Tortoise co-founder Dmitry Shevelenko is bringing autonomous scooters to TC Sessions: Mobility

TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 is gearing up to be a lit event. The one-day event, taking place May 14 in San Jose, has just added Dmitry Shevelenko, co-founder and president of an automatic repositioning startup for micromobility vehicles. Yes, that means we’ll be having autonomous scooters rolling around onstage — #2020.

Tortoise, which recently received approval to deploy its tech in San Jose, is looking to become an operating system of sorts for micromobility vehicles. Just how Android is the operating system for a number of mobile phones, Tortoise wants to be the operating system for micromobility vehicles.

Given the volume of micromobility operators in the space today, Tortoise aims to make it easier for these companies to more strategically deploy their respective vehicles and reposition them when needed. Using autonomous technology in tandem with remote human intervention, Tortoise’s software enables operators to remotely relocate their scooters and bikes to places where riders need them, or, where operators need them to be recharged. On an empty sidewalk, Tortoise may employ autonomous technologies, while it may rely on humans to remotely control the vehicle on a highly trafficked city block.

Before co-founding Tortoise, Shevelenko served as Uber’s director of business development. While at Uber, Shevelenko helped the company expand into new mobility and led the acquisition of JUMP Bikes . Needless to say, Shevelenko is well-versed to talk about the next opportunities in micromobility.

Tickets are on sale now for $250 (early-bird status). After April 9, tickets go up, so be sure to get yours before that deadline. If you’re a student, tickets cost just $50.

Early-stage startups in the mobility space can book an exhibitor package for $2,000 and get four tickets and a demo table. Packages allow you to get in front of some of the biggest names in the industry and meet new customers. Book your tickets here.


Bird is testing Bird Pay, which lets users purchase items from local businesses using its main app

Another on-demand transport app is making a move into payments to expand the existing relationship with its customers (and subsequent margins that it makes from serving them). Bird today announced the launch of Bird Pay, a service that will let people use its app to purchase items from local participating businesses alongside renting scooters. The service is being tested first in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, the company said.

Bird Pay will work by way of a QR code, which can be read via your app at the point of sale at participating businesses to make cashless purchases. (After scanning the code, you enter the amount you are charging and swipe up to complete the purchase.)

The company said that Bird Pay was created directly in response to requests from businesses themselves — who will be using the app to promote deals near to where Bird users pick up or drop off scooters. The link between local businesses and scooter rides is a strong one: Bird says it found that 58% of all the rides through its app start or end at a local business, and claims that businesses in all of its areas of operation — it’s now live in some 100 cities — say that the presence of Bird scooters outside their establishments have increased footfall.

“An early insight that emerged shortly after introducing Bird in Santa Monica was that it had the potential to not only allow people to avoid the chore of circling a block to find parking resulting in congestion and frustration, but it could also foster a more direct connection between people and local businesses,” said Travis VanderZanden, CEO and founder, Bird, in a statement. “Store owners in the community often tell me, ‘Birds outside bring business inside.’ This phenomenon paired with our commitment to community resulted in Bird Pay which helps drive even more customers to local businesses.”

Adding in payments to on-demand transport apps has become something of a tested and successful formula. In Asia, companies like Grab have built rather extensive payments operations on top of their transportation apps — businesses big enough to be raising hundreds of millions of dollars in their own right to expand. And several months ago, Uber also started to test the waters in this area with the launch of Uber Money.

Of course, services like Grab’s have a slightly bigger greenfield when it comes to winning business: in many of the regions where Grab operates, cash is often still king; therefore, having a relationship with a user, where a mobile app is already being identified with “virtual money” (with money either being preloaded into an app or linked to a payment card), gives the app publisher an easy opening to expanding that relationship, such as payments for local goods and services.

The challenge in the U.S., where Bird is based and operates primarily, is somewhat different: people are already used to plastic cards, and their phones may already have one or more payments apps active already. Both Apple Pay and Google’s Android-based offering have had strong take-up, as have alternatives from Samsung, PayPal and many others. That means a much more crowded playing field for Bird or any other new entrant.

On the other hand, we are creatures of convenience, and if we already have the Bird app open to open or close off a ride, that could just be the lower friction we need to use it to buy something. Time will tell if this particular bird will, indeed, fly.

Bird last October raised some $275 million at a $2.5 billion valuation.