“The electric revolution will continue accelerating a more sustainable lifestyle”: Interview with imove’s co-founders, Gunnar Birkenfeldt and Hans Kristian Aas

Norway-based startup imove is a car subscription service platform that gives the user full flexibility and no hassle. Benefits for the user include access to a fleet of attractive electrical cars for everyday use, and the flexibility to change to another car when they want to. imove is a new generation car tech company focused on simplicity, flexibility, and being environmentally friendly.

Gunnar Birkenfeldt and Hans Kristian Aas co-founded imove back in 2018 as a new mobility concept. Since then, they’ve grown imove to a team of around 50 people, raised €5 million and expanded internationally. We spoke to Gunnar and Hans to take a peek behind their success.

Thank you for joining us! Let’s start with a look at how imove has developed since its founding in 2018. How have your objectives and goals changed since the company has grown?

That is an interesting question as I believe that imove is not different from any other fast-growing startup. First, you want to build everything, then you realize that the true magic lies in your ability to prioritize and scope hard.

To begin with, we launched imove as a ‘mobility concept’ including multi-modular transport methods. We bought a container of 300 electric scooters from China and created an app for a bundled car subscription and scooter service, but we quickly learnt that the scooters created a lot of issues with repair and logistics, and the car subscription service alone required a lot of customer education.

When we launched, only 4% of the Norwegian population knew what car subscription was, so our value proposition and service features needed to be very on-point. Our message had to be easily understood. So we scoped out multi-modality and even started to communicate clearly that imove is a car subscription service for battery-electric cars only. We also started off with both B2B and B2C sales, but we decided early to prioritize the B2C market as the B2B customer journey was very different.

In terms of goals, we were very clear from the beginning that we wanted to utilize our Norwegian DNA as the forerunners of electric cars. In 2020 more than half of all new cars sold in Norway were electric and in our hometown, Bergen 25% of all cars (!) are now electric. And we are only talking about battery-electric cars, not hybrids. We wanted to use this unique position and 15 years of EV experience when we now enter new markets with less mature audiences. From the beginning, we had international ambitions and one of our key mantras has been to build for scale. 

Our initial subscription service is supported by our in-house technology, and this has eventually materialized into two parallel business areas:

  1. The imove car subscription service, totally independent and acts as a subscription marketplace for electric vehicles from any manufacturer. We control the fleet, the finances, and everything related to the service.
  2. The imove white-label technology, that we also license to third parties that want to start a subscription service.

So it’s like Netflix. Where some movies are Netflix productions, where others are from 3rd party partners. 

Since the service has grown we also experience that our imove subscription service acts as an important ‘innovation hub’ for our platform. What we learn during our daily operation is implemented into our tech. 

What differentiates imove from its competitors?

There are many platform providers that do fleet management, transaction handling and offer seamless digital customer journeys. But what imove offers is a fully customizable ‘Car Subscription as a Service solution. We basically enable players from, not just Automotive, but also from other industries such as banking, insurance, smart electricity, and digital marketplaces, a way to launch a ‘Car Subscription service’ with their own brand, look and feel.

But running such a service is much more than technology. Therefore we also offer logistics and operational support through a large network of partners, 24h customer service, and a powerful analytics platform that ensures optimizations of sales, marketing, and finances. The true key element to success is not really the technology itself, it’s how you utilize data and technology in your daily operations, your fleet management, and finances.

So, to sum up I believe the three differentiators that come to my mind would be:

  1. The Norwegian EV DNA: The imove service is totally independent and acts as a marketplace for electric vehicles from all manufacturers. We come from the home market of the EV, it’s part of our DNA and we understand all the dynamics that come with EV adoption.
  2. We build our own tech: We’re a tech company. We believe in data, we are fully automated and extremely data-driven. 
  3. Hands-on experience: We already have three years of experience scaling a profitable car subscription. We know what it takes from the business model, we understand the dynamics of new customer behaviour. To ensure relevant and value-adding services to the end-users we don’t just sit in our office and develop software. Since we launched our own car subscription service in 2018, there is not a single day passing by without new insights and experience from the real world being implemented into the platform. What we learn through our own imove sandbox, we implement for the benefit of all our white-label customers using our technology. We believe it is all about listening to our customers and getting their perspective into our service. If we solve their pains, we will be successful. 

You’ve raised €5 million so far.  Do you plan to achieve additional funding in the future?

imove has been fortunate with its existing owners providing capital and industry-related know-how. The company has focused on building lean machinery delivering strong unit economics. The last 12 months have been used to ensure scalability in all dimensions of the operating model – capital, financing, technology, organization, and processes. Moving into a phase of continued rapid growth and international expansion will require more additional capital. It also means that we can complement our existing owner structure with new strategic partners. 

You just launched imove Sweden, the first step in imove’s international expansion. What are your next plans for international expansion? Which markets are most important and why?

imove aims to take a leading position in the Nordics and expand into a first wave of countries in Central-Europe. We have carefully picked out the most suitable markets for electric vehicle subscription services. At the same time, our technology platform enables us to enter any market given the right type of partners. 

We have created a ‘country-jumping methodology’ that efficiently allows us to assess and greenlight new markets, establish the service, and scale quickly. The Swedish launch gave us confidence that we easily can set up the concept, technology, and organization in a new market.

And it is clear that the mobility space is not just for the traditional automotive players. We are just about to license our technology to both insurance and electricity companies, and we also see interest from marketplaces and telecom.

What is your long-term vision for imove?

One of the strengths of imove is that we dare to have really bold ambitions. Therefore we agreed that the ultimate goal for a mobility concept should be teleporting. ‘I move’ – get it? Jokes aside, we truly believe that a decade of EV experience in Norway brings a unique edge when entering Europe with technology to enable new ownership and new business models. We really want to make global carbon footprint impact and we believe that the entry barrier for Europeans to subscribe and test an EV for €400 a month, is a lot lower than paying €40k for the same car. If I were one of the new Chinese car manufacturers, looking at the world map and planning my distribution model, the subscription model would be highly interesting.

At imove we strive to be a game-changer for future vehicle ownership and show the manufacturers and all the people out there that ownership flexibility can help beat the technology anxiety. The electric revolution started in the Nordics but is coming for the world! 

What is your opinion on the environment for creating a tech company in Norway? 

The Norwegian startup arena has for many years been ideal for creating startups but struggled to transform them into scaleups. For startups not achieving growth, the easy way out would be to blame lack of government support, lack of venture capital when competing with traditional industries like real-estate, or missing out on talent. imove has from the beginning been a firm believer that capital and incentives will follow when companies succeed. The last year has been a game-changer for Norway – taking steps closer to some of the other top tech company-building countries in Europe. The latest development confirms imove’s perspective. The success of more and more Norwegian companies is building a reinforcing spiral attracting capital, industrial partners, and talent. Combining that with Norway’s unique position on electric vehicles – we don’t see any better place to be!

What do you think will be the next big digital transformation in the next 5 years?

There is no Planet B and the electric revolution will continue accelerating a more sustainable lifestyle. imove would like to be a key enabler in making electric vehicles available worldwide. The improved connectivity in smarter vehicles also makes it easier to make the physical car an integrated part of customer-centric solutions. Car sharing would be a natural add-on to new flexible ownership models. Once customers experience the seamless flexible lifestyle of new mobility products there is no way back. Do you remember back in 2020 when we thought it made sense to own a car?