"MaaS is at the forefront of the future of mobility.” - Industry Insiders #12

Unpacking Mobility-as-a-Service with Raymon Pouwels, CCO and Co-Founder of umob and member of the Forbes 30 under 30 collective.

"MaaS is at the forefront of the future of mobility.” - Industry Insiders #12

In May 2023, Raymon founded umob - a MaaS platform, currently integrates public transport, taxis, and shared modes in the Netherlands - with Bibi Jorissen. This was his second business venture in shared mobility, having previously been CEO and Co-Founder of GO Sharing,  a leading shared moped operator in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Fluctuo: You’ve founded two different companies in shared mobility - where does your interest in this industry come from?

Right from the beginning of my career! When I was younger, my parents opened a shop selling electric mopeds and e-bikes – this was at a time when these kinds of services had only just started to come into the market. Following this, I worked for a German e-moped manufacturer, Emco, where I was responsible for the export market, interacting with companies like Yego and Emmy. Through this, I understood what went on behind the scenes and really got to grips with the sharing market, learning about what different companies did to succeed.

What led you to found GO Sharing?

Whilst I worked at Emco, I noticed that a mass movement towards shared mobility emerged as the years progressed. Shared mobility modes were increasingly accepted, and operators found it easier and easier to expand into new markets. By observing these transitions within the shared mobility industry, I realised that many opportunities were available in the market. This is why we decided to launch GO Sharing in the Netherlands; we started off with 168 mopeds and grew this to 14,000 vehicles, ultimately selling the company to BinBin.

What made GO Sharing different? 

Most shared mobility companies focused on big cities - which is really understandable as the metrics back this move up. However, we decided to focus on providing a service for smaller cities, where public transport and ride-hailing options were scarce.

One of my main goals was to have a dense and diverse vehicle offer on our app. We extended our offer from mopeds to bikes and shared cars. We prioritised customer loyalty: what our users valued most was ease of access, and having a reliable vehicle that would be available within minutes. 

Did the introduction of tenders made it more difficult to have a diverse and varied fleet?

Yes. Unfortunately, fleet caps were very low due to the permit system in the Netherlands.  We struggled to have the density of vehicles that we wanted to provide. 

Another difficulty with the tender system was that it led to operators investing in - and building - an entire business around the awarded tender. If that agreement then ends and the operator must leave, due to the licence being revoked or the contract term coming to an end, it puts a real strain on the company. Employees would be at risk, and other operational elements such as logistics and warehousing would be lost. Due to the tender, operators are put in the difficult position of selectively investing in specific markets, rather than having a wider and more secure scope. 

Losing a permit also leads to a lot of customer disappointment. When you have developed a loyal customer relationship through providing a stable and consistent service, having to leave the city leaves citizens are left with a bad impression. 

When GO Sharing was sold to BinBin in February 2023, what led you to MaaS?

I didn’t really enjoy the operational side of running a shared mobility company, but did love the  technical/data side. Specifically, I found it rewarding to devote attention to detail into making continuous improvements, optimising and delivering the best possible service to customers.

At the time, many companies had already come forward and asked GO Sharing if they could integrate into our platform. Initially, I was hesitant - I couldn’t necessarily see much value added to doing this, especially as many of these were local companies who only provided small-scale solutions in a specific area. 

However, I then realised that most other industries have inclusive apps and websites, aggregating multiple services to facilitate the booking process for customers. Take for example booking.com, for hotels and holidays. This made me realise that there was a real gap in the market with this for mobility, and the demand definitely existed. I wanted to create one app which would carry out the entire booking process, collating all relevant information. By presenting all this information, for pricing to available vehicles and battery percentage, customers could be aware of their nearest transport option at all times, which in the end was our main priority. 

Expanding our thinking to provide multiple solutions is ultimately what led to the birth of umob. 

What are your main objectives with umob?

To create one app to ride them all. This goes beyond shared mobility - we wanted to integrate all of Europe’s major mobility players into our app, including taxi networks and public transport.

What’s key is that we already know and have good relationships with most of the players in Europe, who largely believe that MaaS is the way forward. Our aim is to collaborate with these operators so we can all achieve our common, unified goal, which is to reduce private car use.

Currently, we’ve identified that only 1% of customers are using shared mobility on a daily basis. This is very low – certainly too low of a volume for people to be using shared mobility as an actual alternative. That’s why our main objective is to work alongside operators to increase that figure, through a multimodal approach, treating mobility as a solution to modern transportation needs.

Credit: umob

What differences have you noticed between being an operator, and collaborating with them?

As an operator, you have to hire a lot of people and create a larger team. So much of the investment goes towards hardware, operations and fleet maintenance. In contrast, umob has a much smaller and diverse workforce with excellent skills and in-depth experience from different industries.

Another key difference is with our audience: rather than just targeting customers, we also aim to target municipalities and real estate developers, building these connections so that the operators we integrate within our app get more customers.

Are users adopting MaaS and changing their transport habits?

