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Raymon Pouwels: “We want to make sharing the new normal”

In 2019, Raymon Pouwels (Meppel, 1993) founded GO Sharing, a company that offers 100 percent electric shared transport. Three years later, 2 million people use the system and the company is the largest provider of electric shared scooters in the world and the largest in the Benelux with shared bicycles. To top it all off, Raymon was included by Forbes in the 30 under 30 2022. “That was really confirmation that what we are doing here as a small company is seen worldwide.”
Rahi Rezvani

Text & production Bart-Jan Brouwer | Photography: Rahi Rezvani | Make-up & hair: Chantal van 't Hoff

This interview is part 3 of the triptych: “Pathmakers”. Three young entrepreneurs look through the darkness of the current era to the future in their industry. In this triptych, museum director Merel van Helsdingen shines a light on the art of the future, while GO Sharing CEO Raymon Pouwels and GoSpooky founder Tim van der Wiel (both Forbes 30 Under 30) discuss the development of mobility and social media respectively. , advertising and social tech. “There has never been a better time to have a good idea.” 

How did you end up in mobility?

“I come from a very enterprising family. My family had a shop selling electric bicycles and scooters. That's how I came into contact with electric mobility. During my studies in Commercial Economics, I was approached by their supplier from Germany to take over the sale of electric scooters for the Benelux. I quickly finish my studies and get to work. Very traditional: going to the showrooms to sell the products. More and more parties wanted to share vehicles and I became responsible for the company's exports for all sharing parties in Europe. I learned a lot in that position, because I could look behind the scenes of everyone. When I was twenty-five I knew: I wanted to start a company like that myself. Not because I had a thing for scooters: when I was sixteen, my parents gave me a scooter and I sold it on Marktplaats the same day for 300 euros, haha. For me it was purely about a sustainable solution, and I had the knowledge for this in the field of scooters.”

What was your vision when setting up your own company?

“Most parties in this industry see themselves as software companies. But you will also have to understand the hardware, because the customer wants the vehicle to be close by and always work. Reliability is the most important thing. I had two things very clearly in mind: firstly, I wanted to work with a party that can provide very good service, and secondly, I had decided to do things differently from the rest. Within Amsterdam you can get from A to B perfectly: you take the metro, bus, bicycle, an Uber... But in a village or region you do not have an Uber and public transport does not run every five minutes. There is a real need for mobility there. My starting point was to connect every city or region that has a station. That is where the long-term need is greatest and that is where we will make a difference.”

You found partners in Donny van den Oever and Doeke Boersma.

“I founded GO Sharing with them in 2019. At that time they owned GreenMo, supplier of electric scooters and bicycles to the delivery market - Gorillas, Domino's, PostNL... So they had a huge service network. However, they were already running a business and were extremely busy with it. In any case, they wanted to make time for the pilot; From there we would look further. That pilot consisted of 168 scooters in Eindhoven, exactly the number we could afford. In the beginning, everything that could go wrong went wrong. We needed people to change the batteries, power rangers we called them. But we couldn't find it, no one had heard of GO Sharing yet. We even took to the streets in Power Rangers suits to create awareness, haha. In the end, four people said yes, three of whom quit after one day. We had just gone live, so we had to take the car to Eindhoven at four o'clock at night to change the batteries. Everything went wrong, but we saw that there was a huge demand. Everyone was talking about it: 'Did you see those green things?' After just two days we ordered more and knew: this is going to be it.”

Why did you choose bright green?

“We call it 'sustainably green'. We wanted to radiate something that stands out. Each municipality issues a permit for a limited number of vehicles. If you have a vehicle that is white or black, it stands out much less in the street scene. But if it is bright green, it seems as if you see it everywhere, as if it is on every corner.”

How does GO Sharing work in general terms?

“Users pay per minute for the use of a vehicle. A ride with a scooter or e-bike can be ended anywhere within the user area. Car journeys must end at one of GO Sharing's fixed charging stations. From there the user can continue by scooter or e-bike. But the end point of a car journey does not have to be the same city where the journey started.”

It is your aim to offer transport everywhere within a three-minute walk. How do you achieve this if the municipalities only allow a limited number of shared vehicles?

“That is the big challenge. We manage to achieve it in most cities. You can find a bicycle or scooter within a three-minute walk from home. You can possibly take it to a shared car. In the center you have to light electric vehicles have, vehicles that are easier to move than cars. The car is not the solution in the busy center. That is why we have placed a very high focus on scooters and bikes. They are more manoeuvrable, take up less space and provide better density. Because instead of, say, two hundred cars, we can place two hundred bikes and two hundred scooters – double numbers. Last year we rolled out 4.500 e-bikes in the Netherlands, and we are now the largest provider.”

How do you envision the city of the future?

“Today's city, with parking lots and roads, is largely designed for cars. That is going to change completely. The city center will speed up to 30 km/h, which means that the advantage of the car is gone. Bicycles, scooters, scooters and cargo bikes will predominate for movements within the city. Only when we go outside that center will we need a vehicle. And your own vehicle is then too expensive because the space it takes up is valuable.”

