‘Keeping it Clean’ with Zachary Wang, Co-Founder & CEO of Neuron Mobility, launching in the UK soon!
Zachary Wang is an Entrepreneur with a passion for both the future of transport and for renewable energy. He was born in China and now lives in Singapore where he launched Neuron Mobility, his second successful start-up in 2016. Neuron is the largest operator of e-scooters in both Australia and New Zealand.
Neuron’s DNA is built around working very closely with cities to bring new mobility solutions to citizens in a safe and sustainable way. They are product-driven innovators, building vehicles designed with safety at their core. Their solution includes a wide base / large wheels design, geo-fencing, integration of low-speed zones, no riding zones, parking guides, and even computer vision checks for helmet compliance.
The brightsmith team are really excited and proud to be partnering with Neuron Mobility to build their team ahead of their upcoming UK launch. I chatted with Zachary about his experiences and challenges, where the industry is headed and why the UK is so exciting for for the future of Neuron Mobility!
Neuron Mobility — the who, what, why and where?
A fun fact was that scooter sharing started in Singapore back in 2016. Neuron started in Singapore and developed and launched the first e-scooter sharing program in the World! When we started people often questioned why we used ‘toys’ to tackle a transport challenge; after 2018 a switched flipped, scooters became ‘cool’ and people embraced the scooter revolution. Neuron was always on the forefront of technological innovations, with some of the first technology solutions for micro-mobility!
It was never really about the scooters! I was an Automotive Engineer, and for me it didn’t matter if it had 2 wheels or 4, if it’s sheltered or not, standing or sitting. When we started, we were device agnostic, and didn’t even know we’d end up with scooters, we focused on building a technology platform to support transport.
I used to race cars in France, and about 13 years ago I saw a bike sharing program there which really challenged my thinking as an Engineer. Rather than how I could design the next interesting bike or car, I started considering how the transportation problem was fundamentally a system problem and not a device problem. This drove me to think on a system level, taking me beyond engineering and into innovation; how could I solve transportation problems en masse?
What about your Co-Founder?
Harry is a Data Scientist and a Statistician — he looks at the numbers! We met on a scholarship programme before university. We’re both from China, but we’ve both spent half of our lives outside of China. Together, we established that mobility patterns on a micro level are very random, but on a macro level, they are very predictable. So, this led to the question; how do we merge data science, AI and analytics together with innovation and engineering to solve system transportation? A pretty big question! That’s the when and why we started Neuron.
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
Sure! I have 2 boys, which is probably quite rare for an entrepreneur at this stage of a company. They are 4 and 6, so I spend loads of time with them playing and watching them grow. I think being curious is key, and they are both growing up to be very curious which I’m sure will allow them to both find interesting and exciting paths in life!
I also love to travel and truly believe it helps shape your world view. It shakes the beliefs you often hold firm, and makes you see and consider things from many other points of view.
What did you do before Neuron?
Neuron is my second start-up, the first was in renewable energy. My passion lies at the intersection of two industries; renewable energy, and the future of transportation. The first start-up addressed the first half of the equation, building solar power plants, and Neuron was founded to solve the second half, how to use electricity after it was produced.
What do you love about being an Entrepreneur?
For me, entrepreneurs tackle new problems. Defining the size of the problem and considering ways to solve them leads you into unknown territories and uncharted space. There is always a great number of uncertainties, so it’s all about learning, and often who can learn the fastest. That’s why it’s exciting, you get to discover the world in a whole new way every day!
I’m assuming that it hasn’t all been smooth sailing?
I think a great measure of how much you are learning as an entrepreneur, is to stop and reflect on how many of those ‘oh damn’ moments you have; the ones where you look back and think ‘why was I so naïve 3 months ago?’, ‘why did I do that?’. You must constantly evolve, learn, and build your knowledge of the world.
