"We are absolutely laser-focused on profitability and scalability at the same time". – Industry Insiders #8

"We are absolutely laser-focused on profitability and scalability at the same time". – Industry Insiders #8

Fluctuo sat down with David Bothwell, the founder of Frog Mobility and director of Ottr, two of the six companies which recently merged to form Today: a company which is both an OEM and a global mobility operator, alongside providing software to third parties.

Fluctuo: Today is formed from Frog Mobility, White Fox, Element, Ottr, Leap and MIXTE. So why these six companies and why ‘Today’? 

David: The common denominator between these six companies is EFO Ventures, it has an equity stake in each of them. They've been strategic in the companies that they have invested in over the past 24 months and–although I wouldn't say this has always been a master plan–it really highlighted their values and credentials: they want clean tech; they want sustainability at the very heart of what they do. If you look at the history of the EFO Ventures and the co-founders, they come from Gotcha Mobility, so they've got a huge wealth of experience in this particular space. 

All six businesses coming together has taken a long time to achieve. Somebody said that it must have been like herding cats, but actually it wasn't. It was a surprisingly easy and logical merger. The reason for Today’s existence is that our focus is aligned on what's available today and how we can move the dial right now, rather than waiting until tomorrow.

What leadership qualities are required to merge six companies in a fragmented market like shared mobility?

Each business that has come together has its own leadership team. What's really important is that every member needs to have an aligned vision which is for the greater good, for sustainable travel, and for ensuring that from day one we have a profitable business. We're not just going to scale for the sake of scaling.

We are absolutely laser-focused on profitability and scalability at the same time. 

Have you seen a huge shift in momentum within your team and within all the companies within Today? 

Honestly, no. And I mean that in a positive way. I think if anything, excitement levels, enthusiasm and motivation within the team have gone through the roof. I put in one of our press releases that if you’d said to me 24 months ago when me, my wife, my brother and his fiancée started Ottr that this is where we’d be, I'd have called you crazy. But here we are. 

So I would say personally, from a mobility as a service and a partner perspective, working with all of these six businesses and bringing them together, it's incredibly exciting. 

Considering the wide spread of countries of the six companies, which territories will you be active in and which ones will be your focus over the next 18 months? 

We're currently active in North America, UK and Europe, and we're going to focus on the areas where we have a local footprint and where we know our market, our customers, and the offering very well. 

The variation in modes and sides of the industry we’re covering as a collective is something else that makes Today incredibly exciting. I've not seen any other merger of this scale where the company becomes the OEM and the operator. Be it electric mopeds, electric bikes, electric scooters, we have that whole value chain sewn up in terms of fulfilling our customers needs, demands and desires in the short term as well as the long term. 

What would an operator get from coming to Today as a white label solution provider? 

If you can scan the market today, there are a number of offerings available to you. One is the franchise deal where they will give you the software, the hardware, the branding assets and that customer journey and brand journey that you can then take and make your own. But you are also restricted with this deal in terms of diversifying your business and entering new unfamiliar markets, and from speaking to peers in the industry, after-sales support is not there. I'm a project manager by trade, so coming from a background where posting go-live support is just as critical as the go-live itself, you don't know what you don't know until it happens or you go it alone with your own local market and technology, but lack guidance in terms of lessons learnt from previous deployments and markets. With technology and the market moving so quickly, as fast as you're learning, the market is moving on. I think we sit in that niche sweet spot which is right in the middle. We’re ready to support small to medium-sized entrepreneurs who are keen to break into the micromobility sector.

One, we have the wealth of experience of doing this before, in many different countries. Two, we have a vested interest to ensure that the white-label operator is profitable from day one. Helping them firm up their business model and helping them understand what good marketing and good operations look like, such as building up to ‘go-live’ and post ‘go-live’ to what I would call ‘hypercare’. We will ensure some post go-live support in terms of customer service, technology and overall business operations. And then ensuring that continued success story. 

We have such a vested interest in a white label licensing model that essentially it's their licence, but they are very much a part of our business. 

What have you learnt from your competitors in this market and what are the mistakes that you don't want to commit that they have made? 

Scaling for the sake of scaling and saturating a market doesn't necessarily ensure profitability.

What does ensure profitability is ensuring that you stay where you are and make sure that as you scale, you do it locally, knowing and using what works: the model, the hardware, the technology that brings it together, the operations that you're currently running in a particular country, city or region. 

What would a city get from having Today operate there? Can you talk about the upcoming launch in Dublin? 

A good working example would be Nottingham: it has an incredibly aggressive objective to become the first carbon-neutral city in the UK. We know that we are pushing on an open door when we start having conversations with the local authorities around decarbonising the delivery sector, and around making the commute cleaner, safer, more affordable, and more flexible for the vast majority of people. Now, what that means in terms of the city council is that we're able to offer Today to all of our customers in Nottingham. They get free parking in the three main multi-storey car parks owned by the city in Nottingham 24/7, 365 on their electric moped. 

