Tortoise, a Silicon Valley firm named after a sluggish animal, has made several fast pivots into different business models during the last year. Ex-Uber executive Dmitry Shevelenko co-founded the startup in 2019 with the goal of becoming the operating system for micro-mobility vehicles, which utilizes remote operators to reposition shared electric scooters to regions where potential riders are or send them back to the warehouse for recharging.
Tortoise began testing three-wheeled scooters equipped with Tortoise’s repositioning software with shared micromobility operator Spin in January 2021. However, just before the business received its Spin pilot, it began to see the possibilities of the remote location and all of the cameras and sensors it had installed on scooters. Shevelenko thought it would be a “mistake” not to pursue robotic sidewalk delivery since COVID-19 caused the blossoming shared micromobility business to take a nosedive at the same time as people stuck indoors began to seek speedy delivery services.
Tortoise began by delivering to smaller local clients before expanding to larger companies such as Albertson’s, AxelHire, and KRS, a convenience store chain. All indications were that the sidewalk delivery would be a success. But then there’s…
Tortoise shifted gears again in early March 2022, swearing to focus solely on mobile smart shops, which are effectively fancy vending machines mounted on top of Tortoise’s delivery robots and stationed outside of retailers. Tortoise has switched from a hardware-as-a-service approach to a take-rate system that pays it 10% of all sales made through its card-enabled bots, whether it’s a box of pastries from a bakery or a pair of brand-new headphones from an electronics store.
These pivots, according to Shevelenko, who worked as Uber’s head of business development and was responsible for the company’s acquisition of Jump bikes, are just the beauty of a startup that is responsive to market developments. Skip, Superpedestrian, Codi, Payfare, Skyryse, SpotHero, and Cargo Systems are among the mobility and digital firms that the creator has advised or served on the board of. While Tortoise is Shevelenko’s first venture, he is well-versed in the aspects that might lead a startup to succeed or fail.
We got together with Shevelenko to discuss everything from Tier’s acquisition of Spin to the future of micro-mobility, how to own shifting company directions, sidewalk robot delivery challenges, and startup agility. Shevelenko, Dmitry: As a consumer-centric corporation, Uber’s ultimate goal is to capture all of your transportation spending. The ultimate end goal here is a transportation-as-a-subscription offering, which is why I believe they’re investing so much money in the Uber One subscription.
At the end of the day, the best way to win is to combine all of the different ownership models into one that is shared, rented, and owned. Shevelenko, Dmitry, Trying to gain your business one trip at a time by providing you specific incentives isn’t very productive for Uber and Lyft. Both Uber and Lyft lose if users continuously move between the two services. As a result, the best way to win is to compete on a nearly yearly basis rather than on a per-trip basis.
How can you convince someone to stay with you for a year? Because of the critical necessity of that customer lock-in, I believe you’ll need more than simply ridesharing, right? Bundling is vital in ridesharing, in my opinion, because rideshare will have ups and downs. The need for transportation, on the other hand, is never-ending. So, if you have various modes, you’ll always be successful.