Exclusive Q&A With Vilhelm Hedberg, Co-Founder & CEO of ekar

ekar is an easy-to-use car sharing platform that allows you to easily book cars across the city where you live and work from the comfort of your laptop or smartphone. Recently, the company successfully closed a $17.5M Series B funding round led by Polymath Ventures, and MAGNiTT caught up with ekar Co-Founder and CEO, Vilhelm Hedberg.

1) Tell us briefly about ekar. In layman's terms, how exactly does it work?              

ekar is the first and largest carshare operator in the Middle East providing on-demand access to over 1,000+ pay-per-minute and long- term (daily or weekly) cars in the UAE and beyond. ekar empowers users with a seamless platform to get around the city via rental cars. Through the use of a smartphone app and installed technology in the cars, users are able to easily search, book, and unlock cars safely and securely for personal driving use.

2) What’s your big-picture vision for the future?

We envision that ekar carshare members will outnumber car owners in the Gulf by 2025. By 2030, ekar's autonomous driving solutions will replace human drivers in all major cities.

3) What were you looking for from your investors, beyond capital?

ekar has been blessed by its strategic investors, who provide a healthy dose of pragmatism and operational expertise as stewards of their own successful businesses. We have raised from investors that are more that just VCs. They have made their money successfully running and exiting their own businesses.  Far beyond capital injected, this was an important characteristic in the investors we landed. For example, Audacia Capital, led by Emad Mansour, has supported ekar over the last three years by providing his experienced in-house financial managers who work with ekar on a daily basis to manage our metrics, assist with legal items, and anticipate our cash-burn needs. Al Yemni, the Saudi distributor of Chery, Isuzu, Subaru, Peugeot, and led by SKH Said Al Yemni, has supported ekar with over four hundred vehicles in Saudi, mostly from its partner Chery, which made launching in Riyadh seamless. Polymath Ventures, a leading VC focused on the AI and mobility space, led by Ali Hashemi, was instrumental in rethinking the corporate structure of ekar, helped us build an attractive ESOP plan, and re-align our vision to focus on velocity of expansion across the GCC and beyond. The net result is a much stronger company, ready to execute and bring more mobility options to GCC cities. 

4) What's something or someone that really helped you fundraising?

For Series B, Ali Hashemi of Polymath Ventures was instrumental. A consultant-turned-entrepreneur-turned-investor, Ali brings an amazing amount of experience to the ekar team. Besides being the lead investor in our Series B, Ali has really challenged the ekar team to re-think where we want to be as a company 1, 3, 5 years out. He brings a great mix of intellect, tech experience, and humor - something that is welcome during the rollercoaster ride that is fundraising in the Middle East region!

5) What are your biggest challenges to scale?

ekar has to onboard vehicles in order to scale, and is therefore limited to the availability of cars in the market which are suited to ekar customers requirements and ekar budgeting. