Fireside Chat with Flexclub
Tinashe Ruzane is the CEO and co-founder of FlexClub, a vehicle subscription marketplace available in South Africa and Mexico.
Hi everyone. Thank you for tuning into Cloudflare TV. I'm your host, Chad. I'm part of the Cloudflare account executive team.
I look after Sub-Saharan Africa. And today, or this month rather, we are celebrating Black History Month in the UK.
And I'm also part of the Afroflare team.
I'm one of the leaders and we are celebrating Black History Month with our theme, Proud To Be.
And this is our first session where we're highlighting some of the fantastic work that people in the tech industry are doing.
And I'm pleased to introduce Tinashe, founder and CEO of FlexClub.
Hi, Tinashe, welcome. Hi, Chad. Thanks for having me. Yeah, it's such a pleasure to talk to you.
And hear more about what FlexClub is doing in the industry.
So as founder and CEO, I know even just trying to organize this session wasn't easy.
And I just want to say thank you for taking time out of your busy calendar to join us.
But what is it like? What's a day in the life of founder and CEO of FlexClub?
Yeah, so I guess the first piece is it's certainly not glamorous, since I guess sometimes the title might infer that it's a little more glamorous than it really is.
But ultimately, it's juggling balls, especially when the company is like this small.
So we're an early stage startup, pretty young, navigating a lot of different challenges, a diverse range of challenges.
So every day looks very different to the last. And I've just never had a day repeat itself or a repeated sequence, which I guess is part of the appeal of being in a startup, is that you don't really kind of break into a routine per se, which really kind of bodes well for my style of problem solving.
Well, it sounds quite challenging, but also exciting at the same time. So how did you get here as founder and CEO?
Where did you start, actually? I know you're from South Africa.
Do you want to maybe start there and tell us a little bit about your background?
Yeah, sure. So I guess like you pointed out, also a fellow SAFA and kind of grew up in Pretoria, actually, and then migrated to Johannesburg, where all the money was.
And obviously, Pretoria is where Elon Musk is from. Maybe there's something in the water.
Perhaps there is. I guess if I could get to an outcome anywhere near to the Musk outcome, it would be a good innings.
But yeah, I grew up in Pretoria, kind of, some people might say it's a little sleepier.
I went to school there, and then kind of migrated to Jo'burg to start my career.
I initially started out in management consulting.
And so I was at Deloitte, spent some time in like strategy and innovation, and then also moved into impact investing.
I guess for the uninitiated, spending a lot of time in townships, townships being sort of areas outside the city, sort of peri -urban, where a lot of kind of development challenges there, but looking to find micro entrepreneurs that we can invest in and help micro entrepreneurs become small business entrepreneurs.
And then after spending some time in that impact investing arena, that's how I actually came across Uber.
And yeah, I think dabbling around with the Uber platform and seeing the data that was being generated there.
In fact, Uber actually approached us, you know, through this fund that we were managing, to see if we could support their community of drivers with accessing vehicles.
It wasn't a perfect fit for our fund, but enough for me to be curious.
And together with a friend of mine, kind of purchased, you know, two cars, sort of rented them out to Uber drivers, which a lot of South Africans do.
It might sound, again, a little strange to some folks on the call in the audience, but this is very, very common in emerging markets.
And yeah, then I think came up with the idea that actually it was a whole new way of approaching this and chatting with the Uber team and eventually kind of got convinced that we should just move across.
And I joined Uber in, I want to say early 2015.
So just shortly after they launched the UberX product, which today is still their biggest product globally, and spent four years of my career at Uber, initially spending the first year in South Africa and then moving to Amsterdam, which is where I am today, to lead what they were calling vehicle solutions.
So I guess my obsession with vehicles started a very, very long time ago.
And yeah, officially left Uber at the end of 2018 to take a swing and try to build something in the automotive ecosystem that was different, that was unique, leveraging the learnings that I had kind of gained, you know, from my vantage point, you know, heading up vehicle solutions at Uber across EMEA, but then also, you know, some of my other experiences throughout my career.
I think, you know, speaking about vehicle solutions, and then I definitely think there must be something in the word in Pretoria, because I know Elon Musk is in vehicles.
So like, when you talk about vehicle solutions, you know, what does that really mean?
You know, I suppose, in the context of Uber, and then also in the context of maybe Flip Club, like how does, like, what does that really mean?
Yeah, so I guess, I mean, it's not a part that kind of makes it out into the press, or didn't make it out the press that much.
But in the context of Uber, you know, so today, Uber has over 5 million people using its app every single week to earn a living, all of which require a vehicle to earn that living.
And how they get that vehicle isn't necessarily obvious in some of these countries.
You know, so if you don't have access to auto loans, or you don't have cash to purchase that vehicle, kind of leaves you in a bind.
So it was pretty clear that a unit needs to be established inside Uber to figure out how we could be the bridge between the auto industry.
So you have a lot of stakeholders in the industry.
So from manufacturers, leasing companies, car rental companies, banks, helping them design products that were more accessible for the millions of drivers that were using the Uber app.
And that is exactly what my team was looking to do across the region.
So for me, specifically, across EMEA, which at the time, was 42 countries and supporting the community of drivers in those 42 countries accessing vehicles, if they couldn't follow a traditional path.
And it was basically through that, that I realized that some of the product design gaps in the automotive industry could be addressed with a different approach.
There was growing interest or excitement around subscriptions, and specifically car subscriptions.
Obviously, subscriptions have gone, they've gone through their own evolution, sort of, you know, from SaaS to content, and then like real world things.
So that was now popping up in like 2017 slash 2018.
And then realize that actually, with that being the future, perhaps there was a role for a platform like ours that could be helpful to the auto industry or to those in the auto industry, in making a transition from selling units to selling a service.
