Op-Ed: Bird Scooters flop with millennials

(This article reflects the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect those of Mace & Crown.)

Josh Raymond-Castro | News Editor

With obesity rates at all time highs, another southern California startup has found a new way to ensure college students are getting the least amount of exercise possible, by saturating the market with expensive electric scooters.

Bird Scooter Company launched in 2017 with its primary mission aimed at fixing the overwhelming traffic problems found in many major cities. The scooters are connected to an app, and can be activated online and left at the users destination, to be picked up by contractors for the company.

Of course, had the company decided this model would be best rolled out over a period of time and following the proper framework with the cities in which they decided to establish a presence, they may not have faced as much blowback as they have in recent weeks.

Bird's marketing strategy consisted of running what one spokesperson referred to as a “pop-up tour,” which became less of a fun way to introduce a new product to a city that they believed needed it, as much as it was dumping hundreds of scooters around unknowing city areas in the dead of night and trying to make a fast profit without the proper consultation of law enforcement or city officials.

While Bird can be commended at the very least for rightly assuming that local universities would benefit from increased methods of transportation. They have, at the same time, shown just how out of touch they are with the audience they seem to be trying to reach.

Bird has again and again stated that the driving factors for such quick roll outs was motivated by quick action for climate change, ushered in by an era of whirring, beeping scooters. Unfortunately for them, in this day and age where anyone with a connection can log onto the internet, the faulty rhetoric they have taught their PR teams to recite to the media can be quickly unraveled for what it is.

For instance, all the redeeming qualities that the startup could have when marketing itself to millennial unfolds when you begin to look at how the company operates. The scooters themselves are not handmade in the USA in order to provide jobs or have some environmental oversight. They are instead cranked out by Xiaomi company and its subsidiaries in Changzhou, China (the same Xiaomi that was accused of stealing data via the smartphones they produce for the U.S. and giving it to the Chinese government.)

And then again, an increasingly large part of any startup is knowing your audience. CEO Travis VanderZanden's approach to making his company hip to millennials is reminiscent of a skateboard-wielding Steve Buscemi in “21 Jump Street.” Even VanderZandens own HQ city of Santa Monica, CA wants nothing to do with Bird, despite their publics relations specialists preaching indifference.

Bird insists that for every city that is harshly shuns Bird, another city embraces it. But then again, that shows the growing indifference by the company who fails to see its colonialism approach to business as anything other than annoying.

In the end, Bird is a hit and a miss with the generation it so ardently wants to attract. While they probably won't fold overnight (unfortunately) you can be assured that their slap to the face of ‘90s nostalgia won't become the next Uber in Norfolk anytime soon.