Impact-led businesses are the most fulfilling to build. They bring better team members & partners. And they make every problem conquerable because the mission compels you to do it.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Giannikoulis. Alex is a serial entrepreneur and former venture capitalist. In his previous role, Alex’s firm made several investments in the Mobility as a Service industry including Lyft and Zum. Prior to that, Alex’s expertise in commercializing new technology lead to 3 exits at early-stage companies.
I’m a serial entrepreneur and a former venture investor. After a few investments in the Mobility as a Service category, including Lyft and Zum, I was fascinated by this industry. I was especially intrigued by all the new transportation choices consumers will have at their fingertips. However, very little was being done to accelerate the number of clean vehicle miles traveled. This was especially disheartening after the EPA’s report last year that our tailpipes caused more air pollution than any other industry.
I saw an opportunity to accelerate zero and low emission vehicle miles traveled by creating a Better Ride on ride-hailing networks. We believe when we can create ride experiences that go beyond 5-stars, both consumers and brands, will want to participate.
Our mission is to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions from the transportation industry.
In the US, we’re still measuring vehicles sold as the key indicator of success of electric vehicles. But since most vehicles that sit idle more than 90% of the time, we should be using a different metric. We should measure the number of clean miles traveled.
Because ride-hailing networks like Lyft & Uber have such high demand for rides, we provide incentives for drivers to use zero emission, plug-in hybrid and hybrid vehicles on ride-hailing networks.
We do that by first creating a better ride experience for the passenger. This means we provide different categories of rides like energized, entertaining, relaxing, or rewarding. For example, our entertaining rides can often look like a Karaoke lounge or an Arcade on wheels or a seasonally themed experience (like our Halloween themed rides we rolled in October).
We then take these experience types and we deliver Ivee’s technology, experiential kits, and amenity packs to ride-hailing drivers.
With the help of our brand sponsors, we share our revenue with drivers. Those with the zero emission miles make the most money per ride.
Effectively meeting our double bottom line commitment is an ongoing balancing act.
I started the company to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions. I then explored several business models to make that work. The most viable one was to have marketing dollars incentivize the cleanest emission miles.
The challenge will always be to get other stakeholders (marketers, cities, and consumers) to care more about our mission than just their near term needs and conveniences.
To date, Ivee’s been self-funded with some capital from family members. Having been an entrepreneur in venture-backed and self-financed organizations throughout my career, the advice I’d give is to understand the future state of a market/ product and then walk it back to the most basic variable that needs to be demonstrated today. Taking out as much risk of that one variable, de-risks the opportunity for investors.
For example, at Ivee, the key problem we’ve been trying to solve is building product people love. We use a range of indicators to assess this including passenger engagement in the vehicle and ride ratings above 5-starts (via our in-vehicle tablets). We’ve completed 1,000s of rides and dozens of experiments to get us to what passengers have shown us is indeed a Better Ride.
When I was angel and venture investing, I found entrepreneurs that were most successful did two things. One, they could articulate well is the thing they were derisking in that particular funding round in order to reach their future market opportunity. Secondly, they curated and nurtured their investment relationships prior to asking for funding. A great tactic for this is to speak with other entrepreneurs about their best investors. Matching an investor’s domain expertise, value-add, capital reserves, etc. with a start-ups gap at that stage made the fundraising process much smoother.
This is not an easy either or option. In environments where the incentive models account for long-term costs and strategic thinking, the private sector will certainly find more and better solutions faster than the public sector. Where those incentives are not accurately accounted for sustainability-focused startups may be stymied but can still flourish.
However, given the global connected nature of our world today, startups aren’t limited to their backyard anymore. They can choose to launch, headquarter or build R&D units in-line with regulatory environments, grants, etc. that support their mission. That’s why our Chicago-based startup decided to launch in Los Angeles first. LA’s commitment to reducing GHGs along with California’s decades-long commitment to EV proliferation made our decision easier.
Care more. Care about the environment. Care about the example we’re giving our children. Every micro-decision we make impacts ourselves and others. If businesses see that we don’t care about the negative environmental consequences of their products and practices, what incentives do they have to have stricter sustainability commitments? If the public sector is not held to task for long-term implications of laws created or enforced, why should they risk losing political clout for an issue their constituents don’t care about?
Family, close friends, and mentors sit atop of this list for me personally. For Ivee though, I decided to credit my most influential science teacher, Sherry Dunn. In the early 90’s, her classroom was filled with information about the importance of the environment and Earth Day. She dedicated time after work to support students launching the school’s first recycling program and volunteering to support the science olympiad team.
25 years later, Mrs. Dunn’s philosophy on connecting students to science and environmentalism is a driving force to how I think about product design and market adoption. We seek to make EV adoption effortless for consumers. Mrs. Dunn showed me that if you make things enjoyable and fun in the short-term, people will make the right long-term decisions.
And in an era where fact and opinion are obfuscated, even in an a scientific arena, it was crucial to me that we honor the science teachers that impacted us. So Ivee’s full-time team members have named a zero-emissions vehicle in our fleet after their most influential science teacher.
1. Impact-led businesses are the most fulfilling to build. They bring better team members & partners. And they make every problem conquerable because the mission compels you to do it.
2. It will take twice as much time and twice as much cash as expected. This has been true in all three of the past companies I’ve been a part of.
3. Work with companies, like B Corps, whose CSR or double-bottom line commitments are ingrained in their business and not a tertiary objective.
4. Keep a long-term view of the commitment to the mission, but don’t let a slower pace or a limited impact in the short-term deter you.
5. Hiring your first employees can take a long-time. Give them comfort & time to get to know you before an offer is made. And if you’re a solo-founder, give them references about you they can call.
View the tailpipe as the enemy. Society doesn’t need to wait for technology to offer a better solution to local car emissions. Electric Vehicles are here.
If we treat local car pollution as this generation’s second-hand smoke movement, we will inevitably reduce the US’ number one cause of pollution.
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