We speak to the Co-Founder of Ubeeqo and now Chief Product Officer of Europcar Mobility Group, Alexandre Crosby, to find out how he disrupted a market and what it takes to be a leading entrepreneur.
Ubeeqo is the leading car sharing company in Europe, now present in six countries, but 12 years ago you started the company as just a two-man show with an idea. How did you get to where you are today?
“Ubeeqo started based on the observation that there is no point to have a car when you live in a city because a car is parked 95% of the time.”
“The idea came about after my friend and co-founder came back from his holidays and discovered that his car had been split into two parts, stolen for parts, after leaving it in a parking lot. He had to buy a new car just for the sole purpose of making some business trips in Paris. So, together we wanted to find an accessible way people could hire a car without having to go to the car hire company and sign papers each time. It was in 2007 just when the first iPhone was launched, today it seems very normal to open a car with a smart phone, but 12 years ago it was quite bizarre.”
“Because we had no money, we thought it would be impossible to buy cars and insure them. So, we thought where do people really need the cars and how can we finance them if we have no money? Our solution was to put cars in the companies because employees need cars during the week for professional reasons to get to their meetings but also if they leave for the weekend or the night there is a high probability that they come back to work the next day so they would be interested to pick up cars from the company parking spots. This model was very disruptive because at this stage some companies were launching public car sharing, like Zipcar, but very quickly these companies were short in cash because they put cars in the street and they had to finance the marketing acquisition and so it was a very difficult business model. On our side, we succeed in staying quite independent because each time we put cars in the companies the car was paid for three years so we were able to finance the car and Ubeeqo became a virtual success. This is why Ubeeqo was completely unknown in the mobility world until it was bought by Europcar - unknown but profitable in a business ecosystem that burns a huge volume of cash.”
As the co-founder of a company that disrupted the private car ownership market, what role does innovation play in a company’s success?
“A vital one. Often, we see innovation from a customer-centric viewpoint which is very important, but it’s also important to see innovation in terms of internal processes. When you look at a company like Amazon, they have created more innovation on the way they manage the packages in the logistic centres than the way they sell. So in a business that is very operational like car rental or car sharing, of course, your customer needs to be able to open the car with a smartphone etc. but with the connected car you are also able to optimize the logistical flow, you are able to get data directly from the cars, you are able to make preventable maintenance, you are able to offer more security to the user etc.”
“Innovation also goes with the speed of execution – if you launch your innovation three months after your competitor then it’s not an innovation anymore. The velocity and the capacity to bring innovation to the market are as important as the innovation itself.”
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) and innovation go hand in hand for Ubeeqo’s success, why is CSR also important?
“For me CSR is not only about being ethical, it’s being smart. We have limited resources, on the planet, on money, on people etc. So, taking care of these resources is fundamental.”
“For us CSR was really natural, because it has a sense of efficiency and there was economic rationality behind it - it makes business sense. When we started car sharing, we told companies, “because an asset moves from 15% to 40% in terms of utilization rate and because people move via public transport and only use the car when they need it etc. we are going to remove CO2 emissions.” But the reality is, when you optimize an asset you can present that from a CSR standpoint but it’s actually more about the economic performance.”
In 2015, a major industry player, Europcar Mobility Group, brought Ubeeqo. Can you tell us what industry incumbents can learn from start-up companies?
“Not having the right cultural mindset is one of the biggest difficulties industry incumbents face in applying innovation.”
“Big companies normally have a historical model of management and leadership that is quite hierarchical and based on layers of management. It’s true, in tech companies deploying agile frameworks, agility is changing the way people work together – all people have to be aligned in the business problem they are solving and this alignment isn’t based on hierarchy. In agile models, the managers act as servant leaders who are not the bosses because they make decisions; they are the bosses because they help people to be more efficient in their jobs. It’s about creating the right ecosystem, creating alignment between people, creating collaboration and communication skills in the team – that is a key factor of success. And it’s true; this cultural mindset is not so common when you become a big company.”
“For me this is the main challenge because you can find the skills. Innovation is important but it’s more important to execute a speedy innovation before your competitors do.”
Do you have any advice for other leaders aspiring to lead innovative practices?
“First have fun. You spend 40% of your life at work so you need to have fun while working.”
“Secondly, I like to remind people the problem is more important than the solution they have in mind.”
“And thirdly, focus on people. 95% of problems and 95% of solutions is about people. When people are engaged they learn faster. When people are aligned and working in the same direction the results are impactful.”
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