By Sampo Hietanen, CEO and Founder of MaaS Global
I’m not going to kid myself or you and say things are well, that we’re just working from home now and will be back into the old grind soon. No, MaaS Global is in the business of moving people around and when people are not moving, we are seeing our sales drop to a fraction of what they were. For any business this is the definition of a crisis, and for us too, although as a startup, its effects are different than they would be for an established business.
When the corona crisis hit, our first worry was the wellbeing of our staff, our clients and other stakeholders. We move fast and we travel a lot. Where had everyone been, who had they been in contact with? Where were those that needed to self-quarantine? And were they well? The next step was to empty the offices and send people home to work.
All this was done on a whim, after which we focused on our clients and the packages. In just two days after the crisis hit the awareness of folks in Helsinki, 1500 people had subscribed or converted to the package in our selection that is city bike and microbility focused. This enforced our thinking that in a crisis a mobility service like Whim could function as a fall back solution. Our customer service teams of course had to take seriously that fact that in a crisis some of our packages could not deliver all they promised, but even more than that we had to focus on our core promise of getting people where they wanted to go. We have already tweaked some of our packages to better meet the needs of the current situation and will keep refreshing them as the situation develops.
For a tech-savvy company often on the move, working from home was not difficult to organize technically. The mental part was tougher: even though we’ve been getting bigger every day, we are a close-knit team and we love working together in the same space when we can. Being miles apart for extended periods of time is not something we’d voluntarily do.
The social distancing has not led to depression though. Quite the contrary. As the head of the organization it has been exhilarating to watch how quickly the whole staff regrouped – remotely – around the new priorities at hand. Everybody knows that now our future relies more than ever on our ability to innovate, to meet current needs and seize long term opportunities. At a startup you do everything with full force, but within your constraints. When at MaaS Global we cannot focus on sales and iterate based on customer feedback, we have moved a lot of our effort into taking big steps beyond the current crisis. What we have in the works will certainly blow your socks off when the time comes to go public with it.
We are of course aware that this is also what we have to do. As a startup you are given a certain time span to prove yourself. In current circumstances we cannot prove ourselves through scaling our existing product, therefore we must use the time to develop something, that when it comes out, makes everyone say it was worth the wait.
As we look at the environment in which we are working on our new products I think a few things stand out. We’ve always known about the strong link between mobility and economic activity, but now we are getting real-life data on this like never before. Even in the era of teleconferencing, robots and digital services, when people stop moving, economies drive off a cliff.
Another thing that’s more clear than ever is the validity of the core promise of MaaS: multimodal mobility. The more options there are to move about, from public transport to taxis and rental services to healthy underbrush of micromobility, the more resilient the community and the society is. The central idea of MaaS is a promise that we will get you where you need to go, but how we get you there is not fixed. At a time of an emergency or a disruption, the need for alternative modalities and maybe new alternative packages is accentuated.
As an engineer I must say that this is, despite its many terrible outcomes, also a hopeful era. What applies to MaaS Global, applies to many others: resources are being moved from sales into research and development while the world is experiencing never seen before challenges. Innovation will be on steroids for months to come. We will soon see unorthodox alliances, a flood of new products and services, and plenty of radical rethinking that would not have been possible at ordinary times. Currently our minds are blown by the pandemic, soon they will be blown by the new thinking it brought about.