It’s hard to fathom that a mere 100 years ago, transportation was not universal.
Fast forward to 2022, innovation has transported us from an era of horse-drawn carriages to supercars that run up to 300 kilometers an hour. Because of the vast growing types of mobility networks, globalization became reality. However, the downside of this: Emissions.
Transportation makes up 37 percent of total global emissions— and according to scientists, we’re at record-breaking levels. Fortunately, the same technological advances that have facilitated this dangerous upward trend, can also become the very thing that saves us.
If you belong to the subgroup of the global population who’s fortunate to have access to planes, trains, buses, and Ubers, you might not understand what it’s like to not have those things in the day to day, Imagine living in a part of the world where you have to walk at least 2km to get to work, or even fetch necessities like water because of the lack of transport mechanisms.
Mobility is not just about comfort and luxury, but it’s an essential need. Proper mobility networks open a plethora of opportunities in trade, business, and education and can serve to be a solution that mitigates the worsening environmental conditions.
We engaged with Jochem Verheul, a technologist and an entrepreneur that has worked on building scalable mobility applications in the past decade with his company, Itsavirus. In continents like Asia and Europe, where Itsavirus is based, there presents a tremendous opportunity to quickly transition cities from no-tech to advanced smart cities. The jump is certainly drastic, but absolutely feasible.
What are some of the benefits of implementing your partnered solutions in Asia and Europe over the U.S.? Are there any barriers you see to scaling these solutions to other parts of the world?
For our existing projects, it’s already a challenge moving within Europe. For example, having your application work in Belgium which is next to the Netherlands is already a big hurdle.
There are legal differences, cultural and language differences. No matter where you operate, your physical presence is required; you need to have people on the ground that can speak the language and understand the culture because there will be clients that call you with complaints and questions. An agile and responsive team is required wherever you choose to operate.
My knowledge of the US is limited, but I can make an educated guess that the challenges of moving out of Asia to the US would be similar to what we’re experiencing with moving around Europe. Just scaling the technology is not enough.
Unlike the majority of tech developments we observe coming out of Silicon Valley and the United States, Jochem has a different outlook on the future of technology and mobility.
In Asia, he sees the opportunity for technology to change an entire society, rather than just be an addition to it.
Have you been surprised by how well your solutions have been received? For example, Europe has been known for being quite encouraging of green technology and legislations that support it.
Europe has existing infrastructure and approaches to mobility challenges that work.
Implementing new tools, especially in mobility always takes time, and time is money. I don’t think change is moving fast enough. For example, Amsterdam has done a phenomenal job in getting cars out of the city with their bike implementation programs, but people often forget that the process has been started since the sixties.
Whereas, in Asia, this is a society that’s drastically different. It has the potential to leapfrog more so than other areas. This is a brilliant position to be in. Just in the last few years, there’s been a big change with these electrical fleets of motorbikes. They are more accessible and cost-friendly, which encourages large-scale adoption.
It’s something that’s already used in daily life but at the fraction of the cost and practically zero emissions.
Seamless ways to move from one area to the next is the goal of these technologies. One topic that’s been heavily discussed in the media and within academic circles is the role blockchain can play in making society better.
I’m interested to hear your insights on the blockchain. What facilitated this move towards using blockchain to facilitate transactions for transportation? Can you talk a little about what you learned from the Blockchain Bus project? (VMC) And feel free to discuss any other current blockchain projects you’re working on.
Blockchain bus was my own startup. It was a venture incubated within the walls of our own company. Unfortunately, we had to shut it down because it was getting too expensive.
From a technical perspective, we had a small team and a limited budget, yet we were still able to pull it off while building everything from scratch including our own hardware.
Having a proof concept versus a production state environment (with industry-grade tech) is a huge step, but we proved it could be done. From a technical perspective, it’s feasible.
However, the full migration of your company to an open system takes time and a lot of money.
It’s also a political issue: the philosophy was that moving around the planet should be done in a way that the profits for companies are logical. I wasn’t very keen on the current exportation model for how people moved. Take Uber, for example, they took their position in the taxi industry, and if you’re an Uber driver, you’re just barely making a living.
In my perspective, it wasn’t fair, so our mission was to create an open, backend network in which anyone could build their own application.
It’s a radically different approach so naturally, the transition to get there will take a while. Ethically people were interested, but the actual implementation is a different story.
That’s why I’m excited to be in Indonesia. Countries like this have the potential to leapfrog from old systems to a completely different, more efficient system.