When we started, we knew very little because no one had done it before us, we’ve pivoted a number of times and made so many mistakes along the way, which has made it so interesting. We innately have, and also promote a very high level of self-awareness in the Neuron team. We acknowledge that we don’t know everything and embrace a culture of self-reflection to allow and encourage mistakes, in order to keep learning and growing as a business.
Can you share a couple of examples?
Yes, of course!
The first was back in the very early days, when we had no benchmark or reference, so we were in the dark imaging our own way out. We launched the first docked station for electric scooters and ran it for several months, before painfully realising that we had to pivot away from station-based services to a free-floating model. This was certainly a pivotal moment, to make this switch after a considerable time of investment in the first model! Looking back, it was a very important decision for us, and one which has been instrumental to our success.
The second, led to our decision to pivot away from expansion across SE Asia. From Singapore we began to scale across Thailand, Malaysia and had a very big learn that Singapore was very different to some of the other SE Asian countries. It was a huge decision for us to refocus the business on the ‘lookalike’ markets of Australia, New Zealand, and soon the UK!
What impact has the recent $18.5 million Series A funding had?
Firstly, market expansion; allowing us to even think about the UK. Secondly, the ability to start building a really exciting team and continue building on innovation.
So, the expansion the UK is exciting. Why the UK?
After the pivot to build out Australia and New Zealand, they became our ‘home markets’, and we put a lot of emphasis on developing them to become the success they are today. The next step for Neuron was to identify other ‘lookalike’ markets, whilst considering all the economic, climate, social and infrastructure challenges in each. The UK became the obvious choice.
It comes with its own unique challenges, but many of the macro parameters, complexity of the market, language, culture etc. are a closer fit and less complex than other markets. Timing is also key, and now is the time. The whole country is looking at how to tackle the transportation system each city is facing. The UK Government has set aside £2 billion in the coming years, and there will be huge positive steps towards greener and more active forms of transportation.
Where in the UK?
What’s currently happening in the UK is a process that most stakeholders didn’t expect. The Government wanted to do a controlled trial in 4 areas of the UK in 2021, but Covid has forced a shift in terms of transportation priorities. The program has been brought forward and rather than the planned 4 transport zones, the focus will be nationwide, where each city can make its own transportation decisions.
All councils now have the opportunity to embrace the trial over the coming months. These time frames are very ambitious and present logistical challenges of how to move quickly once the new law is passed in the coming weeks. The challenges for cities, regulators and operators are evolving by the hour! In response, we are working with brightsmith to build a nimble and flexible UK team who can adapt quickly as the situation evolves.
How do you see the competitive landscape unfolding in the UK?
The interesting things when it comes to competition in this industry is that it’s a very localised business within individual councils. The question to them is ‘who is best positioned to provide services to your city?’ We’ve been operating in Australia, the most regulated market in the world, a market where no one else could put their wheels on the ground, which is very different to how things work in the US or other parts of Europe.
The UK is following the path Australia has taken in the last couple of years, and although we come from further afield than some, we are committed to building a localised presence, and becoming a part of each community we operate within.
What have you learnt from your success in Australia and New Zealand?
We operate in a range of different city types, cities like Adelaide and Auckland with a million or so people, Brisbane with 2 million and many smaller cities too. We’ve had fantastic results across cities of all sizes which gives us great confidence for our success across all UK cities.
What’s next for Neuron?
It’s a very dynamic industry, with ample market opportunity and a lot of consolidation. Whilst we continue to expand geographically, we continue to focus on innovation.
I think it’s also key to consider that Neuron isn’t a ‘scooter company’; could the wheels be bigger? Yes. Could you sit on it? Yes. We often joke that we could be a ‘flying carpet company’! For us, we are simply a short distance mobility solution, driven by innovation and technology.
What advice would you give to the next generation of start-up entrepreneurs?
We don’t focus on the competition, we believe in focusing on what we are working on, servicing our customers, innovating and developing the right product market fit for us. Start-ups seldom get killed by others, they normally fail from not looking within or learning from themselves!
Thanks Zachary, we really look forward to our partnership developing and building out the UK business with you!