That collaboration between us coming in and trying to do the right thing, we have been met halfway by the city council, who absolutely love what we're trying to do and how we're trying to do it. Imagine that vision that we're currently executing in Nottingham and being able to pick that up and then drop it in Dublin or Lisboa as well. 

In our latest European Shared Mobility Index, we reported a fall in ridership for this mode in the first quarter of 2023. Are you looking at bringing that back up with more fleets? 

In 2023 and beyond, I believe that you no longer need to own your vehicle. Why bother? We are de-risking the situation and making it more flexible and more inclusive for the customer. Because essentially with a subscription, you treat it like it's your own. We know it’s possible, because of the amount of commuters currently using and enjoying our subscription model in Nottingham.

The hardware is, in many ways, irrelevant. It's the customer service, flexibility and affordable nature of our business model that makes us much more appealing to the consumer. And actually, it de-risks the operational process because it's not anonymous, right? You're not going to a street and picking up an e-bike or an e-scooter. We're doing the inspection of the vehicle together and you're taking it home, treating it like your own. We can move the dial in terms of subscribers, but more broadly, we encourage acceptance of the subscription model and electric moped, even though the industry and our offering is incredibly immature here in the UK compared to mainland Europe. 

On that point, you comment a lot on the subscription model, but what are your thoughts on the shared model? From a city perspective, especially in Paris where they recently banned scooters—how do you think Today can influence the negative view on shared models? 

That's a great question. There's a combination of things and variables at play here. The first is that electric scooters are not dangerous.

It's the rider behaviour that ultimately, in my opinion, causes people to come up with these statements.

We need to leverage technology to be able to educate the rider, and we need to leverage the carrot-or-stick methodology here, when it comes to user adoption and general perception. 

I’m more for the carrot, meaning that we reward, incentivise, and acknowledge safe behaviour and safe ridership via technology. I think from a rider point of view, from go-live, you have the novelty factor. So post go-live, for any real operation that involves sharing, you have a particular spike in people that will treat it in not the best way. They will throw it into rivers, they will wrap it around trees, whatever it is that they want to do with it. Hopefully as the market matures, that level of irresponsibility, let's call it, will plateau in some way. But to ensure that plateau then turns into a trough, it's a combination of looking at rider behaviours.

There is a great article from TechCrunch about the state of micromobility, and one of the problems that was very common to both cities was the lack of regulation. So as an operator, how would you entice what would be the ideal scenario for regulations? 

Regulation is super cool and having a framework that is not too descriptive should absolutely be the objective. However, we need to be driven by two other factors. The first is innovation.

If we're too prescriptive in regulation, it stifles innovation,

be it on the technology or be it on the way that the operators can operate. Second, we need to be driven by general customer feedback on all stakeholder feedback, be it the riders or the local communities and authorities. What works in London won't necessarily work in LA.

It was reported that you were looking into other acquisitions and potentially expanding your merger. So who, why, and where? 

There are other businesses out there that believe the same thing as us at Today. Once you get to know the Today team, from our co-founders right to the people that work in operations, that shared vision, I believe, is spread everywhere throughout the micromobility industry. What it is that we're trying to do in terms of scaling, in terms of ensuring profitability, I think that other small and medium-sized companies will want to come to the party as much as we want them to join us.

In terms of where, we will be absolutely sticking to what we know: UK, Europe, North America.

Regardless of Today's position, within the market, what do you think are some great challenges that will come up over the next year? 

Infrastructure is one; technology will move on. Whether it be a future of swappable batteries for private or shared vehicles, or for a subscription model, the infrastructure needs to be there. Because regardless of the model that you have, the mode or the commercial arrangement that you have with a rider, the infrastructure needs to keep up with demand. 

Regulation is a key area because there is never going to be a unified framework adoption for micromobility. Once again, what works in LA will not necessarily work in London. Having that local knowledge is key, but it helps as well as hinders. 

What opportunities do you think will come up in the market? 

There is a huge uptake of micromobility globally. Meeting the needs of society in a sustainable way is important; we've seen how much the market is going to grow by 2030 and being strategically placed to meet the local community needs is a great opportunity. So whether that be electric moped subscriptions or electric scooter subscriptions, having that offering available to local communities to ensure that they can get from A to B sustainably is a huge opportunity. But it's equally a huge challenge. 

Having that full range of hardware availability ensures that you are reaching as many corners of the community as possible. Imagine a subscription future where a rider can choose on a daily or weekly basis what mode they require and when, whilst all operating through one provider. That is what gets me really excited about operating in the MobiTech space.

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