We interviewed Thomas Eglin, Project Lead at Primeo Energie, to get his insights on shared mobility ventures for energy suppliers.
Thomas Eglin is currently the Co-CEO of Pick-e-Bike. One of the leading shared mobility services in Switzerland. But he's also Project Innovation and Marketing Leader at Primeo Energie.
Thomas has been Project Leader at Primeo Energie for several years, the largest energy supplier in the North-West of Switzerland. And he's also the Co-CEO of Pick-e-Bike, one of the leading shared mobility services in Switzerland that started as a joint venture of Primeo Energie.
In this interview, Thomas will share the history of the project. Why would energy suppliers decide to create a shared mobility service? What has been their strategy? What benefits did they get by launching their service? Which challenges they faced and are still facing today?
You will also discover his message for other energy suppliers and how they can better fulfill their mission and align different stakeholders.
The launch of Pick-e-bike is a long story. It comes from my master thesis at the University of Basel on how energy suppliers could use electric mobility to grow their business.
I joined Primeo in 2016 to lead projects related to innovation. One day, over a meeting, Cédric Christmann, CEO of Primeo Energie, and Andreas Büttiker, CEO of BLT, thought a collaboration between the two organizations would make sense as they have a shared mission: "improving people’s lives by providing critical infrastructure and services." At the time, they didn't know where to start and asked me to work on something.
Then, I remembered my master thesis and the idea of creating a public shared mobility system based on people's needs. In Basel, riders wanted to go home directly, at any time, which is not possible with a traditional public transportation service. I worked on a concept and presented it to Stephan Brode, Chief Digital Officer of BLT. He was amazed that I came up with this idea because he was already planning and willing to do a micro-mobility project for the last mile of public transportation. This was the beginning of Pick-e-Bike.
We started speaking to all the micro-mobility actors: manufacturers, software providers, alternative services, etc. We considered building everything in-house initially, but then we understood how tough it would be. However, it was terrific to discover everything was available for us to start externally. From the software to the strategic expertise, we could rely on an external partner to support us. We considered working with 2 partners, Fleetbird (acquired by WunderMobility) and ElectricFeel.
In the end, we chose ElectricFeel as the solution covered all our needs in terms of software. They offered a complete fleet management solution, plus an operational management app and a suitable mobile app. Moreover ElectricFeel was way more than software, it was a strategic partner to help us to launch and scale.
We have three main goals.
The first is customer acquisition and retention. Back then, the market wasn’t open. But we already knew this was changing and that, soon, customers would be able to choose the electricity providers they preferred. Therefore we wanted to provide new services to customers that they didn't have before. We wanted to differentiate our services by bundling our energy product with something that would provide a strong added value.
Shared mobility is the perfect solution, as it's something people can use every day. Moreover, as a supplier from the countryside, Primeo doesn't have access to marketing and communication channels in the city center. That became possible with the launch of the free-floating e-bike sharing service; it gave us full access to the users in the city centers. By bundling energy services and electro-mobility services, we were able to provide a unique offering and make it accessible to everyone.
The second main goal is to develop a strategic partnership with BLT. As two of the region’s local service leaders, it was critical to collaborate with a concrete project. Creating a joint shared mobility business venture was the perfect solution for us to strengthen the collaboration around something that would provide a real added value for people every day.
The third main reason is to grow the business by developing a holistic offering and solution toward electric mobility. For most utility companies, e-mobility is restricted to EV charging. We believe this is a very limited view.
Very few people own an electric car today, but everyone is commuting every day. If we want to serve more people and create real benefits with electric mobility, we have to go beyond only providing EV car charging stations. By launching a micromobility sharing service, we make electric mobility accessible to everyone by allowing many people to try, experiment, and enjoy an electric vehicle—often for the first time. We want to demonstrate that it's easy to use, has very few limitations, and is ready and available for them.
