He was born in Hannover but lives in Barcelona, the city where he has set up his company. As an entrepreneur, he started very young, but he was ruined with his first project, until in 2006, somewhat out of necessity, the idea of creating Cooltra , motorcycle rental company. It started with 25 vehicles and now it has 20,000. Cooltra is currently the European leader and manages a rental model both to companies (B2B) and to the end user (B2C).
Perseverance, imagination, prudence and knowing how to control growth a lot are some of the personal skills that Timo Buetefisch he has been able to transmit to his company and collaborators. And it all started the day that Buetefisch had to leave his motorcycle in the workshop and detected a market need in his own flesh: no one rented him a motorcycle.
ENTREPRENEURS. How did an entrepreneur from Hannover come to settle in Barcelona?
TIMO BUETEFISCH. I had studied business in Germany. I wanted to do an MBA and I could go to Harvard or IESE in Barcelona. Few reject Harvard but I did because IESE has a program with a very European and international focus with students from all over the world with specific entrepreneurship courses. I only knew Barcelona as a tourist. Now I love it.
EMP. Before Cooltra you set up another company that did not go very well. What happened?
T.B. It happened that I was wrong when analyzing the market. It was a flower company that I called Lilium. We wanted to revolutionize the B2C market in Spain. But I didn’t know how to see that the florist market in northern and central Europe is not like the one here. There it is common to buy flowers as decoration, not here. The Spanish give few flowers.
EMP. And the end result?
T.B. Well, after a year I was ruined and with eight years to go to pay off my debt. Since I had worked as a consultant, I returned to the corporate world as an assistant to the CEO of Bertelsmann.
EMP. Until one day your motorcycle broke down. Bad luck will never have been so positive.
T.B. In the workshop they said that it would take three weeks to repair it. I looked for where to rent one and I couldn’t find it and I can’t think of managing my day to day without a motorcycle. It would be inefficient. I did market research and discussed it with people I knew, including one I worked with at Bertelsmann. With him and his brother I founded Cooltra in 2006, although they never had an operational role, but rather as capitalist partners, although they had more experience than me in setting up businesses.
EMP. Do you recommend talking about the idea?
T.B. Yes, although renting motorcycles is not a brilliant idea either.
EMP. If the idea is not new, is success based on execution?
T.B. In the constancy In fighting a lot. Overwork and take a frugal approach.
EMP. How did you start?
T.B. In a small garage near the Sagrada Familia. We bought a container with 25 motorcycles that were in the port. Their owner had no money to get them out of customs. We started in a traditional way, renting motorcycles to tourists. They were yellow. We grew very fast.
EMP. So much so that you got a round worth 700,000 euros.
T.B. After nine months we presented the proposal and four groups entered. With that money we changed premises and made a first expansion to Valencia. It was an opportunity similar to Barcelona because of the weather and because the Copa América was being held. Then Caja Navarra came in and we opened Mallorca and Ibiza. We were going to a holiday market. But soon we began to diversify and lay the foundations of what our business is today.
EMP. In what sense?
T.B. In a double sense. On the one hand, we began to rent to the end customer for a longer term. We were no longer looking only for tourists but for residents of cities and we rented from a few minutes to weeks or months. It wasn’t done before. Today this rental represents 50% of our business. The other 50% is the rental of fleets to companies.
EMP. When did you start in the B2B segment?
T.B. In 2010 or so. At the same time, we introduced electric vehicles. When I founded the company there were no electric motorcycles. Carlos Sotelo (Silence) imported them from China and I bought my first 25 units from him. We began to link sustainability with the economy. Think that a messenger can spend 150 euros on gasoline per month. With electricity you save 80% of your bill. In those years we developed the new vision of the company: We wanted to create the European leader in sustainable mobility solutions on two wheels.
EMP. In Cooltra, therefore, there are two worlds, the B2B and the B2C
T.B. Yes, they are two very different businesses, even in the commercial or marketing approach. Just Eat’s fleet manager has nothing to do with the resident who wants to rent a scooter for a few minutes. However, at the operational level there are synergies. In the purchase of motorcycles, in finances, workshops, mechanics…
EMP. Now you are in eight countries. In all with the same philosophy of the two businesses?
