There’s a new sensation on the streets of Berlin: the fume- and noiseless electric scooters called unu, which operate with portable battery. The team behind unu claims to be not only a smart mobility company, but part of a new generation of urban citizens. Their mission is to bring transportation to the 21st century and enable all people to embrace the full potential of big city life.
We asked co-founder and CXO Elias Atahi about the future of mobility, the unu culture and their vision for the next decade.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO BECOME AN ENTREPRENEUR?
I had an idea how I could change my environment. I wanted to have an impact and it’s impossible within traditional companies.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA FOR UNU?
When we started unu, me and my co-founder, Pascal were still students. We traveled around the world for the first time in our lives to explore cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong and Singapore. That was the point when we found our love for the urban lifestyle. At the same time we were shocked. Asian megacities have such a rich culture, but the people living there don’t have access to it because of the troublesome hustle of getting from A to B.
I’ve talked to lot of Beijing citizens, who shared their wisdom with me. When you live in Beijing you plan to do a maximum of two things per day in different locations: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. That’s simply because you have to prepare to be stuck in traffic for several hours. These people spend half of their lives being on the way, and we wanted to change that. Our mission is to close the gap between the urban population and the urban life.
HOW DO YOU SEE THE FUTURE OF URBAN MOBILITY?
In 7 to 12 years, living in a big city like Berlin will look completely different. People won’t own cars, ride the subway or take taxis anymore. Shared, autonomous vehicles will be driving around on the streets instead.
Imagine the following: you choose your route with the help of an app, book a car that drives to your destination and pay only a few cents per kilometer. It’s obviously super cheap, because the vehicles can accommodate a lot of people at the same time. They are electric, so it’s also a clean solution.
In the future you won’t have the hustle of ownership anymore, no more precious time will be wasted with servicing or parking. Since the new vehicles will be autonomous and shared, there will only be a fraction of them on the streets at the same time. Hopefully mankind will be able to forget what “traffic” meant in the first place.
WHAT’S UNU’S VISION FOR THE NEXT YEARS?
Our ultimate vision is to be the provider of this new kind of urban transportation. We share this vision with companies like Google, Apple or Tesla. On the longer run I don’t know yet what will be the next innovative idea. Maybe it’s beaming…
SO UNU IS NOT ONLY ABOUT THE ELECTRIC SCOOTERS?
Definitely not. If your company only exists to sell one product, then sooner or later it’s going to fail. If scooters will be banned from the streets tomorrow, we still don’t have to worry because we have a vision and know what’s the next step.
The electric scooter was just the beginning. When we came up with the idea, we wanted to build the best possible mobility solution for the city as it is right now. We needed a vehicle that doesn’t need a parking space, avoids traffic and is super affordable, both in terms of the price and running costs.
We opted for a clean solution, which is on the one hand sustainable, but also feels much more useable and approachable for people in big cities. Most of our customers have never driven a petrol scooter before, but driving the unu scooter is just as easy as riding a bike.
We launched about 1 year ago and sold a four digit number of scooters already. Right now we are exploring ways how to make our product faster, cleaner, more affordable and effortless for people to connect with the city; and also have other exciting projects in the pipeline.
YOU MENTIONED YOU LAUNCHED THE COMPANY A YEAR AGO. WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO RELOCATE FROM MUNICH TO BERLIN?
As much as I love Munich from the bottom of my heart, Berlin is much more diverse with its never-ending, rich urban culture. There’s no other city on the planet like Berlin. It’s unu’s home base. To us having an office in Kreuzberg is perfect. It represents what we stand for.
WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF HAVING A STARTUP IN BERLIN VS. MUNICH?
A clever guy once said that if you have a startup in Munich then you really mean it. It’s kind of true because maintenance costs are much higher than in Berlin for example. And of course it’s hard to find other cities like Berlin, which would accommodate startups like SoundCloud, Freeletics or 6Wunderkinder.
However, the city has a hollow hype around its startup culture. To be honest, I don’t think that having an office in Berlin alone would mean that your company has higher chances to succeed. There’s too much hot air and it feels like there’s an app for everything.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE COMPANY CULTURE AT UNU?
Culture is a buzzword nowadays, but I think 90% of the companies don’t really have one. Drinking beer with your coworkers after work is not culture, just sympathy. You don’t necessarily need cool company retreats, free food and Club Mate… In our office back in Munich we didn’t have any of these perks, but still had a great culture.
In my understanding culture means having a shared set of values. It’s basically the brand lived by the people.
At unu we have culture interviews that every candidate has to go through, no matter how stellar CVs they have. Candidates are tested based on the company’s 5 core values to make sure every single team member is a true ambassador of the brand.
HOW BIG OF AN EMPHASIS DO YOU PLACE ON THE TEAM’S PASSION FOR SUSTAINABILITY? WOULD YOU SAY UNU IS A GREEN COMPANY?
That’s actually not part of our core values, so we don’t test candidates for that aspect. In fact, we are a green company, even though we don’t call ourselves that. Unlike some of our competitors, we’re not green because it’s cool. For us it’s natural to come up with sustainable solutions that don’t cause people cancer in 20 years. It’s not even a question.
YOUR ROLE AT UNU IS DEFINED AS CXO. WHAT DOES IT MEAN EXACTLY?
CXO means Chief Experience Officer. I’m the keeper of the brand. Brand defines why do we exist, what do we promise our customers, and what are the key values that guide us in everything that we do. My job is to foster this culture and make sure that everyone at the company carry our values in their hearts. I help our different units to nurture the brand based on different touch points: product, website, test ride pioneers, garages etc.
HOW DO YOU FIND THE TIME FOR YOUR HOBBIES?
Making music is the best possible hobby I can have. Entrepreneurship is full of ups and downs, and when you have all that stress in your life, it’s really cool to just dive into nightlife after a tough week. While the world of business is strict and rational, where your status and influence is what matters, music is emotional and chaotic at the same time. It’s the perfect counter-balance for the startup lifestyle.
I started to structure my day minute-by-minute recently, to have more time for my activities outside unu, and try to design my free time around music.
DO YOU HAVE THE CHANCE TO COMBINE THIS PASSION WITH YOUR DAILY WORK?
At unu we love the urban culture and believe that music is an essential part of it. That’s why we have just started our city tape series in collaboration with amazing local artists of unu cities. As we recently launched in Switzerland, we chose Zurich as the first city, where Adriatique (Adrian & Adrian from Zurich, Diynamic Music Label) collaborated with us and produced the first 60 min mixtape for us. This project is a really exciting combination of my job and my hobby.