But ultimately, that's what vehicle solutions is, is kind of finding a solution to increase access to vehicles.
That's really fascinating.
And when you talked about kind of the subscription trend, so could you maybe peel back a little bit more when you said, you know, like starting into SaaS and now, because I'm also starting to pick up, like, I mean, if I check, you know, just my monthly inbox, like a bank statement, you know, I've got all these subscriptions for, you know, I can't even remember what I signed up for, right.
But I think, you know, that's certainly something that I will personally, I've noticed, at least on my bank statements that I'm, you know, subscriptions are, you know, where lots of industries are going.
Yeah, so I think, I mean, if you kind of unpack it really at its core, you know, the one component of subscriptions is that it enables just far simpler distribution.
So with SaaS, obviously, kind of, I guess, being a cloud native yourselves, and I guess most people in this audience, would appreciate, you know, the evolution from, you know, I remember the boxes, the Microsoft boxes, and kind of pulling out the CD, and then having to install Microsoft Office or, or Windows even.
So then kind of moving, moving forward to now, like, you know, something like Office 365, or basically accessing this software as a service.
And I think, and then paying a monthly fee, a monthly subscription, you know, for that.
I guess that that was a starting point. And then you saw that also translates across other vectors or other areas of retail.
So obviously, from software, I think the next revolution that happened in content, similar kind of stories, like, well, many of us will remember the process of kind of going into a music store and flipping through the racks and popping a CD in and listening to the tracks.
And that was actually how we consumed content. And then we'd buy that content.
And now we own that content. And then you fast forward to what that looks like today.
It's well, I mean, very, I guess, I don't know many people that still have DVDs, or they still have a CD collection.
And most people kind of just refer to the subscription for now, it's not just one platform, it's like multiple platforms, like I've got Netflix, Prime, and a wide host of other platforms, and on the music side, you know, Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music, etc.
And I think what is interesting to see was then, you know, how that then also transitioned into, like the real world.
Obviously, I think sometimes, you know, there's a bit of, sometimes we may over index on the buzzwords, you know, but subscriptions of homes is something that, you know, most people are very, very familiar with, because a lot of people rent their home.
And that's ultimately at its core, sort of the underlying business model of a subscription is that you're renting access.
On the one end, obviously, when it comes to software and content, you know, the distribution play was interesting.
But the other end was, the simplicity of the shopping experience was actually better, was superior.
So instead of in the case of a car, instead of saying, well, I got to go, you know, find myself $20,000 worth of cash, and go walk into a dealership, and then go buy, go buy a car.
And then after that, I need to figure out what happens if I have an accident?
Okay, so I need to kind of get insurance?
What happens if the car breaks down? Maybe I need a maintenance plan, so that I'm covered in the event that you know, this thing kind of starts to fall apart.
That entire experience is quite cumbersome, where with a subscription, you know, the benefit is that it's all inclusive.
It's really simple. I just know that this is the monthly cost that I pay.
And you know, when I don't want the car anymore, I can just end my subscription.
And I think like that, you're seeing that across many different arenas.
And now you've got like furniture subscriptions, you've got electronic subscriptions, you've got, you know, from bicycles, obviously being in Amsterdam, that's quite apt, you know, there's a business here in Amsterdam, called Swapfleets, which is definitely revolutionized, I guess, the way people think about bicycles, just, you know, paying a few euros every month to have a bicycle and not worrying about what happens if I get a flat tire, or if I kind of ding the bike, easily replace it.
Yeah, so you use Swapfleets for cars, right? Funny enough, that's actually literally how I explain it to folks in the Netherlands.
Yeah, we're Swapfleets for cars. I guess the only distinction is that, you know, our platform is built with the intention of supporting multiple brands.
And where Swapfleets is actually, it's relatively vertically integrated. So it's like their own bicycle, versus having like multiple different types of bikes, and different partners distributing through the platform.
So that's the way we work now.
So we've got, you know, from manufacturers to leasing companies to rental companies, you know, on the rental side, we've got big brands like Avis and Europcar using our platform to distribute their subscription product.
You know, leasing companies, leasing companies were on the other end of the spectrum is that, in that they were used to kind of developing long term products, kind of helping them now launch, you know, shorter term products, you know, not quite as short as like daily or weekly, which we spoke about briefly at the beginning.
But now moving to these monthly subscriptions, and then also like manufacturers, we've got motorcycle manufacturers saying, we also need to move away from thinking just about selling units, to selling a service.
So not over optimizing for selling bikes to selling access to a range of bikes for a fee.
And yeah, I think this is this is an exciting, exciting time in, I guess, in the evolution of commerce.
Yeah, I mean, I'm like, just listening to you, I'm super excited to hear that.
Because it's like, literally, you, like you say, you're on the cutting edge of the next evolution of subscriptions, it's like subscriptions of the real world.
And, you know, just personally for myself, you know, when I came across your company, you know, and when I travel back to SA, I'm definitely gonna, you know, you know, use your service, because I don't have a client to Africa, and I'll be there for like a month, make that makes sense to, to use that service.
And then, of course, when I don't need it, I just fly back.
So, you know, I suppose, also what you were saying, they're like connecting those dots, right, giving access to people, you know, like, where you've got this entire market of drivers who don't necessarily have access to, to these cars, you know, they can come to your platform, you know, rent the cars, you know, effectively spin up a, an Uber business for a month.
If it works, continue, right, like, almost, it's almost like a POC, right?
Like, like a proof of concept, you know, they could just rent it out, see if Uber is for them, if it works, then they continue doing it.
Or if it's not for them, then, you know, obviously, return the car and then, you know, move on to something else, right?
