If you live in a major metro area in the US or Europe, you have probably seen adults zipping around town on electric scooters this year. Electric scooters aren’t new to the world, but the mass rental availability of them is definitely a new thing. It’s an interesting phenomenon for several reasons and it has opened the door to some unique electric scooter side hustle opportunities.
Quick disclosure: This post contains links for various transportation companies. When you click them and register, you’ll get some free credit and so will I. The credits range from $3 to $10, so this could theoretically accelerate our retirement dates by several weeks if we wisely invest our free money. The FTC requires this disclosure, but they don’t require the sarcasm–that part is all me.
The biggest electric scooter rental companies are new! Bird was born in 2017 and they immediately gained some major traction (and major funding). As of June 28, 2018, they have raised $415 million in funding. Lime is another big player in the electric scooter rental space. They also have Lime bicycles that operate in a similar way. Lime was born in 2017 and they have raised $467 million in funding as of July 9, 2018. Lyft, the ride sharing service, also entered the electric scooter rental game this year. There are more examples, but you get the idea. There are some big dollars being bet on these companies.
Electric scooters are succeeding for a few different reasons. Some of the obvious reasons are the cost to rent ($1 plus $0.15 per minute per ride), convenience (the apps have real-time maps with all the available scooters near you and all you need to do is walk to one, scan the code with your phone and start riding) and THEY’RE FUN.
How Do Electric Scooter Rentals Work?
It only takes a few minutes to get started with the electric scooter rentals. If you haven’t tried any of them yet, let’s do that now. If you’ve already signed-up, you can skip this section.
- Download the apps from the App Store or Google Play and get your first ride for free with these links: Bird, Lime and Lyft. Go ahead and get all three as their coverage varies from city to city. None require any upfront payment, so it won’t cost you anything to register and claim your free rides.
- Complete the registration process with your phone. You’ll need your driver’s license and a credit or debit card. It only takes a few minutes, even if you’re a slow typer.
- Find a scooter. All the scooter rental apps have the same basic functionality with a live map that shows you where the available scooters are located near you.
- When you locate an available scooter, scan the QR code on the handlebar with your phone.
- Ride (carefully).
- Park it at your final destination, wherever that may be. If I’m going more than a few miles, I make sure I get a fully-charged scooter for that ride (you can see the battery level of each scooter in the app before you commit to renting it). Common courtesy is important. Don’t block sidewalks or entry/exit access to buildings when you park.
- Snap a quick photo with the app (it will prompt you to take the photo before you can end the ride) to prove that you parked it in a proper place.
- You will be asked to leave feedback and rate your ride on a one-to-five star scale every damn time. I like to mess with whoever reads the feedback by leaving things like “It only goes 35 mph on a downhill slope…weak” or “I almost hit a squirrel” or “It was difficult to tow my baby stroller behind me on the busy streets.”
Some Electric Scooter History
Do you remember Segways when they were new? You know, the two-wheeled standing people movers? The company launched in 2001 and was eventually acquired. The inventor was convinced that Segways were the future of transportation and he was pounding that drum for many years (until his untimely death in a Segway accident, of all things).
As it turns out, he may have been right about electric people movers. The part that was a little off was the timing. When Segway launched, automobile traffic wasn’t such a massive challenge in most major metro areas in the US, we didn’t have Uber and Lyft and we didn’t have smart phones. Segways are also very expensive to purchase compared to the current electric scooter options. The masses simply weren’t ready for Segways, nor was the technology ready to make them easy for us.
The only places I seem to find Segways these days are in tourist traps (take the Segway tour of our town!) and in places where police officers and security guards need to cover relatively large geographic areas (shopping malls, airports, concert venues, etc). I don’t see any Segways being used by my hipster neighbors or any other regular folks in town, but I see electric scooters are everywhere.
When the scooter wars began in Denver (spring 2018), I was thrilled. I sold my car a few years ago and I will enjoy my car-free life for as long as I can. There are some potential life events that would make me change my tune about owning a car, like changes in my work location (currently, it’s whatever coffee shop I feel like visiting that day) or changes in my family structure (currently single with no kids). We’ll cross those bridges when we get to them. Until then, I’m loving life as Jonny Carless. Uber, Lyft, Car2Go and Getaround make life easy when I need to use an automobile, and the rest of the time I’m walking, on an electric scooter or taking public transportation.
