All across the world, cities are transforming. Citizens get increasingly tired of traffic jams and air pollution. Technological advancement has provided a great number of new alternatives that allow citizens to move around in much a faster, more flexible and sustainable way. This new technology combined with a worldwide consumer trend to move away from product ownership, towards service access, has created a whole new market: Shared micro-mobility.
According to a study by McKinsey, by 2030 this market will be worth between €100B and €150B, in Europe alone!
Naturally many international corporations have flocked to grasp this opportunity, but most have failed. Setting up an e-bike sharing activity is a complex process, where R&D and operational improvement go hand in hand in order to find a sustainable model. Therefore the market has seen many startups receiving investments from- or being acquired by corporate players. This trend will only accelerate as more and more startups find sustainable and replicable business models that will be scaled across different cities and countries with the financial support of corporate players.
The current government has announced it will do anything in its power to reduce the modal share of private cars, in favour of sustainable alternatives, with the bicycles as a priority. They have been very welcoming for micro-mobility operators, and Billy’s management has developed privileged relationships across most regional institutions.
Although, the European capital is known amongst micro-mobility operators as one of the most difficult markets in Europe: slow adoption, high rates of theft and vandalism and widespread private car ownership have forced more than 10 operators to close their operations in the last 24 months alone.
Yet since Billy’s public launch in January 2019, it has managed to find solutions for all these challenges and reach an average monthly growth rate of 20%.
Mid-sized European cities
Fierce competition is taking place in major cities (<1M inhabitants), where players are focussed on fighting for market share, losing millions in the process. Billy’s management believes that mid-sized European cities (250k to 1M inhabitants) offer great potential, while being a much safer investment. Adoption speed and market size are lower than the major cities, but the need for shared micro-mobility is as present, if not more, due to the lower public transport coverage.
Based on its experience in Brussels, Billy plans to replicate their model across many mid-sized European cities. The company aims to reach 10% of the population of any city in which it operates.
Station-based bike sharing systems have been around for over ten years. Thanks to heavy public investment, they offer large fleets, often covering the entire territory, for extremely low prices. They are however losing ground to free-float alternatives. In Brussels, Villo (by JC Decaux) has been losing thousands of customers every year, since the arrival of Billy and other operators. Although, the lack of flexibility they offer doesn’t seem to bother routine users, who make use of the low priced service for their daily commute.
Billy’s direct competitor is (Uber owned company) Jump. Other American companies such as Lime are also offering shared e-bikes in other European capitals. These companies operate very large fleets, resulting in high visibility. But the great size of these fleets has a negative impact on the price and reliability of the service. They therefore mostly attract occasional users and tourists.
Billy’s sweet spot is right in the middle. Thanks to its data driven focus on operational efficiency, they are able to offer the lowest pricing on the market while guaranteeing the highest reliability. This corresponds with the need of frequent users, who the company believes to be the most profitable target audience.
Billy also has a very strong bond with its users. The company’s dedication to improving the quality of life in Brussels, its 24/7 customer support, user engagement throughout all of its activities and offering citizens the chance to own shares of the company, has had a very positive impact on user loyalty. The company intends to strengthen this positioning in Brussels (through this crowdfunding campaign i.e) and replicate it in all future markets.
Billy has reached a point where they have all the elements necessary to start scaling up their activities:
- Proprietary technology and advanced product expertise
- An experienced team and an optimised operational model
- A strong user base and positive company image
In the coming months, the company will focus on growing its user base and continuing to improve its operational model, in order to reach operational break-even in Brussels within the next 12 months. It will then replicate its model in other mid-sized European cities, starting with a second Belgian city in 2021, followed by a first international city in 2022.
Business to Government
The shared electric bicycle also represents a solution for the smart allocation of a city or region's financial resources dedicated to public transport. The real operational cost for one bus/tram/metro journey is twice as high as that of an average Billy journey.
A growing number of Belgian and European cities and regions are contacting Billy to study the possibility of setting up a publicly-funded shared electric bicycle service on their territory. The first calls for tenders have been published in recent months, to which the company has responded.
Eventually, a majority of European cities will integrate the electric bicycle as the 4th pillar of public transport. Billy is positioning itself as a player that can provide a fleet of bicycles and operate it for these communities.