Opportunity for local shared mobility solutions as Bird and Micromobility.com struggle to turn a profit

Opportunity for local shared mobility solutions as Bird and Micromobility.com struggle to turn a profit

Shared mobility companies Bird and Micromobility.com (formerly Helbiz) stormed onto the scene by introducing innovative and convenient transportation solutions, capturing the attention of urban dwellers worldwide. 

However, as the micromobility industry enters a more mature phase, companies like Bird and Micromobility.com continue to grapple with obstacles when it comes to attaining financial stability. This has prompted them to reassess their excessively ambitious expansion strategies. 

What factors contribute to these challenges, and what implications does this hold for the industry as a whole? Could local micromobility ventures provide a superior solution to meet the increasing demand for these services? Let's delve further into the financial predicament of Bird and Micromobility.com to gain a better understanding.

Bird: downsizing and struggles in the stock market

Established in 2017, Bird is a micromobility company that provides electric transportation solutions in the USA and Europe. Their range of shared vehicles includes e-scooters and e-bikes. The company also sells vehicles to distributors, retailers, and direct customers. With its headquarters located in Miami, Florida, Bird currently employs 425 individuals and operates in 105 cities. 

Recently, Bird's first-quarter 2023 financials revealed challenges in maintaining ridership and revenue. Despite implementing cost-cutting measures, the company's performance failed to convince investors of its ability to achieve profitability – the company's stock plummeted nearly 19% after announcing its first-quarter earnings.

In 2022, Bird faced a challenging year. The company announced plans to completely exit Germany, Sweden, and Norway, as well as wind down operations in numerous other markets, primarily small to mid-sized, across the U.S., Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. They also reduced their staff by 23%.

Despite a positive revenue increase of 12.06% in 2022, the company faced substantial losses totaling $358.74 million, marking a significant 66.9% increase compared to 2021. The challenges continued in 2023 as Bird witnessed a decline in rides and deployed vehicles. With a net loss of $44.3 million recorded at the end of Q1 2023, it’s likely that the company will continue to downsize its operations.

Micromobility.com: similar woes despite the acquisition of Wheels and rebranding

Founded in 2015 and headquartered in New York, Micromobility.com delivers micromobility services in Italy, the United States, and Singapore (43 cities in total), which include e-scooters, e-bicycles, and e-mopeds. It also operates Helbiz Kitchen, a delivery-only ghost kitchen restaurant, and the Helbiz Live streaming platform. The company currently employs 284 people. 

In 2023, the company, formerly known as Helbiz, underwent a rebranding and transformed into Micromobility.com Inc. This rebranding coincided with the plans to launch retail stores across the United States.

In 2022, Micromobility.com successfully completed its acquisition of Wheels, a shared micromobility operator, along with promises to its investors that the merger would lead to a doubling of annual revenue and facilitate the path to profitability. The company set its sights on capitalizing on Wheels' extensive user base of 5 million riders and venturing into untapped markets.

Despite these hopes, Micromobility.com experienced less than stellar financial results in 2022. The company achieved a revenue of $15.54 million, indicating a 21.07% growth compared to the previous year's $12.83 million. However, the company also incurred losses amounting to -$82.07 million, reflecting a 13.3% increase compared to 2021.

In 2023, Micromobility.com announced a reverse stock split to meet Nasdaq Capital Market's minimum bid price requirement and make their common stock more attractive to investors. This move didn't come as a surprise, considering that the company received a delisting warning from Nasdaq in 2022. Coupled with its enduring track record of operating losses and negative cash flows over time, the overall outlook of the company's financial performance is rather discouraging.

Why are Bird and Micromobility.com facing financial difficulties and exiting markets?

The difficulties faced by Bird and Micromobility.com can be partly explained by their venture capital-backed business model. They witnessed swift expansion while hemorrhaging substantial amounts of money. And the more they expanded, the more money they bled. Now, it’s unsurprising to witness their heavily subsidized business models shifting their priorities from aggressive growth to mitigating losses and striving for profitability.

In recent years, there has been a surge in the popularity of shared mobility special purpose acquisition companies (SPAC). These companies are created solely for the purpose of raising capital through an initial public offering and have no commercial operations of their own. The ultimate goal of a SPAC is to acquire or merge with an existing company.

Financial struggles have become a common theme among shared mobility SPACs This can be attributed to the rush of companies going public without first establishing a sustainable business model – and Bird and Micromobility.com are no exception to this trend. The challenges faced by these companies emphasize the significance of building a strong and viable foundation prior to entering the public market.

The relentless pursuit of expansion has proven to be an ineffective strategy. For instance, some experts suggest that Bird's decision to outsource its operations to franchises made it harder to persuade cities and secure contracts. Their emphasis on breadth rather than depth resulted in a lack of understanding regarding local communities and the nuances of local legislation. As a result, major players like Bird and Micromobility.com have been withdrawing their fleets from “less profitable” cities.

The soaring shared micromobility market: a golden opportunity for local entrepreneurs

According to a McKinsey study, the shared micromobility market has the potential to reach a staggering $50 billion to $90 billion by 2030, with an estimated annual growth rate of approximately 40% between 2019 and 2030. By 2030, shared micromobility could constitute around 10% of the overall shared mobility market. 

In this context, the recent financial challenges faced by Bird and Micromobility.com should not be seen as indicative of a bleak future for the entire industry. Instead, these setbacks highlight the inherent unsustainability of aggressive and expansive business models within the shared micromobility landscape. 

Local operators with smaller ground teams enjoy a notable edge over companies like Bird and Micromobility.com. By focusing on underserved markets and having an intimate understanding of their communities, these operators can deliver superior service while maintaining lower costs and stable profit margins. 

Returning to Bird's Q1 2023 financial report, they also reported 0.9 rides per deployed vehicle per day. Now, let's compare this figure to other operators. We conducted a survey involving two EU-based operators that make use of Atom Mobility: 

  • Operator 1: With a fleet of 4,000+ vehicles across over 10 cities, they recorded an average ride per vehicle of 0.9 in Q1 2023
  • Operator 2: Operating in a single city with a fleet of 200 vehicles, they achieved an average ride per vehicle of 2.7 in Q1 2023

As fleet sizes increase, the average ride per vehicle tends to decrease, as seen with Operator 1 and Bird. However, the figure from Operator 2 highlights the potential for local operators to thrive in underserved cities that larger shared mobility companies may neglect.

We have seen examples of this – Go Green City, a Swiss electric moped-sharing company, presently provides its services in Zurich and Basel. Their small, tightly-knit team prioritizes local knowledge, enabling them to operate with enhanced flexibility and agility – a level of service that larger companies like Bird or Micromobility.com will find challenging to match. Overall, more than 100 projects have successfully launched their shared mobility ventures with Atom Mobility's assistance, operating in over 140 cities across the globe.

As the desire for shared micromobility services grows – with a focus on community safety and the ethical integration of these modes of transportation into the overall urban transit system – it seems that local operators have a distinct edge over large multinationals.

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