Bird-Powered by Holistic
Last week, Holistic and Hirewell co-hosted a lunch event featuring Brandon Pollak, Director of Global Civic Engagement and Strategy from Bird, to introduce Brandon and Bird to the Chicago tech and business community. At the event, which was facilitated by Lisa Laws from the city of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Pollak discussed Bird how he believes Bird serves as more than a form of transportation for people from all walks and stages of life.
“It's going from point A to point B with like a smile on your face,” said Pollak, “You don't really do that if you jump into an Uber, Lyft, take the L, or get into your own car and sit in a boatload of traffic.”
Pollak believes that Bird’s got a winning recipe -- a focus on being a fun, functional way of traveling around cities, while also helping cities have less traffic, cleaner air, and safer streets. When asked why Bird makes sense for the city of Chicago, Pollak stated that Chicago, like many other big cities, is very congested and has issues around infrastructure. Bird would solve transportation issues not only for people that live or work in areas like downtown but more importantly for those that live in neighborhoods outside of the city. The scooters are designed to be used for shorter trips.
“Our founder, [Travis VanderZanden], had this particular idea because he came from Uber and Lyft and knew that typically about 40% of rideshare trips are 2 miles or less.” While the scooters are capable for longer rides, Pollak said, they are designed to eliminate the use of cars for these shorter journeys.
“We've seen in other markets where we are legitimately taking cars off the road and that's one of our end goals: to eliminate congestion and take cars off the road and so that way people are getting around in alternative ways,” stated Pollak, “And so Chicago is obviously very much tailor-made for that.”
Pollak also highlighted that Bird has real potential to foster inclusion in communities. One woman on LinkedIn commented on a post from Pollak where she mentioned that Bird has been instrumental for her daughter who has multiple sclerosis. In the summer months when the daughter’s symptoms come out, it's very difficult for her to meet up with her friends, walk to restaurants and bars, etc. -- it simply made her feel different and excluded. Bird has been transformative for her locally in getting around; accessibility is a big part of the company’s sales pitch.
Laws questioned Pollak about challenges Bird is facing trying to bring the scooters into big cities like Chicago. “In order to expand in a particular market, especially one where there's a lot of regulatory challenges, you need to build strong support among key stakeholders within that market and it's not just a short term solution that's great for launching, but ultimately it's about long-term viability in a particular city,” he said.
Being a part of the tech community for the past six years working with startups, Pollak has noticed the tech community in any given market has an inherent power and is important to the economic growth of any particular city, which was a big part of the impetus to bring the group together for the event last week.
“Being a startup doesn't mean you have to be in Silicon Valley, that's long gone. You can be viable anywhere,” he said. “You can raise capital, but nonetheless, you want to go to the market that fits your needs best and Chicago is one of the cities where we see exponential growth among startups and engagement between key stakeholders that are actively engaged in seeing that growth of the startup community.”
As Holistic and Hirewell are both employee experience companies, the topic obviously turned to talent. Bird has increased from 200 employees to 800 employees since July of 2018, which they call “Bird Fam”. “We have a laid back vibe where everybody works extremely hard and there is this sense of we're all in this together because we know that we're potentially transforming an industry. We make sure that employees are engaged and feel like they're no different than if they were sitting at the headquarters,” Pollak said.
Laws asked Pollak for his thoughts on talent acquisition and retention: “Once it gets off the ground and running, what comes next?” Pollak said that as Bird grows into new markets, they’re trying to create jobs in those markets. “That means creating jobs and being able to retain some of that talent that has come from elsewhere, having them stay here, continue to grow, and create jobs here.”
Pollak said Bird wants to attract the kind of people that also embody and care about the city itself. They want to employ people that work for the company, not just because they're necessarily passionate about Bird or the transportation sector but also because they care about the environments and communities that they're engaged in.
“Bird cares about the values that I care about and they care about the issues that I care about,” said Pollak. “That's why I feel a greater connection to the company.”