One small step for man, One giant leap for mankind!
Asia being the largest market for motorcycles presents huge opportunities for Ion Mobility. The team at Ion Mobility is shaping the personal transportation space by replacing combustion engine motorcycles with their pollution-free electric motorcycles.
In this month of Startup Conversations, we caught up with founders, James & Joel as they shared with us their story of building a mobility company in detail. Read on to find out more as they also dropped many inspiring tips for aspiring start-up founders.
Tell us about Ion Mobility. What made you start Ion Mobility, is there a story behind it?
James: Ion Mobility is an electric mobility startup headquartered in Singapore with teams in Singapore, Indonesia, and China. We design, assemble, and support our smart and connected electric motorcycle products in Southeast Asia, starting with the Indonesian market.
Joel Chang and I are on a mission to accelerate motorcyclists’ transition from Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) to Electric for the over 200 million ICE motorcycle population in Southeast Asia, so as to drive a sustainable future for generations to come. Southeast Asia is the world’s third-largest motorcycle market behind China (#2) and India (#1), offering us a large canvas upon which our team can innovate and create impact for consumers and business fleet operators.
In Singapore, ICE motorcycles are on EURO-4 standards, while Indonesia is still on EURO-3. Europe has just transitioned to EURO-5. This shows how motorcycles in Southeast Asia are typically lagging behind the curve in emissions standards.
The transportation sector of any country is typically the second largest contributor to national greenhouse gases, behind the power generation sector. In Singapore, the government has done a great job in limiting the transport sector to ~14.5% of our national carbon dioxide output. That figure is about double for Indonesia, at 29.7%.
Also, despite its seemingly superior fuel efficiency, motorcycles on average produce twice as much CO2 per passenger-kilometre when measured from well-to-wheel.
Outside of Singapore, consistent regulation and enforcement of post-sale ICE motorcycle emissions can also be difficult, resulting in significantly higher levels of unburnt hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide from unauthorized aftersales modifications.
There is no reason why the trusty motorcycle shouldn’t join the rank of devices that form part of our digital flow in the Internet era. Our data-driven approach will enable us to develop better-received products over time, and drive superior user experience. We aim to launch our Model 1 in Indonesia in 1H-2021, COVID-19 permitting.
Joel: James and I were actually introduced by a mutual friend, who eventually became our first investor. So one tip for startup founders looking for your first investor cheque is to ask your potential investor to recommend a co-founder. That may increase your chances that the same investor will give you both an early vote of confidence. Another insight here is the value of people’s connections and networks in achieving your goals. Being a genius coder or superb data scientist is one thing. The ability to attract and lead a crack team of collaborators accomplishes meaningful value beyond the self.
My 12 years in BMW taught me the power of brand and product building but more so, opened my eyes regarding the continuous need for innovation at all levels. Just as ICE engines have driven our industrial revolution for the past 200 years, the next mobility lap for human civilization has to be cleaner, more efficient, and better. Why should the cost of mobility continue to be our health from bad air and the environmentally unsustainable burning of dinosaur juice?
Just as the bicycle had revolutionized personal mobility, we believe electric motorcycles can not only augment 4 wheels EVs but also lead the overall acceleration towards EV conversion especially in emerging regions like Southeast Asia, which is home to more than 200 million petrol-guzzling ICE motorcycles. Starting Scorpio Electric allowed me to learn and gestate the practical strategies for accelerating this transition towards affordable and desirable 2 wheel mobility. This time around, having teamed up with James to co-found Ion Mobility, we are ready to execute on this vision with a complete team and game plan.
Have your personal values impacted the current values of your organization?
Joel: Our startup represents a culmination of our shared values and principles of impactful work, meaningful mission, transparency, and utmost respect and integrity for one another, our partners, and the communities we seek to serve.
James: It’s always the case for founders and their personal values to have a large impact on the organization they start and run. The only way to enshrine these personal values as that of our organization over time is for us founders to lead by example and be consistent. I cannot emphasize the importance of building a diverse team bound together by a shared vision, mission, and core values.
Creating a homegrown 2-wheeler must be daunting, what were some of your biggest challenges when starting out and how did you overcome them?
James: We’re either crazy or geniuses to try to do this from Singapore! Time will tell, and we hope to beat the odds in the months and years to come.
Joel: I think our biggest challenges have yet to come; this is a marathon and not a race. Having said that, I think the biggest challenge for us at the beginning was to convince others to take risks and commit their careers, time, and resources on this journey with us; be it whether they are our early investors, partners, or team members.
James: Joel and I aren’t first-time entrepreneurs. We’ve been around the block enough times to know what we’re up against. I think entrepreneurship is a never-ending series of challenges at every step of the way. Mental stamina and self-awareness are important traits for aspiring entrepreneurs. Capital is also important; fortunately, Joel and I were able to bootstrap this on our own to complete our functional Model 0 prototype to prove our initial execution ability and understanding of the product and industry. Even then, our own capital was limited, and we soon had to reach out to like-minded investors to join us on our grand challenge. We have a 10-year roadmap, and we tapped on our decades of combined experience and personal relationships to raise funding, build our core team across Singapore, Shenzhen, and Jakarta, and develop our Model 1.
