Amsterdam-based Dott’s over 3-year long journey has been dotted with many milestones. The latest being its €62.2M Series B extension round, announced earlier this month. This brought the total Series B funding raised to over $150M (approx €133M) in a mix of equity and asset-backed debt, including the $85M announced in the Spring of 2021.
The Amsterdam-based micro-mobility company has also grown its operations to cover 36 cities in 9 countries across Europe – Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Poland, Spain, and the UK. At the end of 2021, Dott added 10,000 e-bikes to its fleet of over 40,000 e-scooters, providing more choice to its riders, who took 130 per cent more trips than in 2020.
Since its inception in 2018, Dott has been riding high and this ‘soonicorn’ is well on its way to evolving into a unicorn. And the two people who have been steering this company to success are its founders Henri Moissinac and Maxim Romain.
That’s why, for this week’s Founder in Focus interview series, we have chosen to focus on these two prolific founders of Dott.
Here are the edited excerpts:
SC: How would you describe yourself as an entrepreneur? What was the inspiration or Eureka moment for creating Dott?
Maxim: I am not a born entrepreneur. I, however, love to solve hard problems and I am passionate about improving the lives of people in cities having lived in many big polluted cities in Asia and Europe. So, what happened is that I realised a few years ago that shared micro-mobility had a huge potential to improve the life of people in cities by replacing cars and motorbikes. You were putting shared bikes on the streets, people were using them. No advertising needed. The problem was that most operators were doing it wrong at that time. Bikes were often poor quality and were littering the streets. Municipalities were in conflict with operators. So, I felt a strong desire to create Dott as a responsible company, to make shared micro-mobility work this time. And this is how I became an entrepreneur, working with the team every day to transform mobility in cities.
Henri: I like to solve people’s problems, often starting with the problems I experience myself as a consumer. I love to participate in building the products and experiences that solve these. This is how I ended up working in e-commerce (eBay), mobile and social networking (Facebook) and mobility (Uber) in the very early days of these companies when we were just starting to build the right solutions.
Fast forward, the Eureka moment for Dott was when we understood we could offer the same freedom as the one people have with their personal vehicle, with the availability, reliability and affordability of shared services, almost like public transit. If you bring this all together, you can get people to ditch their cars and help the planet without them losing their freedom
SC: What were some of the initial challenges that you faced while setting up Dott?
Henri: Like with every previous experience, it’s the same type of nay-sayer and doubts on new services like this. Many did not believe consumers would put their credit card on the Internet to buy stuff, or post photos of their families on social media, or take a car that you could summon with the press of a button on your mobile phone. The same type of nay-sayer exists for micro-mobility. And we’re proving them wrong. Users love the service, it’s good for the city, it’s clean for the planet, and it can be a profitable business. It’s important to stay optimistic, a bit naive too, and relentlessly focus on solving consumer problems while not listening to all the nay-sayers.
SC: What was it like to hire your first team member?
Maxim: We were lucky to start the company with a group of people that had already worked with Henri and me. This made us immediately effective. We already knew how to work together and trusted each other. For the first “external” hire, which happened to be our CTO, it was all about selling the dream, and we succeeded!
SC: What was your first office like? How has your office evolved over the years?
Henri: I always tell the teams to take photos of their desks, their teams and their offices all the time. Because it’s changing so fast as we are growing. If you work in a start-up, do this all the time. These will be some of your most cherished souvenirs.
SC: What are some of your most memorable memories during Dott’s journey?
Henri: One of the first riders I met randomly and they did not know I worked for Dott. He said to me, “Mate, this thing is fantastic, you have to try, let me show you!”
SC: How did your Silicon Valley experience prepare you for your journey with Dott? Any specific lessons learnt during your previous stints that helped you during a tight spot with Dott?
Henri: (1) The best product wins — not money, nor Powerpoint. Silicon Valley has proven again and again that fresh, new and small companies can solve giant problems sometimes in better ways than larger companies.
(2) The journey is 1 per cent complete. Stay relentless about shipping and iterating on your product. Don’t congratulate yourself on your v1 or v2
Maxim: Non-Silicon Valley companies have also brought us other learnings that we incorporated into Dott. One example is the importance of building a strong team culture from the beginning which was a big learning for me at Decathlon where employees were so strongly united by common values that they were said to “pee blue” (the colour of the Decathlon brand). This is why our first brainstorm ever at Dott was about the type of culture we wanted to build and since then we have stuck to it which has ensured a great level of cohesion in the team.
SC: Was it difficult to seek VC investment for your company? What were some of the key challenges you faced while seeking your first investment?
Henri: Increasingly investors have rigorous criteria around environmental, social and governance considerations. This is the focus of our business and is central to our conversations with investors. We are consistently measuring our impact on the environment, offering the most efficient way to get around whilst reducing pollution and congestion in cities. Our investors are very supportive and involved in our plans to reduce our impact on the environment, and can bring their expertise from other businesses they work with.
SC: What is your long-term vision for your company? Do you have an exit strategy in mind?
Maxim: We believe in a future where cities are pollution-free and designed for humans. To support this change, we want to become the preferred and most sustainable service for every trip that is not by foot or public transit. This transformation in cities will take time and we are here for the long run. So, independently from exit strategies for our investors, the most important thing for us is to build Dott as a self-standing company.
SC: When would you consider your company to be a success?
Maxim: Success for us is about transforming the way people move in the cities where we operate. When we see a majority of people moving daily on shared micro-mobility vehicles, we will have been successful. We already see signs of this in cities where we are the most established, for example in Lyon where 40% of the adult population are regular users of Dott. This means that we are really becoming a part of everyday life in the city and people are using our service to travel regularly rather than as a novelty.
SC: What would you advise your younger self? Are there things that you would do differently if given a chance?
Henri: Do you surf? It’s a bit the same for company building. When you are young, follow the right leaders and learn as much as you can. Watch how they read new technologies and consumer trends – they come in waves – and how they build products for that. As you get more experienced, constantly scan the horizon for the next wave, one day, you’ll know it’s the right one for you to start.