As Greg Gormley lay in intensive care, he had no idea that hidden cameras were recording his every move. Not that he could move much – his snapped arm, smashed knee, shattered thigh and fractured eye socket, plus the morphine, made sure of that. Earlier that day – June 22, 2018 – a helicopter had transported his broken body from a road in leafy suburbia to St George’s Hospital, Tooting. Later that evening, he would undergo the first of three emergency operations. But for the time being, Greg just lay there, trying to process what had happened, unaware of the discreet lens and microphones.
Just hours earlier, he’d set out from home to a meeting in central London. It was Friday – the traffic was bad – so he decided to ride his motorbike to the local station, park up and catch the train. Halfway into the six-mile journey, a car driver turned right without seeing the motorcyclist coming towards him at 50mph. Greg hit the vehicle head-on. He says: “I was wearing a full-face helmet. If I’d worn an open helmet, I’d be dead. If I’d hit the cars behind, I’d be dead. I was very, very lucky.”
Whether it was luck, misfortune or both, Greg can now look back on that event in horrific, surreal detail – he can even study his wife’s reaction as she rushes into in the emergency room, and he can watch the doctors probe his open leg fracture. How? Because those hidden cameras were gathering content for 24 Hours in A&E. After recovering, Greg consented to appear in the Channel 4 show and footage of his ICU experience hit TV screens in 2019. He says: “I watch it now and again because it’s a good reminder – a good leveller. It shows me what a bad day really looks like.”
The accident transformed Greg’s life, both personally and entrepreneurially. The meeting he’d been travelling to that day concerned Bink, a company he’d co-founded in 2014. Greg had poured everything he had into that start-up. Today, thanks in large part to Greg, Bink has deals in place with Visa, Mastercard and American Express. It has raised £45m of investment and has wrapped up a partnership agreement with Barclays. Bink allows users to link loyalty cards to their payment cards, meaning that they automatically collect points and rewards when buying stuff. Greg says: “Bink has so much potential. And if you’d asked my kids back in 2018 – what’s the most important thing in dad’s life? – they’d have said Bink. Looking back, I know that isn’t great.”
It was the accident that changed him. Although not at first. Initially, Greg tried to carry on as if he’d only stubbed his toe. “Being the stubborn git that I am, I checked out of hospital after four days,” he says. “We had a Bink board meeting ten days later. My wife tried to talk me out of it. I couldn’t even walk. But I turned up at that meeting, and everyone threw me out. I looked battered, absolutely battered. They said, ‘Greg, what on earth are you doing here?’ And really, that was my time up at Bink. Because by the time I was better – properly better – it was four months later. And so much happens in that time in a young business. As a founder, you have to remember that you’re not always the best person for the job. You have to make the right decision according to the situation. Fortunately, Bink’s new team have taken the business from strength to strength. It was right for me to move on.”
So the accident was a watershed moment. It took Greg away from the company he’d co-founded, loved and sacrificed so much of his time to grow. Therefore, you might be surprised to read his retrospective assessment: “The accident was a great leveller and to be honest, I’m really pleased it happened.”
How come? Well, while recovering at home, Greg began to consider what he might do next. And as a serial founder, he didn’t have to wait long for an idea to strike. It arrived via his 17-year-old daughter. He explains how the seed was planted: “My daughter had passed her driving test the week before and it was a Friday night. She was going to drive to the cinema with friends. At 11pm she hadn’t come back, so I sent her a text. She said she’d be home in 30 minutes after dropping her friends off.”
Greg went to bed. He woke at 1am and checked his daughter’s bedroom. Empty. He called her and she told him everything was fine but she was dropping off another friend. She’d be back in 20. But she wasn’t. At 3.30am, he called her again. This time she was giving a cousin a lift home!
“She finally got in at 5am,” he says. “I told her, look, as parents we worry! And she told me what had happened: after dropping her cinema buddies off, a mate in Guildford had sent her a Snapchat saying she needed a lift. Then her cousins in Bracknell had contacted her saying they were leaving a club and needed someone to drive them to McDonald’s. So she offered.”
The experience – worrying as it was – got Greg thinking. He came to understand that youngsters often travel by organising lifts through Snapchat. Then he came across a 5,000-strong Facebook group called ‘Cash for Lifts’. The police wanted to shut it down – after all, acting as a private hire vehicle is illegal because it invalidates your insurance.
Except it turns out it isn’t quite as simple as that. Under the right circumstances, accepting cash from friends for lifts is not illegal. Greg explains: “We did lots of research with barristers and found out that as long as you don’t advertise yourself as a taxi and don’t make a profit, you are within the law. But how do you define ‘profit’? Well in this case, ‘profit’ is more than 45p per mile for up to 10,000 miles a year – HMRC’s official car mileage allowance. In other words, when giving lifts to friends, if you only charge 45p a mile, you are OK.”
Armed with this information – plus the knowledge that youngsters often use Snapchat and other platforms to plan lifts – Greg had his new business idea. SKOOT, which he launched in June 2019, is the result, and so far It has attracted £1.6m of seed funding.
SKOOT is a car-share app that allows you to find and offer lifts. Drivers automatically earn cash depending on how far they transport their friends, saving them having to ask or chase for contributions. After downloading the app, you register as a passenger or a driver, or both. You can then search for – and offer – lifts to your phone contacts. The app only offers rides to and from people in the same network – it won’t link up strangers.
Greg says: “Car-pooling takes cars off the road, reduces pollution and results in cheaper travel. It makes sense, but the human element tends to kill it. For example, how do you ask for payment? How much should you pay? How do you chase the money? SKOOT merges the efficiency and technology of ride-hailing apps like Uber with the concept of car-pooling. It removes all the awkwardness. You pay for your lift, but the app calculates the amount based on the number of miles you travel and takes payment automatically, so there’s no cash-chasing.”
There’s another benefit to SKOOT, too. The app knows the Co2 ratings of its drivers’ cars and logs the mileage, so the company can offset the amount of carbon its users produce by 110%. Greg says: “We’re carbon negative. That’s one of our USPs. For roughly every three journeys completed through SKOOT, we plant a tree. So far we’ve planted 1,961 trees and we hope to plant thousands more very quickly.”
Just a year old and already gaining plenty of attention – it was featured on Sky News in August 2020 – SKOOT is perfectly placed to transform the way young people and commuters travel.
And, of course, it also has an incredible backstory. As well as being a smart, much-needed idea, SKOOT is a direct result of Greg’s accident. It would simply not exist without his televised brush with death. That dramatic experience – and perhaps Greg’s unique ability to review it whenever he needs a refresher course in his mortality – has given this founder a new way of looking at both life and business. That fresh perspective is undoubtedly informing the evolution and the brand values of SKOOT.
As Greg concludes: “The accident made me a better person and has enabled me to really enjoy this start-up. Look, we all want to do well in business, but my advice is always to remember to treat people as you want to be treated. Also, do your best in everything you do, because you never know which day will be your last.”