17 February 2022

How a Former MassChallenge Intern Brought Her Own Startup to Scale

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Mount is a software platform that can take mobiles assets from a property like a bike, a scooter, a golf cart, a kayak, etc. and turn it into a rental amenity so that people around you in your community, or perhaps renting through AirBnb, can have rental access to it. 

However, the startup, founded by 24 year-old Madison Rifkin, started out very differently. 

In 2018, Rifkin was studying Entrepreneurship in Northeastern University in Boston, MA. As part of Northeastern’s curriculum, students complete two different six-month long, full-time internships colloquially called co-ops.

For Rifkin’s first co-op, she landed a spot with MassChallenge’s HealthTech program. Rifkin worked with hundreds of startups, assisting with sourcing, applications, and logistics of the accelerator curriculum. 

“I applied to the MassChallenge co-op already thinking that I would apply to the accelerator as a startup eventually,” said Rifkin. She already had a startup going, then called Mount Locks. “Getting to work there before hand was a huge educational experience. I really learned how an accelerator works, how to take advantage of it. When I went back to Northeastern, I was re-invigorated to push Mount Locks further. Back then, we were a locks company focused on bike and scooter locks for micro mobility, like Bird, Lime, and Lyft scooters.” 

Rifkin grew up in Denver and, grown from a passion for biking, began building locks when she was 12 years old. Through the Gates Invention Program, Rifkin won a fully funded patent when she was 15. 

“I’ve always been involved in the biking world, and when I got to Northeastern it was right when micro mobility began to really emerge,” said Rifkin. “It might have been as early as like 10 scooters in Santa Monica when I became aware of the new tech, and I thought it was so brilliant. From early on, with those baby startups all the way up until they were unicorns, I was in that industry just learning as much as I could.”

When Rifkin started as a MassChallenge cohort member in 2020, Mount Locks was focused on hardware. During the accelerator, Rifkin significantly honed her pitch skills, gained advanced market mentorship, grew her network of entrepreneurs and funding connections, and also began to realize that Mount Locks needed pivot, or a few. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic greatly disrupting the micro mobility industry, cutting staff and development funding, Rifkin returned to Colorado and began to see a new direction for Mount Locks. “I was like, all right, we learned a lot from the micro mobility world,” said Rifkin. “One fact being that most of the rides come from tourists. Another is that these companies aren't profitable, but people like using the scooters. How can we do this in a better way?” At this same time Rifkin gained a Co-founder in Rishab Nayak and together they decided to phase out the “lock” component of their product. Mount Locks became Mount, hardware pivoted to software, and their customer market turned toward the Airbnb world. 

Mount began trials at Airbnb rentals in Beaver Creek, Colorado and then later in Miami. Due to the effects of the pandemic on travel, hotels and Airbnb renters were eager to find new monetary streams. At first, Mount bought a bunch of scooters and brought them to locations to be rented out, but then realized they would hit the same scalability issues companies like Bird or Lime hit.

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However, through those trials they gained valuable field research. “There was a pain point. Airbnb hosts wanted to offer amenities,” said Rifkin. “Everyone was jumping at the opportunity to have scooters at their property but couldn’t solve the logistics. We worked with 14 different Airbnb hosts for about nine months and transformed Mount into a SaaS company that no longer purchased any assets. Our customers rent out what they want to through our platform and every asset is GPS tracked. It’s a really in-demand market.”

Mount then entered an additional startup accelerator, Blue Startups, in Honolulu, HI, focusing on optimizing scale. Mount then did a series of demo days in Honolulu, New York, and Boston in just a couple of weeks. Based on the strengths of these demo days, Mount gained their principal investor, General Catalyst, and Scribble Ventures, in addition to a few strategic angel investors. 

In 2021 Mount completed their preseed raise by top Silicon Valley VCs and strategic angels. With this funding Rifkin is able to grow the Mount team, hone in on Mount’s product market fit and finish off some key product development features. It was the pitching skills Rifkin gained through MassChallenge and then sharpened during Blue Startups that allowed her to close her funding round so quickly. 

“MassChallenge was a great starting point for me and Mount. The program challenged us to keep up with customer discovery, make sure we were solving a problem our customers actually had, and taught us very valuable pitch skills. These pitch skills are what gave me an edge going into Blue Startup’s demo day.” – Madison Rifkin, Founder and CEO of Mount

 

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