Catch a Car AG: The First Free-Floating Car-Sharing Offering in Switzerland
Viviana Buchmann helped make Mobility extremely successful. Now, with Catch a Car, she is running Switzerland's first free-floating car-sharing service and sat down with us to explain how essential long-term thinking is to business success.
You are now the Chair of the Board of Directors of Catch a Car, the new subsidiary of Mobility. As an entrepreneur, what motivated you to leave Mobility, despite its huge success, and take on something new?
Viviana Buchmann: I love the thrill of a new challenge, and with start-ups you are constantly learning new things, which I find exciting and interesting.
What new client needs are you meeting with Catch a Car?
With Mobility, we would often hear from non-clients that the reservation system took away the element of spontaneity. In our modern society, people evidently equate making a reservation with planning ahead. This is where the Catch a Car service comes in. While Mobility is still used for longer, planned trips, Catch a Car is designed for spontaneous, shorter journeys within a town/city; for example, going out in the evening or attending a sports event at lunchtime, traveling to the airport or if you have lots of bags after a shopping trip. The difference lies in the type of use.
Before taking on this new role, you turned Mobility into a huge success within just ten years. What is the secret of your success?
The enthusiasm for this product and the fact that employees strongly identified with Mobility formed the basis for the success. It was also important to break out of the niche market and to raise awareness of the company within a broad target group. The intention was to focus on the benefits of what we were offering rather than what wasn't provided. We also made sure that we involved employees so that we kept the innovative spirit in house. Combined with the client-oriented technological developments, we had a good chance of being successful – and we were.
These days, everyone has heard of Mobility. How did you achieve this level of visibility?
We were very strict when it came to brand management. Firstly, we consistently stuck to our corporate color of red as this meant that we had strong brand ambassadors on the street in the form of our red cars. Secondly, we made sure that we delivered clear messages. Fundamentally, it was also about realigning the image; going from a somewhat homemade brand to a modern lifestyle product. The way we worked with the media and collaboration partners such as SBB also helped to ensure that the brand was positioned correctly. As this model has proven to be so successful, we have also applied it to Catch a Car. We also have a strong presence on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, as our client base is between 25 and 50 years old and very active on social media.
You can only operate a business model like Catch a Car if you have complete digital automation.
What other knowledge did you gain through Mobility that are you bringing to Catch a Car?
The most important thing I learned was putting the message across to potential clients that car sharing is a life-enriching alternative to public transport and therefore a modern means of mobility. We have also been able to draw on our knowledge of client requirements, as the Catch a Car business model – like at Mobility – is based on a service: We are selling the journey, not the car. The key to success is user friendliness. We want to enable straightforward, easily combinable automobility that can – completely or partially – replace a private car.
Catch a Car was initially launched in Basel as a pilot project and is now also available in Geneva. Is it part of your strategy to tackle cities individually?
This undertaking is capital-intensive as we not only need cars, but also a workforce to maintain them. It will also take time for demand to grow. After holding discussions with the political decision-makers of the eight largest cities in Switzerland, we received extremely positive feedback and chose Basel for the pilot project. During this pilot project, the ETH Zurich was commissioned to conduct a study on usage behavior and on the traffic-reducing effect of Catch a Car. Only when we had the positive results as evidence, such as the lower CO2 emissions, were we able to persuade Basel city council to allow us to introduce Catch a Car definitively. Geneva was strategically important in terms of coverage of French-speaking Switzerland. We also want to launch in other cities in the future.
Sustainability is also a form of longevity when it comes to the future of our planet. How useful is Catch a Car from an environmental perspective?
Car sharing enables people to get around without restrictions, even if they don't own a car. The fewer private cars on the roads, the more positive the effects in terms of the environment, energy consumption, and traffic. Our cars have low fuel consumption and CO2 emission levels, and we are now also using natural gas-powered vehicles that have practically no emissions.
Digitalization has played a huge role in the success of Mobility. To what extent are these technologies also used in the new business model?
Mobility acts as Catch a Car's technology supplier. Mobility was a business where every centime counted, so we turned to crowd sourcing, and therefore to complete automation, very early on. You can only operate this kind of business model if you have complete digital automation.
How do you respond to the criticism that this kind of complete automation means losing the human touch?
We maintain proximity to our clients through surveys within our dedicated community and through active blogging, as well as via our 24-hour service center, which is not just there for emergencies. This focus on customer service is extremely important to us and, combined with the functional technology, this probably embodies exactly what the face and image, and therefore profile, of the company represents.
Catch a Car is a joint-stock company rather than a cooperative like Mobility. Why did you choose this legal form?
Let's start by asking why Catch a Car was separated from Mobility. Firstly, we needed to make sure that there was a clear differentiation to avoid any confusion; secondly, we worked with partners AMAG and Allianz, as well as SBB and EnergieSchweiz, from the start because this is a very capital-intensive business. It also made sense to combine these synergies for this offering. Following the pilot phase, AMAG and Allianz came on board as investors because they wanted to gain experience in the development of the mobility market.
We are really benefiting from the fact that we have these shareholders on our Board of Directors and the support of EnergieSchweiz and SBB as strategic partners.
How does the Board of Directors work in terms of members engaging in strategic dialogue with one another?
We have brilliant, experienced people on the Board of Directors who engage in discussions at a very high level and help to reach decisions. However, the success of the business also depends very much on the employees who are involved in day-to-day operations, because they are the ones who receive daily feedback from the market.
How important is consistency and long-term thinking for the success of the business?
Mobility certainly owes part of its success to its legal form as a cooperative, because it does not have to work toward short-term returns and is able to reinvest its profit in innovations such as the further development of software. While this does not immediately generate additional journeys, it does improve convenience for the client. This long-term thinking is essential in business models like Mobility and Catch a Car, because it is guided by individuals' attitude to mobility.
With regard to the long-term approach, this business model is very similar to family-run businesses where the employees are also an essential part.
I support that statement 100%. The enthusiasm of our employees and their focus on customer service is one of the factors contributing to our success. And we can only benefit from committed employees if we include them in the decision-making process. Our contemporary offer enables employees to be part of modern mobility in a start-up where they have the opportunity to contribute to and help shape all areas. This creates job satisfaction and secures employees' long-term commitment to a company, which is an invaluable asset.