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In which we learn that Kara knows how to fix bikes.
On this episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, our hosts Kara Swisher and Lauren Goode invited Brad Bao, the president of bike-sharing startup LimeBike, into the studio to explain the whys and wherefores behind sharing bikes. The three discussed the economics of bike sharing, the convenience and the safety. LimeBike’s GPS-enabled bright green Cruiser bikes are meant to be difficult to re-sell and therefore pointless to steal; they are also deployed without docking stations, meaning they can be picked up and dropped off anywhere within a reasonable radius.
You can read some of the highlights from their discussion here, or listen to it in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode.
Lauren Goode: I’m Lauren Goode, senior tech editor at The Verge.
KS: You’re listening to Too Embarrassed to Ask, coming to you from the Vox Media Podcast Network. This is a show where we answer all of your embarrassing questions about consumer tech.
LG: It could be anything, like, “What do I need to do to make my home Wi-Fi faster?”
KS: Get a new home.
LG: Put Kara on a spin bike and have her spin next to it. You would be amazed. “Why are teenagers so darn addicted to Snapchat?”
KS: My kid is.
LG: We should have Louie Swisher on again soon to talk about that.
KS: We will. He and Casey were plotting it last night.
LG: Oh good.
KS: They’re going to take over from you, just be careful.
LG: Yeah, okay. Good luck with that right now.
KS: Very “Game of Thrones.”
LG: Let me tell you how it’s going right now with men plotting to take over women’s jobs in tech. You just wait. “When will Kara finally accept the Uber CEO job?” When are you going to accept the Uber CEO job so we can finally get a woman in place at that place and get them the leader they deserve?
KS: Now I’m just waiting for Travis. I know. Everyone else is announcing he’s not going to be CEO, but I’d like Travis to announce he’s not CEO. I have to sleep with one eye open.
LG: Doesn’t he know, if he’s following the Steve Jobs playbook, that he has to wait a number of years before he can come back in?
KS: A dozen. Steve waited a dozen. Send us your questions. We really do read them all. Find us on Twitter and tweet them to @recode or to myself or to Lauren with the hashtag #TooEmbarrassed.
LG: We also have an email address. It’s [email protected] A reminder, embarrassed has two Rs and two Ss.
KS: Yes, indeed. How you doing, Lauren?
LG: Well, I was doing okay until I heard that Casey, you and your 15-year-old son are plotting to take over my job.
KS: Just last night.
LG: I’m going to have to exit early from this podcast and go work on my counteroffensive.
KS: They want to take over the whole podcast. They feel like they should have one by themselves. They think they’re very funny.
LG: That would be fine. They can do one on my vacation, so maybe I’ll let the boys do the work for me. I’m fine with that. But no taking over the show themselves. Good luck with that.
KS: They’re mad with power, Lauren.
KS: What can I say?
LG: I’m sure.
KS: It was over and then they moved quickly to discuss “Rick and Morty.” I don’t know what that is. They moved on.
LG: They can do a podcast on “Rick and Morty.”
KS: Eric knows. Of course.
LG: They can do a podcast on that.
KS: I don’t know.
LG: Some other podcast.
KS: They just suddenly moved into “Rick and Morty” and then I just left the room, so that’s all I heard.
LG: I’m going to have to start calling them Rick and Morty. All right.
LG: Well, today we’re talking about transportation but we’re not talking about Uber.
KS: Thank God.
LG: While we’re all waiting for hyperloop or the self-driving car to show up for real, that might take a little while.
KS: A long while, I think. A long while. I wish it would come sooner, though. I would like that.
LG: Yeah, I would like a self-driving car.
KS: I’ll be honest with you. I would too. We’re actually talking about a lower-tech vehicle, which is actually — as my other son says, who has actual facts at his disposal — one of the best ways to save the planet is using a bicycle.
Bicycles have been a favorite among people in San Francisco and there’s been a lot of movement all around the country around biking and making it easier for people to do. We’re joined here by Brad Bao. He’s the president of LimeBike, which is applying some new tech to bikes. Brad, welcome to Too Embarrassed to Ask.
Brad Bao: Thank you for having me here. I’m thrilled.
KS: Good. Exciting.
LG: Yes, it’s great. Kara, have you ever used a share bike?
KS: I have. I have. I’ve used it in London. That park they have is real big. I was late to dinner, and so I grabbed a bike and rode it to the other side of the park. But not here in San Francisco, because drivers are crazy and I’m worried about dying. In New York, I can’t believe people use them, but apparently they’re heavily used. There’s one in New York, right? Just opened. Just one of those, I think it’s Citi Bike? Or I don’t know who’s has it now. Ford? I forget who’s the sponsor.
KS: Citi Bike?
LG: Citi Bike’s in New York.
LG: It’s pretty big.
KS: Then, what’s the one here now?
LG: It’s sponsored by Ford.
KS: GoBike, right.
LG: They’re a bike share.
KS: Yeah, I have one down right at the bottom of my hill now and I think about using it but then I think about dying in a traffic accident and then I change my mind.
LG: Decide it’s not a way to go?
KS: Yeah, I walk a lot, actually.
LG: Walking is good.
KS: Yeah, I walk a lot.
LG: I was living in New York at the time that it launched and I never used it for that exact reason. I was very afraid for my life and cab drivers.
KS: Yeah, but I think it’s great, I think it’s great. I’ve used it in, actually, in Amsterdam I used it also. I think there was one in Amsterdam.
LG: Well, there’s a lot going on in Europe that I think is a little different.
KS: And Google, I’ve used it at Google.
LG: Oh my gosh.
KS: I’ve used it at Google many, many years ago. Sergey Brin was obsessed with this idea and one of his crazy ideas was to drop 10 thou. He had a number of bikes that he was going to drop on New York City just one night and he had figured out how many would get stolen, and stuff, like, all of them.
