There’s a new ride-sharing player on the streets of Melbourne, with startup Scooti offering on-demand pickups on the back of motor scooters.
Conceived by a mysterious anonymous founder, who is still involved but focusing on other ventures, Scooti is headed up by chief executive Brett Balsters.
It allows solo travellers to hail a ride through their app, as they would with an Uber, before they’re whisked away to their desired location, unhindered by rush-hour traffic.
The driver provides a helmet, hairnet and fluro vest, and the service only operates in the CBD, where the speed limit is typically 40kph or below.
It’s a model already running in various Asian and European countries, Balsters tells StartupSmart.
“It didn’t exist in Australia, so it seemed like an opportunity,” he adds.
Balsters himself has experience running his own startups, as well as working in advertising and at one point working as a driver for Uber.
He’s been working on getting Scooti market-ready for about 18 months, he says. It’s been in a beta-testing phase since late last year, but finally launched publicly on March 25.
Since then, the startup has seen “hundreds of app downloads”, and while Balsters doesn’t disclose how many drivers have signed up, saying the number is changing daily, he says there are “plenty in the database”.
Scooti has an office “ready to go” in Sydney, and is waiting on approval from the New South Wales government. It will then push up the East Coast, before taking the startup overseas.
“We’re not ignoring the rest of the Australian cities,” he says.
“But our goal has always been to try and solve congestion problems, so the bigger cities and the population within those cities is really our target at the moment.”
Changing the transport dynamic
In Australia, the opportunity for a service like Scooti came about in 2014, Balsters says, when rules were changed to allow for lane-filtering for motorbikes.
“That changed the whole transport dynamic,” he says.
However, we are also seeing cities becoming more populated, and solutions like creating more transport underground, building more skyscrapers or even developing flying cars are all “long-term plans”, Balsters says.
“With a city that’s growing upwards, in a 3D world, we need to be doing something on the ground. There is no more square meterage,” he explains.
“We have the opportunity to reinvent transport … and ease congestion by getting people where they need to go on two wheels.”
Balsters views the solution as more than just a fun way to get around.
“If it was just a fun thing, I wouldn’t be involved,” he says.
“I believe this has got legs.”
However, Scooti’s success depends somewhat on a change in culture, and a shift in the Australian mindset.
This isn’t the way Aussies are used to travelling, Balsters says.
But perceptions are changing. Balsters has seen people who swore they would never ride on the back of a scooter transform into loyal customers.
“We’re watching naysayers turn into advocates,” he says.
“People need this. Irrespective of the helmet hair, irrespective of people’s mindsets or points of view, sooner or later the need becomes greater than the risk,” he adds.
“We’re seeing a shift in attitude around us.”
“Do whatever it takes”
Having led startups previously, Balsters “was under no illusions” that this was going to be easy, he says.
“But I had absolutely no idea how hard it was going to be.”
In his opinion, the one thing that makes a startup work is determination.
“If you really believe in something, and you’re that passionate about it, do whatever it takes to make it work,” he says.
There were times he felt like he was “almost out of steam” and considering giving up.
But, he was buoyed by “the support of the people around me and the positivity of people around me”, and the drive to be an Australian-first company “was the reason to get out of bed every morning”.
“We hope this is the start of some real transport innovation in Australia.”