By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com
The free short-haul ride service in downtown Miami and Miami Beach has added an app, vehicles and territory. Working with the Small Business Development Center, Freebee has a multi-city expansion plan.
Company name: Freebee
Concept: Freebee is changing the way people experience Miami, moving customers short distances with free electric transportation. Each Freebee car hosts its own marketing campaign for national brands and local businesses.
Story: After graduating from the University of Miami with business management degrees and working a few sales jobs to keep financially afloat, Jason Spiegel and Kris Kimball (pictured above) quit their 9-5s and took the entrepreneurial plunge. “The mix of creativity, fun and the overhanging theme of a better, greener tomorrow were the elements that drove us to pull the trigger on Freebee,” said Spiegel. “We always had it in our minds that we would create something special.”
The co-founders purchased six open-air vehicles — think oversize golf carts — and they were off. The idea was that each vehicle would be branded for one of Freebee’s clients — some of which now include Pepsi, Anheuser-Busch, Jack Daniels, "T-Mobile, Vita Coco, Goya and Related Group. Along with advertising on the inside and outside of the vehicles — indeed, Vita Coco’s Freebees carry a custom built coconut rack on the roof — the drivers become brand ambassadors, providing riders with brand information and coupons and surveying users for feedback.
Service began in South Beach, and by the end of 2014 Freebee launched in Brickell. It now serves South Beach and Mid-Beach as well as Brickell to the Design District with 28 vehicles. Riders can hail a ride through the free “Ride Freebee” mobile app as well as flag a vehicle down.
“The app also gives tourists and locals insight into deals, discounts and “Places To Bee” in the greater Miami area,” Spiegel said. “We promote a greener tomorrow, while also spreading the word about great local establishments and national brands.”
Now the company is revving up with a big expansion strategy.
Launched: September 2012
Management team: Managing Partners Jason Spiegel and Kris Kimball; Matt Friedmann, Business Development; Operations and Logistics Managers Marcellus Johnson, Bryan Jobe and Chris Walker; Directors of Fleet Maintenance Josh Del Sol and Carlos Hernandez.
No. of employees: 43, including in-house designers who create vehicle campaigns and experiences.
Financing: Self-funded plus a $450,000 working capital loan from C1 Bank and a $175,000 economic development grant from Miami-Dade County.
Recent milestones reached: Launched the Ride Freebee mobile app in October, already generating more than 15,000 downloads. About 60 percent of Freebee’s rides are now requested through the app. Added vehicles in current territories.
Biggest startup challenge: Building a team. Freebee turned to mentors from the Small Business Development Center at Florida International University for guidance on team-building and growth strategy.
Next steps: The mobile app technology has opened the door to more revenue streams, including in-app promotions and data collection, as well as the ability to scale the business to other major cities. But first Freebee’s plans are to expand further in Miami-Dade County.
Strategy for next steps: “Innovation and execution are the key,” Spiegel said. “By partnering and combining key components, we believe that we can scale this business to 50-plus cars in any market, further expanding the known marketing real estate in a given territory, as well as increasing engagement and usage activity levels.”