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Bestmile: company takes off with a new mobility system

The company Bestmile from Western Switzerland has developed a unique on-demand mobility system. In this interview, co-founder Anne Mellano shows how the young company responds to customer needs and how it is successfully growing in Europe, the USA and the Middle East.   

Anne Mellano, co-founder Bestmile
Anne Mellano, co-founder Bestmile

Anne Mellano, to better understand what Bestmile is doing, what exactly is your core business?
We provide an orchestration platform for on-demand mobility. The goal is to optimize transportation services to get the best matching, dispatching, routing and also pooling. In other words, we make sure we send the right vehicle to the right place at the right time.

Like a kind of enhanced fleet management?
It’s definitely more than fleet management, it’s a full platform. Fleet management typically is focused on vehicle maintenance and health. Fleet orchestration is focused on mobility service optimization. You can compare our function to the control tower in an airport. It’s about instructing each vehicle, in real time, to achieve the best service quality for the end-user. At the same time, we want to deliver the most efficient service for the operator, because the operator owns the vehicles and wants a high return on investment for these high value assets. So, ultimately, the goal is to optimize the utilization of these assets. That’s why we call it a fleet orchestration platform. This is where the algorithmic part happens. It’s really automatic dispatching with the system doing everything autonomously. We provide all the interfaces the operator needs to monitor and manage his or her fleet remotely, in real time.

Who’s your typical customer?
We’re a B2B company and have multiple types of customers. We call them mobility providers. We mainly see three categories: public transit operators, taxi businesses, and transportation network companies (TNC). We don’t focus on their current business models but rather on what they’ll need to do to survive once autonomous vehicles arrive on the scene. We also see original equipment manufacturers (OEM) as potential clients. Currently, OEMs are deploying numerous new mobility services as they try to go from just manufacturing cars to selling mobility. At the end of the day, it’s all about deploying different types of on-demand services.

Can you give me an example?
Compare it to ride hailing. It’s comparable in a way to “Uber.” But Uber is a marketplace and is peer-to-peer. The goal for us is to have a fixed asset and to focus on optimizing the utilization of assets.

It's about instructing each vehicle, in real time, to achieve the best service quality for the end-use.

Bestmile was founded five years ago. How has the company developed so far?
During the first two years, we were self-funded and ran the firm thanks to first pilot customers. We were like a project company. In 2016, we decided to raise money because we saw that there was an opportunity and a strong market for our ideas. Our seed round brought in CHF 3.5 million CHF. This was the start of a snowball effect. We raised a series A in 2017, which allowed us to grow to 60 people. And this year, we raised a CHF 16.5 million series B. We’re working in an industry with very big players, especially with all the OEMs and technology partners. We need to scale up in order to demonstrate that we are a serious, reliable player. It’s rather like an ongoing cycle with us needing to get bigger and bigger in order to work with larger companies and get the business.

Bestmile is obviously an international company. Which countries do you operate in?
In Europe, we have customers in Switzerland, France, and Germany. Currently we’re triggering new projects in the United Kingdom. In the USA, we’re running different projects, including a new ride hailing system called Alto in Texas and an autonomous shuttle service, Beep, in Florida. In the rest of the world we’re running several non-commercial pilot projects. Our goal is to continue to expand.

Could you describe the process of your internationalization and the associated challenges you had to master?
It’s been different from country to country. In the United States, for example, it’s quite simple because it’s easy to meet people. And It’s not a problem finding team members and growing on both sides of the Atlantic. In Asia it’s much more difficult because there are many countries, all with very specific rules. If you don’t partner with a local company you won’t get your foot in the door. So, you need to do a lot of politicking and lobbying inside the country first in order to partner up with the big local players. However, the real difficulty is that even when you land a project and have your sales guys ready to go, you’ll still need a local team on the ground. So it’s not just about having people selling all around the world, but also about customer support, language and culture. Before launching a project in an Asian country, you need to have all the necessary resources at hand to establish yourself in that country. In the EU on the other hand, there are no internal borders, which means we can have the same teams operating in France and Germany. The processes remain the same.

You’re saying there are no big cultural differences in Europe?
Of course there are, but nothing that hampers or harms the business. We’re very much used to multiculturalism in Europe.

You need to clearly define the types of customers you want and the types of success stories you want to tell to attract new customers.

How difficult is it for you to establish a presence in mature markets?
Well, strictly speaking there are no mature markets for autonomous vehicles. As a matter of fact, everything is just starting. It’s a bit different when it comes to human-driven systems, where you can speak about mature markets. In these markets you have more possibilities, more options but you also have more competition. Again, it’s a balance of things. It’s like a game and as long as you really have some unique value propositions and you know what your customers are looking for, you’re in play.

You don’t have many competitors?
On the autonomous side, no. On the human-driven side — because of ride hailing — we absolutely have competitors. You need to clearly define the types of customers you want and the types of success stories you want to tell to attract new customers. It’s very important not to imagine you can do everything, because then you’ll lose yourself.

What are your plans for the future?
Our goal is to be the platform of choice for mobility service providers that want to deliver efficient services - services that both maximize fleet performance and delight customers. This means that they can use our platform to make shared, on-demand services more convenient than driving and meet bottom-line goals.

About Anne Mellano, Founder

Anne Mellano oversees Bestmile’s business infrastructure and marketing operations. She is a civil engineer specializing in the development of innovative transportation systems. Prior to founding Bestmile, Anne Mellano was the project manager for two of the first autonomous mobility projects in Europe, which led to the development of the Bestmile Fleet Orchestration Platform. Anne overseas Bestmile’s role in government projects including the AVENUE project to bring autonomous services to multiple European cities.

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