Patrick McGuire 0:00
Hey, it’s Patrick. Before we start, at the time of this recording, we went through a bit of a name rebranding from RIC Centre to Altitude Accelerator. With that in mind, we hope you enjoy the following interview. Welcome to the Startups Transformed Podcast. I’m Patrick McGuire, your host, board member and advisor at Altitude Accelerator, where we help startups scale to new heights. We chat with phenomenal tech business leaders who’ve climbed their way to success within their industry. Our guests delve deep into the lessons they’ve learned along the way, so that you can get a head start on your next big idea.
I got something really awesome, something that’s close to my heart. I love it obviously. It’s something that I’m just a big fan of and it’s making a difference in communities everywhere. I want to introduce you to Vince, and he is with joyride.city, if you want to check them out on the website. Vince, thank you so much for coming on the podcast with RIC Centre Startups Transformed. I’m just really happy to have you here. Thank you so much.
Vince Cifani 1:13
Thanks for having me, Patrick.
Patrick McGuire 1:13
Tell me what kind of inspired this and why in your life you decided to do Joyride.
Vince Cifani 1:13
Yeah, so as a cyclist in Toronto, I was really just trying to find a way to stay safe. While riding my bike, I noticed that a lot of commuters like myself, didn’t really have a lot of great cycling infrastructure to protect us while we were riding. And it didn’t seem like the city had enough data about where people were riding, because if they did, they could build that cycling infrastructure. So I thought if there’s a way that I could collect real time data about where I was riding, and I could share that with the city, maybe that would help encourage them to build that kind of safe cycling infrastructure. And so I’ve got a Raspberry Pi online, and I created a tracking device using free public Wi Fi around downtown. And I thought, “Okay, this is a great way to share this data with the city.” And turned out that the solution was actually really helpful for bike sharing, and bike rental companies. And they started actually reaching out, saying that they needed this type of technology so they could track where their fleet of bikes were going while people were riding them because there’s no technology built in the bikes. Now this is 2014. So if you can kind of think of like a traditional bike sharing station, like in Toronto, or Montreal or in New York, if you’ve come across them, any of these bigger cities, all the technology is built in the station, nothing in the bikes. And so effectively, they wanted to turn their bikes into smart bikes. And so [I] spent the next couple years doing this. And we started to notice that a couple companies in China started launching what is now known is like a dockless bike sharing system. So you could actually just go up to a bike anywhere on the street, scan a QR code with your mobile phone, and unlock it. And then when you’re done your trip, you could just click a button, and the bike would lock, and you can end your ride anywhere. And so you didn’t have to go to a docking station. This was pretty novel at the time. And I thought, well, this is a really good opportunity because this is going to come to North America, it’s going to come to Europe, eventually, it’s such a great solution for bike sharing and getting around the city. Because if you’ve ever used bike sharing, you have to find a docking station that’s empty, that’s not full. If it’s full, you have to find the next nearest docking station, which actually might not be close to your real destination. So it could be a big hassle.
Patrick McGuire 3:27
Hey, Vince, actually I got I got to tell you on this one, I did that. And I was cutting it close in Toronto, so probably one of yours, I don’t know. [Laughs] Cutting it close and I had to go to the next nearest, I had no idea where it was, the next nearest docking station. I went over my limit.
Vince Cifani 3:44
Yeah, you go over your limit, like up 30 minutes, right? And so this is the other – it’s bad user experience. So I mean, this blew up in China, like the market for about 10 years, there was only about a million bike sharing bikes in the world. And then all of a sudden, within one year, these two companies alone deployed 20 million bikes, whilst in China, some cities had over a million bikes just on their own. And so you can imagine how popular this was. So we ended up launching like our own dockless bike sharing system to more or less test our hardware. To do that, you have to build the software platform that comes along with it. And then we realized that if we started partnering with a lot of these bike lock companies in China, we’re making these just bike locks for other bike sharing companies, we integrated with them, other companies could use our software platform to launch their own bike sharing system. So we helped launch our first customer in India using our platform as more of like a white label solution. We launched them under their own brand. And then we launched another company in Jordan and then we launched another company in Canada and right away we started to build up this platform for it wasn’t called micro mobility at the time, but bike sharing. Then there was one company in the United States who started deploying dockless scooters. And right away, we thought there’s an opportunity there. And so we started to help companies launch their own form of dockless scooter sharing as well. And so yeah, that kind of turn into not just like a bike sharing or scooter sharing system, but with this full micro mobility platform. So we realized that we could offer the entire software solution for anyone who wants to launch their own bike sharing, or scooter sharing fleet in any city that they’re in, anywhere around the world. And it was like a really good way to help the environment, get people out of cars, get people around, traveling around their city, in a cheaper way, and really in a more fun way. And so this was like a really good solution for cities. And people were really excited to launch this type of business. So they started using our platform to do that.