I think like, this is what made the challenge interesting, you know, working inside the gig economy within a platform like Uber.
So I guess if you think about the way asset finance or vehicle finance is designed, it's typically designed, you know, with a very long term use case in there.
And they try to match, you know, the funding of that vehicle to how they price, you know, how they kind of structure the products to the end user.
That's why, for the most part in markets like Africa and Mexico, people that don't have $20,000 in cash would actually knock on the door of a bank and say, hey, can I just get an auto loan?
And that auto loan requires a commitment for five, six, seven years.
And I think, you know, to your point, we have to think differently about how you enable flexibility, because the inherent nature of the gig economy was that work is flexible.
So how do you have this like six -year commitment when I haven't made a six -year commitment to do this?
And that was one of the biggest challenges, obviously, because we grappled with it for so many years, we then kind of realized, well, hang on a minute, this is not just for people that want to work flexibly.
A lot of people want flexibility for a wider host of reasons, including control.
So sometimes, because also we have customers now that, because our range of customers includes on-demand workers, but we also have businesses, we've got consumers, you know, regular consumers that just want a personal vehicle for their family.
But when you subscribe, the control you have is superior to the control you have if you had committed to, if you committed to a six-year car loan.
So if, you know, two years in to subscribing for this car, I realize, oh my gosh, I'm about to have a child, or something's about to change in the family, or I need to start a business, I need to now downgrade from my fancy SUV to a hatchback, I can easily make that switch.
And I think, like, that's actually quite an interesting thing now for us to observe, is seeing all the different use cases, how people are taking advantage of flexibility to allow us to continue to support our partners with designing, you know, fit-for-purpose products that speak to the future of mobility.
And it's not just mobility, like I mentioned, this is, we definitely see this revolution likely taking hold across all areas of commerce.
And anything where you otherwise would have gone to take a loan to buy it, that probably has the potential to be disrupted or challenged by subscriptions.
Yeah, certainly. And I think, you know, it also just de-risks the whole thing, right?
So, you know, like you said, that long-term commitment, you don't have to do it anymore, which, I mean, it sounds like you're disrupting not only just transport and mobility, it's like disrupting, you know, well, I suppose giving access in the gig economy, but disrupting the financing model.
And then also, I suppose, like you say, this is just the tip of the iceberg where it can expand into other areas.
So, how did you come up with this idea? Like, this is just quite a profound idea just to like, you know, start doing, right?
I mean, you've given some background on how you arrived here, but, you know, when was that moment, the penny drop where you're like, cool, I'm going to stop everything and focus on this?
Yeah, look, I think, you know, the whole thing was percolating for multiple years, to be honest, because of the nature of my work at Uber, and even before that, you know, I think I've been thinking about this transportation problem.
In fact, myself as a consumer, I had gone through the challenge of what they call negative equity in the vehicle finance space, where it's basically the simple principle that when you take an auto loan, or you use an auto loan to get a car, and if you decide to sell the car before the auto loan is up or fully settled, you will likely find yourself in negative equity, especially if you try to do that very early on.
So, I just actually got in a car and then I was about to move to Amsterdam, I was only like 18 months into it, but made a five year commitment on the auto loan, which is pretty standard for many South Africans, to be honest, and how most people actually acquire a car.
But at that point, I owed the bank more than what the car is worth, just because the car depreciates in the market at a faster rate than the actual settlement value of the loan.
So, you call it the difference between the amortization sort of balance and market value.
And I think, you know, therein lies some of the problem with the way we've thought about, you know, how we increase access to this asset.
And I sometimes like to joke with folks that, imagine if that's what air travel was, like you could only fly if you can take a loan to buy a plane.
How many of us would actually be flying right now? And the truth is, things just become a lot, there's a massive proliferation of access when you can repackage and reposition the entire thing as a service.
And there's a benefit to saying, well, I don't want to buy or finance a portion of the plane, I'm actually just going to pay for the service to sit on the plane for this duration of period, for this distance.
And then recognizing that that same approach should be applied in a lot of other areas where accessibility just, quite frankly, hasn't been figured out.
So, I mean, because we had been thinking about it for a while, you know, one of my co-founders is also ex-Uber.
I think we had enough of a head start to feel like, okay, we've probably got an unfair advantage here, we should take a swing at this.
So is it also kind of that similar model where you don't own necessarily the vehicles on the road, right?
Like that's the whole, the Uber play, right?
They don't own any of the vehicles. Is that a similar play here?
Yeah, absolutely. So I think we kind of went back to first principles and asked ourselves, well, why wouldn't the industry do this today?
And then when you start there, then you can figure out, okay, well, so what are the solutions we need to create to make this, you know, less scary for the industry?
And one of the key things was actually around risk.
So we had to kind of help them leverage our technology to understand that risk.
And we even share in that risk with our partners.
So when a partner like Avis or Europcar says, you know what, I'm actually just going to give you a bunch of cars or not even give us the cars, but I'm going to put a bunch offers on your platform.
Because I actually like the fact that if anything goes wrong, you know, you also have some skin in the game.
You're not just looking to be an agent, which I guess is also, I mean, that's, you know, sort of, I like to think of that as like, you know, Internet 1.0 was like, okay, just use a website to be an agent to facilitate a transaction and then walk away without any skin in the game.
Where I think now because of, you know, the advent of, you know, our visual intelligence, machine learning is a different way of thinking about how you also kind of have a shared vested interest in the outcomes together with the participants, you know, on your platform.
And that's the view we took, you know, kind of thinking differently about that, but yes, without the aspiration of owning the vehicles.
Yeah. And that's quite fascinating to hear when you're talking about like, you know, machine learning and some of the technology that you use.
So like, do you want to expand a little bit about that? Like what's under the hood that makes Flex Club, you know, kind of operational?
