Former Tesla Inc. general counsel Todd Maron has resurfaced to lead the law department at electric bike-sharing company Wheels almost a year after leaving his role as top lawyer for Elon Musk’s electric car maker.
Maron confirmed in a phone call that he began working on Sept. 16 as chief legal officer for Wheels, a West Hollywood, Calif.-based company that operates a fleet of pedal-less e-bikes. Wheels has received nearly $90 million in total funding since being started last year by brothers Jonathan and Joshua Viner, who also launched the popular dog-walking app Wag.
Wheels raised $50 million of that sum in a fundraising round last month led by San Francisco-based venture capital firm DBL Partners LP, whose co-founder and managing partner Nancy Pfund was an early investor in Tesla. Ira Ehrenpreis, a fellow managing partner and co-founder of DBL, is a member of Tesla’s board of directors and will become a member of the board at Wheels, Maron said.
“I am thrilled to join the Wheels team and to continue the push towards sustainable transportation,” Maron said. “Micromobility is both interesting and worthwhile, and I’m convinced that Wheels’ unique approach to safety, accessibility, and sustainability is the right solution.”
Maron declined to discuss his departure from Tesla, which he joined as deputy general counsel in 2013 after serving as Musk’s personal divorce lawyer. He was promoted to general counsel the following year and remained at Tesla until January to transition the company’s law department to new general counsel Dane Butswinkas.
Butswinkas spent only two months at Tesla, leaving in February to return to a partnership at Williams & Connolly in Washington. Jonathan Chang, who had a variety of legal roles at Tesla under Maron, was promoted from vice president of legal to replace Butswinkas as general counsel.
As for Wheels, Maron said it is operating in at least seven cities: Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Diego, Scottsdale, Ariz., and Stockholm, Sweden.
In October, an entity called Wheels Labs Ltd. filed incorporation papers in the U.K. listing Maron as a director. Wheels, which is also incorporated in Delaware, is planning to expand its U.S. operations to Austin, Texas, and Miami within the next few weeks, Maron said.
Maron told Bloomberg Law that the Viner brothers wanted to provide a safer option than the traditional stand-up scooters that have flooded certain urban markets around the country, raising concerns about liability issues.
“Wheels devices are seated, they have a lower center of gravity, bigger wheels, and we’re about to roll out a smart helmet system that will give riders physical access to a helmet every time they ride,” Maron said. “And from a sustanability standpoint, other companies rely heavily on a model where large numbers of scooters are thrown in a truck, taken home, charged overnight, and then redeployed in the morning.”
Maron said that Wheels uses swappable batteries that allow its devices to remain in the field and be more efficient and environmentally friendly than its competitors. Wheels also has gender parity in its user base and a third of its riders are over 35, which Maron said is evidence that the company is reaching a broader audience.
Wheels is the latest nascent transportation company to hire an in-house legal chief. Lindsey Haswell, a former in-house lawyer at ride-sharing giant Uber Technologies Inc., became general counsel a year ago at Lime, a San Francisco-based company in the e-bike and scooter space.
In September, Lyft Inc. promoted Matthew Cline to senior counsel for its bikes and scooters unit, which saw its former head of legal and regulatory Justine Lee leave for New York-based venture capital firm 25Madison LLC.
Law.com reported in October that David Estrada, chief legal and policy officer at Bird Rides Inc., had left the Santa Monica, Calif.-based e-scooter company to join SoftBank Group-backed robotic delivery startup Nuro. Wendy Mantell, hired as deputy general counsel at Bird Rides last year, did not respond to a request for comment about whether she would take over Estrada’s top legal role.
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