LG: What year was this?
KS: Many years ago, when they had the bikes at Google, which was super early. They were multi-colored bikes and they were cool. People would ride between buildings there and still do, and he had some scheme to … He had some idea of how many get stolen and how many you had to drop until they would stop stealing them.
It was really quite fascinating, and so he was really interested in it. All I said, he’s like, “What do you think about bikes, Kara?” I said, “All I want to do …” because they’re the multi-colored bikes, they’re primary colors. I’m like, “All I want to do is take a car and just run through one of your bikes.” They were so twee. It was like, “We’re at the beach here at Google!”
LG: These bikes that we’re talking about today …
KS: But I think it’s a great … I would not do that, of course, I would not run over anyone.
LG: No, of course not.
KS: I thought about stealing a Google bike, I’ll be honest. It was very close and then I was stopped.
KS: No, I just, why not? It’s a collector’s item.
LG: Your power is in your words, Kara, not your driving skills.
KS: I’m still thinking about stealing a Google bike.
LG: The bikes we’re talking about today are not multi-colored. They are lime green.
KS: Lime green. Okay.
LG: The service is called LimeBike.
LG: Brad, tell us what is different about LimeBike.
LG: We’ve read a lot about it being dock-less or kiosk-less. Explain how that works.
KS: Those kiosks are hard. I can’t get them off.
Yeah. I think the No. 1 thing really is the tech that’s enabled on it, namely data GPS locations for the user to track and also locate a bike for their convenience. Also for us to find the bikes. In turn, that generates the data that we share with cities and with campuses, so they can do better planning so that you don’t feel dangerous anymore in the future.
KS: Explain dock-less and kiosk-less. Right now what you have to do is you have to put a bike on one of these crazy, huge kiosks, and then you have to undo it. It’s hard to get off and also to get in. It’s presumably to protect them and then to document someone borrowing it, right?
Right, that’s right.
KS: So, how do you … What do you do? Like Zipcar or …?
LG: Yeah, do you just leave it on the side of the road when you’re done with it?
Yeah, exactly. Anywhere reasonable, anywhere responsible, anywhere you would leave and lock your personal bike, right?
KS: Okay. Lock, you have to lock it, though.
Well, yeah. I think really the significance is the GPS devices on it for the locations and also the smart lock on it. Then the 3G network that we enabled on the bikes. For each of that, the dock stations is used to locate a bike. We don’t need that or we use GPS and app.
The second is to secure the bike. We have the bike, each has a smart lock on it, so you unlock with your phone, and when you’re done you just lock it as a normal bike. We don’t need any kiosk or the docking station anymore.
KS: What does it lock to? You just put it against a tree or what?
There is a European style of lock, so you lock the rear wheel of the bike yourself.
KS: It’s similar if you pick up the bike, right?
Yeah, you could, but again, now it has GPS on it, so we can track and also it has an alarm on it.
KS: People can’t just take the GPS off?
It’s got to be really, really difficult to do that.
LG: Yeah, a city full of engineers. I can’t imagine. But in all seriousness, could someone just take the bike home with them and keep it overnight at their house if they wanted to?
Supposedly they could. We will know about and I think the bike is meant to be shared, so it’s not supposed to be locked indoors or in the backyard. That is for share, right?
But it’s okay. Again, there are two things we’re really enabling here. Using technology to get a really … Read off the expensive and a very inflexible dock stations, and also the scalability of it. That I think is about accessibility. Throughout the Bay Area, there are 700 bikes I believe being offered by Ford’s GoBike system, and it’s just not enough for the users. Not only are they a convenience but also as a daily transportation, you need enough supplies to give the …
KS: How much? A regular-size city.
I say New York is a great example of that. New York launched with 6,000 bikes, and now they have 10,000 bikes. But for a city like New York, their own estimate is 80,000 to really enable it.
KS: I think thousand numbers are good. Not like 100,000 bikes in New York, and then 20,000 gets stolen.
KS: You drop them wherever. Where do you start? Because people could take bikes where you don’t want. You could have a whole bunch of bikes where you don’t want them to be, right?
There could be. I think there are two parts to it. One is data. Are users being responsible as if they are parking their own personal bikes? If they are then we’re fine, right?
Most of the city has the sidewalks and the docks and the racks. If we look at the racks downstairs, they’re not used. It’s empty there. It’s already installed. That’s one piece of it. The second piece is, a small percentage will be taken to some unwanted place over there. Then we have the on-the-ground team to rebalance.
KS: To rebalance.
LG: They come and pick them up and then they distribute them somewhere else more populated.
LG: How many cities are you operating in?
We currently are in five.
LG: Okay, and San Francisco is one of them.
San Francisco is not yet. We’re still …
LG: It’s not, because there’s a permit issue going on here, right?
Right. We’re in the process. If you applied for the permit for San Francisco right now and since they already have a dock system and the contract is written as exclusive contract, we discuss and talk …
KS: They’re getting a lot of money from Ford or blank there whatever.
Yeah. I think so. Our approach is we work with cities and communities. We’re seeing us being part of it, so working with the city and I explain it and they hear the benefits, and now we are in the process. They’re opening up. We’re in the process of getting the city permit right now.
KS: What cities are you in?
We’re in Seattle. We just launched it about a week and a half ago in Key Biscayne in Miami, South Bend in Indiana, and Greensboro in UNCG, as well as South Lake Tahoe. If you ever spent the summer there, you will …
LG: South Lake Tahoe.
Yeah, you will get access to your own fleet of bikes.
KS: You have bikes there, and then but you put them into play. Wherever you go, you decide how many bikes should be in that region, correct?
We started always a phasing process. We started with relatively small amount and then based on data. Data will be adding, adjusting. Either increase the fleet or decrease the fleet.
KS: What’s an average fleet in a city?
