When the iPhone was launched, many gave it credit as a consumer gadget but felt that it had no place in business life or in the public sector. Corporate IT departments were used to buying Nokias and Blackberries, which made these phones the choice of the serious people. Nokia’s and Blackberry’s top-of-the-line models were B2B products, whereas iPhones were B2C products.
We all know what happened then. The users did not care about the categories, they cared about their experience, and eventually the new phones beat the ”serious phones” out of the market.
I’m bringing this up because I’m still often asked if MaaS is a B2C product or B2B, or maybe B2G (Business to Government). Whenever I hear the question, I try to invent a new and polite way to say ‘I don’t care’. And a new way to explain why no one should care.
MaaS does not exist because it is technologically possible but because it is environmentally indispensable. We want to get as many cars off the streets as possible, not because we hate cars, but because the carbon emissions caused by traffic are out of control and keep rising and because cities cannot grow if they rely on private car ownership. MaaS exists to change what people think is convenient and desirable in transportation.
You can change consumer behavior with regulation, taxes, or by offering something better. The problem with regulation and taxes is that people often hate them and try to find ways around them. But when you offer something better, first the cool people flock to your product, and then the rest. Therefore every world-changing product must win the consumers’ hearts and minds. Think of the automobile, telephone, washing machine, smartphone, and social media.
Sometimes MaaS is thought of as a technological solution that can be sold to transport authorities (B2G) or transport companies (B2B) to improve their customer experience. And yes, a local transport authority can buy and launch an app that brings its services to the digital age, but in the big picture, this changes nothing. The same people who already used public transportation will keep using it through a new interface.
To drive profound change, you have to onboard new groups by offering them something that has not existed before. First, you have to build the service with the end customer in mind, then you have to make noise about it, and finally, you have to sell it. The selling is the hard part, and something that organizations born to administrate cannot do.
As long as we debate what product category MaaS falls into, we miss the point – and the bus. MaaS should be sold to all, governments, municipalities, companies, and consumers, but its core, its promise to change things, depends on its ability to enchant individuals so much that they decide to ditch their cars.
Radical change gets a lot of likes but attracts only a few makers. When, back in the day, I was trying to decide if we should start the world’s first MaaS operator and if I should lead it, many said they wanted to enable MaaS. Seminars were packed, papers were written, and seed money was available. But when the time came to commit to building it, very few hands went up.
I don’t blame people for not stepping forward and rolling their sleeves. Building something new from the ground up and selling it to customers is excruciating, risky, and costly. It took me a while to convince myself that I should do it. But we all know that moment, that silent tension in the air. Everybody knows something must be done but is looking at the walls or their shoes – until someone breaks the silence and says: ”Screw it, I’ll do it.” In MaaS’ case, it was us.
One of the founder’s most important roles is to keep the discussion and activity on the mark while the world keeps pulling the startup in hundreds of directions. Winning the user is the point. The gatekeepers around the user, while essential and while we should convert them into partners, are not why we are building this.
I’m talking about this because now that people are moving again, MaaS is picking up again. The high energy prices and the ever-worsening reports regarding climate change only strengthen the trend.
Seeing MaaS as something that transport authorities or companies do and drawing conclusions from these local experiences is like someone looking at Facebook in 2004 and judging its potential by its engagement on campus or two. Network effects are powerful, but only when they are allowed to take effect.
While I strongly believe in low entry barriers and robust markets, I am no libertarian. We need to create and enforce markets through smart regulation and incentivize the actors in it. Smart regulation understands that consumers move globally, have needs that change daily or hourly, and are willing to ditch the cars if there’s a great alternative. It also guides consumers toward sustainable mobility options through incentives and remembers that life in a city can and should be fun.
A city-wide mobility app is a minimum viable product to test a user interface. It is the on-campus Facebook. We must set the bar much higher for genuine impact and release a wildfire among end-users to change the world. That is MaaS that matters.