Ben Bear, the CEO of shared micromobility operator Spin, will step down just a couple of months after Tier Mobility, another shared operator with a large European presence, bought the company.
Taking Bear’s place will be Philip Reinckens, a Tier veteran who, effective June 6, will be responsible for leading Spin’s new direction, including accelerating the integration with its new parent company.
“It’s been a whirlwind since I took office last year,” Bear told TechCrunch. “Really, from day one I took over, the main goal I got from Ford was finding a partner, and I feel like we’ve landed the plane on that and it’s the perfect time to step aside and accelerate to become one. . maintaining the DNA that has made Spin the best option in cities”.
When Tier acquired Spin from Ford in March, it marked the German company’s entry into the North American market.
Reinckens, who will be moving his family from Munich to San Francisco, has held a number of roles at Tier in Germany, including most recently Vice President of Business Transformation. Prior to that role, Reinckens served as general manager for a European region comprising six countries.
Before joining the micromobility landscape, Reinckens worked as a strategy consultant in the automotive industry for companies like Volkswagen and Faurecia, a tier one supplier.
We sat down with the new CEO to talk about Tier’s plans for Spin’s future growth and why he’s the person leading that transition.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
TC: You come from an automotive background. What lessons have you taken from that world and applied to shared micromobility?
Philip Reinckens: After working for Volkswagen and Faurecia, I switched sides to external consulting, but still focused on the automotive and mobility industry. That was back in 2013. We were supporting OEMs and vendors with all the hot topics of the day around electrification, autonomous mobility, connectivity and whatnot. I was really attracted to that.
Normally with consultants, you either stay until you become a partner or you look for a good opportunity to go out into the field and do something on your own. For me that came in 2019 when the German market opened up to micromobility. I knew that the scooter segment was really through the roof in North America with a lot of venture capital funding, so I was very curious to do some consulting for a new company.
So what I take away from the automotive industry, but especially from my experience as a consultant, is a willingness to work and deliver fast and focus on what’s important. I think being quick to execute and working long hours is something you learn in consulting, and when we launched Tier in the German market, I was working much harder than before because suddenly we had eight cities to manage from day one. I really like the independence and speed of a startup.
Where do you see the greatest opportunities for change and growth with Spin?
Spin already excels at a lot today. They were the first to do curbside drive detection, everything they’ve done on winning college campuses, hubs, and charging systems…those are really great USPs. So it is worth focusing on them and strengthening them.
I want to focus on the consumer experience, having the right features but also providing reliable mobility, which it means having the right scooter at the right time in the right place. Tier has a lot of learnings that we can contribute.
We want to bet on interchangeable batteries. It changes the way operations need to be run because you can’t just put the scooters every morning in the same place where you know the conversion is great, but you have to find ways to re-allocate and rebalance the scooters in the most efficient way. So my strategy for the next 12 months is really to make sure that this integration is a success, that we’re taking advantage of the synergies and efficiencies as a joint venture and building on what Spin is already great at, while also finding some levers. in the European market. We are already in talks about some big initiatives and partnerships to potentially pursue further expansion.
You mentioned Spin’s sidewalk-riding technology, which comes from Drover AI. Tier also recently bought Fantasmo, bringing its camera positioning technology in-house. Given Bird and Lime’s recent announcement about working with Google’s ARCore technology, which is similar to Fantasmo’s, is Tier thinking of bringing those capabilities to the US, either alongside or instead of Drover? ?
meRight now, everyone is researching these kinds of technologies. Parking and passenger behavior is the number one criteria for the winning cities. But if you look and compare the different competitors like Luna, Fantasmo and Drover they seem to be similar but in terms of capabilities they are very different. It is moving in this direction. The other moves in that direction.
Fantasmo’s biggest asset is parking, and Drover is especially good at detecting sidewalks. At the moment we are very happy to work with both and they all have the right technology for different use cases. In the United States it is different than in Germany.
So parking is not a problem in the US?
Not so much compared to Germany because here there are many physical shelves and locks that can be used. There is also much more free floating parking in Germany, France and the UK, where Fantasmo’s technology makes the most sense.
How do you envision Tier in Europe working with Spin in North America?
It is clear that you need to focus a brand on a continent. But between the companies and the different USPs and strengths and capabilities, clearly the entire acquisition is there to build on the strength and enhance both companies.
Currently, North American consumers have a very strong relationship with Spin, and Tier is a completely unknown brand. For the time being, changing that would risk losing customers.
Tier has been on a buying spree lately, both vertically and horizontally, to expand into new markets. Is Tier considering more acquisitions in North America?
At the moment, it is not clear to say. As you can imagine, with nextbike, Spin and Fantasmo, we have a difficult integration to do. Quality comes first. second amount.
Spin has a lot going for it in terms of technology and relationships with cities, but some have said Ford’s backing resulted in a big drain on cash. And obviously the drive economics for micromobility aren’t quite there yet. So is there any particular place where you see room for improvement in terms of decreased overhead or increased revenue?
Having worked for a large car companies before, I really know what corporations look like internally and how they sometimes feel comfortable in terms of spending. I think this is the biggest difference between Spin and Tier. Tier has 100% startup DNA where we really look at our cash consumption. I think that also got us into the position of being able to compete with Bird and Lime and others, who were the most capital efficient companies. I mean, otherwise SoftBank and Goldman wouldn’t have backed us.
It is in our DNA to be cost conscious and link ecological sustainability with financial sustainability. We can only provide an alternative mobility solution if the economics of the unit behind it are sustainable, and that means not losing money per trip. This is one of the great strengths that we have and where we can certainly help Spin improve in the future.
Can you give me an example of how Tier has been good at cost savings?
Well, we are talking about interchangeable batteries, and we were the first to bet on that technology, which allowed us to significantly reduce variable costs. When I look back to the days of the first wave of Corona in Europe, we saw that due to our cost advantages, which we gained through swappable batteries and all of our in-house operations, we were able to keep our fleet of scooters on the streets even during the lockdown when all the other competitors in Germany had to withdraw theirs.
We were able to provide basic mobility even though movements on the streets were significantly reduced, but we did capture that little demand. And people were afraid to use public transport, so many customers saw micromobility as a good alternative.
Turning to the industry at large, its biggest competitors in the US are Lime and Bird, and in Europe possibly Bolt and Voi. Is there Anything you think your competitors are doing right? Or alternatively, doing it wrong?
Let me start with Bolt. They have recently raised a massive round. But you also have to recognize that your business is just different. They are using micromobility as a procurement tool for their express transportation and food delivery/fast e-commerce business. So it’s not quite comparable.
When I look at Bird, for example, I’m surprised to see that they haven’t invested in swappable batteries. I understand the reasons from his perspective. But as the entire industry has moved toward swappable batteries, I’m surprised they’re the only ones among the big guys still sticking with it. Also, with their platform model, they have not focused on the city. And I think right now we’re in a phase where we see that focusing on the city is crucial.
Bird is one of the only public shared micromobility companies. Does Tier have any plans to go public soon?
Right now? Look at Bird’s actions. I think the elephant in the room is that Bird didn’t pick the right time. That’s just bad luck. Perhaps also the vehicle itself as a SPAC. I’m not a big fan of SPACs, to be honest. But I mean, it’s sad that as a representative of an entire segment, they’re being hit so hard. I think the market is overreacting to Bird, and that’s not doing the industry any good.