In a city I think what we ultimately think will be 1:100 ratio, meaning that in a city like San Francisco we should be having about 8,000 bikes really to empower the people that want to use it on a daily basis and have access when they need it.
KS: Did you ever think of doing an Uber kind of bike thing where people borrow each other’s bikes? It’s your own bikes, right?
Yeah, it’s all our own bikes.
KS: Which you then maintain and manage.
That’s right. We thought about the peer-to-peer bike sharing network as well, and the two issues with that is that for the personal bikes, that is really hard for share. Since they’re all customized to different heights, different sizes, women and men have different needs, all that kind of stuff.
The second part of that, when there’s so many variety of them, it’s really hard to maintain them. All the parts, all the skills, there’s all that. It’s much easier that we have a fleet of bikes.
KS: What kind of bikes are they?
Yeah, but we’re making it based on the user’s need. For Seattle and San Francisco for example, those are the two cities that are very hilly.
KS: Hilly. We have hills, yeah.
Right. We developed a bike for those two cities. This is a really, really hard hill you see in the path of shared bikes. Most of the shared bikes in the past they sell to government. Meaning that they don’t really care whether they use it or not. They already got the money, the paycheck on starting Day 1 versus us, that as a consumer technology company, the No. 1 thing we care about is whether users like it or not.
LG: Right, if people use it.
LG: When you’re looking at cities, some of the places you mentioned, South Bend, Indiana. Greensboro, North Carolina, you said was another place?
Right, that’s right.
LG: These are college towns.
LG: Are you looking for that kind of population? What are you looking for when you are thinking of going into a market, expanding into another market? What sort of data points stand out to you as, like, this is a good place to drop a bike share?
I think the two most important things, No. 1 is the density. That the bike is perfect for solving the last-mile transportation. It has to be dense enough. If we look at some other cities that no matter where you go is five to 10 miles, the bike really doesn’t work.
No. 2 is really the size of it. Whether it can support a successful and a sustainable bike-share program, so we’re looking at density that’s above 2,000 per square mile, and the higher the better, of course. Also a minimum city size roughly about 200K and above. For some other cities with schools in play, then that number could be dropped a little bit, since the school has much higher frequency of bike use.
LG: Right. What about things like weather? What about things like are people there already into biking? Stuff like that, I would think would … Is that a factor?
It will factor in, but not with necessary the party for us. The mission for the company is to get more users on the bike and ride more, so this applies into two phases, right? For weather, yes. South Lake Tahoe, for example, we can only operate there for about less than eight months, but it’s fine. When they need it, I think we should be there to supply the bikes. Whether they’re biking or not, this is like an island with wearing shoes or not. If they are, like Seattle, that’s great. The pickup on the bike share is tremendous after we launched there, but if there’s a city that’s not accustomed to bike rides, we’re more than happy to dare and educate the user to do it.
KS: All right. Let’s talk about the bike-sharing services. There’s all kinds of ways to do this. Why don’t you break apart … bike manufacturers could do this. There’s this venture-backed thing, you just got a big round of funding, we’ll talk about in a minute. There are corporate sponsors. Talk about the economics of how these things work.
KS: Start with yours.
Yeah, the key thing here is that a bike share looks like a really low-tech simple thing. It’s actually rather difficult. It’s one of the most complicated businesses in Silicon Valley. If you think about that, most of the software companies do not have the hardware design, manufacture, supply chain, shipping, import-export, on-the-ground operations and deployment, all kinds of headache over here.
If we look at the hardware business, most of them do not really deal with government relationships, urban planning and all the things like that. If we look at some of the combination of all this together, they look at very, very long value chain. I think the bike manufacturer is part of it and are being part of this initiative, but they cannot really handle the software development, the hardware … The bike ends, and the data science part of it.
For most of the software companies, they’ll shy away from political issues, government relationship, all that stuff. It’s very, very complex. That’s why I think we get to see another company that are really doing this and being successful.
KS: Explain the economic. What do you …
LG: Yeah, how much is the cost?
Right. The unique economics then comes back to the start. There are two parts. To the bike itself is straight up that all bikes are roughly about $300 at a manufacturer cost. You’re looking at retail price of this equivalent bike, maybe $900 to $1,000. Manufacturer’s bike, the top bike manufacturer in the world.
What we believe in the mission, again, we want to get more users to ride more, and that is fundamental. You cannot make assumptions behind it. It’s called the lower, broader base, lower rate. I’m not sure you heard about this term or not, but it’s used a lot in …
KS: I was sleeping through that part in Economics. Well, most of the Economics class.
Currently, we can look at two approaches. We can look at Ford GoBike, for example, the dock-based bike. They charge users on a daily basis $10, New York $12. Miami and some other places $14 for a bike ride. That’s more expensive or double your Uber ride.
Here what we believe in is that our pricing is $1 for 30 minutes and way cheaper, but what we believe in is that we can get more users to use it and use it more. Equivalent data, if we look at back in the unique economics that if a bike got ridden four times, you’re generating about $120 on a monthly basis. For $300 bike ride, we can recoup the investment about three bucks.
Of course, on top of that we have other costs. Maintenance, operations, technology, marketing, PR, all these things add up, but still that will work, and putting into … I love numbers as a tech company. Let’s put numbers into perspective. We launched about 10 days ago in Seattle, and we launched 500 bikes there. We’re generating about 2,000 rides per day. That’s already achieving the goal of four rides per bike per day. At the equivalent time of launching week, just for San Francisco, they launched about 690 bikes, and their average rides per bike per day is about 0.5.
LG: Okay, half a mile.
KS: If people aren’t using them … Five uses.
No, times. We’re at four. They’re at 0.5. It’s about 8X.
KS: Right. It’s because no one could get them off those damn docks.
It costs too much.
LG: Well no, there’s a barrier to entry. You have to enter your credit card information into …
KS: It’s like getting one of those things at the airport.
