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Bird: Transforming the Concept of Urban Mobility


Not every success story requires a prestigious background.

Travis VanderZanden's life is a great example of how favorable outcomes come only to those who dare play the game boldly. Stemming from a modest family, and raised by a single mother struggling to make ends meet, Travis rose from the shadows and gave his lifelong mission a purpose, a concept, and a staple name.

Empowered by his stubbornness, resilience, and diligence, Travis transformed his childhood passion into a world-changing company - Bird!

Imagine this. You are out and about and suddenly, you begin to feel tired and in need of a vehicle. But, what if the perfect vehicle were to be anything but traditional? Well, this is where Bird comes in to save the day, unleashing rideshare e-scooters for anybody to get by and arrive on time - just about anywhere!

Dive deep into Travis's life story and his epiphany business revelation for it's quite the ride!

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It Runs in the Family

Born in 1979, Travis grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin. Shortly after his birth, his father abandoned the family thus leaving his mother with two children to take care of. Operating a Valley Transit city bus, Travis's single mother was left with no choice but to bring her son along to work.

While other kids were immersed in video games, Travis was closely observing the way public transit functioned. He memorized every single route on the radar. Seeing the friction of riders having to schedule their drop-offs and pickups around a timetable, Travis was unconsciously catching sight of irregularities that would set the basis for his upcoming business venture.

In 2002, he graduated with flying colors from the University of Wisconsin, where he studied management information systems. When his older sister saw the potential Travis had, she offered him some money to aid his job hunt elsewhere. Stuffing his forest-green Pontiac car, Travis parted ways with his hometown and aimed to pursue his career in San Diego.

Tenacity Makes the Dream Work

Initially denied by numerous institutions, in the latter part of 2002, Travis became a product manager at the multinational corporation, Qualcomm.

At Qualcomm, Travis managed a cell-phone application platform, called BREW. Aside from this, his other job requirements included enabling third-party developers to design and sell games, ringtones and additional apps.

This time around, there wasn't anything resembling what Qualcomm was designing. Namely, the company was building the 'App Store' long before the related iPhone concept was incepted.

Although snowed under with work, Travis's ambition guided the eager employee on his path and urged him to attend night classes at the University of Southern California. Twice a week, Travis would drive for eight hours straight, arrive in Los Angeles, and study hard to obtain his MBA in entrepreneurship, all the while parallelly tending to his existing job.

The world surrounding Travis discouraged him, constantly talking him out of his 'dull idea' of traveling extensively to get a degree - a milestone he accomplished in spite of popular opinions in 2007.

Packed on immense entrepreneurial knowledge, Travis resigned from Qualcomm and decided to move to Austin, Texas. Here his vision would finally be brought to life.

Jumping Between Projects

Travis had to learn the hard way that the path towards success is not a one-way street but a bumpy road paved with continuous ups and downs. Set out to create his first company in 2008, the entrepreneur-to-be gathered a team of freelancers willing to aid the creation of what would later become an enterprise chat app called QikCom.

Sometime thereafter, Travis did some digging into his competition and came across a familiar name - David Sacks. He had known David from before, as the founder of Yammer, an enterprise tool used for internal corporate communication. But, up until that point, their roads had never crossed. As Yammer was highly popular in its time, Travis reached out to David to propose a future collaboration.

A few wine glasses later, David understood the young man's drive and saw a potential partner in him. He urged Travis to abandon his QikCom project and join Yammer as its Chief Revenue Officer.

So he did!

In early 2011, Travis felt bored to tears of his nine-to-five job and he began contemplating a new project - something that would push his skills to the edge and make him unafraid of taking risks. Assured that he would take on just about anything if push came to shove, Travis quit working for Yammer and individualized.

Driven by the desire to open his own company, Travis wasted no time jumping into his next project and came up with an on-demand car wash app, called Cherry. Unfortunately, this concept, too, showed inconsistencies, and Travis found it difficult to nurture the business on his own. But, as one man's trash is another man's treasure, Lyft acquired Cherry two years after its launch.

