Insights

The Future is Electric: An Interview with Christoph Ulusoy

Christoph Ulusoy is CEO and founder of evhcle, a young mobility startup with a unique target customer segment: serviced apartments.

In our interview, we spoke to Christoph about his company model and plans for the future, as well as what he’s doing to stay ahead of the game during the COVID-19 crisis.

If you’re a new founder or business owner concerned about the economic fallout of the Coronavirus, read Christoph’s advice for startups at the end of the article. Hint: there are always reasons to stay positive!

Hi Christoph, can you tell us the story behind your company? Why did you start evhcle?

Very good question! I think there were two reasons, really: firstly, I’ve been working in the e-mobility industry for 4 years, and in my experience, I’ve found that you can’t just completely and quickly “replace” combustion-engine cars with electric cars. Electric cars require an entire charging infrastructure to function, and gas-powered vehicles have already had their necessary infrastructure in place for decades.

Secondly, if everybody replaces his or her “normal” car with an electric car, cities and streets will remain as crowded as they are today. We need to rethink mobility, particularly in urban areas, and come up with a new “normal”. That was the biggest inspiration for evhcle: we wanted to combine shared mobility and e-mobility in one business model.

What makes you different from other fleet-sharing companies?

Usually, most sharing companies focus on one vehicle type, for example cars or kickscooters. Our competitors also focus exclusively on the “free-floating” approach, meaning you can start a ride and park your vehicle anywhere in a designated business area, rather than returning it at a station.

evhcle does things differently: we build and operate new mobility stations that are compatible with e-cars, e-scooters and e-bikes. (We focus on electric vehicles only!) These mobility stations can be set up near all types of buildings, including apartment buildings, serviced apartments and offices.

That way, we offer charging infrastructure to everyone living or working in an area with one of our stations, even if they don’t use our vehicles. And if users do use our vehicles, it feels like the vehicle really belongs to them, because they can park it right in front of where they work or where they’re staying during their vacation - or even take it on a longer two- or three-day trip somewhere.

Why did you decide to focus on serviced apartments as a customer segment?

The evhcle model perfectly fits into the serviced apartment landscape, so it felt like an obvious direction for us to go in from the beginning.

Serviced apartment owners usually have a very open mindset. Their customers have started to expect a lot from their booking in recent years. More than just a serviced apartment to stay in, customers want a total experience during their vacation or work trip, and the cherry on top is having an eco-friendly, convenient way of getting around town during their stay. evhcle is quite literally selling “mobility as a service”.

Most guests are looking for temporary accommodations, because they’re working on a project or they’re new to a city and haven’t found a permanent home yet. That’s the cool part about our business model: evhcle is just as practical for the daily commute to the office as it is for the weekend trip back home. In the future, we’ll also be targeting hotels and entire urban areas, like city districts and neighborhoods.

Was it important to your company model from the beginning to offer 100% electric vehicles, or did you play with the idea of offering gas-powered vehicle types as well?

E-mobility is an absolutely crucial element of our mission and business model. We believe CO2 reduction should be an international priority, but the issue should also be addressed on a local level, too. That’s why we see the electrification of urban traffic as an essential step forward.

We also established e-mobility as a key competitive advantage in our business model. By setting up infrastructure locally, our fleet can charge when not in use. That dramatically reduces our operating costs and enhances the customer experience: Our vehicles are always fully charged when starting your journey. This also gives us the opportunity to integrate with local energy management systems - we only charge a vehicle when it’s the best for the grid.

Do you see serviced apartments preferring a specific vehicle type?

In general, we’re seeing that e-scooters are really interesting to people right now. They’re very flexible and convenient: whether you’re cruising around town on a Saturday or commuting to work in a business suit, scooters seem to fit both needs. We’ve also received a lot of good feedback on e-bikes, as they’re perfect for urban commutes. E-cars are really relevant for suburban areas and longer rides, like weekend trips.

What are your company’s plans for growth? Are you going to be focusing mainly on the DACH region, or do you have plans to take your company to other parts of the world?

We’re addressing a €3.5 billion market in Europe. As ‘first movers’, we have the ambition to win significant market share. Generally speaking, we want to grow rapidly in the next five years. During this time, we’d like to set up 1,000 mobility stations across Europe. We’re currently focusing on urban and metropolitan areas and targeting locations in cities bigger than 100k inhabitants. We also receive requests from small municipalities and companies offering sharing solutions.

Why did you choose Wunder Mobility as your software partner?

Wunder Mobility are very strong partners who give us the flexibility we need as a startup. Together with Wunder, we were easily able to launch our first pilot locations in Munich, and we still have full flexibility to focus on what will differentiate us in the future. With Wunder’s API-first strategy, we’re able to start developing our own services on top of the Wunder platform, such as the link between vehicle backend and charging infrastructure backend to optimize vehicle charging.

Now for the burning question on everyone’s minds: in Germany, we’re living in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. People across all industries are worried about the future of our health and our economies. How is the current crisis affecting your business?

We can launch as planned, but we’ll also see a decrease - or rather a delay - in our business due to the Corona crisis, particularly since it’s still expanding and new cases are being recorded every day.

Hardware like scooters and bikes have also been harder for people to order and ship, since most of them are manufactured in China. Luckily, as a very young company, we have a lot of flexibility to react nimbly and postpone the launch of some of our partners.

Is there any “silver lining” to the crisis right now for mobility startups?

We believe the post-Coronavirus crisis period will be the perfect time to “restart” the economy and focus on sustainable business models. We also believe that the long-lasting effects of the pandemic will encourage people to think about doing business in an environmentally friendly way. An important contributor to creating a more sustainable transportation system will still be shared- and e-mobility.

Following up on that: the future is electric, but how soon do you think it will be until we see a lot more electric vehicles on the streets? Will the time be “right” for electric vehicles post-Coronavirus, or do we still have a long time to go before EVs surpass gasoline car sales?

The time is right for e-mobility, and not just from a technological perspective. Everyone who rides an e-scooter or drives an e-car realizes how much fun it actually is! That alone will boost e-mobility in the next few years.

Last but not least: do you have any advice for startups in these uncertain times?

There’s definitely a lot of uncertainty right now with the Corona crisis. I think most companies across the globe are being affected by the crisis somehow, and most of them are being overwhelmingly negatively affected. Cancelled events, closed offices, closed restaurants and social distancing make business and especially sales very hard. Conversations with potential investors might start to slow down as well.

I can only give two pieces of advice: Make the best out of it, and save enough money to survive. A startup should react super flexibly to the situation and digitalize all internal and external meetings. Don’t move meetings, host them digitally! Be prepared for slow sales and business, and reduce your spending accordingly to survive the next few months.

And remember: the post-crisis era will be a magical time with great opportunities. Don’t miss out!

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