The Business of Mobility: The Future of e-Bikes is a Family Affair - Autonomy
By Matteo Pertosa, Founder and CEO of VAIMOO
The Business of Mobility is an Urban Mobility Company series highlighting some of the most successful new businesses in the mobility sector. Featuring a closer look at the way in which companies stand out, CEOs, Directors and other c-level executives elaborate on what it takes to turn a great idea into a great company.
VAIMOO Founder Matteo Pertosa is a third-generation entrepreneur and Italian tech startup whiz. His grandfather began the business some 40 years back, selling tractors. Now the family companies are involved in rail (MERMEC), next-generation satellites (SITAEL), smart payment solutions (MatiPay) and connected e-bikes (VAIMOO). Here Matteo discusses how and why he launched VAIMOO. From IoT to shared platform
In 2012 we came up with an IoT solution for OEMs to help them gather data on their e-bikes. The system was designed to help them check performance and build better bikes.
We were fortunate that around this time vehicle sharing was emerging as a key urban mobility solution. We realised that we were in the ideal position to create a platform of connected e-bikes for bike-sharing operators. And that’s exactly what we did. Around 2015 we created a bike-fleet platform that offered all sorts of features that are now standard for operators: geo-location of bikes, fleet usage data, real-time monitoring and diagnostics, and support for repair staff. VAIMOO is now the official e-bike sharing system in Rotterdam and Copenhagen, and recently Voi Technology partnered with us to expand their offering (beyond e-scooter sharing) in the UK. Like a good meal: better home-made
In the beginning, our idea was to focus on the platform and the IoT and outsource the bike manufacturing to China, like everyone else was doing. Then it struck me that Italy is home to iconic motorbikes like Ducati and iconic bicycles like Colnago. Besides, if our family could make trains, then surely we could make e-bikes. By 2018 the bikes were rolling off our production floor and, to date, we’ve produced several thousands of them. Manufacturing in-house means we’re able to control aspects that contribute to a more circular economy. Frames are made from recycled aluminium and all bikes are returned to us for recycling and reuse at the end of their lifecycle. The e-Bike as an extension of the smart phone
It’s perhaps unusual that a company should go from IoT to shared platform to manufacturing. But it worked well for us. These days a lot of consumer innovation revolves around the smartphone. You can hail a ride, manage your home entertainment or your home heating, all via the smartphone. So in some ways we had it the right way round, designing the IoT and the user interface first and then creating a bike to sync with that system, knowing that the customer would be facilitating the entire journey via their phone.
One of our innovations was a new concept smartphone holder, MAT (Magnetic Assisted Tap) now embedded into VAIMOO e-bike. It is now, a deeply integrated docking station, whereby the phone is locked on a magnetic panel and automatically becomes the bike dashboard, with real-time control functions and anti-theft system.
We’ve continued in the same vein, and one of the real advantages of VAIMOO bikes is that you don’t need to open the app to release the bike or to lock it; just one tap on your phone and you’re good to go.
One of the consequences of this approach was that at beginning of this year the CES 2021 Innovation Awards recognized VAIMOO with an Honoree in the Vehicle Intelligence and Transportation category, the only solution to be awarded among e-bike sharing technologies. Elegant engineering
There are many ways to run a business and perhaps we could have carried on just focusing on the IoT and the app. But IoT has since become commoditised and good apps can easily be replicated by the competition. So I am very happy we took the plunge and got passionate about designing the perfect e-bike for urban mobility; one that would withstand the rigours of sharing.
The tech aspects are difficult; it’s tricky integrating digital with mechanics and electronics – or ‘mechatronics’ as it’s called. It helps that with us, the mobility operator need only deal with one supplier should things go wrong. Moreover, we have committed ourselves to delivering an elegant solution that customers love. Customers don’t want to see great engineering; they want to enjoy a great experience with a product that wows them. Our secret sauce
Maybe our secret sauce is that because we’re based in Southern Italy, we try that much harder! More seriously, I think our experience in other fields – particularly space and satellites – means we can see what’s on the tech horizon before our competitors can. Back in 2012 we intuited that connectivity would become important for e-bikes. Another thing is that we’re relentlessly focussed on developing innovations and landing them in the marketplace before anyone else. And we’re very agile and adaptable. We don’t chase the one big improvement, instead we’re constantly reinventing what we have, adding small little improvements across a range of features. We really empower employees to make these little changes and take ownership of their corner of the business. And we can do that because we’re relatively small; we have 1.700 people in the MERMEC group, working across satellite, rail and mobility, but only a few hundred in VAIMOO. And I guess we’re getting the best of both worlds. We’re able to quickly ‘borrow’ systems and tech from other areas of the business and apply it to VAIMOO. E-bikes’ place in the new mobility market
I’m very optimistic about the growth of this business. Many people are realising that e-bikes are the ultimate urban mobility solution. E-scooters have their place but they’re not going to take over from e-bikes, which – unlike scooters – are for everyone; I can even imagine my dad using one. I think that Europe is the place to develop the industry. Our cities lead in micromobility sharing and the continent has an incredible history of vehicle design and manufacture. And I believe that the tech complexity demanded of connected e-bikes is also a good fit for the continent. There will be endless opportunities for new partnerships and new solutions that boost e-bike use, in the process reducing pollution and congestion in our cities.
Don’t miss the opportunity to discuss with the VAIMOO team at Autonomy Digital 2.0, where they will be present as Industry Partners! Get your free pass today.