Ben Bear, the CEO of shared micromobility operator Spin, is stepping down from his role just a couple of months after the company was purchased by Tier Mobility, another shared operator with a large European presence.
In Bear’s place will be Philip Reinckens, a Tier veteran who, as of June 6, will be responsible for leading the new direction of Spin, including accelerating the integration with its new parent company.
“It’s been a whirlwind since I took over last year,” Bear told TechCrunch. “Really from the first day that I took over, the top objective that I got from Ford was to find a partner, and I feel like we’ve landed the plane on that and it’s a perfect time to step aside and accelerate us becoming one company while keeping the DNA that has made Spin the top choice of cities. ”
When Tier acquired Spin from Ford in March, it marked the German company’s entrance into the North American market.
Reinckens, who is relocating with his family from Munich to San Francisco, has held several roles at Tier in Germany, including most recently the VP of business transformation. Prior to that role, Reinckens served as general manager of a European region comprising six countries.
Before joining the micromobility landscape, Reinckens worked as a strategy consultant in the automotive industry for companies like Volkswagen and Faurecia, a Tier One supplier.
We sat down with the new CEO to talk about Tier’s plans for Spin’s future growth, and why he’s the person to lead that transition.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
TC: You come from an automotive background. What lessons have you taken from that world and applied to shared micromobility?
Philip Reinckens: After working for Volkswagen and Faurecia, I switched sides to external consulting, but still focused on the automotive and mobility industry. That was back in 2013. We were supporting OEMs and suppliers with all the hot topics of the day around electrification, autonomous mobility, connectivity and all that, I was really drawn into that.
Normally with consultants, either you stay until you become a partner or you look for a good opportunity to go out into the field and do something on your own. For me that came in 2019 when the German market opened to micromobility. I knew that the scooter segment was really going through the roof in North America with a lot of heavy VC funding, so I was super curious about doing consulting for a startup.
So what I take out of automotive, but especially my background as a consultant, is the willingness to work and deliver fast and focus on what’s important. I think being quick in execution and also doing long hours is something you learn in consulting, and when we launched Tier in the German market, I was working way more than I used to because suddenly we had eight cities to manage from day one. I really like the independence and the speed of a startup.
Where do you see the biggest opportunities for change and growth with Spin?
Spin already excels at a lot today. They were the first to do sidewalk riding detection, everything they’ve done around winning university campuses, the hubs and charging systems… those are really excellent USPs. So it’s worth focusing on and strengthening those.
I want to focus on the consumer experience, having the right features but also providing reliable mobility, which means having the right scooter at the right point in time at the right spot. Tier has a lot of learnings there that we can bring over.
We want to go all in on swappable batteries. It changes the way operations need to be run because simply you cannot put scooters every morning in the same place where you know that the conversion is great, but you have to find ways to reallocate and rebalance the scooters in the most efficient manner. And so my strategy for the next 12 months is to really make sure that this integration is a success, that we are tapping into the synergies and efficiencies as a joint company and build on what Spin is already great at, while also finding some some levers into the European market. We are already in talks over some great initiatives and partnerships to potentially look into further expansion.
You mentioned Spin’s sidewalk riding tech, which comes from Drover AI. Tier also recently purchased Fantasmo, bringing its camera positioning technology in-house. Given Bird and Lime’s recent announcement about working with Google’s ARCore tech, which is similar to Fantasmo’s, is Tier thinking of bringing those capabilities to the US, either alongside Drover’s or instead of it?
Everybody at the moment is looking into these kinds of technologies. Parking and rider behavior is the number one criteria for winning cities. But if you look and compare the different competitors, like Luna, Fantasmo and Drover, they seem to be similar, but in terms of capabilities, they’re very different. One is advanced in this direction. The other one is advanced in that direction.
Fantasmo’s biggest asset is around parking, and Drover is especially strong on sidewalk detection. At the moment we’re super happy to be working with both of them and everyone has the right tech for different use cases. In the US it’s different than in Germany.
So parking isn’t an issue in the US?
Not as much compared to Germany because here there are lots of racks and physical locks which can be used. There’s also a lot more free floating and free parking in Germany and France and the UK where Fantasmo’s tech makes more sense.
How do you envision Tier in Europe working with Spin in North America?
It’s clear that you need to focus one brand on one continent. But between the companies and the different USPs and strengths and capabilities, clearly the entire acquisition is there to leverage the strength and to make both companies better.
Consumers in North America at the moment have a very strong relationship with Spin, and Tier is a completely unknown brand. At the moment, switching that would risk losing customers.
Tier has been on a buying spree lately, both vertically and horizontally, in order to expand into new markets. Is Tier considering any more acquisitions in North America?
At the moment, it’s unclear to say. As you can imagine with nextbike, Spin and Fantasmo, we have a tough integration to do. Quality goes first. Quantity second.
Spin has a lot going for it in terms of tech and relationships with cities, but some have said being backed by Ford resulted in a lot of cash burn. And obviously, the unit economics for micromobility aren’t quite there yet. So is there anywhere in particular where you see room for improvement in terms of decreasing overhead or increasing revenue?
Having worked for big car companies before, I really know how corporations look internally and how they’re sometimes comfortable in terms of spending. I believe this is the biggest difference between Spin and Tier. Tier has 100% startup DNA where we really look out for our cash burn. I think that’s also what brought us into the position to be able to compete with Bird and Lime and others, that we were the most capital-efficient companies. I mean, otherwise we would not have been backed by SoftBank and Goldman.
It’s in our DNA to be cost-conscious, and to tie ecological sustainability to financial sustainability. We can only provide an alternative mobility solution if the unit economics behind it are sustainable, and that means not losing money on a per-ride basis. This is one of the big strengths we have and where we can certainly help Spin get better going forward.
Can you give me an example of how Tier’s been good at cost saving?
Well, we talked about swappable batteries, and we were the first player to go all in on that technology, which allowed us to lower variable costs significantly. When I look back at the days of the first Corona wave in Europe, we saw that due to our cost advantages, which we got through swappable batteries and in-housing all our operations, we were able to keep our scooter fleet on the streets even during lockdown when all the other competitors in Germany had to pull theirs.
We were able to provide basic mobility even though movements on the streets were significantly lowered, but we caught that little bit of demand. And people were scared then of using public transport so a lot of customers then saw that micromobility is a good alternative.
Zooming out to the industry at large, your biggest competitors in the US are Lime and Bird, and in Europe, possibly Bolt and Voi. Is there anything you think your competitors are doing right? Or alternatively, doing wrong?
Let me start with Bolt. They have recently raised a massive round. But you really have to also acknowledge that their business is just different. They’re using micromobility as an acquisition tool for their ride-hailing and food delivery / quick e-commerce business. So it’s not entirely comparable.
When I look at Bird, for instance, I am surprised to see that they have not invested into swappable batteries. I understand the reasons from their perspective. But as the whole industry has moved toward swappable batteries, I’m just surprised that they’re the only ones, out of the big ones, to still stick with that. Also, with their platform model, they haven’t focused on the city. And I think right now we’re in a phase where we see that focusing on the city is crucial.
Bird is one of the only public shared micromobility companies. Does Tier have any plans to go public soon?
Right now? Look at Bird’s stock. I think the elephant in the room is that Bird didn’t choose the right timing. That’s just bad luck. Maybe also the vehicle itself as a SPAC – I’m not a big fan of SPACs, to be quite honest. But I mean, it’s just sad that as a representative of an entire segment, that they are getting bashed so heavily. I think the market is overreacting on Bird, and it doesn’t do the industry any good.