100,000 customers and 11,000 motorcycles (2,000 electric) distributed across 28 branches in Spain and 100 rental locations in Portugal, Italy, France and Brazil; this is a business card Cooltrawhich defines itself as Europe’s largest scooter rental. TRUE. The big car rental companies – Avis, Hertz… – may be American, but in the motorcycle segment, this company in Barcelona, ​​which was founded 10 years ago with 50 motorcycles in a place next to the capital Sagrada Familia de la Catalan, holds the leadership in Europe.

Rapid growth

Founded as a physical startup, with little initial involvement of technology, by a German based in Barcelona, Timo Butefisch, former consultant and MBA from IESE, described Cooltra as a true triumph. In the first year, 100,000 euros were billed, but in 2011 it was 3 million and last year 11.

It all started one fine day when Timo’s motorbike broke down and “I started sweating”, he says, “renting one for several weeks”. Then the light went on. Oddly enough, and contrary to what has happened with cars, the motorcycle niche has been virgin in an organized way. So Timo collected 60,000 euros between his own savings and the money of some friends, the brothers Henrik and Holger Sprengeland get your business up and running.

“In the beginning, in 2006, we started renting to tourists by the day where we saw a greater demand,” he explains. But in 2010, when it became apparent that Barcelona residents were demanding the service, “we started renting to residents by the week and by the month.” The following year it was extended to companies, through which leasing for fleets, including customers such as Prosegur, Unipost, MRW, Burger King. A division that has gone quite well, because 3,000 of the 8,000 motorcycles are rented out to large companies.

However, the great revolution at Cooltra came early last year, in March, with the launch of eCooltra Motosharing, a ground-breaking format that allows you to rent a motorcycle for as long as you want, through a mobile application and a credit card, at a price of 0, 24 cents per minute and that you are considering as an alternative to public transport.

The technology key

How does it work? Easy. The user of this short-distance service (instead of bus or taxi) registers on the web, downloads the app, enters his card number and, using the same mobile phone, knows where the nearest motorcycle is and starts it with the key. Then he leaves it where he wants. Be picked up by another user. Cooltra staff as they move the bikes (250 in Barcelona) closer to the areas of greatest demand, such as transport hubs and the like, and change the batteries.

Even if the weight of the billing comes from conventional rental (50%) and company rental (30%), Timo sees eCooltra motosharing as the engine that will boost the company in the years to come. The company plans to implement it throughout Spain, in the European cities where it has a presence and in new destinations: “The idea is to launch the service in Madrid this year.”

Just as is the case with cars, motosharing (sharing motorcycles) was born when technology allowed it. The system would not have been possible without a mobile phone and GPS geolocation.

Advantages and disadvantages

At Cooltra they try to use all the possibilities that the store offers to add activities: it offers for example tours under guidance and then, like any car rental company, sells its used cars. It has also developed alliances with competing companies. The case of his agreement with Europcar, which has allowed him to rent his motorcycles at 70 service points in the Car Rentals German.

The great results Colltra has achieved doesn’t mean his career has been easy. “This is not an internet business that runs on a computer,” says Bütefisch. “Technology is vital, but there are always pressing physical problems that need to be solved.” Dozens of motorcycles circulating on the street must be brought under control as quickly as possible and the most diverse incidents solved: motorcycles parked far away that break down, have a flat tire or won’t start. “And you have to provide and respond to the service 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he says.

In addition, motorcycles are a more complicated product to handle than cars. “The car is serviced every 20,000 km; motorcycles, every 2,000,” he adds. And because they sleep on the street and have their fragility (in front of the car), they are at greater risk in terms of theft and dents, which, as the businessman points out, “makes insurance much more expensive.” So much so, he recalls, “at first no insurer wanted to work with us. It took me half a year to persuade them, and if I succeeded, it’s because I’m a good negotiator. I managed to convince them of the potential of the company and that they would do a lot of insurance.”

For a problem a solution

The technological problem was not trivial either. “It was necessary to implement systems from software of the latest generation, which has not always worked well”. Not to mention the funding, which wasn’t easy to come by in the early years. In fact, the problems became so serious that the businessman twice came close to shutting down the company. “We experienced critical moments in 2009 and 2010,” he recalls. If he didn’t give in, it was because he knew how to find solutions quickly.

Timo found that focusing exclusively on the tourism market left him without customers during the slow times. The motorcycles stood still. At that very moment he decided to approach the Residential Market in Barcelona. “I was forced to bring about 1,000 motorcycles that were in the Balearic Islands to the peninsula; a costly operation that I was able to carry out because I agreed with the shipping company at lower prices than usual.”

All of these glitches prevented Timo from making any money in the early years. “I saw the first benefits in 2012, six years after founding the company.” If in the end it did not close, it was because the company did not stop growing, the potential was obvious and it had the support of its partners, Finaves Caixa Capital Risc until 2014, and a family office German later.

long way to go

To get through the troubles and make ends meet, Cooltra has completed seven rounds of financing totaling three million euros, the first in 2007. After these rounds, Timo has remained in the minority and only has 15% of their company’s capital .

At Cooltra, they believe they are still at the beginning of the journey. After all, they only exist in 11 Spanish cities and in Europe in five. The company intends to cover the entire Spanish geography (particularly in the south) and also to grow in southern Europe.

And his big bet, in addition to conventional rental, will logically be this motor sharing in which it will invest almost 20 million euros over the next five years in Spain and Europe.

Entrepreneurial solidity

Timo, 43 years old, is one of those entrepreneurs who always knew that he wanted to be independent. Cooltra is his springboard, his big project.

Activities were his thing, and his opportunity was in motorbike rentals. In fact, he founded Cooltra while working as an assistant to the Bertelsmann Executive Board, a position he only left at the end of 2006, after his company was already running at full speed and he was convinced of its future viability. It wasn’t excessive caution. A few years earlier, in 2003, he had started another company that had great promise but failed.

It was about lilies, a company that imports pre-packaged flowers for retail use from the Netherlands, “a project,” he says, “that seemed very promising on paper, in the business plan and then fell through,” admits Timo. The failure did not frighten him and did not in the least diminish his confidence in his possibilities. This may be due to his long professional career in large companies. Prior to founding Cooltra, he worked in major companies such as Bertelsmann between 2004 and 2006 and as a consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton between 1999 and 2004.

Timo also took great care of his academic career. The son of a pharmacist and a teacher worked as a tennis and ski instructor while studying business administration at the Oestrichwinkel Business School. Years later, between 2002 and 2004, he did an MBA at IESE, which he began immediately after arriving in Barcelona. There he already showed his leadership qualities. He was the president of his class in business school. Certainly his cosmopolitan career also helped him. Before finally moving to Barcelona in 2002, he lived in Germany, Paris, Buenos Aires, Greece and Switzerland.


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