KS: You know one of those? Then I just drag the bag.
LG: Do you use those things at the airport?
LG: I’m seeing a whole other side of you now.
KS: Really? Yes, I have children and they used to need car seats.
LG: Let them carry their damn luggage.
KS: Well, when they were babies they weren’t capable of doing that.
LG: Ask Louie about this when he reports to take over my show.
KS: Yes. To make you nervous, I got her on the run. Louie’s got her on the run.
Yeah, it’s interesting. They don’t seem to be used a lot. They don’t. Although sometimes they are. In some places they are. In New York they are.
They are, yeah.
KS: For sure, which is interesting.
New York, when they launched at Harvard there, they’re generating about one ride per bike per day. I think the limitations are A) that they’re too complicated. We’re in a smartphone era now. They’re based on a 10-years-old tech knowledge. B) That it’s too expensive.
KS: Right, I think the smartphone idea part is crazy. Putting in your credit card is an old … If you can open it with just your smartphone, it would be a lot easier.
Right. It’s literally one click, one second, you are on your ride.
LG: Let’s say I were to take a LimeBike from Caltrain to the Embarcadero — around here where we are right now — and leave it out, lock it up outside of the building here, and then just leave it for the day.
KS: Just leave it and get lost.
LG: That means that another … Your recurring revenue comes from the fact that another user could open up the app, see that that bike is idle where I’ve parked it, and just take it.
Right. That’s all about the concept of sharing. There are different user cases for the bike shares that some of the commuters coming in the morning and then leaving in the afternoon, and there’re lunch grabbers. There’re coffee grabbers, and also city dwellers, goes for grocery shopping during the day, running errands, and those are the usage that the bike, a shared bike they could be utilizing.
KS: That can be used. Yeah, that’s interesting. If it doesn’t take off. These things don’t take off, 0.5 is not very impressive for most these things, why don’t they take off? Difficulty of use? The expense?
Right, high cost.
KS: What else? Lazy-ass people.
I think it’s really the convenience.
KS: Uber’s cheap. Uber and Lyft are cheap.
Yeah, they are, but the … Then the other significant thing that people tend to overlook is really the user case. On average, our data shows — all the data shows — on average you use a bike somewhere between a mile to three miles, and the average of a bike ride is 12 to 15 minutes.
Now we look at the dock stations. More often than not you walk for five minutes to get there. You’re taking another five minutes to get a bike out, and when you get to the destination, you walk another five minutes. That’s 15 minutes for a 12-minute ride.
LG: On top of what was supposed to be an easy commute.
LG: I would love to see data on cities that are considered to be more casual or occupations, usage among people with occupations that are generally more casual. Because I think some of the very … I hear people say, “I have to wear a dress to work, or I wear a suit and tie and I don’t want to get sweaty on my way to work.” For some people, that’s a type of real barrier.
KS: Although Amsterdam, they’re all in suits and ties.
LG: Well, but that’s ingrained in their culture at this point.
KS: Right, yeah.
That’s the culture we want to create. We want to create that the bike share is not only normal, but also is trendy.
KS: Yeah, it’ll be nice if Americans were like Europeans. I wish that was the case, but it’s not so.
New York already sees a lot.
LG: If you were to go in to CNBC as you did this morning, would you ride a bike?
KS: No, it was because I was in the bike … I’ve been to Amsterdam and they just ride like that with their suits on. It’s really interesting. They’re just super comfortable. They have different bikes, too. They ride their kids around and everything in those wagons in front. It’s a different culture, but no, I wouldn’t because of … If I get stuck, I guess I would.
If I wanted to rush, but walking is just as fast, it seems like. Because of these, getting them out of docks and stuff like that. Or taking in a Lyft or an Uber would be much quicker.
LG: Who do you see as your biggest competitors right now?
I think so far the biggest competitor that the … Maybe it’s not directly answering your question right. I think the biggest competitor is exactly what you said, is the culture of biking that is nonexistent right now. If you look at Amsterdam, it’s 40 percent plus of the traffic are on bikes, and Danish people ride over 25 percent of that. In the U.S., it’s less than a percent. Our goal, the mission is to increase it from one percent to two, to three, to five. Why not 10?
KS: Mm-hmm. Yeah, we ride bikes as kids and then we continue to ride.
Everyone knows how to ride a bike, that strikes me, and then the U.S. has the highest bike ownership per capita.
LG: We own them but we don’t use them.
I think there are a few reasons for that. Culture is more about recreational instead of using as a daily behavior. The second thing is the … You asked that people tended to live in the suburbs. It’s a pain that you drag your bike to the city.
KS: Yeah, and then they get stolen, and then it’s gone. You have to lock them.
LG: That’s always fun.
KS: Yeah, totally.
LG: What about electric scooters? There’s a service here called Scoot that I’ve been seeing a lot of, and …
Yeah, we know them.
KS: That’s scooter or electric bikes.
LG: Electric bikes, yeah. If you’re in other countries. I don’t know if you’ve spent time … I have spent time in Vietnam. Crossing the street among the scooters is like an exercise in faith. I really hope I don’t get hit, but you don’t miraculously. Knock on wood.
I mean, there are places around the world where it’s … People just live on their scooters. Do you see that as competition? Because it seems like maybe it’s a little bit easier for people.
I think it’s actually an add-on that they are, and it’s in our roadmap as well, that we will add the scooter or electric-assisted bike into our fleet.
KS: Yeah, I saw a whole bunch coming off of a truck yesterday in San Francisco. No, not Scoots. It was electric bikes.
LG: Were they Jump? That’s another one.
KS: It might have been Jump.
I think it should be Jump. Yeah, they’re testing.
KS: Yeah, they were pulling them off of … the thing and installing some of … It was over near Zuni.
KS: Which is interesting. Yeah, so you have that on your plan, but electric bikes are part … Like assisted. I think electric-assisted.