You talk about shared mobility, but isn't the journey from door to door even more important than the sharing itself?

"Beats. You don't share a hotel room, you book a hotel room. Same with vehicles. You can compare shared mobility with public transport: you book transport. Why does the government invest 6 billion in public transport and accessibility, and there are zero euros for shared bicycles and shared scooters? While we are the modern bus line. When I talk to the government, everyone agrees that shared mobility is the future. That is very nice, but that future has to start today. The complex regulations of the municipalities make this difficult. To give you an idea: why can't we replace a bus line with shared mobility? Purely because the permit application states that a bus line must contain a bus. And so we are excluded. While parties such as NS and Arriva come to us asking if we can help them, because they cannot afford to run a bus line in a village where only five people board a day.”

Not only is the government cumbersome, each municipality also has its own municipal council that you have to deal with. How do you deal with that?

“After the pilot in Eindhoven, we wanted to start in thirty cities. They indeed have thirty different municipal councils and thirty different people who are responsible for public space and who all have their own idea of ​​what mobility will look like. We have developed a complete step-by-step plan and shared it with the municipalities. But even the most enthusiastic municipality sometimes needs at least more than a year before we can start.”

Yet GO Sharing has been launched in 35 cities in recent years, and in 50 cities worldwide.

“We have grown extremely fast. Also in terms of company: GO Sharing now employs 300 people. The fact that we were able to scale up in this way is partly thanks to an investment in our holding company of 10 million and last year of 50 million by Opportunity Partners and Rabo Corporate Investments. We didn't invest anything in marketing in the beginning: the product on the street is our marketing. That's why I prefer to put the money into vehicles. Our company is now the largest provider of electric shared scooters in the world and the largest in the Benelux with shared bicycles. Of course, some changes have taken place. Firstly, helmets have been mandatory since January 1. It costs us several million to convert the fleet: purchasing helmets, installing top cases, etc. And it is a hurdle for users: many people do not find it hygienic to share a helmet, even though we provide hair nets and spray the helmets clean. . We will continue with it, because the scooter is part of the solution. Especially regionally. We strongly believe that the bicycle is the solution in the center. Secondly, the war in Ukraine has created a different investment climate. Partly for this reason, we have moved away from smaller villages – which are less profitable and people are less likely to give up their own car – and we have stationed our fleet more compactly in larger cities.”

Tim van der Wiel, Merel van Helsdingen, Raymon Pouwels

Another big change: due to the different investment climate, GreenMo went bankrupt at the end of January.

“Extremely painful of course for Donny and Doeke, who had built up a great company. Fortunately, the company has made a new start, with new owners. GreenMo was our leasing company. The direct consequences for GO Sharing were that the vehicles were taken off the streets. We were sidelined for a month. It was an uncertain time, especially for the staff. And the users suddenly found themselves without mobility. As an entrepreneur it is difficult to accept that things happen over which you have no influence. The part that you can do something about gives energy. From day one I started looking for solutions. We have built such a cool company with so much potential, it must continue! In a very short time I managed to find new investors who were willing to take over the shares. The vehicles were financed by Rabobank; it has claimed the GreenMo vehicles and is now renting them back to us. And we had to look for a new insurer. We found this in Bokhorst Insurance, which has a lot of experience with insuring large fleets. This allowed us to continue as GO Sharing. Because of everything that has happened, I have now advanced five years in my development as an entrepreneur.”

GreenMo also did the maintenance of the vehicles, right?

“Fortunately, we had already taken over the maintenance of the vehicles in-house last October by taking over the mechanics and workshop. We really wanted to have this under our own control, because the quality of the fleet and reliability are the most important. We no longer have anything to do with GreenMo, we are two separate entities.”

The year has started turbulently. When will 2023 still be a success for you?

“At the end of the year, stability has returned to the company, customer confidence has been regained and the company is profitable. Then we can continue to build towards the future from a stable base.”

MASTERS Magazine

Want to read the rest of the interview with Raymon Pouwels? In the spring edition of MASTERS, three entrepreneurs shed light on the future: Raymon Pouwels (GO Sharing), Merel van Helsdingen (Nxt Museum) and Tim van der Wiel (GoSpooky). According to the latter, ever-accelerating technological progress offers enormous opportunities. “There has never been a better time to have a good idea. The technology is in your pocket!” Sports journalist Jaap de Groot outlines the contours of the new playing field of international sport after the resounding success of the World Cup in Qatar. And futurist Adjiedj Bakas also sheds light on the future. According to him, next year will be all about the search for the economy of happiness. “We are not just going to look at what makes us money, but at what makes us happy.” Perhaps this edition will contribute to this, with a look back at MASTERS EXPO, a road trip with the new Range Rover and interviews with horse pope Jan Tops, Red Bull Racing team boss Christian Horner, chef Margot Janse and visual artist Spencer Tunick. Luck!