People can be quite old-fashioned, so it’s difficult to make that change. Realistically, most people continue to use their own private cars just because that’s the most reliable mode of transport. It’s always there in front of their house, and they can take it and go wherever they want. People like that certainty, so it’s difficult to change their habits. But, if we make it a certainty that there will always be a vehicle within a three-minute walk, then they will be much more likely to go for alternative forms of mobility; if we can’t prove this to them, then they will always hold onto their own private vehicles.

All-in-all, we can already see that changes are taking place: the shared mobility market is constantly expanding, and municipalities are starting to take it seriously. Operators are active, and we are partnering with them to achieve our shared goals. 

We keep the process simple to convince new users to make the switch to MaaS. We encourage every operator to give away one free rental to initially activate users and invite them to our loyalty program. With this program, users can accumulate numerous free rentals based on their usage and promotion of our app.

All in all, we try to remain as open and flexible as possible. We don’t have any preferences and  don’t try to push one specific mode – we just want to help the user and make a positive impact on the mobility scene.

If you look at the different MaaS apps on offer, how many have actually managed to survive and why?

Many MaaS apps haven’t made it; when you are fully dependent on subsidies and municipal aid, there’s no real business plan. From the beginning, we decided not to accept any subsidies, and  to be completely free to offer what we thought would be best for the user. We didn’t want to limit our offer due to the rules and constraints involved with subsidies.

It’s definitely more difficult at the beginning, but we have an experienced team. We were lucky enough to secure €2m when we founded the company, and at the end of last year we raised another €6m. So for a MaaS platform, even pre-revenue, we are quite proud of getting investment in a more difficult situation.

It also confirms to us that the business is there, and that people do see a need for MaaS platforms, as long as it’s kept as simple as possible: one registration, no deep-linking, all bookings and payments integrated in the platform. By February next year, we will have all operators in the Netherlands on umob, which will give us the density needed to really add value to the service. 

How have cities and municipalities helped the development of MaaS?

The Dutch government’s investment to develop MaaS has really helped us. The good part is that there is now a standard in the Netherlands, called TOMP, which involves various standards to regulate MaaS. That’s helping a lot, however the difficulty is that they made seven MaaS programs so that every area had its own, which meant that in the end, MaaS began to fragment so much that even different municipalities started wanting to develop their own MaaS apps. This is just not doable.

Because of this, we have really made it our focus to help municipalities achieve their principal objectives. We make it easier for operators to integrate with us, so that municipalities don’t have to talk to 15 operators but just us, saving their time and resources for a better integrated end product.

The regulations are definitely getting more professional, which adds a lot more credibility to shared mobility. I think that for tenders to succeed, there has to be a certain level of quality control for the city and for the operators. This is important: one of my biggest frustrations when I was at GO Sharing was when municipalities wouldn’t dedicate time towards tender selection, opting for random selection of operators. This has a really negative impact on operators whose main business depends on this. 

Municipalities need to have a solid understanding of the benefits of shared mobility in order to change their processes with tender selection. Services like Fluctuo’s City Dive really help with this, as municipalities gain insights into what the business is and how big of an impact shared mobility has. They can really visualise just how many private car trips a bike sharing operator, for example, replaces. 

With the increase of tenders in shared mobility’s regulatory landscape, the benefits of MaaS apps shine through even more. The average user may not necessarily be aware of what tenders are in process and what decisions have been made; however, with our app, they can always be sure that they can find the best option around and fulfil their transport needs. It ensures that customers only need to have one app downloaded at all times, rather than deleting and re-downloading shared mobility apps as and when the situation in the city changes.

Currently, you are concentrating on the Netherlands. Do you plan to expand to other cities in the future, or will you remain in the country to optimise your service?

The Netherlands is definitely our starting point – if we can achieve countrywide density in the Netherlands, then the business is working well. We want to make sure that we focus on one country and ensure we get enough integrations to have a good amount of coverage, before moving onto another country. 

However, we are ultimately looking to integrate all European players. What’s important to note is that we’re already in the process of achieving this right now, as when we incorporate big players - such as Bolt and Bird, Cooltra & Uber - we don’t include their vehicles in just one specific country, but all the cities they operate in, consequently widening umob’s range. In the end, we hope that everyone can use umob in any European city, finding all mobility options in one app. 

How do you see the future of shared mobility? 

I think that the definition of mobility will be much broader. Right now the numbers are quite small, and public transport probably plays a much bigger role than shared mobility. Therefore, I think that shared mobility will be real collaboration with public transport, with the two going hand-in-hand to provide seamless mobility solutions and last-mile transport options. 

We can already see that some operators are experiencing difficulties with getting profitable, so I think that because of this, city funded schemes may come out on top for a short period of time whilst shared mobility continues to find its feet. I also think that shared mobility will be more regulated, and finding new software solutions to monitor parking, for example, will become more commonplace. 

I really do believe that MaaS is at the forefront of mobility’s future. People don’t want 20 different apps - all they ultimately want is to go from Point A to Point B. Therefore, I think that MaaS platforms will increasingly evolve to become more complete and better integrated.

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