“We were the very first operator to include a swappable battery”: Interview with e-scooter startup Wind’s co-founder and CEO, Eric Wang

Micromobility is on the rise. By 2030, the industry is expected to be worth around $500 billion, and the rapid growth of this previously untapped market has sent investment soaring. Since 2015, stakeholders have invested more than $5.7 billion in micromobility startups globally.

However, it hasn’t been an easy-ride for the industry which, like many others, has faced severe disruption during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite previous growth, in 2020 rides taken dropped by 60-70%, forcing many micromobility startups to adjust their business models to ensure survival.

Luckily, in recent months, the industry has stabilised. As urban areas open up once more,  customers are opting for micromobility as a safer, social distanced travel option.

One startup ready to take on the European market post-pandemic is Barcelona-born Wind. After successfully betting on innovation and customer service during COVID-19, they are now focused on the Italian market and are already the second largest operator in the country.

We caught up with Wind’s CEO and Co-founder, Eric Wang, to learn more about their expansion into Italy and post-pandemic plans.

Micro-mobility has enjoyed a steep growth curve over the past few years. Why is it that users are increasingly looking to micro mobility to get from A to B?

Pre-COVID, commuters in major metro cities such as Milan spent 226 hours – the equivalent of over 28 working days – in traffic jams every year. For Rome, that number increases to 252 hours. This is not a sustainable way for us to move from A to B. Public transportation systems are often reaching their capacity limits in urban areas, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have seen that our e-scooters have become more popular for commuters who want to practice social distancing. With shareable micro-mobility solutions such as e-scooters, cities have found a solution to ease congestion and lower carbon emissions. Riding e-scooters is certainly more enjoyable and fun than being stuck in your car on your way to work every day!

Wind prides itself on its ability to stay agile in a changing industry. How is Wind pioneering change in the travel and micro mobility industries?

When I co-founded the company in 2017, we offered Germany’s very first bicycle sharing service under the name BYKE. We offered a solution that was needed at that time. This was reflected in high demand by our users, and cities appreciated the initiative. Scooters, as a new form factor, are even more well suited for short distance travel in urban environments. 

In the early stages of the industry’s growth, most operators used off-the-shelf e-scooters aimed for personal use, with a low lifecycle and without swappable batteries, which made it necessary to collect all scooters at night and return them to the warehouse for charging.

This is not a very sustainable way to run an e-scooter business – both from an economic and ecological perspective. So we decided to build our own e-scooter specifically for the sharing market. It’s more robust and durable than existing models. We were also the very first operator to include a swappable battery. This allowed us to shape the industry through innovation and set us apart from the competition. 

Despite its popularity, with new restrictions, the micro mobility industry has faced some tough challenges during COVID-19. How did Wind overcome these?

No doubt, the last year has been challenging. New outbreaks and significant restrictions have carried a high risk for a relatively young industry. But despite the pandemic, we have grown significantly over the last year as the pandemic has accelerated the integration of micro-mobility solutions in public transportation systems. We have seen that more people rely on our e-scooters during the morning and early evening hours, indicating that a larger number of people are using e-scooters for their daily commute. 

Many choose to cut down on innovation in times of crisis. Why was it important for Wind to stay innovation and customer-centric during the pandemic?

During the pandemic we actually doubled down on innovation and customer service, which are two central pillars of our business. We introduced ways for our customers to have a safer riding experience, such as rolling out hand gel dispensers on our scooters and we developed the industry’s only fully integrated helmet solution for e-scooters, allowing users to unlock a helmet via the Wind app.

We have also improved our operations and user experience through software innovations, and we are in the development stages of our next generation of Wind e-scooter, the W4.0.  While it might seem counterintuitive to some companies in times of crisis, we have actually grown our workforce by more than 25% throughout the pandemic, focusing especially on customer service agents to further improve our response time and rider experience. 

Now the second largest operator in the country, Wind has recently taken the Italian market by storm. Are there any plans for expansion in the near future?

Italy is a great market for us to collaborate with as cities across the country are keen to integrate micro-mobility solutions, and citizens are looking for new modes of first- and last-mile transportation. Milan for example has recently announced one of Europe’s most ambitious schemes for reallocating 35km of street space from cars to e-scooters, cycling and walking. 

We are currently operating in 9 cities –  from Italy’s big metropolises like Rome, Milan and Torino, to smaller cities like Bari, Modena and Monza, and we are also in conversations with several other cities about the introduction of our service, so you can expect us to open in more cities in the very near future. As part of our strong focus on Italy, we decided to move our central European warehouse from Frankfurt to Milan where our scooters are assembled by local teams. 

Wind has its eyes on eco-conscious and sustainable travel. How does the product support in reducing emissions in urban areas?

Sustainability is a core value at Wind. We go a step further than providing eco-conscious and sustainable travel by making sure that sustainable practices are embodied throughout our business, our operations, supply chain and innovation technologies alongside the vehicle itself.

We built the Wind 3.0 e-scooter to have an above-average lifetime of up to 36 months and a longer battery life which is more environmentally friendly than other models by reducing the overall recycling frequency. In our local operations we also focus on circularity by reusing and recycling spare parts to further boost the overall lifetime of our scooters and reduce our environmental footprint.

We also use renewable energy to power our warehouses, as well as electric vans and electric cargo bikes to service our e-scooters. In addition, Wind is Climate Neutral certified for our 2019 operations and we are currently in the process of offsetting our 2020 emissions as well. 

Wind hosts a talented and growing team of engineers, designers and quality assurance experts. How do you make sure to attract the best talent?

Working for a startup is an exciting and challenging journey. With a presence in 12 different countries, remote work is part of the organisational design of the company giving us the flexibility to access a larger pool of candidates and attract the right talent. At Wind we celebrate diversity and are committed to creating an inclusive environment for everyone.

We encourage team members to communicate up, down and across the organization. We foster an environment where people can be themselves at work, share information, ideas, best practice, and challenge one another. This makes for an attractive environment – and we are currently hiring!