'Don't talk, just do it': meet Maarten Poot

By: Madeleine Kemna

WIRED named his company one of Europe’s 100 hottest start-ups, LinkedIn identified it as the second most popular start-up to work for in the Netherlands and Quote magazine placed it sixth on their list of most promising Dutch start-ups. However, felyx’s co-founder Maarten Poot remains remarkably down to earth. ‘As a young entrepreneur you have to remind yourself that you don’t realise what you don’t know. You have to go out and roll up your sleeves, but you also have to ask others what risks you may not see and what is the best way to deal with them.’

‘When I left high school, I didn’t have a particular area of interest, so I wanted to keep my options open. Erasmus University Rotterdam was the only one to offer the double Bachelor programme Economics and Law, so it was an easy choice. It also helped that Rotterdam is such a great city for students. I managed to finish my first year on time and started a third study, Architecture in Delft. When I took on various responsibilities within the student society, I had to make some choices. In the end Financial Economics suited me best, but it was good to have had a chance to study at other faculties as well. Organising events and being responsible for the procurement of drinks for the student society taught me how to use what I learned in class. In hindsight, it was not only fun, it was also a valuable experience.’

What made you become an entrepreneur?

‘In the third year of my Bachelor I participated in the Erasmus Exchange programme. This gave me the chance to spend six months in Stockholm where I met Quinten Selhorst, an International Business Management & Marketing student from Groningen. We became good friends and back in the Netherlands we decided that we would like to set up a company together. We started exploring ideas, but in order to gain some work experience we both went to work for consultancy firms first. This proved to be very valuable later on, when we were trying to pitch our business plan to potential backers. We had learned how to turn ideas into a financial model that made sense and, perhaps even more importantly, we were able to communicate them in a clear and convincing way. Several angel investors were prepared to fund us and we are now active in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Brussels with a fleet of about 2000 e-scooters that people can use via our app for 30 cents per minute. 

As a result of the corona crisis, there was temporarily less demand for our scooters. This gave us the opportunity to introduce a new part of the business called felyx delivery. We offered small businesses, like restaurants and pharmacies that had to resort to home delivery the opportunity to use our e-scooters while paying a daily rate, which is more competitive than the regular consumer rate. It was a good test of how resilient our company really is and I am proud to say that we succeeded in turning a bad situation into something positive.’ 

What lessons from your study have contributed to your success?

‘There are plenty of examples. When we started the company, we participated in a number of start-up competitions to secure funding. The presentations we had to give brought back memories of defending my papers in seminars at university. My classes in finance helped me when we were discussing the valuation of our company with potential investors and our marketing knowledge came in handy for our first commercial. We bought an old scooter, painted it in our green colour and created a traffic jam to show how you could easily bypass it on a felyx. The fact that we were able to work on our plans with the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship also helped a lot in the beginning.’

‘For a young entrepreneur it is important to keep in mind that there are things you just don’t know without realising it’

What challenges did you encounter?

‘Recharging the batteries for our scooters was a practical issue where projected timelines didn’t come together initially. When we started, we had to haul the batteries up the stairs to our apartment every night and make sure we didn’t trip over them because they took up the entire floor. 

On a more serious note: it is very difficult to have a complete overview of all stakeholders. Our start in Amsterdam is a good example. Prior to launching, we had extensive talks with the municipality. We felt we had covered all the bases, but we had not thought of nuisances from other operators. When residents began to complain about chaos caused by different bike-sharing projects, the city also asked us to halt operations until they had developed a policy on shared mobility. We did not have a document that proved we had been told we were welcome. It took a lot of convincing to make people realise we were not part of the problem, but we did manage to keep going. When we expanded to Rotterdam, we were able to come to an agreement with the city and put things on paper before we started.

For a young entrepreneur it is also important to keep in mind that there are things you just don’t know without realising it. In order to view and mitigate risks we speak to many outside parties such as investors, fellow alumni in other industries and experienced people in our network.’

‘Our philosophy is that if you are passionate about what you do, you will find the right balance that ensures you get the job done’

How do you manage barriers to entry?

‘Others are now benefitting from the fact that we have proven that this is a viable business model. As a result, they are facing less scepticism when trying to obtain financing for their fleet. For us there is definitely a first mover advantage. We now have the largest fleet in the Benelux and the name felyx is synonymous with e-scooter sharing. Recently, two new competitors arrived in Rotterdam, but as an established party we have a license that allows us to have far more scooters on the road than them If you’re looking for an e-scooter, felyx will always be the one closest to you.

To recruit the best talent, we aim to be an attractive employer that encourages taking initiatives and trust. We now have a team of 70 people that enjoy unlimited holidays for example. Our philosophy is that if you are passionate about what you do, you will find the right balance which ensures you get the job done.’ 

How sustainable are you?

‘Our scooters are all powered by electricity (mostly from wind farms). The batteries are changed by staff driving an electric van. So far, our fleet has completed the equivalent of hundreds of laps around the earth and we estimate this has resulted in a saving of 936 tonnes in CO2 emissions. It would take 46.800 trees a year to neutralise this emission.’

What is your ambition?

‘We are constantly developing to stay ahead. This also means expansion in the Netherlands and Belgium to benefit from increased economies of scale, which enables us to spend more on data analysis and improvement of the app. We are experimenting with special deals on scooters in less popular locations, for example. If we have our house in order here, we might even expand to other countries. However, the Rotterdam mentality will remain central to our company: ‘Don’t talk, just do it!’