Inside the collapse of Usain Bolt’s scooter startup
The sudden collapse of a transportation startup co-founded by Usain Bolt didn’t simply depart a whole bunch of unusable scooters and e-bikes littered throughout American cities — it additionally left behind a gaggle of irate ex-employees who had been left unpaid for months, The Submit has realized.
Bolt Mobility, which was co-founded by the legendary Jamaican sprinter and featured his voice on its e-scooters, went out of enterprise in July after working out of funding. The corporate deserted autos on the streets of cities together with Portland, Oregon and Burlington, Vermont that grew to become ineffective as a result of they needed to be unlocked by means of its app.
But it surely’s not simply the native governments which have to scrub up Bolt’s mess who’re indignant — a gaggle of ex-employees additionally say the startup withheld their closing paychecks for months.
4 former Bolt staff informed The Submit that, previous to the shutdown in July, the corporate did not ship out their paychecks for all the month of June.
Regardless of the paychecks not coming by means of, the staff say they had been repeatedly assured by Bolt’s management that the disruption was non permanent and they’d obtain backpay as quickly as funding got here in from an Indian investor.
The cash by no means materialized and the corporate shut down in July, leaving the ex-employees questioning when — if ever — they might get their paychecks.
“Not paying us for the final month of labor we did — I contemplate that to be defrauding the staff,” one former Bolt worker raged. “I’ve been lied to and manipulated.”
“We couldn’t consider that they might simply stiff us,” one other ex-employee stated. “I really feel violated.”
After The Submit contacted Bolt for this story, an organization spokesperson stated: “Preparations are already being made to compensate the staff within the subsequent few days.”
Days later, the corporate paid out staff. Two ex-employees stated they felt Bolt would by no means have paid them in the event that they didn’t take their story to the media, though Bolt insisted that the corporate had all the time deliberate to pay them.
Bolt Mobility was co-founded in 2018 by Usain Bolt and Miami-based entrepreneur Bita Sarah Haynes, with a mission to “revolutionize transportation by means of protected, sensible and sustainable transit options.”
The corporate’s early backers included Hanyes’ brother, Shervin Pishevar, who made a fortune from early investments in Uber and Airbnb and sat on Bolt’s board. Previous to Bolt, Pishevar sat on the board Virgin Hyperloop, however stepped down in 2017 after he was accused of sexual misconduct. Pishevar denied the accusations on the time and didn’t reply to requests for remark for this story.
Whereas Usain Bolt was listed as a co-founder, the eight-time Olympic gold medalist labored extra as a spokesperson than a decision-making government, sources near the corporate stated. His involvement included making recordings of his voice that will play by means of the audio system of scooters to offer riders directions. The sprinter additionally visited filmed an commercial to advertise his namesake firm and traveled to New York Metropolis corridor in 2019 to induce lawmakers to legalize e-scooters.
“I’m an Olympian so I find out about getting round shortly,” the athlete quipped on the time.
However Bolt — to not be confused with an Estonian transportation startup, a San Francisco funds firm and a New York insurance coverage agency that every one share the identical identify — was not chosen to take part in New York Metropolis’s shared electrical scooter pilot final yr. The Division of Transportation granted licenses to a few rivals — Chook, Lime and Veo — that allowed the businesses to function shared scooters in a number of Bronx neighborhoods.
Bolt ended up shifting its efforts to smaller markets, deploying scooters and e-bikes in cities like Portland, Burlington, St. Augustine, Florida; and Richmond, Virginia.
Whereas Usain Bolt remains to be listed as a co-founder on the corporate’s web site, the legendary sprinter stopped showing at Bolt occasions and in extra advertisements as a result of the corporate was reluctant to pay the looks payment that he charged, an organization supply stated.
Usain Bolt’s agent, Ricky Simms, didn’t reply to requests for remark.
‘Issues are beginning to burn down’
Bolt began hitting the skids in late 2021, when the corporate missed lease funds on its major warehouse in Birmingham, Alabama, one ex-employee stated. A sheriff even confirmed as much as the ability with an eviction discover, however administration resolved points with the owner by February, in keeping with the worker.
In March, Bolt put out a press launch announcing it had secured a “strategic funding” from Ram Charan, a chemical firm based mostly in Chennai, India. The businesses didn’t disclose the scale of the funding, however stated it might assist Bolt entry “cutting-edge stable state battery expertise.”
However even after the press launch, Bolt appeared to nonetheless be having funding issues, in keeping with ex-employees.
In April, the sheriff confirmed up on the Birmingham warehouse once more and because the firm’s distributors and contractors began complaining about not getting paid, in keeping with the ex-employee. Managers nonetheless assured staff that cash was on the way in which.
“The writing’s on the wall,” a former worker stated of the temper in April and Might. “However there’s all the time this believable clarification: ‘The cash’s on the way in which, we’re simply ready to be authorized… there have been all the time reassurances.”
‘When a bunch of legal professionals become involved’
In June, Bolt missed biweekly payroll twice, inflicting staff to panic. In early July, CEO Ignacio Tzoumas informed staff the corporate was shutting down, however the firm apparently did not notify native officers.
“Sadly, Bolt apparently went out of enterprise with out prior notification or removing of their capital gear from metropolis property,” Richmond, California Mayor Tom Butt griped in July. “The Metropolis is arising with a plan to take away all of the deserted gear.”
Ex-employees say Tzoumas, different executives and Bolt’s board largely went silent after the corporate shut down, leaving them questioning if they might ever obtain their again pay.
In the meantime, native governments and distributors that hadn’t been paid began confiscating Bolt’s gear with the permission of firm executives, ex-employees stated.
Tzoumas informed The Submit that Bolt is suing Ram Charan for allegedly backing out of the deal, however refused to offer particulars of the lawsuit. Tzoumas and Bolt didn’t reply detailed questions for this story.
“When it turns into a authorized matter you don’t need to actually speak about these items as a result of we’re going by means of authorized points with that investor,” Tzoumas informed The Submit in August, including that his legal professionals had informed him to “to not even name you guys again.”
“That is what occurs when a bunch of legal professionals become involved, they’re like, ‘Don’t say something till we get a full understanding of how we’re going to pursue this,’” Tzoumas added. “I simply felt prefer it’s higher to speak what we’re doing than to say completely nothing.”
Days later, Tzoumas referred to as a gathering with staff, the place he urged them to cease talking with The Submit and stated he would get them their paychecks.
Ram Charan proprietor Kaushik Palicha didn’t reply to emailed questions.