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An electric car designed by Charleston mobility company Gotcha. As it touts its strongest growth year in its 10-year history, Gotcha has hit technical difficulties with its hardware and software and has struggled under the weight of Chinese tariffs. Sylvia Jarrus/Staff

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Gotcha CEO Sean Flood talks with employees on June 25, 2019 at the Gotcha office in Charleston. Sylvia Jarrus/Staff

During what it had called its strongest year yet, Charleston mobility company Gotcha has run into a rough patch triggered by global trade discord and internal technical problems.

The firm, which leases fleets of electric vehicles in dozens of U.S. markets through its app, is among the region's fastest-growing technology companies.

CEO Sean Flood said Gotcha secured dozens of partnerships in the first six months of 2019 while also adding new kinds of rides to its lineup. Its payroll swelled to 120 employees, creating a space crunch at its downtown offices.

The magazine Inc. even named Gotcha the second-fastest growing company in South Carolina in mid-August, citing a 1,572 percent revenue growth rate over the past three years.

All that scaling up has caused some growing pains, Flood said. Gotcha has had to answer questions about delayed launches and problems with its app. It also laid off about a quarter of its workforce after determining that some of its expansion plans would have to be pushed back to 2020.

Flood said some of the troubles can be traced to the trade war between the U.S. and China, which has driven up costs for Gotcha. The company sources materials from China, where its vehicles are partially assembled before being shipped to America for further upgrades.

"It really suffocates businesses big and small," Flood said about the impact of rising tariffs on certain imported good from China. "Where we are, it's very bad."

Meanwhile, the company has exited at least two of its largest markets because of stiff competition from larger rivals and strict new local rules. Gotcha said it was bowing out of Nashville in early August. It also pulled out of Atlanta after only a couple of months, citing similar reasons.

Flood said the company now plans to focus mostly on markets where it has exclusive operating agreements, rather than big cities where the streets are littered with scooters from different mobility providers.

"We have so many things to execute, some of it felt like a distraction," he said.

College campuses are its core business. Gotcha recently launched its electric bicycles in Syracuse, N.Y., and it has an agreement to deploy hundreds of e-scooters at Michigan State University. Depending on the market, Gotcha also offers electric cars driven by an employee, pedal bikes and electric tricycles.

In Baton Rouge, La., a long-awaited launch hit a snag in July when Gotcha said technical issues forced it to pull its bikes off the streets, according to Baton Rouge Business Report. Gotcha had secured a grant-funded, $800,000 contract with the city late last year. Gotcha told users it was back up and running in late August. Similar delays were reported in Burlington, Vt., and Waco, Texas. 

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Technical problems have also cropped up, important as Gotcha slowly phases out its manual pedal bikes — like the ones that make up the Holy Spokes bike-share system in Charleston — and rolls out electric-powered models. Reviewers on the Apple and Android app stores have complained of not being able to log off and end their rides, resulting in extra charges. Others have reported problems locking and unlocking the vehicles.

Flood acknowledged the bugs, adding that engineers have been working to resolve them. On Wednesday, the company posted a new version of its app. "Updates on updates on updates," the description reads.

Gotcha spokeswoman Caroline Passe said the company has 100 active partnerships.

Flood said municipal officials and university leaders have been mostly understanding of the delays.

In retrospect, Gotcha could have placed more emphasis on product testing, he said. But part of the process of being a fast-growing company is to release a product into the market and see how customers react, he added.

Reach Mary Katherine Wildeman at 843-937-5594. Follow her on Twitter @mkwildeman.