Perhaps some day, if the fever dreams of GOAT’s founders come to glorious fruition, the modest Shady Hollow house and its garage will take on the historic qualities of that Los Altos, Calif., home where Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started it all.
Maybe, as GOAT’s 32-year-0ld CEO and firebrand, Michael Schramm, suggests, the microcompany will someday trade blows with Bird, Lime and the other lavishly funded dockless scooter and bike rental companies and become a huge player.
It is at least a possibility that 12 people putting together purple scooters mostly by hand (including soldering circuit boards) might drive a company that accelerates from an inventory of 20 vehicles to an industry giant. How else to explain its aspirative name, an acronym for Greatest of All Time?
But for now, it’s lunchtime — well, 2:30 p.m., which amounts to midday for this group of night owls — and the shoes-optional throng of engineers have set aside their laptops, screwdrivers and pliers and are crowding into Jennie Whitaker’s breakfast room for hamburgers, chips and avocado slices. Whitaker, who has a background in public relations, and her husband, Marcus, own the two-story home on 1.3 tranquil acres.
Their three young children, at this point off premises for kinder care and school, live on the secluded cul-de-sac with them, of course. Less obviously, at least for the time being, so do six of GOAT’s other employees.
“Where else would you live when you work so late at night?” said Whitaker, 35, improbably cheerful to be host and chef to a corporation. She’s also, incidentally, the chief marketing officer of GOAT Labs Inc.
Welcome to the Hill Country version of Silicon Valley.
“We’re completely bootstrapped,” said Schramm, explaining that the 2-month-old company is funded for now by its four founders, including the Whitakers and Munjal Budhabhatti, 41, the company’s chief technology officer. Marcus Whitaker, 37, also a PR guy, is chief operating officer and, informally, the finance chief, his wife said. The couple also operates a public relations company and, true story, produces a “Gilmore Girls” fan fest in a Connecticut town.
None of the founders is taking a salary, Schramm said.
“Our payment is building something special,” Schramm added. The others are receiving wages, though, Whitaker said, along with free room and board for half the workforce.
GOAT’s chief competitors in Austin in these early dockless days, Bird and Lime, are anything but bootstrapped. The financial press has reported that Lime has raised $132 million and Bird $118 million in venture capital, with further offerings imminent. Sequoia Capital, according to Bloomberg News Service, has valued Bird at $1 billion.
Then there’s Jump, which markets dockless electric bicycles and is expected to enter the Austin fray soon. Uber owns Jump. Other large companies are on hand as well, or lurking.
Seemingly, none of this fazes Schramm, a Round Rock High School and Texas A&M economics graduate who formerly worked at Rackspace. He and Budhabhatti — Wozniak to his Jobs — have known each other for eight years and were looking for the new big thing when dockless mobility pulled up.
Schramm describes himself as a born entrepreneur, someone who was peddling blow pops to his second-grade classmates at a 100 percent markup. At one point, after a crackdown by the adults, Schramm had to move the candy operation to the boys restroom during lunchtime.
“The margins were incredible,” he said.
Schramm and the others, looking at the rapidly developing dockless rental business and Austin’s unfortunate history with transportation disrupters, decided to style themselves as the cooperative, local alternative. Then came April 5, when Bird unexpectedly decided to launch its scooters on Austin’s streets without the city’s permission.
GOAT, which had incorporated in Delaware just three days earlier, had to go into high gear.
“To capture the market in this case, it had to be quick and it had to be now,” Schramm said.
The Whitakers’ two-car garage became an instant manufacturing center. The electric scooters come from Segway, Schramm said, via Amazon. Some of the boxes they arrived in are still sitting in a section of the garage.
After unpacking them, the GOAT crew customizes the base vehicles, building each vehicle’s electronic brain, putting on the purple-and-white regalia of the company (“Born in Austin, Texas,” it says on the rear wheel’s fender) and adding the taillights required by the city, among other changes.
The plan, before GOAT obtained its city permit last week — under Austin’s emergency rules released early in May — and launched May 24, was to put out 20 new scooters each week until reaching the 500-vehicle maximum the city is allowing each dockless company. A half-year rollout, in other words. But as Schramm ruefully notes, quoting boxer Mike Tyson, “Everyone’s got a plan until you get punched in the face.”
The scooters were being rented like crazy immediately after last week’s launch, Schramm said, explaining why the app’s map appeared bereft of available vehicles. This week, though, the company had to sweep up its tiny fleet to make changes, responding to the city’s rules and the company’s early results, he said. At midafternoon Wednesday, all 20 GOAT scooters were in various stages of tinkering, including one wired into engineer Leoni Price’s laptop for al fresco reprogramming out on the patio in the high-90s heat.
Schramm hopes the 20-per-week goal can be reinstituted and achieved in the days ahead.
The sheer volume of Bird scooters on the street — and, presumably, Lime vehicles as well once that company gets its city permit — would appear to put GOAT at a massive disadvantage. Too many prospective customers looking at an empty app map could mean that the other brands will relegate GOAT to a back pasture commercially. Not necessarily, Schramm said.
Scooter rentals, he said, are “all visual.” See scooter, rent scooter, in other words. And he said the city’s per-company fleet limit of 500 will mean equal competition once GOAT can produce enough vehicles from that garage. Or if early plans pan out, in a Chinese manufacturing center that Budhabhatti visited.
Then, as Schramm envisions it, quality and local flavor will win out — or at least qualify GOAT for some of the big-time venture capital money.
“I think we have a chance to be a billion-dollar company,” he said.
Twenty scooters at a time.