Sidewalks used to be so much nicer, before the Segway Personal Transporter started hitting the streets. Remember being able to walk peacefully along, happy on the two legs God gave us? Then Dean Kamen brought us the Segway, and suddenly you couldn’t step outside without one whizzing by. Everyone and their neighbor bought one, making Kamen and his investors rich —
Whoops, sorry, wrong future. In retrospect, it seems at least a little silly that the Segway got as much hype as it did back in late 2001 and 2002, to the point of top Kleiner Perkins VC John Doerr saying that Segway would be the fastest outfit in history to reach $1 billion in sales. Yet the firm has also survived thus far, and appears to be expanding the $10 million third round of funding we reported in January, according to a filing dug up by VentureWire.
Segway’s blessing and curse is its oddball design. It’s packed with electronics and gyroscopes that keep the vehicle balanced and make rolling around at the pace of a running human effortless. Unfortunately, aside from being ridiculous looking, Segways are also expensive, a combination that has sent most potential consumers buyers packing to alternatives like Edge scooters. Nobody except the company knows how many have been bought for recreational use, but the fan club has long since disbanded, and in most places, just spotting one makes for a red-letter day.
What has saved Segway, at least so far, is its business customers. Police departments and security love to use Segways for what were previously onerous foot patrols. Warehousing businesses and golf clubs have bought them for employee and visitor use. Google, predictably enough, offers them as a perk to employees. Other uses abound — anywhere walking, biking or driving is impractical, a Segway can likely fit in.
What’s interesting about the reported funding is that one of the new investors is the Masdar Clean Tech Fund, an arm of Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Initiative. While that could just be a venture investment, it’s possible it was more of a strategic funding — after all, Abu Dhabi will need to figure out some zero-emissions transportation options for its promised zero-emissions city.
If Segway is selling worldwide, especially to other small cities that need a local transportation option, the company could get recoup its investments, which have now reached almost $150 million of venture capital and $100 million in development costs. And though the fan club may be dead, Segway is still reaching for a consumer base, with its recently launched Segway Social network. There’s also the strong likelihood that the company will roll out other transporter designs in the future.
Backers on the round, which VentureWire says is $35 million total with a recent tranche of $9.5 million, include Kleiner Perkins, CSFB Private Equity, the Masdar fund, buyout firm Duff, Ackerman & Goodrich, and others.
[Photo credit: Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten; Flickr]