Yeah. So, I mean, on the one side of it, or I guess on the demand side of the coin, we've just made the entire shopping experience, you know, simpler.
You know, so when you go on, we like to think of ourselves as this digital shopping mall for subscriptions, specifically on vehicles.
But when you go on, it's easy to, again, kind of just like browse through which vehicle you're looking for.
And once you've decided on it, then complete the verification process, because you need to be verified that you're not a fraudulent member.
You can actually afford the subscription and a number of other things, you know, along that journey.
Driver's license, right?
Exactly. Yeah. So the, I think the key thing there was just making sure we can do that without introducing too much friction, because the baseline is too much friction, right?
Well, I now need to kind of, you know, download these statements and then kind of email them across.
And then I need to send my payslips.
And then I need to like do a number of different things to prove that I'm a real person and that I can afford this car.
Where we've kind of got it to a point where we've streamlined that.
And the basis of that is that that data allows us to establish what is the risk profile of this customer looking to subscribe for a vehicle.
And once we've made a decision or kind of got to a conclusion there, we believe in that conclusion so much that we would guarantee to our partners that, you know, what the model is right.
And it's far more effective than the risk mitigants you might have been using in your core business.
So think about the likes of an Avis or a Europe car.
How they think about risk is, well, when Chad walks in looking to take the car, you're going to ask him, please give me your credit card and please give me your driver's license.
And then I swipe that credit card and I'll hold, you know, 2000 euros or 2000 dollars on it or a thousand dollars.
And I'll be like, well, you know, at least if something does happen, I've got the 1000 dollars to kind of protect me.
That obviously limits who can access that vehicle, because not everyone has a thousand dollars to swipe on their credit card.
In fact, not everyone has a credit card to begin with.
Yeah, that's changing. We're saying, well, what if you substituted more traditional risk mitigation with, I guess, models that leverage alternative data and kind of streamline that, making it a better experience for the customer, but still protecting the partner in the process.
So that's I think that's really the crux of what's under the hood there.
But also having the view that it's not just about understanding risk when you come to shop.
It's actually understanding how the risk changes as you continue to use your vehicle.
So it's one thing to be a millionaire coming to subscribe, or perhaps if you're a millionaire, you wouldn't want to subscribe.
Who knows? Maybe you're kind of being chauffeured everywhere.
But for the purpose of this example, if you have a ton of money and, you know, like the risk, the financial risk is low, it doesn't necessarily preclude you from having, you know, your damage risk be high, because you like to drive like you're Lewis Hamilton, you know, everywhere you go, as if you're racing.
So I think there are other components there that we've kind of brought in to kind of reward our members, if they use their vehicle responsibly.
So do you have been like sensors in the car? Or is it like monitoring the app itself?
And kind of, you know, centering the kind of the way that the person is driving?
Yeah, so all vehicles have, most vehicles have black box devices, which basically track driving behavior, what, what the industry refers to as the ABCs of driving, acceleration, braking and cornering.
And, you know, kind of based on that ABC data, you can then establish, you know, what the driving profile is of this individual.
And whether there's a higher likelihood of this individual is going to or has a higher propensity to have an accident.
And if that's the case, then obviously, you can, there's two approaches, because the insurance industry uses this now through what they call usage based insurance, or UBI, where obviously, if you drive poorly, your insurance premiums are going to be high.
But if you drive safely, insurance premiums are going to be low. In fact, you might appreciate this example.
But, you know, I think the behavioral approach to risk is one that's deeply understood in some corners of insurance in South Africa, specifically with a company like Discovery, you know, Discovery were quite innovative in how they approached that on the health side, which was, hey, if you just exhibit healthy behaviors, like going to the gym, eating more healthily, there's a higher, there's a higher likelihood that you will not be on a hospital bed, and you'll have a longer lifespan.
So therefore, that means that we're not going to be paying out claims to hospitals when we're paying out for your medical cover.
In which case, that savings, we want to share that savings back with you say, well, Chad, because you are so healthy, but how about a discount on British Airways?
How about, you know, discounts with these hotels, go watch a movie for free, you know, then you can start to kind of add in a very different model for how value is shared.
I think there's an opportunity here for, you know, machine learning, artificial intelligence, but also like the underlying business model, you know, can be redesigned.
And this is this is the approach we've taken here as well.
Yeah, and I'm certainly seeing maybe, you know, partnership with Discovery Insure.
Because I know, you know, they're interested in covering people for driving and stuff like that.
So actually, we do, we do funny enough, we do partner with Discovery Insure.
There we go. So, you know, in terms of the technology itself, right, you mentioned machine learning, you know, what other platforms do you use to, you know, I guess, you know, build your product?
So I guess the number of third party providers that we use, you know, to kind of solve for different elements of the platform, you know, obviously, you know, so things like, you know, wouldn't make sense for us to kind of build our own KYC solution in house.
There are a wide host of a wide range of kind of KYC technology providers that are out there that have done this at scale for a number of different use cases, you know, so for neobanks, you know, cost sharing apps, etc.
So we kind of drive integrations with platforms like that.
Income verification, you know, the kind of, you know, I guess, evolution of open banking and PSD, too.
And what that means, as far as the data that's now available to third parties, you know, wouldn't make sense for us to now go and integrate and try to build a Plaid equivalent when, you know, a Plaid exists.
So Plaid doesn't actually operate in our markets, but we have sort of the Plaid for Africa and the Plaid for Latin America that we work with to kind of help us with that income verification component.
And then, of course, there's like other other aspects, you know, we do light credit checks.
So we leverage credit bureaus and we have to kind of drive integrations there in kind of pursuit of kind of driving, driving this, you know, this shopping experience.
