Ford-owned Spin shakes up scooter business with new CEO, e-bikes and city strategy

Spin, the Ford-owned micromobility operator, has added a new CEO, launched a new strategy to capture market share and announced a plan to get back into bike share, although this time with an electric twist. 

The flurry of moves suggest that Spin is still trying to figure out the best path forward to push past its rivals and become profitable. Under the changes announced Thursday, co-founder and CEO Derrick Ko is moving to a strategic advisory role, along with the other two co-founders Zaizhuang Cheng and Euwyn Poon. In Ko’s place is Ben Bear, who previously served as CBO of Spin.

Alongside the change in leadership, Spin is deploying e-bikes for the first time, expanding to multiple cities in the U.S. and Europe, implementing new technologies and coming for Bird as the Number Two e-scooter company in the country (behind Lime, of course), according to Bear. Both Bird and Lime consider themselves to have the top ranking in the country based on different metrics that make it difficult to actually provide an accurate comparison. 

Pressure among micromobility operators to actually turn a profit is increasing, so Spin is flexing its compliance record in order to secure those limited vendor permits. The end game is to angle for more exclusive, and perhaps more lucrative, partnerships with cities. Amid all this activity are reports that Ford might be divesting Spin into a separate company, including a sale or spinoff of the subsidiary. Which leads us to wonder in which direction the new CEO will be steering this ship. 

“We’re full speed ahead on the hiring front, and we’ve got ambitious growth plans for this year, heading into 2022 and beyond,” Bear told TechCrunch. “We really think the market is reaching a tipping point where cities are more and more moving towards limited vendor permits, which is right where we’re focused and have been focused throughout our history.”

(Spin would not comment on the reports of Ford divesting the e-scooter company.) 

Most cities have evolved from an unregulated market to an open one, and many, like Atlanta and Washington, D.C., are operating limited vendor permits. Spin is counting on this trend continuing to exclusive vendor permits, similar to the deal Lyft-owned Citi Bike has made with New York City. This might mean going after mid-tier cities that charge Spin less in fees, or even pay them to operate.

“In Bakersfield, we recently received a $1.1 million state grant to install infrastructure and conduct the program, and then $257,000 from the city as well to make sure that the project was supported, and that we’re able to offer low-cost rides to residents who need that,” said Bear. 

In Grand Rapids, Spin is working with nonprofits to deliver scooters as an addition to public transportation, and in Pittsburgh, the company has integrated with the public transit app to make different types of mobility as frictionless as possible. 

“We definitely see ourselves as part of that broader ecosystem, which includes public transit,” said Bear. 

Spin claims that its win rate on new markets in the U.S. is 85% and its renewal rate is 93%. However, the company has lost a few big permit awards, including New York City and Paris. Of its nearly 100 markets in the U.S., a large majority are made up of mid-tier cities and college campuses. Spin says it will be in up to 25 additional U.S. markets through the rest of the year, with plans to expand to Portugal and Ireland, as well. 

Of Spin’s nearly 100 markets in the U.S. and Europe, over 70% are limited vendor exclusive, according to Bear. He says Spin’s reputation of ensuring safety, compliance and equitable service for residents makes it a trusted city partner. But if it wants to monopolize the micromobility of cities, it has to provide a multi-modal fleet. Enter electric bikes. 

Spin also announced plans to roll out up to 5,000 e-bikes on the streets this year, starting with Providence, Rhode Island on June 14. It will also bring e-bikes, as well as e-scooters, to recently won markets like Fort Collins, Colorado; Bakersfield, California; and Penn State University — all of which are exclusive partnerships. 

Spin was founded as a pedal bike share in 2017, but pivoted to e-scooters the following year. Of the major micromobility companies, Spin is a bit late to the e-bike party. Bear says the company wanted to delay bringing e-bikes to market until the form factor had developed enough to be as compelling as its scooters. This prudence could just as well hurt the success of its e-bike program if Spin isn’t bringing something as good as an e-bike that’s already been through multiple iterations of deployed field use. First-generation hardware is rarely, if ever, perfect out the gate. And since Spin hasn’t run a fleet of e-bikes yet, it might not be the smoothest management transition. 

Either way, e-bikes aren’t the only iron in Spin’s fire. True to its promise of being what cities want a micromobility operator to be, Spin is thinking strategically about technological add-ons. For example, Spin has partnered with computer vision startup Drover AI to launch its Spin Insight Level 2, or a bundle of sensors, cameras and on-board computing power to detect sidewalk and bike lane riding and validate parking. Spin launched this new capability for the first time on Wednesday, deploying 100 Drover-tech equipped e-scooters in Milwaukee with plans to launch in Miami, Seattle and Santa Monica, as well. Last month, Bird was booted by the Santa Monica City Council in favor of Spin, Veo and Lyft and will have to remove all of its scooters from its own hometown by July. 

Seattle and Santa Monica, along with Boise, Idaho, will also be seeing some of Spin’s new tech in the form of the S-200, a three-wheeled adaptive sit-down scooter. The vehicle is built in tandem with mobility startup Tortoise, whose repositioning software allows remote operators to move vehicles off sidewalks and into proper parking spots, as well as rebalance them. 

This article has been updated to reflect the uncertainty of which micromobility company, Bird or Lime, retains the top position in the United States.