3 Day Startup brings Austrian eScooter company to Austin

Bojan Jukic of goUrban visited Austin in 2017, as part of 3 Day Startup’s Austria to Austin program. He was wowed by Austin, and gained some strong business guidance during his visit. We were connected to Bojan by Smart Connect and recently sat down with him to hear about his significant business progress.

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Tell us your company story, and about the current state of your roll-out.

We were founded in 2016 though we first thought of the concept in 2015. It took one and a half years from our founding, to get our first scooters onto the street. Our greatest challenges during that time were, of course, hardware and software development, but also getting pricing right. And since our business is hardware-intensive, we had to fundraise first so that we could start to scale.

We now have 50 e-Scooters on the street in Vienna. Our system is free-floating like Car2Go, except that parking is much easier, as you can easily find enough space to leave your scooter between two cars. We’ve spent a lot of time on our app, which allows you to see a scooter’s location and reserve one for 15 minutes. Once you get to the scooter, you can unlock it digitally, take out a helmet and a single-use hygiene cap from the case we’ve designed, just press start to get going. We now charge 21 cents/minute, but the price can come down to 14 cents/minute with a $70 prepaid card. For next year, we have different target groups (young professionals, students, tourists). In fact, sightseeing tours can be booked via our app! Users can pay $20 to keep the scooter overnight, which they might do if they live outside of our core business area.

The scooter has an electric engine which is equivalent to 50 cc and it goes about 50 km/h, or 30 mph, with range of about 60 km [35 miles]. It’s easy to pass traffic, of course and, as a I said, to park. By the way, a fair amount of urban traffic comes from people looking for parking spots, by the way, so we think we are helping with that. And we’re also helping with the environment, more directly: our scooters come with exchangeable batteries, which our service teams support.

The original idea came from my colleague, Jonathan Gleixner, who was very interested in the sharing economy, and who first tried out a ski-sharing business. He personally felt a lot of frustration with the challenge of parking a car, used through a car share. On a visit to Asia, Jonathan saw that many cities were full of scooters, and realized that this would be his new big project. The entire founders group agreed that the problem was very real and that they were all experiencing it: They were always coming too late to appointments because of traffic, delays of public transport or because of the parking situation.

 

Thanks for that story. So, we’re in touch because you visited Austin this past summer and made some contacts here. What brought you to Austin and what are your thoughts about your future in our city?

About six months ago, I applied, through the US embassy, to participate in 3 Day Startup’s Austria to Austin program. Twenty-three Austrian students are sent each year to get to know the Austin startup ecosystem. We had an amazing experience here in Austin, where we met with potential investors and mentors, and visited co-working sites.

While we were here, I got impression that the city would be a perfect fit for us. There are many students in Austin. Over fifty-five thousand, I believe. They are centralized and have a lot of parking problems. The city has a lot of traffic problems and Car2Go has been successful here. So we thought, “Why not?” and initiated a conversation with city officials, who were quite encouraging about our project. They loved that the scooters were electric, especially

So there could be a great business fit but I have to admit that, more generally, many of us were really impressed by the vibrant cool atmosphere here. We were surprised by the median age of around 30 years old and loved the tech scene, yes, but also the rooftop bars and the open, ambitious atmosphere.

 

So, I’m sure you know that you would have competition here, and not just from car services. Who else would you be competing with here, and what other key obstacles would be in your way?

Yes, correct. Bike services, for instance, are now available in Austin, and we think that’s a good thing: We are very excited about people thinking about new ways of moving around town. What I will say is that there are some parking challenges related to those services, since the downtown stations get filled up in the morning, so that limits the attractiveness of using them for commuting.

We’re in discussion with the City of Austin, which is producing an RFI related to this project, and, initially, we would be looking at a business area to include downtown, Hyde Park, South Congress, and East Austin). We are also working with our scooter manufacturer as they gain the licenses, and pass the tests, they need to export to the US.

One interesting thing about comparing Vienna and Austin is that we did not actually need any permits in Vienna. America tends to be a much easier place to do business with fewer limitations, so that surprised us, but we are happy to work through the process, of course.

 

You mentioned your scooter manufacturer. Can you tell us more about the hardware you use?