Recognizing the bursting talent Travis carried, Lyft swiftly appointed him as its COO, a position he held for the entire year ahead.

A Trendsetting Project

Ever-curious to explore new avenues, Travis went on to work for Uber as Vice President of its global driver growth.

Not long after, Lyft filed a suit against Travis, claiming he had breached their confidentiality agreements, thus running off with their secret strategies. Denouncing everything, Travis fired back and accused Lyft of accessing his private messages.

The conflict eventually ceased in 2016 when a confidential settlement was reached.

As fate would have it, Travis needed to spend more time with his family, so he resigned from Uber that same year. During a holiday with his family, Travis bought two bicycles for his loving daughters and decided to teach them to ride.

Unimpressed with the presents, his daughters asked to ride their old scooters again. Once the words were out, Travis birthed a bursting desire to design adjustable and optimized scooters to fit riders of all ages and backgrounds.

Would this make the grownups stop using public transport and join along?

While he couldn't say for certain, Travis followed his intuition and began his quest for adult e-scooters. He first visited Alibaba, as one of the richest online retail brands to date. Seeing the potential in collaborating with the brand, Travis purchased dozens of scooters from a Chinese manufacturer and embarked on his mission to restructure the public transport industry.

One day, Travis came across the best of the best e-scooters, called Xiaomi M365, which he immediately fancied. Deciding to test his idea, he took one of the scooters to a park, and surprisingly, people began noticing the trend and asked Travis how they, too, could get one. With the public's approval up his sleeve, Travis finally met his business calling and took the opportunity at hand with all he had!

Emerging Stronger from a Crisis

In 2017, Travis warmly welcomed a $3 million seed capital from Goldcrest Capital. Using it wisely, he launched Bird with Xiaomi M365 as its first vehicle in 2017. That same year, the funding was followed by another round of $15 million from Craft Ventures. Whereas in 2018, the company acquired $100 million in funding from Index Ventures and Valor Equity Partners and $158 million from Sequoia Capital. Upon spreading over 1000 e-scooters across San Francisco, Bird was about to face the biggest challenge since its inception. As it turned out, people were destroying their scooters, disposing of them in park lakes and rivers, or abandoning them altogether at the side of the road.

To fight this, the company investigated all instances of vandalism and searched for the most appropriate measures to castigate scooter-throwers and, first and foremost, protect open waters from pollution.

Other major challenges came during one of the companies funding rounds, when Bird was unable to meet its desired investment which immediately put it at risk of financial failure. As a result of the flat round taking place, Bird was unfortunately forced to delete any mention of their initiative to give cities a dollar per scooter a day from their website and had to lay off 5% of their total of 700 employees.

Luckily, at the beginning of 2018, the company aimed for scaling once more, and by 2019, it scored $275 million in a Series D fund which immediately assisted the platform in getting back on its feet. Its last funding took place in 2020, when five investors enriched the company's assets by $75 million.

Over nine rounds, Bird has raised a total of $623 million in funding to date.

Bird, Today

In its first year of operation, Bird unleashed e-scooters in more than one hundred European cities, North America as well as the Middle East. Despite their wide repertoire of scooters and bikes for short term use, to ensure its promising market future, the platform also plans on investing $150 million to expand its European market plan and include product launches in over 50 countries and cities across the continent, including Bergen, Norway, Tarragona, Spain and Palermo, Italy.

Today, Bird earns over $100 million in annual revenue and has over 600 workers, headquartered in Santa Monica, California. As a rewarded platform, in 2018, Time Magazine declared Bird one of its "50 Genius Companies", whereas in 2018 and 2019, LinkedIn named Bird one of the most in-demand startups in the United States.

Bird's success is more than obvious and it all has to do with the man behind the curtain, Travis. Never doubting his capability to revive the transportation market with practical solutions, Travis' life-altering mission remains the same : to facilitate traffic, prevent carbon emissions, and make cities of the world more loveable - and livable!