Our existing transportation infrastructure is trailing behind the world’s growing population. We’ll need new solutions that enable our society to move towards a sustainable future. As we look to invest in innovations that are tackling challenges in this space, we are thrilled to welcome Swiftmile to the Verizon Ventures portfolio. Their technology looks to transform mobility by leveraging IoT technology and solar energy to reduce carbon footprint, ultimately reinventing the way we commute.
We asked founder and CEO Colin Roche a few questions about how the company was founded and what advice he has for fellow entrepreneurs.
Can you set the stage? What was the inspiration behind starting Swiftmile?
As a kid I always had some sort of moped, scooter or hacked together bike with a loud motor on it that drove the neighbors mad, so this has kind of been in my blood for some time. As fate would have it, many years later, I happened to enter a raffle at a former company I worked for where the prize was a new electric bike. As luck would have it, I ended up winning the main prize, a super cool $4,000 eBike.
I started using it as often as I could, whether it was commuting to work or just going for a joy ride. Wherever I would go, I always got asked how the bike worked and oftentimes would let people take it for a spin. Every time someone rode the eBike, they couldn’t help but smile and comment on how efficient it was to get around.
Unfortunately during this time, I had a loved one in hospice care. I remember getting a call from the hospital and rushing there as soon as I could in the event this would be the last goodbye. Of course, this happened right in the middle of rush hour in the Bay Area. I’m sitting in traffic trying to get across town, when a guy on an electric bike goes whizzing by. While I was on the verge of panicking about the dire situation I was in, I tried to calm myself down by channeling my thoughts on how eBikes could be incorporated into a share system, where people could use them for short distances instead of sitting in a single occupancy vehicle (like I was) causing even more traffic and adding carbon emissions. Fortunately I made it in time to say goodbye, but the concept still stuck with me, along with the feeling that this person would have been proud if I took this vision I had on her last day to start something that could change the world for the better. My vision soon materialized into an eBike transit system in which commuters can rent an available “Swiftbike” at a nearby solar-powered charging station via the Swiftmile app, and use it for the first or last mile of their commute (Click to Tweet). A month later, Swiftmile was born .
The average American commuter wastes about 42 hours a year stuck in traffic jams. While ridesharing apps can help alleviate gridlock, how does a solution like Swiftmile curb traffic and improve our quality of life?
Swiftmile fits well for a user traveling short distances, usually fewer than seven miles. With ridesharing apps, you are still stuck in a car (most likely during surge) and you are likely idling in traffic. With a Swiftbike, you can bypass traffic and gain time back to maybe stop at a café or run a quick errand that wouldn’t have been possible if you sat in a car (Click to Tweet). We coined a term based on the productivity you gain back and the enjoyment factor that has been communicated by our users: R.O.L.L or Return On Loving Life. This is a testament to how one’s day-to-day routine and overall quality of life can be improved with the help of an alternative transportation solution. All you have to do is sit in traffic to realize there must be a better way and we believe Swiftmile’s eBike transit system can offer that.
You founded a company before Swiftmile and successfully built a customer base for the product you designed (PenAgain). What advice do you have for entrepreneurs seeking to establish the right partnerships in order to reach their users?
First you have to research and understand your market, spending time to figure out who the key players are. As you start to build your product, establish relationships with potential partners who can see you hit deployment milestones and provide valuable insights to help shape your product’s market fit. With PenAgain, we were able to secure a partnership with a distributor that ended up giving us a one million-unit order once we nailed our high volume production overseas, but that relationship started well ahead of getting a purchase order cut. We’ve experienced that same success early on with Swiftmile where we identified and nurtured important relationships that we felt were a great fit for our company’s roadmap.
In your experience, what’s the best way to work with an investor like Verizon Ventures?
It’s important to be transparent about where the company is today with the product, what realistic milestones can be achieved and what the true potential of the company can be. When we began our relationship with Verizon Ventures, we were hitting those milestones and showed progress on a weekly basis. This helped build trust and faith not only in the product but also in the team behind it. With that said, you really need to show your investor that you and your team are passionate, persistent, resilient and ready to conquer the world if they are going to invest in you (Click to Tweet).
What’s next for Swiftmile in 2017?
In the next year, there will be big deployments of our eBike transit system. We have a list of corporations, universities and cities that want to be included in our first installations, which will mostly take place in the Bay Area.
The eBikes and solar charging stations are a great example of IoT for transportation. The eBikes are equipped with mini-computers and GPS trackers that are relaying data to our cloud such as location, battery level, or diagnostic issues. The solar charging stations have the same capabilities and can broadcast similar date to the cloud, such as charge level of their battery storage, temperature, humidity of the batteries, angle of the solar panels, etc.
This will be a seamless experience for the user, where they simply open the Swiftapp to locate a charging station, reserve and unlock a Swiftbike and go about their day. We call it “tap, rent and roll”. When a rental is complete, users get rich data like distance traveled, time used, calories burned (if they chose to pedal), fuel saved and even carbon emission offset, all in a receipt on the app. With all of these components tied together, we will be able present the first commercial grade eBike transit system that has applications around the world to help decrease smog, traffic congestion and carbon emissions. That’s what gets us excited, and we’re aiming for to the moon and beyond!
To learn how Swiftmile is deploying their eBike transit share system with Verizon's IoT-enabled Share Solutions platform, click here.
Related posts from Verizon Ventures:
Entrepreneur Spotlight: Vijay Doradla Interviews Doug Yeager, Co-founder of SimplyTapp
Entrepreneur Spotlight: Vijay Doradla interviews Nathan Eagle, CEO and Co-founder of Jana
Startup Stories: SparkCognition CEO & Co-Founder Amir Husain on His Love of Computers, Humble Beginnings, and More