Inside Usain Bolt’s Scooter Startup Collapse

The sudden collapse of a transportation startup co-founded by Usain Bolt not only left hundreds of unusable scooters and e-bikes strewn across US cities — it also left behind a string of angry former employees who didn’t. t been paid for months, The La Poste learned.

Bolt Mobility, which was co-founded by the legendary Jamaican sprinter and made his voice heard on his electric scooters, ceased operations in July after running out of funding. The company abandoned vehicles on the streets of cities like Portland, Oregon and Burlington, Vermont, which became useless because they had to be unlocked through its app.

But it’s not just local governments that need to clean up Bolt’s mess that are angry — a group of former employees also says the startup has withheld its last paychecks for months.

Four former Bolt employees told the Post that prior to the July shutdown, the company did not send their paychecks for the entire month of June.

While the paychecks did not arrive, employees say they were repeatedly assured by Bolt management that the outage was temporary and that they would receive late payments once funding was received from an Indian investor.

The money never materialized and the deal closed in July, leaving former employees wondering when – if ever, they would get their salaries.

“I was tricked and manipulated,” said a former employee at Usain Bolt’s scooter startup.
AFP via Getty Images

“Not paying us for the last month of work we did – I consider that employee fraud,” said a former Bolt employee. “I was tricked and manipulated.”

“We couldn’t believe they were just going to toughen us up,” said another former employee. “I feel violated.”

After The Post reached out to Bolt for this story, a company spokesperson said, “Arrangements are already being made to compensate employees in the coming days.”

A few days later, the company paid its employees. Two former employees said they thought Bolt would never have paid them if they hadn’t told their story to the media, though Bolt insisted the company always planned to pay them.

“Revolutionizing Transport”

Bolt Mobility was co-founded in 2018 by Usain Bolt and Bita Sarah Haynes, a Miami entrepreneur, with a mission to “revolutionize transportation through safe, smart and sustainable transportation solutions”.

The company’s early supporters included Hanyes’ brother Shervin Pishevar, who made his fortune from early investments in Uber and Airbnb and served on Bolt’s board. Prior to Bolt, Pishevar served on the board of Virgin Hyperloop, but resigned in 2017 after being accused of sexual misconduct. Pishevar denied the allegations at the time and did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

While Usain Bolt was on the co-founder list, the eight-time Olympic gold medalist worked more as a spokesperson than a decision-making executive, sources familiar with the company said. His involvement included recordings of his voice that would be played over the scooters’ speakers to give directions to drivers. The sprinter also filmed a commercial to promote his eponymous company and went to New York City Hall in 2019 to urge lawmakers to legalize electric scooters.

Bolt visited New York City Hall in 2019 to promote Bolt.
Getty Images

“I’m an Olympic athlete, so I know how to walk fast”, joked the athlete at the time.

But Bolt — not to be confused with an Estonian transportation start-up, a San Francisco payments company and a New York insurance company that share the same name — was not selected to participate in the pilot. . The Department of Transportation granted licenses to three competitors — Bird, Lime and Veo — that allowed companies to operate shared scooters in various Bronx neighborhoods.

Bolt eventually shifted its efforts to smaller markets, launching scooters and e-bikes in cities like Portland, Burlington, St. Augustine, Florida; and Richmond, Virginia.

Although Usain Bolt is still listed as a co-founder on the company’s website, the legendary sprinter stopped appearing at Bolt events and in additional advertisements because the company was reluctant to pay the appearance fee he was charging, a company source said.

Usain Bolt’s agent Ricky Simms did not respond to requests for comment.

To lock
Screw-powered scooters and bikes in cities like Burlington, Vermont and Portland, Oregon.
Getty Images

“Things are starting to burn”

Bolt began to decline in late 2021 when the company defaulted on rent on its main warehouse in Birmingham, Alabama, a former employee said. A sheriff even showed up at the property with an eviction notice, but management resolved the issues with the landlord in February, according to the official.

In March, Bolt released a press release announcing that he had secured a “strategic investment” from Ram Charan, a chemical company based in Chennai, India. The companies did not disclose the size of the investment, but said it would help Bolt gain access to “the cutting edge technology in solid-state batteries”.

But even after the press release, Bolt still appeared to have funding problems, according to former employees.

In April, the sheriff appeared again at the Birmingham warehouse and, according to the former employee, the company’s suppliers and contractors began to complain about the non-payment. Managers, however, assured employees that money was on its way.

“The writing is on the wall,” a former employee said of the weather in April and May. “But there’s always this plausible explanation: ‘The money is on the way, we’re just waiting to get it approved … there have always been guarantees.’

When a bunch of lawyers get involved

In June, Bolt missed pay twice every two weeks, causing panic among employees. In early July, CEO Ignacio Tzoumas told employees that the company was closing, but the company apparently failed to notify local authorities.

To lock
Usain Bolt recorded his voice for Bolt scooters.
Getty Images

“Sadly, Bolt apparently went out of business without prior notice or removal of its capital assets from city ownership,” Richmond, Calif., Mayor Tom Butt said in July. “The city is proposing a plan to remove all abandoned equipment.”

Former employees say Tzoumas, other executives and Bolt’s board of directors remained silent after the company’s closure, leaving them wondering if they would ever receive their back pay.

Meanwhile, local governments and suppliers who had not been paid began confiscating Bolt’s equipment with the permission of company executives, former employees said.

Tzoumas told the Post that Bolt was suing Ram Charan for allegedly backing out of the deal, but declined to provide details of the lawsuit. Tzoumas and Bolt did not answer detailed questions for this story.

“When it becomes a legal matter, you really don’t want to talk about these things because we’re going through legal issues with this investor,” Tzoumas told the Post in August, adding that his lawyers told him to “not until you call back.

“This is what happens when a group of lawyers get involved, they say, ‘Don’t say anything until we have a clear understanding of how we’re going to pursue this,'” Tzoumas added. “I just felt it was better to communicate what we are doing than not say anything at all.”

A few days later, Tzoumas called a meeting with employees, where he asked them to stop talking to The Post and said he would get their paychecks.

Ram Charan owner Kaushik Palicha did not respond to email inquiries.

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