If you ever have the chance to chat with Sean Flood, you’ll quickly understand why his company is so successful. His passion is palpable; his energy is contagious; his hustle is impressive.
Sean is the CEO and Founder of Gotcha, an electric Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) company headquartered in Charleston. In an industry that’s getting increasingly crowded, theirs is the only platform to offer four shared transit options, combining dockless e-bike share, 100%-electric rideshare vehicles, electric scooters and newly-launched electric trikes.
Last year, Gotcha was named the nation’s 249th fastest-growing private company on the annual Inc. 5000 list, landing in the top five percent alongside notable brands like Yelp, Zillow, and Pandora. They’ve garnered press from the likes of Fast Company and Mashable and inked funding deals with leading VCs in Atlanta and Charleston. And it’s no surprise. The company has been speeding into new markets thanks to university and city partnerships, now counting hundreds of electric mobility hubs from Chapel Hill and Auburn to Norman, Oklahoma and Washington State.
We recently caught up with Sean to learn more about Gotcha’s nationwide expansion, how he and his team have navigated an ever-changing industry, and what’s in store for the future of shared mobility.
Gotcha launched nearly ten years ago, well before shared mobility was mainstream. What inspired you to start this business back in 2009?
Candidly, when we started, mobility wasn’t an industry and it certainly wasn’t top of mind like it is today. Uber and Lyft were just getting started. Our origins were really safety-driven; we lived in Tallahassee and were shocked that FSU students were still going out and drinking and driving. Our team wanted to create a safe, sustainable, electric ride-share alternative for these kids to get around. Now, people view mobility as valuable and we’ve evolved to solving more challenges and moving millions of people on all types of electric vehicles.
The mobility landscape has changed dramatically since then, thanks to new technology and new regulations. How have you weathered those changes as a company?
We’ve really embraced change as a company. I think part of it is that we’ve been doing this a long time and our original core team is still with Gotcha. I joke that we’re a two-year-old startup in a 10 year-old company’s body, but the years have allowed us to make a ton of mistakes and gain really valuable wisdom that we can use as we grow. Other upstarts have had to learn what it’s like to work with a university or a city and figure out where there might be pushback, whereas we’ve had a partnership mentality from the beginning. Each year we’ve been doing this, we’ve learned little things about our partners, what worked and what didn’t, and how to embrace regulation, build our team, and have patience when we’re trying to effect change.
Could you share 1-2 bits of advice for founders/CEOs who might also be building a business in an ever-evolving industry?
To start any business at all, but especially in a changing environment, you have to feel passionate about what you’re doing. That doesn’t mean you have to stay committed to one thing, but as long as you’re passionate about what you’re doing and where your company fits in the space, then you’ll be flexible enough and driven enough to get to the end of the line that fits for you.
The mission we’re driving towards is not always a straight line. Sometimes you have to take the long way around the get there, but having passion will help you deal with all of those obstacles that pop up every day. Tons of startups come and go in 18 months in our space because they don’t truly believe in it. Raising money isn’t the measurement of success and isn’t a business model — you might get lucky and have exists, but if it you don’t believe in what you’re building, there’s a better chance of failure.
All of your mobility-sharing programs rely on partnerships with various stakeholders, from colleges and brands to cities and, of course, your end users. In your experience, what is the most critical ingredient in a successful partnership (and why)?
Partnership has been at the center of Gotcha since day one when we signed a contract with FSU. Over time, we learned that partnership allows you to deal with the ebbs and flows, and so we always stuck to that model. You have to be able to listen to what your partner wants, and they have to hear you in regards to what you’re proposing as the industry expert. It all boils down to communication. Products will break, software will crash, there will be safety incidents. Every partnership is going to have bad days, but open communication on both sides will drive you towards success.
Gotcha recently launched trikes, which we got to test out during the DIG SOUTH Tech Summit. Will we start to see these nationwide this year? What other mobility trends can we expect in the next year or so?
The trikes will start to roll out this summer in Atlanta. We’re excited because the test response so far has been overwhelming — the trikes fit a need in the space and really resonate with consumers, universities, and cities.
Our goal is to shift towards a mix of different mobility products — we’re not just a scooter company or a bike company because one singular option isn’t going to change people’s habits and get them out of their cars. When people see the uses and benefits of multiple options — our ebike combined with a scooter, combined with a trike — then we’re able to open their eyes to all these products that allow them to accomplish their daily life without the need for a single-person car. Our goal is to add products that start making the shift from car dependency even easier and remove those barriers and anxiety.
Speaking of the electric trikes – you recently rode one all the way from Florida to SXSW. Give us the scoop: best and worst moment of that adventure?
The weeklong Trike Trek was this hairbrained idea my team came up with thinking I would say no. It ended up being a pretty unbelievable experience personally and professionally. From a business standpoint, it was so cool to drive this new product we designed and have conversations with people in small Southern towns and big cities from Florida to Texas.
From a personal standpoint, it’s rare that I get 7 days to be singularly focused on one thing. I wasn’t in a ton of meetings and just got to be on the trike. It was really hard but I felt so re-energized about what we’re doing. In terms of the lowpoint, the first day we pulled out of Tallahassee, it rained monsoon-level rain for 4 hours straight. I was on the trike in a full rain suit trying to FaceTime my wife — quite the kickoff to the trip. But then halfway through the trip we drove through Lafayette, Louisiana during Mardi Gras and got to be part of a traditional parade. It was awesome.
You can read more about Sean’s “Trike Trek” in AdWeek.
You have offices in Charleston and Atlanta and you’re backed by an ATL-based venture capital firm. What makes these two Southern cities great places to grow a business?
About five years ago, my wife and I moved from Atlanta and opened our Charleston office. It was just the two of us then, and most of our growth has happened here (about 70-80 of our 120-person team is in Charleston). It’s been really great to experience growing a tech company in the South. In our industry in particular, our competitors are big VC-backed companies headquartered in Silicon Valley. The fact that we’re not and that we’ve been able to build something competitive from here has really set the tone for our brand and our view of the space. It’s made us different from a people and product standpoint — we don’t have a bubble mentality and we’ve been able to recruit amazing team members and work with VCs in Atlanta and Charleston who are excited about our growth.
Gotcha is growing rapidly – what does the rest of 2019 have in store for you?
We’ve got some exciting things in store. We’re working on raising our next round which should hopefully close soon. That will allow us to deploy about 60 new partnerships that are under contract. We’re also excited to roll out new products, including our brand new ebike that just hit the ground in Baton Rouge thanks to a partnership with LSU.
We’re going from few thousand assets to 15,000 shared devices on the ground by the end of the year. It’s very cool to see how we’ve gotten to where we are — six months from now if we continue to do what we’re doing, we’ll be a different-looking company from a size standpoint. I’m excited to see how our team responds and what our team looks like. This growth will definitely bring some new challenges in 2020, which for me as an entrepreneur is really exciting.
You can learn more about Gotcha by clicking here. We’re thrilled to count Gotcha as a DIG SOUTH Sponsor, an exciting collaboration that promotes success in the South. If your growing company is interested in becoming a sponsor, too, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.