Tim has navigated major ups and downs in his 13-year with Zagster.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born and raised? What kind of background did you have?
Tim Ericson: I grew up in northern New Jersey right outside New York City. I was born there. I lived there until I went to college. My mom is a nurse. My father was a mid-level executive at a bank. He never went to college, but he did pretty well for himself. Both of my parents were born in New York City and moved out to the suburbs when they had children.
Sramana Mitra: What did you do for your education?
Tim Ericson: I went to a regional high school in northern New Jersey called Bergen County Academies. I went through the culinary program there. I thought that I wanted to be a chef, and I’m really glad that I went through that program in high school.
I worked at a restaurant and quickly realized that although I enjoyed cooking, it wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I went to Drexel University in Philadelphia. I studied business and legal studies, but my passion has always been around entrepreneurship.
Sramana Mitra: When did you finish your education?
Tim Ericson: I graduated from the five-year program in 2009.
Sramana Mitra: When you came out of Drexel, what was the next step?
Tim Ericson: I started my company Zagster while I was still in school. I founded the company as City Ryde and I eventually changed it to Zagster. I started it after my studies in London.
I happened to be in Paris the weekend that they launched Vélib, which at the time was the world’s largest bike-share in 2007. I was fascinated by the concept. I came back to school in Philadelphia and started figuring out how to get involved.
Sramana Mitra: What were you doing? What did you start doing?
Tim Ericson: We were naïve and in college. I called up a couple of venture capitalists. It wasn’t a surprise that people didn’t want to invest in a company with just an idea and no traction. We quickly realized that this wasn’t the right path for us.
I started blogging about bike-share in English. All the information about it was coming in French and Chinese. Other places had adopted bike-sharing at that time, but nothing was in English. I created one of the first blogs and focused on what was happening in bike-sharing around the world in English. That led to some consulting opportunities with cities and universities. It ultimately led to what Zagster became.
Sramana Mitra: How long did you do the blogging and consulting process?
Tim Ericson: In 2007, we came up with the idea and knew that we wanted to be involved in bike-share. We did that until 2010 when things started to pick up. We started figuring out that we could create software for the bike-share space.
Our first customer was the University of Chicago. They came to us as a lead for a consulting project. They had an existing bike fleet at the university and they wanted to use software to better manage it. They were wondering if we knew anything that existed in the market. We saw that as an opportunity as entrepreneurs.
We told them that we could develop it for them. That was the product or customer for Zagster. We created a software platform called Spark. It managed the check-in and check-out of the bike fleet and the maintenance schedules and everything needed to run the program. I started looking at expanding that through additional universities.