Last month the first profitable micromobility company, Veo, raised $16M in a Series A funding round by Autotech Ventures, UP Partners, FJ Labs, and Interplay Ventures. The announcement followed Veo’s selection over dozens of competitors in key markets like New York and their new headquarters, Santa Monica.
Here in California, you can find their shared bikes, ebikes, scooters, and seated scooters in markets like Santa Monica, San Diego, Long Beach, and Oakland. The successes are attributed to a perfect track record of compliance with city regulations, sustainable business practices, and an elevated quality of vehicles.
We sat down with Edwin Tan, president and Co-Founder of Veo, for insight into how he and Veo CEO and co-founder Candice Xie pulled this off, and their vision for the future of the industry.
Q: Why did you start Veo?
While at Purdue, Candice and I would talk for hours about how our transportation system is full of potential for something better, especially with our current over-reliance on cars which are choking the life out of cities. Once you stop and truly grasp the amount of public space that is dedicated to nothing but cars, it becomes impossible to unsee. We dreamt of a car-free cityscape with fresh air and more shared public spaces like parks and plazas. In this vision, people can get anywhere they need to go by bike or scooter for distances 1-5 miles, public transit for distances 5-20 miles, and potentially autonomous cars or trains for longer trips. A lot of people share this vision, but as a society we have a hard time making concrete steps towards it. Then micromobility emerged, and we were ecstatic about its potential. But the companies working to solve this problem were overwhelmingly software focused, when we knew the key to successful shared micromobility programs would be in the hardware — devices designed and manufactured specifically for shared use. We started the business because we have that unique set of skills and background.
Q: What is your unique background?
I’m a mechanical engineer with a background of designing bikes for Trek. More importantly, my family was in the same industry. From a very young age, I was exposed to a passion for biking and the shocks and gears that make high-quality bikes fun to ride. I remember the first time I fixed my own bike after a gear chain was knocked loose. My father would sometimes bring home bike parts he was perfecting and let me tinker with them. I was hooked. Today, the obsession lives on not only in the mechanics of the bikes, but in the seat of one. I am passionate about cycling and am an active road biker. I love long bike rides like the one I did from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas in seven days.
Q: So it sounds like bike mechanics mean a lot to you, how does this translate into being the first profitable micromobililty company?
For Veo, it’s all about quality. For this industry to become a reliable part of our cityscape, bikes and scooters have to be comfortable and fun, but most importantly, they must be designed specifically for the rigors of shared use. To meet those standards, they must also be innovated upon constantly to meet the needs of riders in specific cities. This is a key difference between Veo and our competitors. We design and manufacture all our form factors (what we call different versions of bikes and scooters) in-house. Just this year, we released the first seated scooter, the first scooter with turn signals, and the first scooter with “pick me up” lighting if it has fallen into the pedestrian traffic right of way.
Q: I noticed that so many other companies’ scooters look the same, and Veo’s are distinct. This is by design?
Well, they look the same because they are the same. Most other companies purchase off-the-shelf scooters from one of a few mass producers, and then slap their branding on it. These scooters were designed for an individual who may use it a few times a week and store it inside. There’s a huge difference between that and something built to sustain thousands of charges, rainstorms, and riders.
Q: Why do you think they made that decision?
Keep in mind the executives of these companies mostly come from the technology sector, like Uber, where they are scaling software, not hardware. For them, it was a race to the top, or unicorn status, instead of transforming transportation. We are hardware focused first. Quality, not quantity, is the way we approach everything and why we’ve grown steadily over the last five years instead of the boom-and-bust cycle seen among our peers.
Q: What makes Veo vehicles different? I did notice some of your scooter features are appearing on other companies’ scooters. Is that normal?
The biggest difference stems from the fact that we design and manufacture our bikes, ebikes, seated and standing scooters in house. We are constantly iterating on models to make them better based on rider feedback and requests from cities. This is a huge advantage over our peers, but also allows us to lead the pack. As for our peers, we are flattered when they take cues from us. We make these innovations because it makes the bikes and scooters safer and more fun to ride. So far, we are just flattered to see our ideas spreading.
Q: You mentioned launching in Santa Monica. Dozens of cities applied for a license to operate there and only three were selected, Veo among them. Besides the fancy wheels, what do you think made Veo stand out?
From the beginning, Candice and I took a different approach and cities have noticed. Micromobility can only scale in partnership with cities, not despite them as some companies seemed to think. Stemming from our Midwest roots, we decided to only launch where we were welcome, and where we knew we could stay long term. For us, it’s always been about building a sustainable business so that cities know they have reliable, long-term partners. You must turn a profit to be a viable business, that’s just reality. Now that so many of our competitors have gone out of business by focusing on hockey-stick projections instead of responsible business practices, cities have come to see Veo as the best option. We have never and will never abandon a market and leave broken hardware for public servants to clean up. We are in this for the long haul and have a track record to prove it.
On my side of the house, Veo custom-builds vehicles for different cities’ needs and local regulations, addressing their concerns for safety, parking, and accessibility. Turn signals are an example of that, a feature we were the first to launch and all cities can benefit from down the line.
And now, with new forms of vehicles in the mix, cities can utilize customized “mixed fleets’’ with a wider range of users and trip types to fit their unique needs, rather than simply deploying as many scooters or bikes as possible.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like California readers to know about Veo?
I’m excited to continue pushing the boundary of innovation, building the best products and technology for cities and riders. Stay tuned for what comes next.