By Sampo Hietanen, CEO and Founder of MaaS Global
We’ve just finished another big investment round and brought in some exciting investors. One of them is BP. It is a fascinating strategic partner because of its network of service stations, its broad customer base and its experience in energy and logistics. Especially its presence in today’s traffic through the service station network maybe a unique opportunity when we are building a hub-based future of mobility.
Therefore I thought that I would share my thoughts on this particular investment in MaaS Global and my thoughts on sustainable investment in general. From the very beginning we have looked for funding from industrial investors, not from venture capitalists. The two main reasons for this are that we are in this for the long run and that we are building an ecosystem. We want investors that are not in the game to make a quick buck, but to build the future together with us. They have the resources and the interest to join in on multiple investment rounds. They believe in what we are doing and see a financial reward somewhere along the journey, but they are also in it for the journey. Our investors can feel tectonic plates shifting in the world of transportation and a stake in MaaS Global provides them with a ringside seat to the change as well as a place in the ring, a chance to be a part of the change.
We already have car manufacturers, bus operators, insurance companies and transport service providers as investors. They of course provide funds and advice, but at the same time they are all pieces in the very complicated puzzle we are assembling. When you are disrupting the real, physical world in something as big as mobility, you need a lot of friends and a lot of willing pieces to be connected in order to build something that challenges the status quo.
Investments from major players can of course be problematic. Many promising startups have been taken over by incumbents, not in the marketplace, but through first acquiring the startup and then shutting it down due to cultural differences or lack of patience. Many promising internal startups have also been initiated by corporations, only to be killed after a few hiccups and a change in the corporation’s management. These are recurring patterns that make it, for example, sometimes difficult for them to recruit or hold onto top startup talent.
We know this, and our investors know this. We are open about our policy of taking aboard strong, strategic owners, but not giving any investor a possibility to dictate what we do or turn us into anything we are not. MaaS Global will not become a daughter, we are the family table. This is hopefully a new, emerging start-up structure: we are an independent growth company with a broad industrial owner base.
Seen from our point of view, I believe there are strong arguments to welcome BP as an investor in MaaS Global but I think there is room for a more general discussion on what investing in sustainability and sustainable investments mean. If you are big enough and have been around for long enough, you usually have made a few bad choices along the way, and also choices, that once appeared right but in retrospect have contributed to something undesirable. Does money from companies like that turn the startup it invests in less sustainable?
It might, especially just to improve their sustainability image and keep doing the unwanted thing they are known for. But the other possibility is that it helps them to transform their business towards a more sustainable model. Everybody wins. Nobody wins if they have to stay in the business they are because they are not welcome to invest in change (and because, as we discussed earlier, internal startups rarely work).
So, another way to put this is to say that what the world needs is big, ambitious, world-changing investment opportunities. This is what will turn all the corporate responsibility polishing and greenwashing into real action and real impact. By building companies that challenged incumbents can invest in, we change the world. We do not do that by turning our backs to them and aiming at global disruption with money from friends and family. My prediction is that in 50 years the successful long-running enterprises will be the ones that, even if they had problems with sustainability issues, were determined about investing in alternative technologies. They can’t just shut down, they need investment opportunities.
They also need opportunities to belong to networks. The role of MaaS Global is to focus on the needs of modern consumers, build the best possible service for them and assemble a network that can fulfil their needs. One way to look at building a more sustainable future is that we already have the technologies and the pieces we need, but they just are not connected right. We need connectors. Building startups that attract industrial owners and give them an opportunity to contribute to massive, desirable change, may be one of the most sustainability-oriented initiatives you can take.
The world today offers opportunities like never before, and the need for solutions and investment opportunities is huge. If you have a world-changing idea, this is the best time ever. I’m really happy to work with BP.