By Mariah Hoffman
Few things are more freeing than riding a bike through the back roads of Greenville or by Rainbow Row in Charleston. But our paths are blocked by the busy schedules and time-crunches that take the handlebars from our grasp and squeeze the brakes. Open roads are then replaced with packed highways full of steel and heat clouding our early mornings and late nights as we hit the ground – hard.
Sean Flood, CEO and co-founder of The Gotcha Group and Gotcha Bike, knows this battle all too well. He decided to free commuters, college students, and community members of the burden commuting puts on their lives while also offering his marketing clients a new platform: bike sharing.
In 2009, Flood started his marketing firm The Gotcha Group, which aims its efforts towards college and corporate campuses and small to medium sized communities.
A graduate of Florida State University, Flood sympathized with the students’ need for alternative transportation to and from class and around the campus, and felt bike sharing was the solution.
“I found there was a need for the service,” says Flood. “I would meet with colleges and corporations all the time and they would bring up the same point: we need another way to get around. Bike sharing made sense.”
Flood launched his bike sharing marketing platform out of his manufacturing plant in Charleston, in which he brings the 100 percent sustainable bikes from concept to manufacturing to integration.
Eleven colleges and eight businesses have Gotcha Bike on their campuses, and in May, Charleston became the first city to integrate the system into its infrastructure with the help of the Medical University of South Carolina as the project’s title partner. Gotcha Bike unveiled 250 bicycles to local residents and business owners right before Memorial Day. The Charleston version is aptly nicknamed “Holy Spokes.”
“Businesses are excited to see what change this will have,” says Jordan Amaker, marketing and communications director of Lowcountry Local First. “There is a certain ease bikes bring to life, something that makes you want to slow down and enjoy the moment. This is something Charleston businesses are hoping will change the amount of foot traffic coming through their doors.”
Gotcha Bike will do more than just change local businesses, Amaker predicts. It will also change the way citizens live their everyday lives.
“Humans are naturally meant for connection,” says Amaker. “Riding a bike around town allows you to slow down enough to smile at other people, something traditional means of transportation makes nearly impossible.”
Colleges, corporations, or cities come to Gotcha Bike to market their brands in a renewable, cost-effective, and creative way. Clients design their bikes from color to logo, and The Gotcha Group gets to work putting hundreds of bikes into manufacturing for each project.
Gotcha Bike works in collaboration with SocialBikes (SOBI) based out of New York. SOBI develops the software and hardware so each bike has GPS that the rider, main sponsor, and the Gotcha Biketeam can monitor, a characteristic specific to Gotcha Bike.
SOBI is also the reason behind the Gotcha Bike app, which allows users to reserve and pay for bikes through the convenience of a mobile app.
“Their software is what really sets us apart,” says Flood. “You can pay for an entire year on the app and unlock a bike through the code it provides. You can also, for instance, track a bike through its GPS feature, which limits bike thefts as well as helps you remember where you locked it up anywhere, anytime.”
Finished bikes are introduced to their ‘Responsibility Sponsors,’ or the clients requesting the service. Those sponsors maintain the bikes, but are not the ones replacing missing parts or manning 24-hour service hotlines.
“We have dedicated service teams around each location of the sponsors on call 24/7 to fix a tire or replace a damaged bike,” says Flood.
These scenarios are less likely to happen with Gotcha Bike, whose tires are essentially flat-proof, its frame rust-proof and its seat weather-proof.
The unique SOBI GPS system is not only beneficial to quality control, but it also complements the freedom the bike offers its users to lock up anywhere, anytime, thus eliminating the need for packed bike terminals throughout cities and campuses.
Flood, who has seen the benefits of his programs firsthand, is excited to see how Charleston will change with this alternative, sustainable, ecofriendly mode of transportation.
When asked what was next for him, Flood says, “We’ve seen a lot of ups and downs throughout this whole process, and there are undoubtedly more to come, but my goal will always be to bring bike share to as many college campuses, cities and corporate campuses as possible.”