The sudden collapse of a transportation startup co-founded by Usain Bolt didn’t simply go away lots of of unusable scooters and e-bikes littered across American cities — it additionally left behind a gaggle of irate ex-employees who have been left unpaid for months, The Put up has realized.
Bolt Mobility, which was co-founded by the legendary Jamaican sprinter and featured his voice on its e-scooters, went out of enterprise in July after operating out of funding. The corporate deserted autos on the streets of cities together with Portland, Oregon and Burlington, Vermont that grew to become ineffective as a result of they needed to be unlocked by means of its app.
However it’s not simply the native governments which have to wash up Bolt’s mess who’re indignant — a gaggle of ex-employees additionally say the startup withheld their last paychecks for months.
4 former Bolt staff instructed The Put up that, previous to the shutdown in July, the corporate did not ship out their paychecks for the whole month of June.
Regardless of the paychecks not coming by means of, the staff say they have been repeatedly assured by Bolt’s management that the disruption was momentary and they might obtain backpay as quickly as funding got here in from an Indian investor.
The cash by no means materialized and the corporate shut down in July, leaving the ex-employees questioning when — if ever — they might get their paychecks.
“Not paying us for the final month of labor we did — I take into account that to be defrauding the staff,” one former Bolt worker raged. “I’ve been lied to and manipulated.”
“We couldn’t consider that they might simply stiff us,” one other ex-employee mentioned. “I really feel violated.”
After The Put up contacted Bolt for this story, an organization spokesperson mentioned: “Preparations are already being made to compensate the staff within the subsequent few days.”
Days later, the corporate paid out staff. Two ex-employees mentioned they felt Bolt would by no means have paid them in the event that they didn’t take their story to the media, though Bolt insisted that the corporate had all the time deliberate to pay them.
Bolt Mobility was co-founded in 2018 by Usain Bolt and Miami-based entrepreneur Bita Sarah Haynes, with a mission to “revolutionize transportation by means of secure, good and sustainable transit options.”
The corporate’s early backers included Hanyes’ brother, Shervin Pishevar, who made a fortune from early investments in Uber and Airbnb and sat on Bolt’s board. Previous to Bolt, Pishevar sat on the board Virgin Hyperloop, however stepped down in 2017 after he was accused of sexual misconduct. Pishevar denied the accusations on the time and didn’t reply to requests for remark for this story.
Whereas Usain Bolt was listed as a co-founder, the eight-time Olympic gold medalist labored extra as a spokesperson than a decision-making govt, sources near the corporate mentioned. His involvement included making recordings of his voice that may play by means of the audio system of scooters to present riders directions. The sprinter additionally visited filmed an commercial to advertise his namesake firm and traveled to New York City hall in 2019 to induce lawmakers to legalize e-scooters.
“I’m an Olympian so I find out about getting round shortly,” the athlete quipped on the time.
However Bolt — to not be confused with an Estonian transportation startup, a San Francisco funds firm and a New York insurance coverage agency that each one share the identical identify — was not chosen to take part in New York Metropolis’s shared electrical scooter pilot final 12 months. The Division of Transportation granted licenses to a few rivals — Chook, Lime and Veo — that allowed the businesses to operate shared scooters in several Bronx neighborhoods.
Bolt ended up shifting its efforts to smaller markets, deploying scooters and e-bikes in cities like Portland, Burlington, St. Augustine, Florida; and Richmond, Virginia.
Whereas Usain Bolt remains to be listed as a co-founder on the corporate’s website, the legendary sprinter stopped showing at Bolt occasions and in extra adverts as a result of the corporate was reluctant to pay the looks charge that he charged, an organization supply mentioned.
Usain Bolt’s agent, Ricky Simms, didn’t reply to requests for remark.
‘Issues are beginning to burn down’
Bolt began hitting the skids in late 2021, when the corporate missed lease funds on its most important warehouse in Birmingham, Alabama, one ex-employee mentioned. A sheriff even confirmed as much as the ability with an eviction discover, however administration resolved points with the owner by February, in line with the worker.
In March, Bolt put out a press launch announcing it had secured a “strategic funding” from Ram Charan, a chemical firm primarily based in Chennai, India. The businesses didn’t disclose the dimensions of the funding, however mentioned it might assist Bolt entry “cutting-edge strong state battery expertise.”
However even after the press launch, Bolt appeared to nonetheless be having funding issues, in line with ex-employees.
In April, the sheriff confirmed up on the Birmingham warehouse once more and because the firm’s distributors and contractors began complaining about not getting paid, in line with the ex-employee. Managers nonetheless assured staff that cash was on the best way.
“The writing’s on the wall,” a former worker mentioned of the temper in April and Might. “However there’s all the time this believable clarification: ‘The cash’s on the best way, we’re simply ready to be accredited… there have been all the time reassurances.”
‘When a bunch of attorneys become involved’
In June, Bolt missed biweekly payroll twice, inflicting staff to panic. In early July, CEO Ignacio Tzoumas instructed staff the corporate was shutting down, however the firm apparently did not notify native officers.
“Sadly, Bolt apparently went out of enterprise with out prior notification or removing of their capital tools from metropolis property,” Richmond, California Mayor Tom Butt griped in July. “The Metropolis is developing with a plan to take away all of the deserted tools.”
Ex-employees say Tzoumas, different executives and Bolt’s board largely went silent after the corporate shut down, leaving them questioning if they might ever obtain their again pay.
In the meantime, native governments and distributors that hadn’t been paid began confiscating Bolt’s tools with the permission of firm executives, ex-employees mentioned.
Tzoumas instructed The Put up that Bolt is suing Ram Charan for allegedly backing out of the deal, however refused to supply particulars of the lawsuit. Tzoumas and Bolt didn’t reply detailed questions for this story.
“When it turns into a authorized matter you don’t wish to actually discuss this stuff as a result of we’re going by means of authorized points with that investor,” Tzoumas instructed The Put up in August, including that his attorneys had instructed him to “to not even name you guys again.”
“That is what occurs when a bunch of attorneys become involved, they’re like, ‘Don’t say something till we get a full understanding of how we’re going to pursue this,’” Tzoumas added. “I simply felt prefer it’s higher to speak what we’re doing than to say completely nothing.”
Days later, Tzoumas known as a gathering with staff, the place he urged them to cease talking with The Put up and mentioned he would get them their paychecks.
Ram Charan proprietor Kaushik Palicha didn’t reply to emailed questions.