Hidden beneath all the hype in Santa Monica surrounding the dockless scooter app Bird, there’s a second electric vehicle company in town still zooming under the radar. If you see one zipping down the street, the first thing you’re likely to notice is the bold, blue Ford emblem on the front.
Unlike the thousands of Birds scattered across sidewalks on the west side, the Ojo Electric scooter is more closely related to a moped than to a Razor. Riders can sit on a small seat or stand on the lightweight aluminum frame as they cruise up to 20 miles an hour. The scooters are small enough to bring inside to charge at a household power outlet but sturdy enough to feel more at home weaving between bottlenecked cars on the street than on the sidewalk with pedestrians. The curved, modern design features a touchscreen and Bluetooth speakers that connect within the rider’s smartphone.
“It’s where Tesla meets Vespa for the bike lane,” said one of its creators, Dale Seiden, in an interview at the Santa Monica Airport. Earlier in his career, Seiden built an outdoor kitchen empire with Alfresco Grills. In 2014, he dreamed up the Ojo with his friends and fellow established businessmen, Dan Ratner and Alan Shapiro, while sitting underneath Shapiro’s turboprop plane parked inside a hangar at SMO. With decades of corporate experience in traditional industries, the team has more grey hair than typically associated with Silicon Beach. Ratner is a former toy company executive. Shapiro helped build the leading plumbing supply company on the West Coast. Ratner’s former business partner, Bill Woodward, is behind the Ojo’s design.
The team had already sold about a thousand Ojos when Ford granted them permission to use the blue oval associated with their slogan “built Ford tough.” The men decided to relaunch the product with the new emblem in 2018 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.
“That changed everything from an immediate identity and brand recognition,” Seiden said of the licensing deal. As both commuters and cities look for ways to reduce carbon emissions, the entrepreneur sees Ojo Electric heading into markets all over the world, especially in Western Europe where gas is roughly $6 a gallon in many places. The Ojo has a range of about 25 miles and can climb hills up to an 18 percent grade.
Ojo Electric is launching into a new but rapidly growing market for electric transportation. In just six months, Bird transformed from a scrappy start-up led by a former Uber executive into a $117 million dollar company with its sights set on launching in 50 cities by 2019. Bay Area-based bike share company, Limebike, has also introduced an electric scooter called Lime-S. By making their scooters available to anyone who can download an app the companies have raised the profile of light electric devices.
While Seiden says rideshare is the future, he doesn’t see the company going dockless like Limebike and Bird, where the scooters are parked ad-hoc all over town. Ojo’s app is still in development. In the meantime, the company has focused on personal ownership with a single scooter selling for about $2,200. Seiden says they are developing a foldable version of their scooter for the so-called “last mile” and looking to expand their rental network with business partnerships.
Locally, the Ojos will be sold by Electric Bikes, which opens this month on Main Street. Next year, the company will expand into more Ford dealerships and Best Buy stores. Rather than look to other scooter companies, Seiden says cars are his main competition.
“This is really an alternative peice of transportation to your automobile when it’s too far to ride a bike and too close to drive a car,” Seiden said. “When you don’t want to fight congestion going to work in the morning, this is your alternative.”
A recent youtuber boasted he shaved 20 minutes off his commute through Venice by switching to the bike-lane friendly electric vehicle. Once a commuter arrives, Seiden says they can either bring the scooter inside to charge or lock it to a bike rack. Either way, the sidewalk stays clear.