Patrick McGuire 5:51
That’s that’s actually pretty cool. I love that the fact that you saw some advancements of your own first and you came up with this idea, and then you saw advancements in other countries, and you kind of took it to the next level. An evolution of ideas that all come together to get critical mass and momentum, obviously, resulting in the micro mobility, if you will, of Joyride and really solidifying your platform and your concept. Scooters, dockless scooters, I didn’t even know they had that concept of scooter sharing. I mean, kids got scooters everywhere. Can we do that?
Vince Cifani 6:22
The majority of our customers are actually in the scooter sharing business, really popular. It’s not really popular here in Canada. There’s a couple cities that have done it, like Ottawa, Montreal, Kelowna. However, across Europe, across the United States, it’s really big business.
Patrick McGuire 6:37
Vince Cifani 6:38
It’s just so much fun to get around on electric vehicle.
Patrick McGuire 6:41
I love the fact that anybody can pick up a bike and anybody, almost anybody can ride. But being able to share and have data tied to it is very, very powerful. When you first went to market with your concept, did you say I’m going to partner with the ride sharing community right away? Or did you think you were going to do something different, like, tell me how this really came together as a business model versus what you already told us? The concept of it.
Vince Cifani 7:08
When we first started, it was a consumer product. So we’re building a product in the consumer space. And when we realize that, okay, there’s a potential in the business, for the business community to use this, like the bike sharing community. Keep in mind dockless bike sharing as like an industry didn’t exist, if you wanted to run your own bike sharing system, all of those, up until that point were run through the city, there were no entrepreneurs launching their own, really like a private model of bike sharing, or certainly not scooter sharing, and bringing that to a city. Because the concept didn’t really exist, because at that time, you needed a docking station. And you can’t, can’t just like deploy your own docking station anywhere
Patrick McGuire 7:52
Vince Cifani 7:52
But now that you don’t need a docking station, you can just have bikes and scooters anywhere. So that started to become kind of illegal pretty quickly. And you couldn’t just dump 10s of 1000s, hundreds of 1000s of vehicles across the city anymore. And that started to happen. But we really saw like a need for these companies who wanted to launch this kind of business, you can’t just do it on your own, it’s really challenging. You have to get all the vehicles, you have to build the operations team, you have to buy all the specialized hardware to enable any of this. So smart locks, right, with GPS tracking with Bluetooth, then you need to build the whole software platform on top of that, to manage all your users, to manage all your vehicles, to manage all the payments, and then also have a mobile app for all your customers to download and connect to all your vehicles. Even just connecting and managing all of those vehicles in itself can be quite challenging, especially at that scale. And so right away, people just kept coming to us, telling us about their problems. So we were kind of lucky in the sense that we had built the solution before we realize the full potential of it. We were just building a solution to kind of solve our problem, to launch our own hardware. So we needed to build the software, but turned out other people needed that software as well. So that’s kind of how we approached it.
Patrick McGuire 9:08
That’s amazing. I’m curious, have any large bike brands approached you?
Vince Cifani 9:14
We’ve spoken a lot of large bike brands, just large operators, lots of different people across the entire industry we spoken to in some way or another who want to- usually it’s not like specifically the bike brand who wants to launch like a city wide bike sharing system. They’ll usually want to resell their bikes to operators-
Patrick McGuire 9:36
Vince Cifani 9:36
-who are interested in launching this type of business and so that’s generally the route.
Patrick McGuire 9:41
Vince Cifani 9:41
Spoken to some brands who might want to do like a small trial at their store, their retail location, or something like that, but certainly not in the past year. But generally, it’s more so the entrepreneur who wants to launch this type of business. Like think Shopify for mobility, like if you’re an entrepreneur, you want to launch your own mobility business. Like if you want to launch your own t-shirt business, you go to Shopify. But if you want to launch your own mobility business, how do you do that? Well, you go to Joyride. And so we’ll help you get the vehicles, we’ll get you the entire platform, the entire mobile app, we’ll help you with your RFP, we’ll help you with your branding, we’ll help you with your insurance, we’ll help you figure out your operations, we’ll help you with everything end to end. So those are the types of customers that come to us. It might not just be like your traditional public sharing business, but it could be also a private b2b business as well. So maybe it’s in the hotel space, maybe it’s in campuses, maybe it’s in corporate offices, delivery as well. We have a lot of customers getting into the delivery industry. And it could also be if you’re a transit agency, as well, we do have a customer that is a transit agency that’s providing bike sharing as a solution as another modality for the entire city. And so that’s really exciting for us.