KS: Assisted bikes. Andreessen Horowitz investor Jeff Jordan recently said … and your fundraising round was what? What did you raise?
12 million in total.
KS: 12 from them and others?
Yeah, that’s right.
KS: Nobody in this market will win on patents. It’s all about execution. Can you talk about that? Bikes have not changed that much since they were invented. But if we talk about what innovations and what makes one service work better than the other?
I think there are multiple fronts of it. The first thing is that if you look at the bike itself, we have one downstairs. If you’ve got a few minutes, you can check it out. When you look at it, it feels like they are largely the same, but it’s not. When we design that bike for bike share, then we have to design a bike that’s so flexible that …
Yeah. Sturdy and one-size-fits-all. Anti-theft measurements, it goes into there, and low maintenance. That is one case that we have to take into consideration.
One of the key things that being overlooked is that a shared bike, it will be shared and heavily used that the safety measurements were put in there. Not like some of the other companies or competitor potentially putting in, they’re using a very fragile v-brake. It works for a week or two, but gets dangerous when the weather is not there.
KS: Uh-oh. No one wants it. Brakes going out on a hill in San Francisco.
LG: I don’t know. You’re pushing that up your hill.
KS: That’s like “Princess Bride,” that app. No, that was a cable car. I don’t know, whatever.
Right, so we’re putting roller brakes and then we’re putting drum brakes that are weather-sealed. It’s metal on metal and much more powerful, robust and safety measurements put into there. Also all the safety measurements, that’s one big part of that on the hardware itself, and the software that has to be easy to use.
KS: That’s the appeal, presumably, the software. I don’t know if you noticed, but I used to be a biking instructor and I can fix bikes.
LG: Stop it.
KS: I can.
KS: Camp instructor.
LG: Biking instructor? Like a swimming class instructor?
KS: 17 years old. No, are you kidding? I’m not like, “Everybody reach down. We’re together in this.” No, do you think I could do that? I’m like, “Keep cycling, you assholes.”
LG: People would pay for that.
KS: I know, that’s true. No, I was a camp counselor. I took kids on a bike thing, then I fixed the bikes. That’s all I did. It was a horrible summer.
LG: Really? That actually sounds quite fun.
KS: Yeah. I had the thing where I maintained all the bikes. I’m pretty good at …
LG: Wow. How old were you when you did this?
KS: 17, 18, something like that.
LG: That sounds actually quite fun.
KS: It was fun. It was fun.
We should invite you to be our brand ambassador. With the bike coaching.
LG: Wow if she’s not … I don’t know. She’s kind of tied up right now doing meditation voices for another guest that we had on the show.
LG: Everyone wants Kara Swisher to be their brand ambassador. I think our editor excludes her from doing such a thing.
KS: What’s wrong with you?
LG: Oh my God. People would … Silicon Valley would pay for a spin class with you screaming at them.
KS: No way.
KS: I don’t think so. No, I don’t think so.
LG: You should start practicing.
KS: Because I can hardly keep up. Fucking assholes.
LG: At some point you switched over to your Arianna Huffington voice.
KS: Hello, how are you doing?
LG: You can probably slip in some tidbits that you heard from your sources.
KS: Yes, exactly.
LG: I’m envisioning this now. What would we call it?
KS: I don’t know.
LG: Swisher Cycle?
KS: No, not SoulCycle. Stress Cycle.
Anyway, so let’s talk about where it’s going, because in San Francisco, they’ve been doing a lot of bike lanes. Irritating bike lanes, I have to say, and there’s a big fight between … It’s so confusing now as a driver no matter what, because there’s so many bike lanes, but they’ve been doing bike lanes. People trying to get car-less downtowns and just very similar to Europe. Can you talk more about this? Because that’s assuming that will help your business, is less cars and more bikes.
Yeah, I think that’s aligned with our vision, really, is that as a venture capital, as before, we talked a lot about the future of urban transportation. The city, how it looks like, all that, and a few things that we cannot really deny or we will have to work towards is that more … The urban should be more environmentally friendly, should be more energy efficient, should be healthier, should be less polluted.
All those things added up together, inevitably we’re talking about electric cars and bikes and walking. These are the three main forms of transportation. For us, we want to be part of it and contribute to it. One of the key thing for urban planning today is everyone pretty much is guessing, because there’s no data. Where should I put the bike lanes, how wide it should be, and then how do I change the infrastructure? There will always be debates about things like that and nobody has data.
KS: They’re ugly debates, too. There’s a lot of fighting here.
I know. I read the news in there with our board. We wanted to show you stats with the new technological data. We will give them the data. Where people are biking, where they start, when they start, where they finish and when they’re finished. The data will be utilized to a better planning, and then we have a foundation that there’s no arguing about.
And that goes back to your earlier question is, we started with bikes and then we’ll add electric-assisted bikes to it, and then later on we might even add kids’ bikes to it. We add cargo bikes to it and expand the user of bike as a transportation. Those are the things we’ll contribute to it, but I think the significance is there. Yes, that how do we use data and how do we use that to smartly design our city in the future.
The other thing very interesting is the chicken and egg thing, that you two exactly pointed out. It’s too dangerous to bike out there.
KS: Yeah, got to get rid of cars.
Right. One of the major concerns.
LG: Humans are dangerous. Humans on their cellphones.
KS: Humans on their cellphones, yeah. All that.
LG: Humans operating vehicles.
Oh yeah. Plus cars is even more dangerous.
LG: Humans and cars. Let’s just say …
KS: For example, if I was a mayor of a major metropolitan area, I would bar cars and also people going to the bathroom on sidewalks.
LG: I have a feeling you’re going to win.
KS: It’s my platform for San Francisco.
LG: At least one of those. Those platform promises.
KS: Yeah, but it’s really interesting, because the fighting here is really quite ugly among … between bike people and car people.
