More than a few notable companies have started in a Silicon Valley garage.
Maurice Brewster, CEO of Mosaic Global Transportation, said he believes he’s one of them. He has grown from a small group of vintage cars in the San Francisco area to a global, tech-savvy transportation network in four countries with 1,500 cars.
And like the garage-born Apples, Googles and Hewlett-Packards of the world, he has become skilled at shifting his business when necessary. Over the past year it has been quite necessary for a few reasons not the least of which is a global pandemic.
“It has been devastating,” Brewster told Karen Webster. “We went from moving thousands of people on a daily basis to zero in March. The day that it’ll go down in history is March 16, when the state shut down, and the country shut down, and we just saw the cancellations coming in droves. People were just canceling events, conventions … there were over 37 conventions in San Francisco that represented close to $1 billion of business coming into the city. Every one of those got canceled. So that means all of the cancellations went to us, every one of the high-tech companies went on pause and canceled services. I can tell you yesterday when I checked our reservation system, we had zero reservations in the system.”
Brewster has a way of staying cool in the pocket when the pressure is on.
“Joyce Brewster [his mother] didn’t raise no dummy,” he said.
And when that pressure is on — whether it’s from Uber, Lyft or a global pandemic — Brewster has made significant shifts in his business to keep up. For example, amid the pandemic, he has used his local fleet to deliver packages instead of people for high-tech companies, including Amazon.
When the ridesharing services started to crowd his business, he made two tech-savvy moves. First, he zeroed in on meeting planners with a tracking app that allowed them to see exactly where their staff and attendees were across any device. Second, he created an Uber-like app that allows individual users to book, pay for and track their trip from the same ecosystem.
Outside of tech, he competes with ridesharing competition through service. Brewster said he plays at a higher level than Lyft or Uber, vetting drivers and vehicles more carefully and insuring every vehicle to the max.
Although the ridesharing companies cut into his business, he said, the company is still “moving C-level people, and they’re not going to get in a vehicle that’s not vetted. So, they did take a good segment of our business away from us, but we did what we had always been doing, which was the white glove service that we remain with.”
That service started in 2002 when he had specialty cars like vintage Rolls-Royces driving for events, weddings and VIP services in the San Francisco Bay Area. He had relationships with two hotel general managers in the area and over lunch they asked him to handle their corporate clients. He arranged financing for a fleet of town cars the next day, and Mosaic was born. It has won several local and national awards, including being named in the Inc. 5000 fastest growing private companies in the country.
To deal with the pandemic, Brewster applied for and received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan from the federal government. In addition to delivering packages to make up lost revenue, he has made connections with FEMA in San Francisco and is looking at signing other companies that are more essential services than the tech companies that were his bread and butter. He said he knows that those companies won’t be back at pre-pandemic levels anytime soon, and the virus will dictate the recovery of his global business, not the economy.
“In all candor and seriousness, first and foremost, people have to be comfortable traveling and people are uncomfortable traveling,” he said. “So, when is my business going to come back? When is the transportation segment coming back? No. I think it has to revolve around what CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and what the scientists and the doctors come up with as far as some sort of a vaccine that will make people comfortable traveling best. And our industry, we’re thinking the first quarter or second quarter of 2021. So that means we’ve got a whole year or so to go where things just will not be back to any degree of normalcy.”
Until that time, Brewster and Mosaic will do what they’ve always done when faced with a challenge.
“Well, we’re going to have to retool, we’re going to have to reinvent our business,” he said. “We’ll keep doing some of the things I already told you about that we’re doing in order to tap into new markets that we never thought about tapping into before. If it means I need to move people and things to places, then that’s what we’ll do in order stay alive and survive.”