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What scooter company Bird has planned after its public debut and a rocky 2020

November 5, 2021, 11:47 PM UTC

Electric scooter company CEO Travis VanderZanden was surprisingly gracious about what some may find to be a travesty: The very name of his company, Bird, became shoemaker Allbird’s ticker symbol earlier this week, mere days before Bird’s own public debut.

“I guess this is the week of the public birds,” VanderZanden tells Fortune.

But VanderZanden is a bit preoccupied to worry much about a ticker (Bird’s ticker is BRDS, trading on the New York Stock Exchange). After what was a very difficult year in 2020, Bird’s merger with Switchback II Corp., a special purpose acquisition company, was approved by shareholders on Tuesday and officially closed early this morning. Now the company has $414 million in cash to play with—$264 million in equity from the public offering and $150 million in debt from Apollo Investment Corporation—and VanderZanden has big plans for how to spend it.

Bird, headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif., is known primarily for its electric scooter rental business. Customers use an app to reserve, then rent scooters across more than 350 cities in the U.S. and Europe. 

Bird’s public debut follows a tough year during the pandemic. Revenue from rentals, accounting for the vast majority of the company’s revenue, were cut nearly in half in 2020—to $80 million from $140 million. VanderZanden said that, in March of that year, Bird pulled all of its scooters off the road, and it didn’t redeploy them until the summer. Around that time, the company came under fire for how it handled layoffs—reportedly telling 30% of its staff over a Zoom call that they were out of a job, with some employees being locked out of their email and Slack during the call.

“Just like most companies, we had to take a quick look at the cost structure and make some tough decisions,” VanderZanden says about laying off staff. “So we did unfortunately have to lay off some people to make sure that the company would be okay, not knowing what was around the corner.”

When Bird scooters went back onto the street, they did so under a new service model. The company now partners with local businesses to charge the scooters and place them—making the company less reliant on direct employees and helping boost its margins. 

The company has recently begun adding e-bikes into the equation, selectively rolling them out in cities like San Diego. And it’s also getting active in the retail sales market, as the pandemic has driven more people to want to own their own bikes, VanderZanden says. 

The company is selling both its e-scooters and e-bikes directly to consumers on its own website and through Best Buy. It plans to announce additional retail partnerships in Europe. VanderZanden wouldn’t comment on how many e-bikes the company had produced, nor how many it had sold thus far.

“The faster we can roll out e-bikes, it seems like there’s endless demand for people to purchase” them, he says.

VanderZanden says business “has really bounced back strong.” Individuals in cities are using e-bikes or scooters as an alternative to public transportation, he says. But the company is still running at a significant deficit. It reported a $208 million loss in 2020 on less than $95 million in total revenue. That’s continued on into this year: The company ran at a net loss of $119 million in the first six months of this year, nearly identical figures for the same period in 2020. However, its revenue is up so far in 2021—$86 million in the first half of the year, compared to $30 million in 2020.

Either way, Bird likely has a lot of work ahead of it before it becomes profitable. As for now, VanderZanden says the company is focused on expanding its operations in existing cities, entering new regions in the U.S. and Europe, and building out its retail business. 

And as for BIRD, “I think the ticker, you know, really doesn’t matter as much,” VanderZanden says.

BRDS is down more than 6% since it began trading on Thursday, closing Friday at $8.40.

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