What considerations did you have when choosing Indonesia as your first market, over other countries in the region?
Joel: We’ve addressed this partially earlier; Indonesia is the world’s 3rd largest motorcycle market by new sales after China and India. It’s a large market with close geographical proximity to our headquarters in Singapore. The Indonesian government is also leading our region with progressive pro-EV regulation and frameworks to accelerate the transition by motorcyclists and develop a domestic EV industry and supply chain.
James: Apart from more proactive government policies and a larger population, another interesting metric that got us to choose Indonesia over Vietnam was its lower motorcycle ownership per 1000 population. This means the Indonesian motorcycle market is less saturated than Vietnam’s and may experience faster growth rates in the coming years.
What are some of the key features that you want users to remember about Ion Mobility’s 2-wheeler?
James: Affordable, desirable, and high tech. Put simply, a better mobility solution when compared side by side with equivalent petrol ICE motorcycles.
Ion Mobility raised a round with AngelCentral in early 2020, how have the funds benefited your organization since then?
James: It has enabled us to build out our core team and capabilities quicker and rely less on external partners. The vote-of-confidence from our AngelCentral syndicate led by Toh Capital also gave subsequent investors further confidence. In addition, Toh Capital’s experience in financing and operating Lion City Rentals has been helpful in sharpening our business assumptions and projections.
COVID-19 has impacted everyone, how has the lockdown from the various countries impacted the business? What did Ion Mobility do to mitigate its effect and seek opportunities from it? How successful were your efforts?
Joel: We have had to balance our resources and vehicle development between China and Singapore while postponing our Indonesia team buildout. Part of our development is in China, so we lost momentum there when China went into lockdown. But now that China has reopened and our part of the world remains in lockdown, we’ve had to rely more on our China team to maintain our development speed while using the work-from-home time to grow our team in Singapore and prepare for a development acceleration once we exit our Circuit Breaker.
We are lucky to not have launched our products unlike some of our ICE or EV peers who faced losses from the depressed retail activity and higher inventory levels. In our case, COVID presents great opportunities for us in hiring great talent and negotiating better terms from our supply chain as the world rebalances away from global trade towards regional trade. We’ve had to postpone our product launch by at least a quarter as we continue to monitor the COVID situation on the ground in Jakarta, but we’ve also taken the time to raise more money and take more time to build a better Model 1.
James: The very fact that we were able to raise venture and angel capital in COVID-times, starting from January through June, proves that capital will always seek teams working on meaningful challenges in interesting markets, regardless of crises.
Moving forward, what are your general sentiments of the industry Ion Mobility is in? How do you think Ion Mobility is positioned to capture the opportunities available?
James: Health, air quality, and environmental awareness have taken center stage thanks to the COVID crisis; more specifically, the EV industry as a whole has received a greater impetus. All indications are pointing to an increase in interest and demand for renewables and more personalized mobility during and after COVID. I think this will be more visible in emerging regions like Southeast Asia where the fiscal burden of imported fuel and poorer energy efficiency will weigh heavily on strained governments and weak recessionary economies.
For economies to recover and livelihoods to return to a new normal, people have to stay mobile but do so in safe and affordable ways. This is not measured purely in monetary terms, but also cost efficiency that takes into account negative externalities to our communities, such as impact to the environment and air quality.
Ion Mobility is poised to lead this revolution with our affordable and desirable Model 1 electric motorcycle in a way that no EV car or electric bicycle can do for the 650 million people of Southeast Asia.
To end it off, do you have any words of advice for aspiring start-up founders?
Joel: Pursue your true north with meaningful impact and be relentless in your grit and determination to galvanize others to join and aid you. Think better and never give up.
James: Flow + Filter + Action = Results.
Learn to generate flow (opportunities), but do not get lost in it, lest you become the “kid in the candy store”, spoiled for choice, and unable to pick what you want to focus on. Don’t let someone else decide your flow for you; learn to find places to fish.
Develop the awareness to filter from your generated flow; evaluate risks vs opportunities and match it to your passion, traits, and set of cards you’re dealt with. Act on your filtered path, and attenuate while sustaining your actions. Nothing of value is ever easy and can be built quickly.
With some luck, your flow, filter, and actions can give you results.
About Ion Mobility
ION Mobility’s mission is to create affordable, desirable, and sustainable mobility for everyone. ION Mobility is committed to creating great products and seamless user experiences for our customers. Our products combine advanced software and hardware technology with human-centered design to deliver smart electric motorbikes that are for everyone to use.
We are pushing the frontiers of the region’s automotive industry by developing desirable mobility solutions as clean alternatives for urban users, so as to alleviate urban air pollution and lead the transition to EVs across Southeast Asia, starting with the essential and ubiquitous motorbike.
For more information, please contact us at www.ionmobility.asia.
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