After a little over a year and a half since its founding, Wharf-based startup OurStreets is ending its operations as a for-profit company on Aug. 15.
Originally named How’s My Driving?, the driver safety crowdsourcing company was cofounded by Mark Sussman and Daniel Schep in January 2019 as part of the GigabitDCx challenge hosted by the Office of the Chief Technology Office. OurStreets developed a web app that crowdsources momentary dangerous driving behavior like blocking bike lanes and crosswalks and aggressive driving.
Following a soft launch in January, the company planned to bring its tech solution to market in the spring, until COVID-19 hit. OurStreets instead pivoted to launch OurStreets Supplies, a crowdsourcing platform for grocery and convenience stores, in April. Between March and June, grocery store shoppers across the U.S. made 46,000 reports using OurStreets Supplies to update communities on the availability for in-demand goods, per the company.
The pivot took a big toll on the team, Sussman said, because managing OurStreets Supplies demanded a lot more resources than the company expected. OurStreets’ team was constantly responding to user feedback, media requests and pushing out new updates to the app to keep it up and running.
Push notifications are sent on Saturday and Sundays as a reminder to share with neighbors what you find at stores. We're having a little fun with it. 🎉 Yesterday was 'Got Yeast? '
Today is 'Meat is the new toilet paper'
What should we do next weekend??
— OurStreets (@OurStreetsApp) May 10, 2020
“We knew that this was a temporary pivot and actually did manage to make a small amount of money from the effort, which wasn’t expected,” Sussman told Technical.ly. The startup also explored another unnamed business concept for which it gathered dozens of customer discovery interviews and built pitch decks with the goal of raising capital to develop it, but “the potential for profit wasn’t strong enough to pursue further.” (OurStreets hasn’t secured any venture capital to date.)
In a bid to stay alive, OurStreets applied for and received one of D.C.’s microgrants and a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan. Ultimately, the pivots and funding weren’t enough — at least, not to maintain OurStreets’ current state.
“There were several factors that led to our decision to stop operating as a for-profit company,” Sussman said. “COVID-19. This is the primary reason. We were supposed to pitch or demo at five conferences in March [and] April, including South by Southwest. All of these opportunities were canceled or went virtual because of COVID.”
I think I can safely say that COVID-19 was the overwhelming reason why we had to close our doors, not because of incompetence or a lack of execution.
Sussman told Technical.ly that OurStreets would have shuttered its operations entirely because of the pandemic if it hadn’t secured a PPP loan. (In July, he gave the company a “75% chance” of getting the loan forgiven.) Sussman and Schep even stopped taking salaries and moved OurStreets employees to part-time to help with the finances. Now, the company is retiring the Supplies platform to refocus on its flagship product and continuing its work as a volunteer advocacy project with Schep solely at the helm.
“The company is going through a formal dissolution process over the next few months, so there won’t be any ‘roles’ at OurStreets as it exists today,” Sussman said. “Daniel is going to be maintaining the app and our advocacy dashboard for our 30+ advocacy partners with the help of some volunteers. These volunteers will likely be some of our current staff and some other folks that have either volunteered directly for OurStreets or have been engaged in other ways.”
OurStreets was planning to contract directly with cities to use its data to promote street safety infrastructure projects, like protected bike lanes. The company also partnered with other stakeholders in the transportation industry like micromoblity operators and transportation planning firms. OurStreets in its volunteer advocacy project form will no longer be able to contract with cities, the cofounder said, but it will still be providing its product to users and its advocacy partners.
Sussman will still be involved with the company through the end of the year, but not in a significant role, he said. Schep, who is also the company’s head of engineering, will continue to develop the OurStreets app and the OurStreets Advocate dashboards.
“I take comfort in knowing that I gave OurStreets my all and couldn’t be prouder of what the team accomplished,” Sussman said. “It’s easy to blame a lack of success on external factors, but I think I can safely say that COVID-19 was the overwhelming reason why we had to close our doors, not because of incompetence or a lack of execution.”
The cofounder said he’s looking forward to taking some time off to recharge and spend some quality time with family. Still, “I’ve certainly been bit by the entrepreneurial bug and have some ideas that I’d like to pursue in the future.”
Here are more of OurStreets’ accomplishments since its inception:
- First place and $50,000 in Amazon credits at the Amazon Web Services and US Ignite Smart Cities Pitch Competition in May 2019
- Placed in the top three at a virtual pitch competition during the Shared Use Mobility Summit Startup Spotlight in May
- Launched private pilots with Skip and Helbiz to act as the universal app for reporting of micromobility issues like scooters blocking bike lanes
- Hosted the Bus Lane Blitz in D.C., which tracked more than 300 violations in a day; this campaign helped push city officials to make permanent bus lanes on H and I Streets in northwest D.C.
— Mark Sussman (@MarkSussman_) January 23, 2020
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