Patrick McGuire 10:53
That is pretty cool. I had a few thoughts that came to mind obviously being Canadian, I think of DaVinci and they were having some struggles in terms of their brand growing and getting global recognition. But all of a sudden, they got into the bike mobility, the bike sharing category, and they’re the major players in North America for that sort of product. Most of their business in fact, I know this, is building ride sharing bikes. So that’s the one that came to mind when I thought big brands I thought DaVinci should talk to you guys and see how they can place it in other companies around the world. But that’s pretty cool.
Vince Cifani 11:30
Yeah, we’re seeing a lot of growth in e-bikes as well. And so a lot of traditional manufacturers, like specialize getting into the e-bike space. The first time I got it on an e-bike. I was like, holy crap, man, this is awesome. This is so much fun.
Patrick McGuire 11:44
Don’t tell me that, I’m not-
Vince Cifani 11:47
Have you been on an e-bike?
Patrick McGuire 11:48
Vince Cifani 11:48
Go on an e-bike you’re gonna be like, “This is amazing.” Like-
Patrick McGuire 11:52
Vince Cifani 11:53
Why am I busting my ass to like, commute anywhere where I could just like, put it 1/5 of the power. And trust me I love like, busting my ass to get around the city. But if you don’t want to get to your destination covered in sweat, if you’re trying to get to an office, and you don’t want to shower at the office, because it’s annoying to do that. It’s a really fun and accessible way to get around and it gets so many more people who wouldn’t normally ride a bike, riding a bike.
Patrick McGuire 12:20
Absolutely agree with that. There are a lot more people riding in general, but there are more people riding who wouldn’t normally ride because of that e-bike concept. You’re 100% spot on. I mean-
Vince Cifani 12:29
Get on an e-bike, try it. Just try it. You’ll have fun. I promise you.
Patrick McGuire 12:33
Oh, man, I’m hitting my head- [Laughs] I don’t know if I can do it. And I have that snobbery issue, I guess. I got issues. We all know that, I’m an entrepreneur. And so is Vince. And we just do these things, because we’re gluttons for punishment. But maybe an e-bike makes it easier. And quite honestly, in the ride sharing community, I’m just going to assume that you’re seeing an uptick with ride sharing and e-bikes. Would that be a right statement?
Vince Cifani 12:56
Yeah, absolutely. And we see a lot of our customers, a lot of operators, replacing their entire fleet, or at least a large percentage of their fleet with e-bikes. I mean, the only reason why you wouldn’t is just because of the difference in cost.
Patrick McGuire 13:10
Vince Cifani 13:11
Then you can start integrating tracking systems into the vehicle and get real time vehicle diagnostics as well.
Patrick McGuire 13:17
Right. You would know the usage, you’d know the wear and tear, replace it before it falls apart type thing.
Vince Cifani 13:22
Yeah. And so the bikes are getting a lot smarter. And you can do a lot more interesting things with the vehicle in itself. But it’s also such a better user experience. Like most people who are traveling, commuting, just want to check out the city, like you’re renting a bike sharing bike, not to race up the hill.
Patrick McGuire 13:38
Yeah, yeah. So yeah, and we talked about Strava before, so a lot of people track it. Because they want to know where they rode and how hard they rode, and how long they rode, their heart fluctuate, did it explode all that stuff. And they’re not necessarily always the ride sharing community. It’s the bigger population-
Vince Cifani 13:55
Yeah like tourists like down-, like installing Strava to like, like upload their commute around Toronto. You know, that’s not happening.
Patrick McGuire 14:05
[Laughs] It’s cool to hear why you got into it and why you did it, why you’re still doing it. And you’re projecting the future with, you know, scooters and e-bikes, and it’s pretty awesome. Out of curiosity, how many users are using Joyride technology these days? Or how do you measure it? First of all.
Vince Cifani 14:22
The way we measure it is really about the number of different operators we have and the number of cities that they’re in. So there’s lots of different users who use our platform. But really, we’re getting close to 100 different operators now, well over 100 different cities around the world. We’re in over 30 different countries, from Canada, United States, lots of cities across Europe, South Africa, Korea, India.
Patrick McGuire 14:48
Vince Cifani 14:48
Just really around the world. And we have people coming to us every single day, asking if we can help them launch their own bike sharing system or scooter sharing system and bring it to their city and really transform how mobility looks and feels and operates.
Patrick McGuire 15:03
Oh man, I love it. So impressed and so proud and so happy for you.