Several electric scooter companies descended upon Denver and scattered hundreds of electric scooters around town at strategic, high-traffic locations. Think bus stops, large apartment complexes and professional sporting venues. (Related: You can get at DUI on a scooter, so don’t be an idiot).
The electric scooter apps will prompt you to invite your friends to join on a regular basis. It’s not even annoying because they give both you and your friend some referral credits for each signup. Currently, they pay $3 to you and $3 to the new user, so I’m not going to put “get people to signup on a scooter app” in the electric scooter side hustle list. At $3 a pop, you shouldn’t be spending a lot of time working the referral fee angle for free credits.
Electric Scooter Side Hustle Opportunities
1. Charge them overnight, or whenever they’re low on power during the day.
The scooter rental companies have a logistics issue at the moment. It would be cost-prohibitive and a giant P.I.T.A. to employ full-time people to roam around town, collect scooters that are low on battery power and charge them. The scooters have a good range (usually 10-15 miles per charge), but they get heavy use in the big cities and the batteries can drain in a few hours.
The solution? They pay regular folks to collect the scooters when the batteries are low to charge them at their homes. Sometimes that’s overnight and sometimes it’s in the middle of the day.
Some people have turned this opportunity into full-time work. If the scooter company will pay you $5-$7 to charge a scooter and you can do ten of them a day, the math works okay even when you account for fuel, vehicle expenses (usually a truck) and an uptick in your electric bill. It’s still pretty close to poverty-level compensation, but it beats flipping burgers.
Personally, I don’t see this being a “forever” opportunity, so maybe don’t quit your day job just yet. I could be wrong, but I believe the electric scooter companies will eventually bring those jobs in-house, or hire an army of cheap or free interns to manage that side of the business. In the meantime, make hay while the sun shines.
2. Repair them
The scooters break from time to time. Sometimes it’s normal wear-and-tear, and other times it’s angry taxi drivers who don’t like their new competition. If you have some mechanical skills, you can put them to good use by repairing the scooters when they need a little love.
3. White label your own electric scooter rental company (with the help of Bird)
Bird makes it possible for individuals to start their own electric scooter side hustle by white-labelling their service. It looks like a franchising model and provides another source of revenue for them.
This was a savvy move by Bird. They are empowering those with an entrepreneurial spirit to cash-in and join the scooter craze by using the Bird platform to run their businesses. Not only is this move going to produce more total riders for Bird, but it also keeps enterprising individuals from starting competing electric scooter companies. Sneaky, eh?
Why would you go through all the hassle of setting up your own electric scooter rental company when you could do it through Bird? They make it easy to leverage their platform.
4. Start your own scooter company as an electric scooter side hustle
Maybe you’re not interested in the white-labelling option from Bird and you’d prefer to directly compete with them. Conceptually, it sounds simple. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy to compete with the big boys, but it’s simple.
You’ll need to incorporate, get familiar with the local laws where you want to operate, figure out how to distribute the scooters every day, figure out how to repair them when they break, figure out how to keep them charged, get some good insurance, hire some customer support people, put policies and safeguards in place to prevent fraud and theft, get people to sign up, differentiate yourself from the established companies that have the hundreds of millions in funding and a bunch of other little things that will inevitably appear when you start doing rentals.
If you read that last paragraph and STILL think it’s a good idea to do this on your own, you have the right level of insanity to give it a shot. Startup founders are some of the craziest people I have met in my life (some in a good way, others notsomuch). Apparently, that’s what it takes to win sometimes.
Go get ’em, and good luck.
5. Create or sell scooter accessories
Have you ever noticed how many products are built as offshoots from other popular products? Take the iPhone, for example. Think about all the options you have for iPhone cases, adapters, chargers, photo lenses, stands, selfie sticks, PopSockets, etc. There are dozens of popular products for the iPhone and most of them aren’t made by Apple.
The same type of opportunity exists by starting an electric scooter side hustle. Think about helmets, knee pads, wrist guards, carrying cases, lights, etc. There are plenty of options for creating or repackaging products that complement the scooter experience. There’s definitely a first-mover advantage with accessories in situations like this, so get on it before someone else beats you to it.
It will be fun to watch the progress of the electric scooter rental companies over the next few years. There has already been some (predictable) drama around them in places like Santa Monica and San Francisco. I’m also curious to see how they manage the seasonality of their business in cities that have cold and snowy winters. Seasonal businesses are tricky and I’m not sure how a scooter company’s economics will work when they’re limited to operating only eight months of the year.
What else do you think would be a great electric scooter side hustle? Leave your ideas in the comments below.