Yeah, I guess, you know, those are probably like some of the key things.
And then some of the hardware that we're using in the vehicles is also third party, you know, we don't manufacture that ourselves naturally.
So different components of technology that we kind of pull together, I like to say we're probably more like a more like a conductor, you know, in this construct where we're just trying to, you know, pull together great pieces of technology, stitch it together to then build something new.
And then, obviously, in that stitching, there are some things that need to be proprietary for sure.
Like, for example, our view of risk and some of the signals that inform that scoring and also how the rewards engine works.
Yeah. Yeah, I can totally, you know, appreciate kind of the way you've built that.
And it makes complete sense. I mean, you'd want to kind of pull in certain APIs to do some heavy lifting, but you don't need to build certain, you know, infrastructure for.
And then your proprietary is, like you say, the risk management.
And that's most likely, you know, what you can solve that no one else can in the industry.
You know, like you said, even your partners, the entire model is completely different to yours.
And, you know, I totally can understand and appreciate that, which is really, you know, fascinating.
And I suppose, you know, that's getting me excited because it's like, you know, if I do view that, and by any means, I'm an investor, right?
But if I do take an investor with Shark Tank view on that business, that sounds like something that, cool, I would immediately want to invest in, right?
Because, like you say, you're conducting all these resources that's available, but the core IP is in the data and the way you translate that data.
So I'm pretty sure then, you know, this idea itself, when you were talking to people that, you know, perhaps invested, they probably got just excited, right?
Yeah, look, well, I think it took time, you know, so sometimes, you know, when you get started, you know, what you see as sort of the eventual outcome is difficult to explain before it's built.
And not everyone can kind of see it the way you see it.
And, you know, obviously, I guess this is the entire purpose of venture capital at different stages of venture capital and even angel investments is, you know, we kind of had to kind of go through the journey and evolve and show the product working.
And I mean, even in the beginning, we didn't have large partners putting their fleets or offers on our platform, we had individuals, like, literally a single car owner say, you know, actually, I've got a car, I think I'm keen to make some money, let me put my car on.
And, like, we literally went, you know, I mean, the equivalent of door to door in the virtual world, but selling and getting our first few hundred cars onto the platform doing that, until we got to the kind of the reputation that we have now, where we could then walk into, you know, boardroom of a large group like Avis or Europe car and say, well, how about you now think about, you know, adding thousands of vehicles onto the platform and making those vehicles available to members.
So I think from an investment standpoint, the case has definitely gone as strong as the version that I'm telling you about now is definitely not the version that I was telling you about, you know, two years ago, where you would have just had to trust us and take a bet on us.
So how long have you, you said two years ago, so have you guys only been around for two years, that's pretty impressive to come this, you know, this far, right?
Yeah, look, so I mean, again, like, this, for me, this, so it's actually almost three years.
We started at the beginning of 2019. But I like to sometimes joke that this is like, this is a seven year overnight success story.
And even still, this is not quite a success story, at least not in our minds.
But it's because preceding that three year period of FlexClub existing, you know, we spend four years of our career at Uber obsessing about the exact same thing.
Is it really three years, it's actually seven years of learnings and insights.
And I guess maybe to our benefit, you know, seeing mistakes happen, not with our money, for the first four years, you know, kind of, you know, taking dash cams and putting dash cams in vehicles and then seeing how that influences behavior.
And, you know, running a bunch of different experiments across different countries, different kind of characteristics.
So road conditions are different, asset values are different. And so we then took all of those insights and said, okay, well, if we were to build this from scratch, this is how we do it.
And even still, it still took us three years from that point to get to here.
So I mean, it's been a long road. But we definitely feel excited about the momentum we're now finding.
Yeah, I'm certainly excited. And so the way you are today, right?
Like, so how big how big is the team? And because I think I read online that you do have a round of funding that you secured, you know, to keep, you know, kind of take the product to the next level.
Yeah, so I think we've been fortunate, you know, as we've kind of gone through this evolution to bring in, you know, the right investors at each stage.
You know, so we first had a group called CRE Venture Capital.
So given this is Afroflare, worth kind of giving a shout out to an investor like CRE Venture Capital that have backed pretty notable African tech businesses, you know, including the likes of Flutterwave, Andela, Yoko, you know, so heavy hitters.
And I think they're backing the African dreamers, so to speak, they were our first backer.
And then last year, then bringing on board a VC called Kindred Ventures.
They were early investors in Uber, early investors in Postmates, Coinbase.
So I think we felt that they understood this sort of intersection of mobility, marketplaces, fintech, in a way that would be helpful, you know, for our aspirations.
So definitely have, you know, now brought in more meaningful capital sums to support our vision, and expect to continue to do that.
And now, as most venture-backed businesses would look to do, but to answer your question, our team has expanded from what was a group of, you know, five guys kind of just chatting through a bunch of different problems on Zoom, you know, in like early 2019, to now a team of over 50 people across 12 cities.
Oh, wow. Wow, that's fantastic.
And, you know, just hearing you, it certainly sounds like, you know, there's a lot of history, but it also sounds like you're just getting started, right?
Like, it's like, this is just the beginning, and you're on the edge of that innovation to take it to the next level.
And, you know, like, you know, I'm pretty sure some of the viewers are like, cool, I want to get on to, you know, on ground level, this rocket ship that might be, you know, taking off, right?
And we certainly welcome that. I think, you know, whenever we encounter, you know, really smart, intelligent people that are just passionate and excited about, you know, this challenge, we think it's an exciting challenge, naturally.
But whenever we meet folks like that, you know, we want to kind of engage to figure out how do we make sure that you have a seat on this rocket ship, and let's build something amazing together.
Because for sure, to your point, this is just the beginning.