Vince Cifani 15:08
Thanks. Well, I mean, it’s really goes out to all the different entrepreneurs around the globe who want to bring and transform their city. And they’re really the ones who are taking the big leap of faith here, and bringing a really good solution for their community, like you’re saying off the top. So that’s kind of like what makes us really happy and keeps us motivated every day seeing the motivation of our customers.
Patrick McGuire 15:29
Yeah, that’s great. Yeah, this is not easy, not cheap. And, you know, tell me to shut up if you want. But I’m curious. Have you guys done a couple of rounds? How’d you guys get this thing off the ground? Bootstrapped and then a seed, or friends and family. Are you independently wealthy? How’d that all go for Joyride?
Vince Cifani 15:46
So we raised a small family and friends, what depends on what you think is small or big. To me, it was very big at the time, it was about 20, just under 25,000. So $24,500, from family and friends, and I just went to all my friends and all my family and begged them all for money. And I think I’ve got about 15 people together to just pool in money and just say, okay, Vince, like, go ahead. Good luck. Don’t expect to see this money back, but have fun. Yeah, I did that. And then really relied on a lot of grants from the Ontario Center of Excellence, which is now called something else. I can’t remember OCI, we I think we got a grant very early on for $15,000, the solid Canadian, and then I think like another one for 30,000. Then they actually participated in a round of investment for about $100,000. So the Ontario government has been super supportive. Like I said, lots of grants from all over the country, pretty much any grant that you can, we applied for it, so that’s helped us a lot. Since then, we’ve met different angel investors. And we’ve raised about just over a million dollars in financing over the past I guess it’s close to six or seven years now.
Patrick McGuire 17:05
Okay, that’s pretty good. I mean, that’s still I mean, when you think about it, that’s not a lot of risk exposure when it comes to raising funds. And I always think of that I think of as a board member at RIC, and as an entrepreneur who’s got a disease myself that just keeps doing new stuff, a million dollars risk, because I do think that when I borrow someone’s money, it’s a risk for me, it’s a risk for them, you get added pressures, as you already know that you got to treat the money as if it’s your own, and you got to get it back to them somehow. So it’s scary sometimes. But a million over seven years to be as big as you are, is really not a whole lot. I’ve heard of companies blow a million bucks in a year, and they got nowhere.
Vince Cifani 17:42
Yeah, I mean, it depends what you’re building, right. And at the beginning, we were building hardware. And I’ve always been pretty conservative and cost conscious, mostly because we didn’t have money so it can really spend it. And so building hardware, cheap is very hard. And so the transition from a hardware product to a software platform really helped in terms of being able to scale and grow our customer base without necessarily having to invest like 10s or hundreds of 1000s of dollars into the actual product before we could even go to market, right? Because when you’re selling hardware, you have to spend all this money before you can actually sell anything. Yeah, software, you can iterate really quickly and develop as you go and start providing a solution to customers, kind of like on day one with like, even an MVP or a beta version. Right. So that’s, that’s what we did very early on.
Patrick McGuire 18:29
Great, out of curiosity, obviously, you know, being Startups Transformed, a podcast from RIC Centre. How did you get connected with RIC Centre?
Vince Cifani 18:37
Great question. So it goes back to my earlier point of being scrappy, and trying to find grants and funding anywhere I could without having to give up either dilution of the company or whatever. It’s just part of my search and getting connected to a lot of different- I think we’re part of a couple of different organizations here across Ontario. But the RIC Centre specifically got connected through a mentor, who was just involved several years ago. And yeah, we signed up to become part of the process. And it’s been actually really helpful. Having a mentor there who’s helped us with fundraising rounds and getting us connected with other investors. It’s been super helpful.
Unknown Speaker 19:15
We got great people at RIC Centre. So I’m gonna say that right now I love everybody that’s in RIC Centre is there to- they’ve either been entrepreneurs, or they love entrepreneurs, and they really commit to help and the resources are amazing. I absolutely love it. Who was that person that got you that intro and help mentor you?
Vince Cifani 19:32
Got me the intro… Honestly. It was so long ago. And the reason was because I met him for like 10 minutes, and then he left. And then I didn’t really have much of a connection to the RIC Centre. There was a big gap. And then we got introduced to a new mentor after that. And so the actual first person I could honestly I couldn’t remember.
Patrick McGuire 19:57
Yeah, well hey, great job and you said they helped. So I think that’s-
Vince Cifani 20:02
Yeah they helped. And they, it’s, it’s great because you get included as part of a network. And there’s so many different people and so many different resources. People at the RIC have helped us quite a bit, especially recently. So it’s great.