LG: Yeah, and unfortunately people get killed.
KS: They do. It’s very hostile and it’s a really interesting struggle that’s going on.
LG: Although I would wait for you to say, this is anecdotal, that I think here people are generally more accepting of cyclists than in other cities.
KS: New York City, too?
LG: New York’s tough though, still.
KS: There’s always been cyclists.
LG: But here, I mean especially in Silicon Valley, everyone cycles everywhere.
KS: They do.
LG: For sport. It’s like everyone … I remember the first weekend I moved to Silicon Valley, I saw a group of people out on Sand Hill Road cycling and I said, “Oh my God. There must be a race going.” There were 50 cyclists, and someone just says, “No, that’s just what happens on a Saturday in Palo Alto.”
You might as well be there.
KS: Someday I will tell you my story of John Doerr and Sergey Brin showing up in my house in bike shorts. It was really unfortunate.
LG: I think I’ve heard this. I thought … Wasn’t Larry there, too?
KS: They’re all in bike shorts, it was very unfortunate. It’s not expected …
LG: I think you should tell us all now.
KS: No, it was just so you could imagine how I felt when I opened my door and there they were in bike shorts.
One statistic here …
KS: Don’t wear bike shorts, anybody.
LG: They’re called shammies.
KS: Whatever, I don’t care. I don’t like them. I don’t like to see people cover on them, I can tell you that.
LG: Pad your areas.
KS: Whatever. Not attractive. Anyway, in just a minute we’re going to answer some questions. You’re so patient with us, thank you so much.
KS: I’m making horrible remarks about people in bike shorts.
Glad I didn’t wear them today.
KS: Yeah, exactly.
Was planning to.
KS: We’re here with Brad Bao. He’s the president of LimeBike, applying some new tech to bike sharing. He’s going to answer some questions when we get back, but first, let’s take a quick break for a word from our sponsor, Lauren.
Okay, we’re back with LimeBike president Bred Bao, and now we’re going to take some questions about bike sharing. Got quite a few from our readers and listeners.
Lauren do you want to read the first question?
LG: I would love to.
KS: Thank you.
LG: This is from Kevin. He’s @Kevito920 on Twitter.
KS: What does Kevin say?
LG: “Some people in New York City believe that bike sharing is for people with a lot of disposable income. How can these services change that mindset?”
KS: That’s a good point. That is a very good point.
LG: We had a second question similar from Bryan Libit who asks, “Bike share in LA requires online sign-up plus a credit card. How can this be made more accessible and inclusive to all?” Okay, Brad, I’m going to throw these questions to you, but I’m going to say with one caveat, you can’t just say, “Use LimeBike.” How can you change the opinion that this is for people with disposable income? How can people make this more accessible?
Yeah, those are great questions, and those are the things that we thought of when we started the program. I think the first thing in terms of accessibility, that’s what we intended to do, and also what we believe is the low … a broader-based lower rate. The two significant things here is coverage, that if we look at New York and many of the docking-station-based programs, they don’t go to the neighborhoods that are less privileged.
KS: No. Like groceries and everything.
Right, but for us we are going to provide a service in all the neighborhoods, in the cities and communities. We have been demonstrating that in South Bend, in Seattle, in many other markets that we launched with. The second part of that, it really is pricing. Again, how many people will fork over $10 to $14 for a bike ride?
For us, we lower the rate to a dollar a ride, then it’s much more affordable. On top of that, we’re also working with the cities that provide low-income programs to give the access and also much lower, even much, even lower rates for the low-income population. Then the second part for the … Again, that’s not only a user experience part of it, but also accessibility. What we are doing is using a smartphone, it’s so easy that literally it’s one to two seconds.
KS: They still need that credit card, correct? To sign up.
Yeah, for now, yes. Yeah.
LG: Maybe this exists already, but is anyone doing tap to pay? What if you could just use something as easy as Apple Pay or Android Pay and just go up and tap the bike with your phone, and then …
That’s on the roadmap too, that we’ll use Apple Pay and Android Pay, but again, that … These other things are not addressing the non-banking and non-credit card user or non-smartphone users.
KS: Mm-hmm. But most people have smartphones. Lots of people have smartphones.
LG: Right. I guess you still need a credit card for those services.
Right. What do we? Credit card? Or debit cards? It’s not necessarily credit card, but what we are doing is starting for the low-income program also an accessibility program. That some of the users just can call the 800 number and unlock the bike. We’ll unlock the bike remotely for them. That’s one thing we are doing, and for the next generation of the bike that will incorporate keyboards and bluetooth, meaning that they don’t need a credit card. They don’t need even a smartphone to unlock the bike.
KS: That’s interesting. I’ve been to a lot of these places, though, in downtown areas, they’re probably more work-related than any just riding around. People go from the Ferry Building to a job more. I’m guessing the use cases are much more work.
It’s more about that.
KS: When you get out to neighborhoods where people live, there’s probably fewer … No matter what the neighborhood, whatever income level, correct?
KS: Right. I would assume Pacific Heights does not have a lot …
LG: Because then people are just …
KS: For downtown. No matter what their income level that you use for a downtown usage versus more suburbs in a city kind of thing.
We’ve seen both, that the other part is really running errands and also going to …
KS: In a neighborhood?
Yeah, in a neighborhood. Going to lunch or going to bars at night. For example, that …
KS: All right. Great, you’re drunk on a bike.
LG: So good.
If you want to send a snail mail today, what’s the option? Walk or driving? What about that scenario we described as too far to walk, too short to drive.
KS: Right, that’s true. To go to the post office, which is another experience.
What about buying some groceries? What about just …
LG: Yeah. You’re buying kitty litter for your cat.
KS: Louie’s sent his first letter ever.
LG: Yeah, you were saying that. He said he didn’t know how to address the envelope.