Our goal is not only to provide a mobility service. We also want to change people's mindset by removing limiting beliefs towards electric vehicles and incentivizing them to use them regularly. That could even lead to a future purchase of an electric vehicle.
We have business relationships with over one hundred other energy suppliers in Switzerland, and we’re already selling them some key business solutions. By owning our shared mobility system, we could sell the whole solution to other energy suppliers. This helped us develop a new product that resulted in business diversification and expansion by selling a high added-value service for our B2B customers.
The mission and opportunities of utility companies, related to electro-mobility, aren’t just to supply EV car charging stations. This is only one piece of the cake that most utility companies already understand and are actively fighting for. Still, they are missing the rest and the immense opportunity presented by shared electric mobility.
Today providing electric shared mobility solutions can be done quickly. Everything is available, particularly if you're willing to partner with other companies like banks, local transport operators, etc.
I believe this is the opportunity for an energy supplier to get a new piece of the pie, probably even more significant than the EV car charging. Mobility is changing, shrinking the pie for public transport operators. All the while, people are shifting to micromobility services and creating a new market that is fully accessible for utility companies. The time is now for utility companies to act. Plus, it's a no-brainer to make it happen technically, and we already have the existing customer relationships and network to promote the service.
The second critical reason is that the energy markets are getting more open, everywhere. Product and service differentiation will become more critical to remain competitive, acquire new customers, and retain the existing ones. By combining and bundling energetic utility services, EV charging and shared mobility services, utility companies can provide a unique service that will make the provider more appealing to end-users.
I see three significant blockers.
First, we need to deal with different cities and municipalities. When talking to them, they can be demanding about what they want. Unfortunately, this is not compatible with how shared mobility works. There is a big gap between what they want and what the users' expectations are. We believe that users should decide how they want to use the systems, not the cities. Currently, their view is often narrow-minded.
Second, due to a shortage of components due to the global supply chain crisis, the lead time to access new vehicles is terrible. It can take up to 12-18 months to get new electric vehicles.
Last but not least, we still see lots of limiting beliefs from decision-makers when it comes to launching a shared mobility service. In Switzerland, many companies think it's too complex. Whereas, today, we know how it works; we know the success criteria to launch an excellent shared mobility service. It will take a lot of time to change the mindset of the business executives and political leaders, but we proved operationally we can make a shared mobility service work.
I don't get lots of information from local energy suppliers, as they are often very old-fashioned. In Switzerland, most of the energy suppliers are not thinking strategically about growing the business. That's why I don't consider them as a potential source of inspiration for innovation.
However, in Germany, we see energy suppliers coming up with alternative approaches and bundling new products with energy services.
As of today, very few people know who their energy supplier is. It's currently a low involvement product. But we need to level up and make a high involvement product by innovating and developing new products. For example, green energy will become a standard in the future. Telecommunication markets have also remained a low involvement product, but more innovative strategies were developed in that arena, like bundling smartphones, iPhones, etc. We need to find a way to create more added value for people in energy, as the market will open up in the future.
ElectricFeel is mind-blowing for us. The solution is complete and does everything from user management, pricing, operational, frontline operational apps. It's great to have everything under one system. Having the back-end and front-end fully integrated is critical to having a high-performance service.
ElectricFeel has an outstanding level of operational excellence. It's a chance for us to have a spin-off company of ETH nearby and it has been a great decision going with them.
ElectricFeel is more than software. They think strategically with us about micromobility and come with new ideas. ElectricFeel is a partner that involves the different stakeholders to co-create better-shared mobility services.
It has never been this easy for energy and energy suppliers become shared mobility service providers. Moreover, it's fully aligned with the mission and purpose of these companies.
With a partner like ElectricFeel, their software, their expertise, it's become super easy to operate. They’re a strong partner that will fully support you and help you innovate.
If you want to know more on how Energy Suppliers could venture into shared mobility, you could check the research on how energy suppliers could benefit from shared electric mobility, and also read the complete success story of Primeo Energie and ElectricFeel.