Introducing Scoot Networks, the Zipcar for electric scooters

Feeling like standard car sharing, via networks like Zipcar, is getting a bit old? Well, a startup called Scoot Networks is officially coming out of stealth on Wednesday at the Launch Festival in San Francisco and is announcing its Zipcar-style sharing network for electric scooters. The company has been incubated out of the accelerator program Greenstart, which launched last year and more recently revamped its focus on incubating startups in the intersection of green and IT.

Scoot Networks is still in closed alpha mode (meaning its not open to the public just yet), but CEO Michael Keating explained to me in an interview that the company is building out a network of electric scooters that can be rented out by the minute or hour (like Zipcar cars) and unlocked with an iPhone. The iPhone will act as the scooter’s dashboard throughout a ride (the company removed the old instrument panel), and Keating told me the company “wanted to peg our transportation service to the rapid pace of innovation of smartphones.”

Keating, a Harvard Business School grad, says the emergence of low-cost Chinese electric scooters (there are 25 million of these in China already, he says), European bike-sharing networks and new real-time transportation services like Uber are changing the face of urban transportation and have paved the way for Scoot Networks. As cities become even more crowded, figuring out new systems of transportation beyond the car, and utilizing IT, will be a growing trend.

To implement its vision, Scoot Networks is buying up one model of scooter from a Chinese distributor, and the electric scooters have a top speed of 30 miles per hour. That’s fast enough to keep up with city traffic and get you to your location across the city quicker than most public transportation, but is low-power enough that the driver doesn’t need a motorcycle license or much training. The idea is basically to offer an alternative that is faster than public transportation but cheaper than a taxi.

Scoot Networks just started offering the service to just a handful of paying customers last week. The company will first target creating electric scooter pods outside of co-working spaces and company campuses, which will pay to offer their participants and employees access to the network. The second step of Scoot Network’s deployment is to work with the public transit agencies. Finally, perhaps a year down the road, the plan is that the service will be opened up to the public with a critical mass of e-scooters. Expect a subscription to eventually cost between $100 to $150 per month for unlimited scooter access.

Sharing stuff

Scoot Networks is one of a variety of startups that are looking to join the trend of collaborative consumption, or using mobile and web to share “stuff,” from cars, to scooters, to apartment space, to tools (and now even dogs). Scoot Networks is also entering the arena of alternative urban mobility, looking to attract users that don’t necessarily want to own or use a car around the city but would be willing to rent and drive a scooter.

Scoot Networks has raised half of a seed-round of financing, and Keating tells me that the company is hoping to start raising a Series A round in the summer. Perhaps Zipcar will kick down for an investment or partnership if Scoot Networks starts to take off. Zipcar recently invested in campus peer-to-peer car-sharing startup Wheelz. If not, I could see Zipcar extending its service into two-wheelers on its own, the way it’s started offering vehicles beyond cars, like moving vans.

A couple of parting thoughts on this potential market: The type of user for a car-sharing service may be significantly different from that for a scooter-sharing service. First, car-sharing users often rent cars to drive to the store to pick up groceries or other goods — in contrast, scooters don’t have much storage space. Secondly, car-sharing users like to rent cars to take them out of the city, but riders of scooters, with their top speed of 30 mph, won’t be able to take them onto the highway and out of the city. Lastly, the company plans, for now, to offer scooter rides only for round trips, not one-way (you have to pick up a scooter and return it to the same spot), so round trips won’t really compete with taxi or Muni rides for commuters. Eventually, when they get enough critical mass, Scoot Networks will offer one-way trips.