And that extends across platforms, not just next-gen tech, like healthcare, energy services, finance, sub-debt, all of this stuff. To a certain extent we’re kind of always on the hunt for what we think are actionable, good ideas. Whether that’s from a design, develop, deployment standpoint or whether that’s from a finding really bright people and betting on them that they’re going to succeed.
Amber: What do you think is going to be the trend in ridesharing in the next five years? And where do you see Blue Duck Scooters fitting into that?
Eric: The trend is, within 24 months you will see thousands of these in every city that you go to. Whether it’s us or somebody else, it’s already happening. The broader trend, I think, is actually towards other electric sharing options, too. Whether that’s boats, other types of scooters, other types of autonomous vehicles. That’s where we’re going, and I don’t think it’s five years. Some of the further next-gen tech stuff is like five years, but the sharing space around personal electric vehicles is the fastest developing space I’ve certainly ever seen.
There’s options here. The first of which is we’re going to build the gigantic company, we’re going to hire a lot of people, and we’re going to change the way people move around. The second of which is finding a strategic partner who has already done some of those things which allows us to onboard to that platform. The third of which is integrating into existing platforms that allow us to cross market, and not just transportation platforms, but marketing platforms, people who are already at colleges in a big, meaningful way which allow us to push our message, and subsequently, their message across platforms. I can’t tell you which one it’s going to be, I can just tell you we’re planning for all of those options and we’re pretty comfortable, I would say, with any of them.
Amber: Great. Well, it sounds like your future is very bright and filled with scooters.
Eric: That’s what my philosophy professor said too.
Amber: We’ll put that on a t-shirt. Well, thank you, Eric, for joining us, once again, on BusinessMakers USA live here in San Antonio, Texas. Once again, just a reminder, I’m Amber Ambrose and you’re watching this on Highdrive.tv. Thanks for joining us.
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