Digitalization is out of control, which is in our favor.
We have another blockchain venture MelX, and under there we’re building a game and a peer-to-peer marketplace for electric vehicles in Indonesia. It’s super interesting from a technical perspective and an ethical one.
It’s a technology that gives power to the people. It’ll be cool to look back 30 years from now and think ‘wow, we were really at the beginning of something. Like the internet all over again.’
“Countries like this have the potential to leapfrog from old systems to a completely different, more efficient system. Digitalization is out of control, which is in our favor.”
What is one major challenge to mobility you currently see? How do you think this can be solved with tech?
The first thing is technical collaboration. The purpose of mobility technology is for you as a user to be able to use any type of mobility system seamlessly—one app for everything. That means, businesses need to agree to collaborate and spend their money on it. From there, you must build out the connections. For example, we made an app integration for a local bike company but the process takes a long time. Although in theory, a fully connected mobility network seems desirable, in reality, there’s a lot of effort and careful deliberation that goes into connecting all these different types of workflows.
The second thing is the attempts to standardize. For example, an attempt to standardize the API structure for mobility companies is a highly political topic, which causes the standard to change all the time. If it keeps changing, it’s not a standard.
Your client list includes enormous companies like Shell and Heineken and SMEs. What are some of the logistical differences you find between working with smaller vs. bigger companies?
There’s a huge bureaucracy behind big companies and everything takes more time. For example, you go through a design phase, and everything has been agreed upon. Then, without your knowledge, the designs end up with someone at a higher position within the hierarchy and they don’t agree on aspects of the design meaning we have to start all over again. These processes can have way too many iterations and it’s not improving the outcome. Everyone wants to be politically correct which means everyone needs to agree before a decision is made.
It is way more interesting working with smaller companies. These companies have professional teams that know what they’re doing but are small enough to move quickly. It allows for more speedy, synchronous, and creative workflows.
Do you have any philosophies on facilitating a healthy work culture within your teams?
We have relatively autonomous teams that deal with challenges in their own way. We support cross-team collaborations and believe that sharing and being transparent about our processes is important. For example, we’ve recently had a meetup organized by the blockchain engineers. They explained what they were working on to everyone, regardless of what their position is. We never really had a concrete philosophy except that my co-founder and I really wanted a company in which the value of your argument matters, irrelevant of your position. We desire to have a relaxed and down-to-earth culture. “Leave your ego at the door.”
The culture also has a lot to do with the mentality of people in Indonesia. I was surprised by how easygoing people were. When I had my company in the Netherlands I had to spend way more time managing people, their expectations, and dealing with their egos (not that egos are negative, we all have one). People in Indonesia expect from you a very high-quality organization in which everything is going super smoothly, but when that is there, people collaborate in a really easygoing, harmonious fashion.
I don’t ascribe to the top-down model. I think if every decision is from the top-down, you as a leader will be extremely busy which will result in more mistakes. I learned this the hard way
The first thing we did with Itsavirus was to pick an organizational framework that can be used when the company is small but one that also works when we’re scaling.
What does success mean to you?
Success equates to happiness. I’m very happy coming into the office and seeing everyone laughing and working on what they’re passionate or skilled at. It’s rewarding to know that we’ve enabled them to be creative and live a good life. We pay good salaries and offer many additional benefits.
Another thing I’m grateful for is the ability to balance my personal and work life. I exercise once or twice a day, and I can take care of my kids and family. Being healthy, strong, and having the capabilities to take care of the people close to you is very important.
I’m not too concerned about finances but it’s nice to have peace of mind. I remember selling my first company and having that number in my bank account that I’ve always dreamed about. But when I woke up that morning and saw the balance, I almost felt a sense of disappointment. All I really wanted to do was to get back to work, be around bright people, and tackle unique challenges together. I had no desire to buy a boat or a Porsche.
Increasingly Skilled Talent Pools and Leadership Providing Viable Solutions to Mobility
Interoperability, capital, and time remain to be integral challenges to building strong, interconnected mobility networks around the world, but with an increasingly skilled pool of global talent, the solutions to these problems start to become more feasible and realized.
Itsavirus is a prime example of a tech company that’s attempting to alter the entire landscape across these ‘blank slate’ countries with tech and an abundance of creativity and adept leadership capabilities. The power resides in building brilliant teams, which then deliver exceptional innovations to counter these persisting mobility challenges.