T.B. When we go to a country, we always start with B2B.
EMP. Why does it give more performance?
T.B. Because it does not require such a large investment at the beginning. With B2B, you first close the contract and then buy the vehicle. In B2C, you first have to buy the fleet and then find the customer. Launching a city like Paris with 2,500 motorcycles represents more than 10 million direct euros. While in Germany, where we started with B2B, I have enough with a store and three commercials. It’s a more controlled release.
EMP. What type of companies are your clients?
T.B. Last mile deliveries, restaurants, security like Prosegur, commercial like Veritas, elevators like Eninter. We do fleet renting from one month to 70. They pay a monthly fee and forget about everything because we take care of the management, maintenance, insurance, fines. We work for 1,350 companies in more than 50 cities. There is also the police market. More than sixty municipalities rent us the fleet for the police. In B2B we are growing a lot due to the rise of delivery. In Germany and Poland, for example, we go together with chains like Just Eat.
EMP. Of those eight countries, which is the fundamental one?
T.B. In Spain we invoice 60%. Next up is Italy, where we are in three cities. The easiest thing is to launch in neighboring countries for similar culture. However, in more Nordic countries we go with B2B. In Germany and Poland we will be two years in the business towards companies. After that time, we will analyze if we also enter with a motorcycle shraring. We are very cautious when opening a country
EMP. What are you basically looking at?
T.B. It depends on the business. In motosharing, there has to be a motorcycle culture and with a client already predisposed to not using their own car. And, of course, where there is favorable regulation. In Torino, for example, there are no limitations
EMP. In Barcelona you have had many problems.
T.B. Barcelona and Paris have a strict regulation. It is no secret that I am not happy with the regulation of Barcelona. Before her we had 2,000 motorcycles. Then the city council decided to regulate the licenses and distributed the game among 23 players. Of those, only 5 remain, each with a license for 600 motorcycles. The regulation spoke of 7,000 motorcycles, but the city council has not distributed the licenses that have been returned.
EMP. Your business must be very complex at an operational level.
T.B. We manage more than 20,000 vehicles with everything that entails. Spare parts, helmets, pieces. We have sixty mechanics in our workshops. We have just invested 10 million in renewing the fleet.
EMP. And users?
T.B. Two million. It’s a lot of management. In each phase we have tried to keep a cool head so as not to commit foolishness. Even when large rounds of investment came in. We could have gone to ten cities, but we prefer to be cautious. Growing between 30 and 40% is quite a lot, but not crazy. At the operational level we can assume it. Sustainable growth is the key. In the world of entrepreneurship there are two elements: growth and sustainability. Markets and employees like high-growth companies. But without benefits, without sustainability, it is very difficult to maintain over time. There are companies that have grown a lot and at the end of the financing rounds, if there is no market orientation, it is very difficult for them to find resources to continue growing.
EMP. And you, how do you do it?
T.B. Retaining employees who know how to manage. With leadership focused on cost. Saying no many times. And maintaining moderate growth.
EMP. How do you choose the employees?
T.B. Human Resources does the first interviews and then the whole team participates in them. It is quite rigid. We take people’s values into account more than their aptitudes.
EMP. Do you aspire to have one hundred percent electric motorcycles?
T.B. It would be my dream, but there are always customers who still prefer gasoline because they like power and noise. But wow, we have 85% electric motorcycles.
EMP. How do you attract users?
T.B. 95% through digital channels, especially through Instagram. Our clients are mostly between 20 and 35 years old, although many are over 50. We have two different areas. One for recruitment marketing and the other for retention. 15 people work in the first. We want to get between 10,000 and 15,000 more customers per month. We have fifteen people in recruitment marketing and four in retention who analyze the use made by customers. It’s all very technical.
EMP.How many times have you changed the application?
T.B. Every month there is a change. To be competitive we do not stop investing according to the needs of the client.
