Blood, Weapons, and Damaged Scooters: Contained in the Chaotic Rise and Fall of Hen


In a minivan with the rear seats ripped out, John is chasing one in all his 250 electrical scooters down a California freeway. He finds it 10 miles away, hiding in a bush—a run-and-dump tactic that he says thieves use to check whether or not anybody will come after them earlier than they take a scooter dwelling. John, not his actual title, at all times provides chase, as a result of his livelihood depends upon it. “If I are available in too comfortable, then they are saying, ‘Oh, this man, he is a pussy. I may kick his ass.’ So I’ve to be a bit of aggressive,” says John, who’s properly previous the age the place it’s secure to fist-fight. He spends the subsequent hour looking down different scooters from his fleet which have been knocked over or want recharging.

John is a contractor for scooter rental firm Hen International and takes care of all of the scooters in a specific space in return for a reduce of rental charges paid by riders. Fleet managers, as they’re referred to as, are technically their very own bosses, however John spends his days on the beck and name of the corporate’s app. Hen requires him to keep up a number of productiveness scores that, to John, really feel nonnegotiable. Every scooter lit up in pink within the fleet supervisor app knocks his rating down. That warning can sign {that a} scooter has been stolen, fallen over as a consequence of sloppy parking or vandalism, or just sat idle for too lengthy—conditions largely outdoors of John’s management.

For Hen to supply handy rides on the faucet of an app, John and different fleet managers should deal with the grinding logistics of scattering scooters round cites. It takes road smarts, loads of guts, hours of driving, and generally strongly implied threats of violence. If greater than 10 p.c of his fleet turns pink, John can get chewed out by a Hen supervisor, and he has been informed he may lose some scooters for breach of contract.

Hen grew to become the most important micromobility firm in North America this fall after buying competitor Spin. It was as soon as valued at greater than $2 billion and appeared to epitomize a shiny future of unpolluted city transport. However ridership slumped throughout the pandemic—and so did Hen’s shares after its 2021 inventory market debut. In late 2022, after a sequence of enterprise setbacks, the corporate warned buyers that it may go bankrupt. It was booted from the New York Inventory Change in September of this yr for failing to persistently keep a market cap of $15 million. As the corporate scrambled to outlive, it has squeezed its fleet managers more durable. On December 20, their state of affairs grew to become extra unsure when Hen introduced it was submitting for chapter.

The years main as much as that second have been robust for a lot of Hen fleet managers. Greater than a dozen present or former fleet managers within the US, who like John requested for anonymity, fearing retaliation from Hen, described their unstable and generally punishing relationships with the corporate. They made private and financial sacrifices for Hen whereas, as contractors, having little energy over their working circumstances. And as Hen’s enterprise struggled, fleet managers have been offered with up to date contracts that John and others say have reduce their earnings by about half.

The state of affairs for some fleet managers has grow to be determined. One within the Pacific Northwest stated he had solely slept eight hours on a current weekend and that he and his two staff have all been in separate automobile accidents on the job. Three different fleet managers say they’ve generally carried weapons when on the road with Hen scooters, as a result of brandishing a weapon can really feel helpful when dealing with off scooter thieves or vandals. A number of former West Coast fleet managers carried Tasers whereas on the job.

WIRED despatched a listing of inquiries to Hen primarily based on interviews with fleet managers, however firm spokesperson Adam Davis declined to deal with most of them. He stated that Hen was ending the fleet supervisor program in some cities—apparently chopping the contractors free and changing them with workers or new contractors who deal with extra scooters and are paid much less. In a press release despatched to WIRED earlier than the chapter announcement, Michael Washinushi, Hen’s interim CEO, stated the corporate bought new administration and possession this yr that was making an attempt to “reset” how the corporate does enterprise. “By way of the course of the yr, administration has improved operations whereas being laser centered on offering a secure and pleasing expertise for our riders and an improved relationship with our companions, together with our fleet managers,” Washinushi stated.

“Silly Cash”

Hen grew quick. The corporate was based in September 2017 with simply 10 scooters in Santa Monica, California. 9 months later it had raised greater than $300 million in funding at a valuation of about $2 billion. As metropolis dwellers flirted with the enjoyable and novelty of with the ability to hop on an electrical experience, buyers embraced the concept scooters may upend city transport by changing vehicles.

A part of Hen’s mannequin was to outsource the difficult logistics of leaving scooters propped up in public locations for anybody to lease, steal, or abuse. Within the firm’s early days, it invited folks to grow to be freelance “chargers” who bought paid for locating and recharging scooters low on battery, and it used freelance mechanics for repairs, paying out on a per-scooter foundation. The corporate began hiring salaried mechanics in some cities to restore scooters in early 2019.

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In March 2020, Hen ridership plummeted as Covid lockdowns shut cities down. Hen fired 406 office-based employees over a two-minute Zoom name. Firm filings later confirmed that rides dropped by greater than 50 p.c in 2020. It was round this time, throughout the spring and summer time of 2020, when individuals who had been freelancing as chargers say they began getting shock messages from Hen. They have been pitched an thrilling new alternative that concerned getting their very own fleet of scooters and a reduce of the cash from each experience taken.

The brand new fleet supervisor gig mixed the duties of charging, repairing, and storing scooters—nearly each facet of the scooter operation apart from the app that individuals tapped to discover a experience. A few of the job’s duties may very well be tragic—a number of fleet managers recall choosing up scooters from accident scenes. Contributors needed to begin their very own firms to get scooters from Hen, agreeing to make “gear funds” that have been taken out of their experience payouts every week till the scooters have been paid off. After that, a fleet supervisor could be entitled to 81 p.c of the online income from every experience, although contracts present the title of the scooter would at all times stay with Hen.

On TikTok, dozens of influencers talked up the Hen fleet supervisor program as a “aspect hustle” that anybody, even a teen, may do with as much as $1,500 in projected weekly earnings. Fleet managers who joined this system when it launched by April 2020 describe it as nearly addictive. “A lot cash, that it was really fairly silly,” says a former fleet supervisor in San Diego, who rapidly constructed a thriving enterprise. He remembers seeing product sales within the excessive six figures for his fleet’s first yr, and incomes near $100,000 out of that in income, after Hen’s charges and his personal bills equivalent to van purchases and warehouse leases. “It was lots of low-income folks that this system was using when lots of these different companies did not even take a look at us,” says one other former fleet supervisor in San Diego.


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