Patrick McGuire 20:15
Awesome I love it. How do people find you, get in touch with you, or pitch you their ridesharing future ideas?
Vince Cifani 20:24
Yeah, they can just go to our website, joyride.city, fill out our contact form. Fill that out or if you want to reach out to me directly, it’s been such a- joyride.city. And yeah, if you’re thinking of starting your own bike sharing or your scooter sharing fleet and transforming your transportation in your city, the way people get around and do something good for the environment, just reach out to us, and we’ll get you started.
Patrick McGuire 20:44
That’s fantastic. And Vince, I mean, two questions. What’s the next big thing? Or how do you see the opportunity for Joyride?
Vince Cifani 20:53
Yeah, like I said, we’re in over 100 different cities today. But there are over 10,000 cities around the world that our product could be used in. And so our goal over the next five years is to find operators, in those 10,000 cities, who could launch this type of business and do something good for the environment, like I said, transform their community, transform transportation, and change how people get around and feel about their community, especially in the age of COVID, where people don’t want to necessarily jump into a bus. They don’t want to get into a crowded subway, or get in the back of an Uber or taxi, they want something that they can trust a little bit more and feel like they’re not going to risk infection being a crowded space. And so we see that as kind of accelerating what we thought was an inevitability it’s just growing a lot faster. And so the next 10,000 cities we’ll be in.
Patrick McGuire 21:42
That is a good plan. And I talk about BHAG – big, hairy, audacious goals. That’s a big one, 10 1000 cities for Joyride is awesome. Go for it, get it, and I have no doubt that you’re going to do it. It’s just a matter of when not if, right?
Vince Cifani 21:55
Yeah, I hope so. [Laughs] Definitely when.
Patrick McGuire 21:59
Here’s my last question for you. Being an entrepreneur, going through all this stuff, the goods, the bads, the uglies, the ups, the downs, the sweat, the tears and the smash your head on the keyboard type stuff- Would you do it again?
Vince Cifani 22:12
Oh, man. I don’t know, knowing what I know now. Would I do it all again? Or would I- It’s been a lot of heads on the keyboard moments. No, but it’s been fun. Honestly, the people I work with I love, have a such good time every single day. And I like working at a company where I’d love the mission. I love the values. I really like what we’re doing and seeing like a difference that we can help people make. So that that part has been super motivating. So yeah, I would do this business again. I don’t know if I would do like launch like a payroll software company, but, just be any kind of entrepreneur, but I’d have to really enjoy what I’m doing.
Patrick McGuire 22:50
Yeah, absolutely. And you say- that that’s so funny, because I’ve been part of that one. The payroll software company.
Vince Cifani 22:55
Yeah, me too. And I apologize to my former colleagues and employers there.
Patrick McGuire 23:00
Yeah, very cool.
Vince Cifani 23:01
I love those businesses.
Patrick McGuire 23:02
Yeah, I’ve done the HR tech, the FinTech, payroll. So I get it. I’m a… guy now. So Vince, it’s been I mean, I really appreciate your time. Thank you so much for sharing your story, talking about how your startup was transformed, talking about how RIC was part of it. We can’t remember that guy that got us connected, but it got you in the door
Vince Cifani 23:20
Thank you. Thank you.
Patrick McGuire 23:23
[Laughs] I think that’s perfect, though. That’s about taking the meeting and always saying yes, and that’s an entrepreneurial spirit. I’ll say yes, to any good meeting or good idea. If that’s what gets me in the door to get to my next great step for success, fantastic. Well, I may never get this chance to meet with you if that individual didn’t say, hey, go check out RIC.
Vince Cifani 23:41
Yeah, that’s so true. It’s really crazy how that happens. Like, I think back, like a lot of the good connections I have now, and a lot of people who helped me out were just like, random, you know, you get that random email connection. Hey, I want to intro you to whoever. Like you said, take the meeting, you never know where it’s gonna go.
Patrick McGuire 23:56
Yeah, I totally agree with you on that one. And thank you so much for sharing and being honest. I love your honest answer that you just don’t know if you would do it all over again.
Vince Cifani 24:05
Yeah, I don’t know. [Laughs]
Patrick McGuire 24:07
And it’s guys like you who are honest, transparent, truthful, and they love riding bikes. That makes me say, Vince, thank you so much. And I want to ride with you when we get the chance considering we’re both Toronto through Hamilton once in a while. So let’s figure out how to make that happen. And just again, from RIC Centre and Startups Transformed, thank you so much, and congratulations. And I look forward to the next time we do this and the 10,000 cities that you’re in.
Vince Cifani 24:34
Can’t wait. Thanks, Patrick.
Patrick McGuire 24:37
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