Wim Ouboter founded Micro Mobility Systems in 1999 and works with his two sons, Merlin and Oliver, to remobilize the world. With its scooters, e-scooters and kickboards, Micro Mobility Systems is now the leading global brand in short-range mobility. And the pioneering spirit continues: in 2020, the family unveiled the Microlino 2.0, a small car for urban mobility, and set the next trend in the automotive industry.
As coronavirus continues to dominate headlines, politics and corporate agendas, a new normal is beginning to take shape. EY asked various thought leaders and decision makers to take stock and share their insights into what’s next. For Wim Ouboter, CEO and founder of Micro Mobility Systems, humbleness isn’t something that’s only developed since the COVID-19 pandemic. In our interview, he explains why the “new normal” demands ever more freedom and fulfillment, and why it’s driving greater awareness of sustainability.
Could you describe the current situation for your company?
We are fortunate in that we actually benefit from the exceptional circumstances. Sales of our products are currently up on what they were before COVID, thanks mainly to strong growth in online trade. Our internationality is certainly also an advantage. And then there’s the trend for supporting brands that convey a message. That’s exactly what we do with our products. So from a business perspective, we can’t complain, on the contrary.
Has the way you work at Micro Mobility Services changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?
With employees now working from home, there are of course significantly fewer people physically on site at our Küsnacht location. This has advantages and disadvantages. For me, it’s an opportunity to hold one-on-one meetings with all those in the office. Not necessarily only about business, sometimes about God and the world. I think that’s very much appreciated. On the other hand, team spirit does suffer a bit with so many empty seats. Zooming is just not the same as sitting together as a group. Having said that, as a very international company we were already working with video conferencing tools before COVID. So many of our people and partners are used to it.
For me, it’s an opportunity to hold one-on-one meetings with people in the office.
What does the “new normal” mean to you?
There are several aspects to it. First, the new normal shows that people want more and more freedom and flexibility. The option to work from home is definitely part of that. People appreciate having a fixed day once a week, for example. This is especially true for the younger generation. I also sense that people are increasingly seeking work with a fulfilling purpose. The company behind a job needs to have a vision and a mission, it must stand for something. Nowadays, people don’t work just for the sake of it – they want to make a difference. In my opinion, this trend will really take root and grow stronger in the future.
People don’t work just for the sake of it – they want to make a difference.
You mentioned the keywords vision and mission. What does Micro Mobility Systems stand for?
Sustainability is perhaps the most important global issue of all. And Micro Mobility Systems stands for sustainability. We’ve always done what we can to use as few materials as possible in manufacturing our products, and to conserve resources. Another advantage of our products is their durability. Our kickboards and e-scooters last several years. And if something does break, then the concept of repairability comes into play. We still even repair kickboards that were purchased ten years ago. It’s how we’re doing our bit for the environment and for the next generation. I strongly believe that repairing and reusing products will become more important aspects in the future. A big shift in mindset is currently underway.
So you see sustainability as a key topic in the new normal?
Absolutely. Looking at our Microlino, I can say that every car manufacturer has really understood the imperative to invest in electric vehicles by now. “Downsizing” is a key term here. We have to realize that less is more. And this applies to our company, the industry, and to society in general. The current situation has been good for humbleness and sustainability. As a company with just a few employees, do I really need a huge office complex? Do I really have to drive to the other end of the village when a kickboard would do the job too? The wealthy should be asking themselves these questions as well. A bungalow vacation is nice too. Maybe you can do without the expensive yacht for once – and it’ll be good for your conscience and the environment. These are all questions and issues that will stay with us in the future. They are the new normal.
We have to realize that less is more. And this applies to our company, the industry, and to society in general.
What are your plans for the company in the next couple of years?
Medium term, our big project is to start series production of the Microlino 2.0. We have a vision of a small car that contributes to a better environment and it’s a priority to turn that into reality. Allow me to emphasize that the coolness factor should not be neglected in the process; the Microlino will improve quality of life in the city – true to our slogan “better urban lifestyle”. I want to be right up close and active in realizing this project. After that, I plan to slowly but surely hand over control to my two sons, Merlin and Oliver. They’re already part of our management board and involved in important decisions. When future ventures like finalizing the Microletta – our electric, three-wheeled scooter – come up, I’m sure they’ll already have taken the helm. And I know that they’ll make the right decisions for Micro Mobility Systems in the future.
What advice would you give companies for the next crisis?
As a company, personal responsibility is important. That’s why it’s so crucial to think ahead. You have to take responsibility and ensure you have enough liquidity. My tip for successfully handling any future crisis is to put aside enough capital to cover fixed costs for three years. Because if you can’t survive a difficult phase, then you were doing something wrong beforehand. And if you have done something wrong, you have to be prepared to change direction. I’d also like to urge everyone who’s reading this to stay positive. It really is true that there’s opportunity in every crisis. Not just for companies, but also every human being.
If you can’t survive a difficult phase, then you were doing something wrong beforehand.