Internally, we say, like, we feel like we're graduating, we're just kind of graduating now, we've sort of been in R&D for the last three years, if you will, it's like, well, now 2022, we're ready, let's now build something more meaningful.
And this is truly the ground level, aspirations of being a much larger business, impacting hundreds of thousands of members in many more countries in time, but kind of doing it at a sustainable pace.
Yeah. So, so take me through that the future vision, right?
So, so, you know, what does that look like? Yeah, so I think, I mean, at our core, ultimately, what we're looking to enable here is, you know, flexible retail of hard assets, and, you know, starting with this auto sort of vertical, and then looking to do this in markets where we feel that, you know, asset financing, the structure of asset financing is a little dysfunctional.
Or, or, or maybe I could say, like, there's a deficiency in the way that asset financing is structured.
I think we see markets like South Africa, Mexico is incredibly exciting, but broader Latin America, you know, broader African continent, and even Southeast Asia, you know, I do have some personal ties to market like the Philippines, with family from there as well.
So I also have always kind of seen this, this unifying thread that binds sort of, you know, Southeast Asia, to like African markets to Latin markets, in a way that's quite exciting, you know, nothing, we don't have to kind of default to, you know, kind of trying to find success in the US or across Europe.
Not that that isn't interesting. Don't get me wrong. I mean, massive businesses and massive potential there.
But I think we probably have a good chance of being a market leader in some of these other territories.
And potentially, you know, at some point, when it makes sense, consider markets like the US and Europe.
That's fascinating. So taking over the world, like one, one country at a time, one region at a time, right?
Your words, not mine. But yes. And I think that's that's certainly on trend, right?
With some of the, you know, well, firstly, with the subscription piece, but also with just the mobility piece, I think, the way, you know, vehicles are being disrupted, moving away from petrol to electric, and, you know, maybe not necessarily, you know, you know, like I said, owning a vehicle for a long time.
And, and, you know, those really, you know, speak true to some of these regions that you mentioned, right?
I mean, I think, also, like, I think a lot of the clues are certainly also coming through from the developed markets, I guess, in your backyard, you know, in the UK, you know, the brand like Volvo, you know, recently, you know, shared a release that they, they obviously launched their subscription products, you know, a little over a year ago in the UK.
And in that year, 15% of their revenues have been driven by subscriptions over traditional sales, right?
So a brand like Volvo is now starting to see the shift.
But I think the more important point is that over 90% of the folks in the UK that subscribe for a Volvo were new to the Volvo brand.
And I think therein lies, you know, the magic or the potential that's something that really gets our blood kind of warmed up and is that there's like an entirely new segment, the new markets, new opportunities that can kind of, you know, be built from, from the subscription platform, which, you know, frankly, just are unknown.
And we're, we're excited to just be a part of that. Yeah, I mean, just like, when you talk about Volvo, I was like, I was nearly, I nearly clicked yes on that subscription.
And I'm not like, I've never driven a Volvo in my life. I've never considered a Volvo.
You know, I've always, you know, like typical South African, you know, always enjoyed, you know, BMWs, right?
And, you know, when I saw the Volvo thing, I'm like, maybe it's time for a change, right?
And it kind of made sense, right?
And that's just personally for me. But I mean, you know, for whatever reason, I didn't, I didn't proceed with that.
And it's probably part due to me traveling a lot.
And then, you know, like seeing something like yours, your platform is probably more suitable for me.
So, so, like, now that you have, you know, 50, you know, kind of team members, and having this vision of, you know, expanding to these territories, and also having these, you know, this trend that's that makes sense for your business, like, what does that timeline look like, if you had to, like, you know, almost put, you know, years to it and numbers to it?
Like, how many people do you do expect to grow, like, in a couple of years?
Or, you know, what are some of those goals?
What and what does that look like? Yeah, so I mean, I guess it's difficult to say definitively.
But because I think what we've, you know, done to date is, you know, let the market lead the tempo.
You know, so as our member base increases, and as you start to kind of see opportunities to bring efficiency or new ways of operating, then we invest, obviously, in some cases, we're investing far ahead of the need, especially when it comes to some of the technical requirements on our team.
We don't want to be in a position where, you know, we need more engineering capacity.
And, and, like, it's now do or die.
Now we have to hire, you know, I think we definitely like to be ahead of that.
So there's some areas of the business where we obviously will make a bet on how big that needs to be, you know, 12 months out, six months out, etc.
But, you know, based on our ambitions, it's not unreasonable to expect that this team could be double its size in 12 months time.
And I think like, that's, that's really just a reflection of our ambitions.
Obviously, we'll kind of tweak that up and down depending on how the market evolves.
There are some macro issues that we know that we need to navigate being a very at this moment, a very auto heavy business, at least heavy on the auto vertical, which is going through its own challenges, you know, the chip shortage, you know, ask everybody, when is the chip shortage going to be resolved?
And you'll get like 20 different answers on when that's the case. And obviously, this is a very, very serious issue for manufacturers to navigate.
You know, I think you're seeing, I mean, incredible creativity for manufacturers, you know, it's like moving chips into, you know, higher, higher value vehicles, because of the margins, the margins are there, or maybe thinking about cutting back features on cars to try prolong the inventory they have on chips, etc.
I think, you know, ideally, that sort of stuff is navigated so that we do have free reign to really grow across across the entire auto industry and support a wider host of customers, at which point, we'll obviously look to accelerate the rate that we expand the team.
Yeah, wow. Yeah, I've got like, a conspiracy theory, someone said that there's a whole bunch of chips sitting in like, that no one has looked at.
Like, you know, like, maybe, you know, Cape Town port or like on the, you know, evergreen ship that got stuck on the Suez Canal like this, that's all the chips are sitting.