EMP. Is there a price war in your sector?
T.B. No, there are offers, but not a strict orientation towards the price, but to the added value.
EMP. There are no wars, but there are battles.
T.B. But oriented to differentiate ourselves in the quality of the product. In the operation of the application, that the product is comfortable to drive, that it is clean, both the motorcycle and the helmets. Think that we change the helmets every four months. And then customer service. We have 40 people working in eight languages 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We make almost 4,000 contacts a day with a satisfaction rate of 95% and a very fast response time. In the end, the customer appreciates the value and we have been able to increase prices. The key is that we have many users. Two million customers endorse us. Some people spend 100 euros a month on our platform and use it almost daily.
EMP. You launched a company that, in addition to the vehicle, also included not only management but also the driver.
T.B. We sold it to a Chinese company because it was very large, with 700 employees and a turnover of 10 million. it was not ours core bussines. In 2015 we launched two companies. One last mile, Ecoscooting, which is what you are talking about, and the other eCooltra, which It is our motosharing area and today it is the most powerful within Cooltra. They functioned as two different SLs, each one with its CEO, but one hundred percent owned by the parent company. Each one with their teams, but supported by our main team.
EMP. Why did you do it like this?
T.B. To gain speed. They had separate teams and felt free from the constraints of the matrix. Now, we were looking for synergies like with the finance team. Finally Ecoscooting sold it, as I said.
EMP. Many companies do not fulfill the initial business plan. Would you have been the same? Did you get it right?
T.B. No. From the initial plan to now there is quite a distance. In 2006 it was very difficult to foresee what would happen. Our philosophy is to be clear about where we want to go in five years. But the important thing is the one-year plan. It gives us planning security. It is difficult to plan in detail in the long term, but a year from now you have to make a budget very meticulous.
EMP. Before the business plan, many entrepreneurs think about the bussines angel
T.B. Is it a bad idea. Companies are not created for investors. Investments will come and are the result of good management. If your business works and is sustainable, it will be easy for you to obtain capital.
EMP. After 17 years, what would you change about what you have done?
T.B. At the level of geographical expansion, perhaps it would not be so ambitious. Diversifying geographically is very complicated. I would have also invested more time in personnel selection processes. It’s never enough.
EMP. Companies that started like yours have fallen by the wayside and now other big ones want to occupy the space.
T.B. But see how difficult it is. I don’t see Seat deploying motosharing on a large scale. It is a marketing action linked to Seat Mo. We rent Seat Mo fleets, which is a great product. The same as with Acciona, which has bought Silence. This market is still in its infancy. We are at the beginning of the maturity curve. A lot of things are going to happen. New agents will enter. The car will lose importance in the city. The tendency to share will advance. We have taken advantage of many market trends.
EMP. What advice would you give to entrepreneurs?
T.B. They are consistent and constant. Don’t throw in the towel. That they select a business with a wide market. That they manage resources very well and plan the treasury over time. And that they select partners that coincide with their values. Companies fail basically for two things: because the partners don’t get along and because of the box. This covers 90% of cases.
Growth of 48% triggers Cooltra
With a turnover of 47 million euros in 2022 and a growth of 48% compared to the previous year, Cooltra is already at figures similar to those of the pre-pandemic, a time when the results fell due to the lack of users of motosharing. The figures were offset by the increase in delivery.
The B2B line has increased by 55% (20.8 M) thanks to agreements with companies such as Just Eat, with 1,000 additional vehicles or Getir with 1,500 and deliveries to the public administration. This year 157 stand out to the SEPRONA of the Civil Guard. The entry into new markets such as Germany or Poland also stands out. In B2B they are present in more than 50 cities in 8 countries.
Motosharing continues to be the company’s leading business area, with a presence in four countries. Much of the growth is due to the consolidation of the service in Paris, where it is the second operator. In Milan they have a market share of 70%. They are its two star cities. The company claims to have saved 8,000 tons of CO2 by covering more than 24 million trips with zero emissions.