KS: It was amazing. It’s shocking. That was weird. Anyway …
LG: Let’s have him on to talk about it when he attempts to take over my show.
KS: But he just walked to the post office. I made him walk so that’s …
LG: Yeah, okay. I told you to read the next question.
KS: Yes, I will.
LG: Here you go. This is perfect for you.
KS: “Is bike sharing a thing of coastal dense cities or can it be mainstream in the heartland?” You’re in South Bend, Indiana, right?
KS: Answer that … Apparently not. They like bikes in the Midwest too?
Yeah. I think they do.
KS: It feels like a coastal thing, a lot of these things, but it’s not. You don’t feel like it is.
It’s not. No, and then we … In also Greensboro, if you think about that is not that a coastal city per se, right?
KS: Yeah. No. It’s a real …
LG: There are bike share services in Chicago, too, I believe.
KS: I’m guessing we need to have a college town around for a lot of these, right? What’s in South Bend?
KS: Notre Dame.
LG: Yeah, sorry.
KS: That’s what I mean.
It’s not necessarily college per se that we’re in discussion with many other cities. I think the human need is very similar. That you still go to work. You still connect. You transit. You still grab lunch. You have coffee and run errands.
KS: Where’s the weirdest place that a bike has been?
In the river.
KS: In the river?
KS: That’s not weird to me. I’m okay, yeah.
LG: What happened there?
I think just … Yeah.
KS: They threw it. A kid threw it.
Always there’s kinds of things that happens, but …
KS: Probably Louie. Probably Louie.
LG: There was a story in the news recently about a bunch of Google bikes being dumped in a …
Yeah, give Steve a break.
KS: Why don’t you see? It was just one day they were all sitting there in a big row, and they just were red and colorful and I was like, “I fucking hate Google and I’m going to run over their bikes.” I don’t know what happened — not people.
LG: I feel like seeing a bunch of Google bikes in a dry river bed is like an art installation.
KS: They just … Forget they just served me fresh Kombucha, and I was like, “There’s enough of this.” I just was like … I’m going to take their bikes down. Oh God. I didn’t do it.
LG: Next questions.
KS: I just thought about it.
LG: These two questions are about Uber. Because we cannot avoid Uber. We cannot escape it.
KS: Okay, Uber. That’s a good point.
LG: This is from …
KS: It’s Uber/Lyft/blah-blah.
LG: Yeah, these two questions are from Doctor Hammer.
LG: And Oscar. “Why use that over public transportation or Uber?” and, “Is bike sharing the ultimate Uber competitor?”
KS: Interesting. Uber/Lyft/blah-blah.
Totally. I think they’re not really competition per se, but it’s all part of the multimodal transportation. But why use a bike? There are many reasons. It is cheaper. It’s faster mostly in the city. Also it’s healthier compared to Uber, Lyft, as well as even a bus.
I have a screenshot that I think the … Everyone can point on the map itself, anywhere between a mile or three miles. You would look at … Here’s what I’m looking at. Biking seven minutes, getting an Uber 13 minutes plus five minutes wait, right?
Then walking is 19 to 20 minutes and a public transportation 11 minutes plus average 15 minutes wait.
LG: Is that from here right now? Your location.
It’s right here. Somewhere here.
LG: I’m going thank Salesforce for that because of all the darn construction that’s going on right now.
KS: That building.
LG: That building there is the least favorite in San Francisco.
KS: I don’t like that building.
Right, and then 30 minutes if you drive plus the time to get parking. In here, it’s $5 for parking. Here is $2.50 for the bus. Here is $7 for the Uber. Here is $1.
KS: A dollar and also helps the environment.
KS: It’s the best deal around.
LG: Is there a helmet with that?
KS: This is a question. Okay, Kelly Krause: “Can we make helmets a requirement?” That’s something else to think about. I’m not carrying around a helmet and I don’t want to wear other people’s helmet.
LG: But Kara, you look so cool in a helmet.
KS: No, I’m good with a helmet. I just don’t want to wear … I’m like, “Well, that’s the issue.” I’m not carrying a helmet.
It is. It’s just locking them around is really difficult.
KS: Nobody looks good in those helmets. But you have to have them.
LG: No, but you have to.
Not necessary. I think it really …
KS: Really necessary. I have some friends who have had some issues, so I think it’s important to have helmets. But you don’t have them, obviously.
KS: That would make no sense whatsoever.
No, right. I think we studied a lot of statistics as well that the helmet. Two things, first of all that shared-bike riders tended to have much lower accident rates.
Given the bike, the way we design them, they cannot go really fast. It’s very sturdy, very balanced, but do not go really fast.
The second part is the shining lime green just give the alert for the drivers that go around it. So New York if again, for example, out of the last eight years they operated the bike share program, they had only one fatal accident, which happened about two months ago. For the first seven years or so, they had zero. In the meantime, New York has a lot more accidents in terms of bike accidents.
KS: No, that’s just racing around and those messengers.
LG: Does New York bike sharer use helmets?
LG: Does not.
KS: That’s not required.
That’s not required.
LG: Why are your … How much more does it cost for a company to create some type of basket or bin on top of the bikes that can carry a helmet?
I think the carry part is really easy. It’s that what Kara just said …
KS: You don’t want to wear someone’s helmet.
KS: I don’t want to wear your helmet.
LG: No, I mean I wouldn’t want to … I know you’ve had that lice issue in the past.
KS: Oh I have.
LG: I just … but no offense.
KS: I have two small children.
LG: But just …
KS: No, everybody who has had small children has the lice issue.
LG: No, I mean yeah, if it’s a matter of safety. What if people want to carry around their own helmets? I guess that doesn’t matter because you are going to take it with you anyway.
KS: Yeah, that’s the issue.
The second thing …
LG: I just think there should be helmets.
The second thing that is really from Seattle, we …
KS: With better heads.