I don't know how true that is. But, you know, maybe it's worth taking a trip and just knocking on those containers, right?
So like, on those on those challenges, you know, what are some of the challenges that you faced?
You know, besides chipsets, and besides kind of those macro challenges, like, what are some of the challenges that you faced, you know, getting to this point, and like, also future challenges that you're dealing with, like on a day to day basis, right?
Yes, I think, you know, for the most part, I guess, it's not necessarily unique to us, I think, most startups will grapple with this is kind of finding the balance between risk and growth is sometimes you'll, you'll take more risks in pursuit of kind of more rapid growth.
And other times, you got to pull back on, on growing too quickly, because you're exposing the business to excessive risk, whether that be talent risk, financial risk.
So I think some of the challenges have been, you know, finding out how to push and pull those levers and find the right tempo to ensure we don't compromise the long term objective and the vision of the company.
And I think we've kind of seen that, particularly this year, I mean, this year, you know, businesses is more than five x bigger than what it was in January, you know, right now.
So that's pretty fast growth, you know, for for us, and in fact, for most companies.
And what that's meant is that we've had to kind of discover new areas or new talent gaps, you know, pretty quickly, and then fill them pretty quickly.
And that's, it sounds simple, but that's an incredibly difficult thing to have to navigate.
It's like spin up new teams, you know, at the drop of a hat. Because similarly, you also never want to kind of compromise on the chemistry that the existing team has and make sure that those skill sets kind of blend in well.
All of that, I think, yeah, definitely, you know, kept our minds working at top speed.
But this this year, certainly, that's that being a different, very different challenge to say that the challenge of last year, was sort of what I call peak COVID, even though in case in case terms, it may be different, but peak COVID in the sense that the first wave, the anxiety levels were ridiculous high.
We were just like, oh, my gosh, it's Hunger Games out there.
You know, we're all like at risk, anything can happen, you don't want to really go outside.
And to what it is now, like, I mean, people are obviously living their best lives again.
But the I think that challenge in and of itself was just incredibly taxing for every single member of our team.
And that was that was tough, because you have to kind of still hang on to this, like, you know, five, 10 year vision of what you think this product can become amidst an environment where morale is super low, like we're literally losing family members, we're losing, you know, it's like, I think that that was, and that's in our second year of being in business.
I can't imagine like you, this is like you kind of a COVID startup, right?
Like in the heart of when that was happening?
For sure. And I think, you know, I think maybe that maybe in a few years time, or we'll look back and say, you know, that that kind of helped us build character, and, you know, think about things more rationally, versus sort of being a startup that's built in an era of exuberance.
And it was like too much capital flow, and we're just like burning money like crazy.
We're definitely not one of those startups.
Yeah. But we'd love to have capital like those.
You know, there's something I like to say, you know, and I always, I always try, you know, I compare the time we're living in now to like 100 years ago, right?
Like, you know, there was the Spanish flu, and also the Great Depression.
And, you know, we went through the Great Recession, and now COVID, right?
And in some way, you know, there were wars back 100 years ago, really devastating ones.
And we've got kind of also a lot of war happening today.
But you know, we're living through a time, like you say, where it's forced us to think more rationally.
And, you know, you know, as a startup, like yourself, you know, build that resilience, because a lot of the big businesses that 100 years ago, you know, like, when you talk about like Rothschilds, and, you know, these Rockefellers, and JP Morgan, all these guys established massive organizations that time.
And, you know, it's like now you, as our generation today living through this, you know, and doing something like you're doing, it's like setting that groundwork, and establishing that fundamental for the next 100 years, right?
Yeah, sure. I mean, obviously, we hope that, you know, what we're building has a staying power to kind of, you know, run on, as long as that and as many would say, like, outlive us.
But I think ultimately, you know, our goal was to build something that we feel we can be proud of, that we think really adds value and, and make something, you know, just a little bit better.
And as long as we keep committing to continue to raise the bar, as we reach new levels, I think like that's probably like the fundamental principle in how you build a 100 year business is constantly striving for, you know, the next level, I guess, you know, a la Amazon, you know, I think what Amazon was in sort of like late 90s, to what it is today, you know, talking cheese, but only because they literally have, I mean, like, the term bar raiser is Jeff Bezos term.
Yeah, they had that amazing sort of, you know, approach to the way they want to build.
And still, you know, we'll, we'll throw wild things at us today. I think I was seeing something about the new Amazon robots.
It's like, you know, who would have thought it?
But yeah, and that's a that's a that's also a really good point. Like also just in terms of business resilience, because, I mean, you know, they IPO, like in the 90s, and then survive the.com bubble, and then still able to continue as a business, you know.
So, again, also, I suppose, you know, that forced probably them to rethink how to, you know, not be so, you know, a bit more conservative, I suppose, or level headed with how they invest in that, you know, view risk and, you know.
Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think like what I love about it, there's like an old Bezos clip that from time to time, I kind of rewatch it just to kind of remind myself of like the basics.
But what I love about is just like, how much like the fundamental belief, or like the customer centricity, I mean, a lot of people say, you know, they're customer centric.
Yeah, centricity actually defines a strategy where if you make it better for the customer, that's how you actually make it better for your shareholders.
But I think, you know, now through this experience, I realize it's like, if you make it amazing for the team, the team wants to make it better for the customer.
And then if it's better for the customer, then shareholders are just like singing and dancing.
So it's like, just realizing that the basics are just that.
And if you just keep doing that, chances are you could probably build a business that outlives you.
The challenge is, continue to do that.
It sounds easier said than done. Yeah, yeah, no, I can imagine. I mean, like, like, even like you said, you know, some startups, they, you know, have all this money, and they just stop buying stuff, right?