Sure, the scooter is produced in China and NIU is the best mid-class scooter, in our opinion--we’ve looked at many! The batteries come from Japan, and the engine is a Bosch, from Germany. We are aiming for a partnership with the University of Technology in Vienna to work together on innovative sharing software solutions. The market is still in its beginning stages and rapidly growing.

 

Tell us about your team.

Our team comes from very diverse backgrounds. Jonathan, who is doing sales, studied economics previously. Michael studied law and is now leading our marketing. Previously, he was involved in an HR software startup. I lead the software and hardware customization engineering. This work includes app development, software installed on the bike, and the design of the helmet case, for instance.

 

Tell us a bit about your investment history and your plans for scaling.

Our first investment round supported a pilot, of ten scooters. We worked out the kinks and have started to scale. Afterwards we finished our second investment round to add 40 more scooters to the streets of Vienna. By next spring, we aim to have 200 scooters and we believe that the capacity for Vienna is at least 1000 scooters. Car2Go and BMW’s DriveNow together have 1300 vehicles in Vienna and Vienna is one of the most successful sharing cities. There are, in fact, about 7000 rentals/day on these vehicles.

Again, we welcome this growth from our competitors, since there is a lot of change happening in the mobility market and the competitors’ work helps the marketing get to critical mass.

Austin's French Connection - Part 2: Qowisio's Expansion to Austin

This is the second in a series of posts about the growing business network between sister cities Angers and Austin (and between France and Austin, more generally). In the first post, we spoke to Liz Wiley of the French American Business Council-Austin about the broader relationship. Today, we’re sharing an interview with Guillaume Houssay of Qowisio, a French IoT devices firm that opened its first US subsidiary in Austin last year.

SA: How did you decide to relocate Qowisio to Austin?

GH: We first visited Austin in 2015, as part of a delegation sent by the mayor of Angers. Qowisio was part of the IoT acceleration activity going on in Angers that I know you’ve written about on your blog. Qowisio was founded in 2009 in France and we were selling internationally, but the US was an obviously attractive expansion market for us and this office is our first international subsidiary. Interestingly, though, we came here without having first secured any US customers, but we’ve had some good success over the past year.

I’ll also add that our contacts at the Capital Factory were quite helpful, since they have someone dedicated to a ‘soft landing’  program, for international firms. That helped us make the decision to move here. And, yes, the broader ‘sister city’ relationship was encouraging, including, for instance, the partnership between St. Edward’s and Angers University.

SA: Tell us a bit more about your history with Qowisio, and its business.

GH: As I said, the company was founded in 2009. We have 50 people working in 30 countries, with two major offices. I was one of the five founders of the company. Two of us had worked together, previously, on building and selling a software company.

But Qowisio is hardware-focused. We aim to provide turnkey solutions for companies to collect data from any type of asset for core IoT applications, such as the microlocation of pallets, temperature recording, equipment status reporting, and so on. We use low-frequency communications, at 900 MHz, like your garage door. This allows for cost efficiency, though there can be some bandwidth constraints and can complement WiFi and M2M communications. All in all, we produce about 40 devices.

We are trying to find ‘blue’ or ‘grey’ oceans. That is, we look for implementations that are underexplored. Interestingly, the opportunities, across the many verticals we sell to, are quite similar in the US and Europe. So, the learning curve there has not been as steep as we might have thought.

SA: What are some of most notable differences about doing business in the US?

GH: So, I used to work at PricewaterhouseCoopers, a US company, and we had an open floor plan, and so on. But still, the differences in business culture here have taken some getting used to. In France, there is no at-will employment, and remote work is not really effective or widely implemented. Also, I’ve noticed that people manage their time differently and that the way to do business is really far different. For example, HR is much easier or more flexible in the US. On the other hand, the image that US is a 'low' tax country is completely false, once you consider both individual and corporate taxes, together.

SA: What do you see as the next step for the Austin-Angers relationship?

GH: The next step, is to have more companies from Angers, coming to Austin. It’s much more likel that firms will move in that direction, given the interest in accessing the large US market.  Angers would like to have more US companies coming to France and would be very welcoming, but it’s just a less common scenario.

For sure, I would say that Austin is very business-friendly and a great point of entry to start with. Companies ultimately have to take care of themselves but the first level of support here, from the French-American Business Council of Austin and the Capital Factory, is really, really important. Those first few contacts go a long way.