LG: Yeah, I used … I had a professor at Stanford who it used to drive him crazy when people were whizzing around campus and going super fast. He’d say, you just paid all this money to come here in some of the most brilliant heads of this country and you’re not protecting your heads with helmets.
KS: Yeah, I know two people who have had very … One died. It just gets in my head, so to speak, on this issue. I think everybody should wear helmets, even if it doesn’t help that much. It helps a little bit.
LG: Even though the data, some of the data show that bike shares don’t necessarily need helmets, I think you should use helmets.
KS: But you’re not made to by San Francisco. It seems like something San Francisco would do.
No. Only it is a county by county law. Seattle does, the King County does require helmets, and what we’re doing is we’re promoting and educating users to bring their own helmet. We’re giving away thousands of helmets.
KS: Oh okay.
Also that we will be selling very cheap, very high-quality helmets.
KS: Good helmet. Right, okay.
But the thing is, over there there’s always a debate over what is the best safety measurements for the biker? Some of the answers the data shows is more bikers on the road.
KS: I see.
Is your best protection.
KS: Yes, okay sure.
If the helmet discouraged people from riding on the road, then it becomes a kind of Catch-22, right?
KS: All right.
What we again, what we wanted to do is create a safe environment for the bikers, for the communities, but the No. 1 thing is more bikers on the road.
KS: Right, absolutely. All right, next one.
LG: Next is from Hannes Flo – Mark II. That sounds like a camera. I don’t know. Hannes Flo: “Is it even profitable with bikes getting stolen all the time or is everything connected and tracked?”
Yeah, I think the answer is yes to both. The first thing is exactly as the advertisement said, once it gets to the amount, that a few of the bikes are stolen or damaged is fine. Also that the bikes that have … We had a few attempts and they gave up, since they cannot sell the bike. They cannot repurpose the bike. What’s the point of stealing them?
LG: Just picturing their Craigslist ad now. “Bright, lime-green bike with branding that says LimeBike on it, but I swear …”
KS: Criminals are so smart.
Also, every single bike is tracked and that … It also has an alarm. All bikes, if it’s locked can be moved.
KS: It’s easier to steal Kara’s bike, okay?
They’re probably worth more.
KS: For tires or flats, so don’t worry about it.
LG: “Selling lime-green bike with alarm that has not yet turned off, but don’t worry it will. Just come and buy it.”
LG: It’s going to just really … That secondhand market.
KS: All right. Last two questions. We got to go.
LG: Okay. Irfan Bhanji: “I use Divvy in Chicago to get around. I’m saving money and I’m exercising. The biggest hurdle for most people is safety. How do we convince people to try it?” Back to this question. How do we convince? How do you convince people to try it?
KS: Get off your ass.
LG: Since that’s your job.
KS: That would be mine, get off your ass.
LG: Back to Swisher Cycle.
I think the few things that we’re doing right now, we educate the user. We give out free rides. We make it a lower entry barrier for them to try, at least the first time. One of the magic moments for me, that is the user. When we talk to the user, they say, “I’ve never ridden a bike in the last 10 years. Now I’m doing it.” That’s one of the magic moments that we’ve heard.
Also we work with communities and cities to educate the users, and the last thing that we did is tell them you’re not only promoting the utility of it, but also the fun piece of it. We had a program that’s running in Seattle called the LimeRide over the weekend. We created 10 different destinations, users collect stamps at each point.
KS: What do they get?
They will get ice cream. Free ice cream here. They will get a nice coffee here. They will get a prize at the end. That encourages the sense of riding not only for work, but also for fun.
KS: It’s a very clever marketing ploy.
That day alone we generated 2,500 rides in Seattle.
KS: Uber delivered puppies. You might think about that. Anyway, last question. Joseph Bullivant … hate kittens.
KS: “Hey, Lauren —” as if I don’t exist. “Know any bike-sharing startups that are using electric bikes? I’m lazy.” Yes, you are, Joseph, for not mentioning Kara Swisher.
LG: Joseph knows this is my show.
KS: Yeah, all right.
LG: Step back, Louie and Casey.
KS: How could you beat this? I’m starting a war with Joseph. Hello.
LG: Joseph, we did talk a little about this earlier, but we know at least a couple …
KS: Jump. What else? You might have some.
LG: There’s Jump, and then there’s Scoot, which is scooters, not electric bikes. Then it seems that LimeBike is planning on expanding on this area.
LG: I believe others are as well.
KS: Yeah, and you can buy them too, by the way. I don’t mind, if you’re that rich.
LG: You can buy them, but I think he is talking specifically about bike sharing. Joseph, I encourage you to go back and listen to the earlier part of this conversation just before the breaks. Those are the ones we know at the top of our heads at the moment.
KS: Yeah, all right. Terrific, Brad. This is really helpful. We think it’s a great thing. People should bike.
KS: It’s good for the environment. It’s good for your health.
LG: With helmets.
KS: With helmets. It’s good for you in general, and less cars is always better, I think.
LG: Kara, would you like to go for a bike ride this weekend?
KS: No. With you? No. No, I’m going to Kentucky.
LG: Would you like to ride bikes in Kentucky?
KS: I probably will not be doing that, but when I get back I will come down to that area you live in.
LG: There are some serious hills back where I live.
KS: I know. Well, here too. I don’t know if you noticed San Francisco.
LG: Yeah. Your street.
KS: There’s a big song about it and everything.
All right. Brad, thank you for coming. This has been another great episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask.
Thank you for having me here.
LG: Yes, Brad. Thank you so much, and also thank you for inspiring Kara on her newest business. If she’s not going to run for mayor and make bike riding completely mandatory in this city, she’s going to start Swisher Cycle and all of the Silicon Valley-ites can signup and just …
KS: Yes. Many platforms.
LG: You’re gluttons for punishment.