And they just spend it all. So, you know, like, you know, like you're saying, it's difficult, or, you know, it's still challenging to stick to your principles, no matter what the environment might be, and keep doing and having the discipline to stick to, to those so that, you know, the formula works, right?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. I think, I guess I'm also excited to kind of see how this evolves.
I think we continue to learn from startups that are a step ahead, two steps ahead, three steps ahead in terms of scale, and maturity, you know, but how this evolves, like, I think it's easier for me to kind of talk about, oh, yeah, this is important, we get the basics.
Easier for me to say this, with like a 50 person, you know, team that I collaborate with, where I know every single member of the team's names, and, you know, and, and if that changes, you know, I can't imagine, you know, all the new challenges that get presented, and how you still continue to preserve that basic formula, you know, team, customer, and then investors or shareholders.
Yeah, it's, it's, it's, it's fascinating, kind of seeing how much has evolved, you know, from our team being five people, and like a very small group of investors with like a handful of customers to what it is today.
And I'm sure I could probably tell you a very different story in 12 months time.
Yeah, we should definitely schedule another session.
I think I'm gonna book you for this time next year, because, you know, I'd love to revisit that, right.
And I think to draw some parallels to, to Yoko, we had Lungiso on last year, and, you know, he, you know, at the time, he was also sharing some of the fundamentals and early days.
And, you know, just recently, they've got like a really big round of funding.
And now it's like, we're graduating again to that next level and hiring.
And, you know, so, yeah, it sounds like there's a bit of a tringles on this show, right?
Yeah, look, I mean, yeah, I mean, if, again, we can follow the outcomes that Yoko have had, that would really be a good outcome for us, too.
I mean, we're deeply inspired by, you know, what, you know, Lungi, Kat, Carl, and Brad have kind of built, and I guess, like, broadly, like the entire Yoko ecosystem and what that's become.
Because I distinctly remember, actually, funny enough, I went to high school with Kat.
But I distinctly remember, like, the early days of trying to follow it on LinkedIn, and then say, oh, this is an interesting, interesting play.
It's like Square for South Africa.
Okay, cool, got it. And then seeing what it's become today. It's a brand of its own, it's a force of its own, you know, beloved by small businesses across the country.
It's just insane. And I mean, I think that's what I think is exciting, is that the power of, you know, technology.
Yes, just obviously, it's exponential, very clearly, especially when you kind of find ways to kind of bring smart people together to solve hard, complex problems.
Yeah, yeah. And, you know, it sounds like you've kind of figured that formula out, you know what I mean?
And, you know, just also hearing you talk, it resonates a lot to, you know, hearing our CEO Cloudflare also talking about, you know, retaining some of the core values and traditions that we had back in the day, right up until, you know, now, you know, public company and growing rapidly, right?
So, you know, I'm certainly excited.
And I'm going to, like, obviously, tune in on LinkedIn as well and just, like, follow your story and keep in touch, because I'm pretty excited, you know?
No, I mean, thanks. Thanks a lot. I mean, appreciate that excitement. And, yeah, it's always great for us to kind of be on a platform like this to share that story and hopefully get more people excited.
And to an earlier point, if someone's out there listening, thinking, oh, my gosh, I have to be part of this, we certainly welcome that level of engagement.
And, yeah, because we do definitely want to build, you know, a world-class team that can build a world -class product.
And, yeah, that only happens if we can start to kind of, you know, be in corners such as this one, chatting and sharing the story with, you know, just super smart people that are excited about, yeah, hard problems.
Yeah. And that kind of brings us towards the end of our session.
Is there any other kind of points or topics you just want to plug right now in the last couple of minutes?
You know, I don't know if you have anything for the guests, a promo code or something, Yana, like, you know, you can put me a promo code.
I don't know, like, if you guys, if there's anything you want to plug, like, in the last couple of minutes, and then, you know, we can say goodbye.
I actually did want to kind of, you know, share a promo code, but I guess this is maybe a lapse of my own preparedness in advance of this.
But we certainly do welcome anyone that's going to be in South Africa.
So, I'll consume a product, consumer offerings only available in South Africa for the moment.
Mexico hasn't gone live. In Mexico, we're just serving the on-demand workers with, you know, motorcycles and cars.
But if you happen to be in South Africa looking for a car for longer than a month, please do check us out.
We have a bunch of different deals. Maybe what I can do is try to commit to share a promo code post this.
And obviously, if you do decide to sign up and refer someone, you obviously get a nice benefit there.
There's a 2,000-rand benefit of referring other people to subscribe.
So, it's possible to drive for free in case there's a question.
And then the final plug, I guess, reinforcing, it's like, I know that a lot of folks in this audience are exact, are sort of like the type of folks that we'd love to be able to work with.
So, if anything I've said sounds exciting, please do reach out.
I'm always keen to chat. And so are, you know, my other co-founders and the rest of the team, kind of thinking through the evolution of our product.
Yeah, fantastic. Yeah. And I'm pretty sure there's a way for us to get that code out.
Like, you know, I don't think we'll turn down a promo code, you know.
Yeah. And certainly figure out ways to, you know, if there's anyone interested in having a chat with you or trying to make that connection happen.
You know, I mean, obviously, there's publicly available ways like, you know, LinkedIn and social media, et cetera.
But if there's any other people that reach out, we will certainly make that connection.
So, yeah, that brings us to the end of the segment.
Tinashe, it was such a pleasure to have you. And, you know, I just want to say thank you to take the time and talk with us.
And, you know, I can't wait to speak to you this time next year.
Thanks a lot, Chad. Now, no pressure for real.
Now, we really got to get working. Right. Thanks, man. Take it easy.
Cheers. Awesome. Cheers.