Analysis: As the hype around micro-mobility grows, one too-weird-to-be-true company strikes a chord.
On May 18, the Swedish-based pogo stick rental company Cangoroo clarified that it is, in fact, a real company.
"With a lot of initial questions along the line of 'is this for real?', We feel the need to underline that Cangoroo is 100% real," the company said in a news release. "Our choice of shared pogo sticks as our first product is a planned out strategy in order to stand out in today's media landscape and build an engaging brand in the generic 'last mile transportation' category."
Cities around the world are now awash in a mix of rental bicycles, scooters, Vespas and mopeds as part of the micro-mobility boom. A variety of smartphone-based short-trip startups — Lime, Bird, Flash, Skip, etc. — have rushed to stake their claim in the new category, with venture capital funding pushing them to grow.
The guerrilla tactics of the emerging industry — companies have been known to dump dozens of scooters on cities without warning, users are offered little or no training on their use and are not given easy access to helmets — have given the sense that anything goes in the micro-mobility scene.
That's how a pogo stick rental company could gain coverage from a variety of media outlets for its announced plans to come to San Francisco this summer.
Cangoroo CEO Adam Mikkelsen has a history of branded media stunts meant to garner media coverage through his other company, a Swedish ad agency called The ODD Company. He said that Cangoroo was born out of a desire to capitalize on the hype that has even hit his town of Malmö.
He said the town of about 316,000 people now has three scooter companies competing for riders. And he wasn't terribly impressed by any of them.
"We're not that delusional that we think the pogo stick, per se, is going to compete with motorized e-scooters," Mikkelsen said.
Mikkelsen said he's trying to come at the market from a "brand first" angle. He readily admits that the pogo sticks are something of a marketing exercise, a strategy that has paid off with the kind of media coverage that would make any startup jealous, even though the company has yet to actually release a product. Mikkelsen said the company is still in its very early stages — it has little to prove its legitimacy apart from a website, a press kit and some press coverage — but that the company's app is being built and prototypes are on the way.
But if pogo sticks are secondary to Cangoroo's brand, the company is already a success. The mere concept has been enough to generate coverage from a wide variety of publications including Forbes, Yahoo Finance, The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal, which have covered the company with varying levels of credulity.
That coverage has resonated on social media, where the company is often met with the kind of cynicism that stops just short of disbelief.
"My initial thought was literally WTF," said Leandro Thomas, a startup founder who lives in southern Spain. "Then I thought, 'it doesn't really matter if it's real or not.'"
Thomas said he knows how hard it is for new companies to break through with the media and consumers. His company, Unubo, offers developers a way to easily deploy web applications, making it a competitor to a variety of other companies.
"Everything has been done before," Thomas said. "It just goes to show you that the lines between real and fake are blurring and it doesn't really matter anymore. And from an attention standpoint, it's working."
Mikkelsen said he hopes to build Cangoroo into a brand that is unique for its embrace of concepts that aren't necessarily about efficient transportation, including healthy activity, sustainability and, simply, "fun." He added that the company's next project could be a human-powered scooter.
But the stunt also risks becoming just another reason to scoff at the micro-mobility industry, which has started to become the object of derision among some consumers, drawing concern from politicians and skepticism from investors.
Levi Tillemann, a partner at Valence Strategic, a technology consulting firm, said he thought the project was "really clever" but worried that it could set back what he sees as an important industry.
"Cangoroo may be a joke but micro-mobility most definitely is not a joke," Tillemann said. "The one thing I worry about with Cangoroo is it's so lacking in seriousness I think it further confuses the conversation around a really important and transformative set of technologies that answer the needs of the 21st century."
Mikkelsen said he's not worried about the skepticism or people questioning the company's legitimacy. He expects more attention when — if — the pogo sticks hit the streets.
"People that were skeptical in the beginning will probably want to do an update," Mikkelsen said. "And that's marketing for us, I guess."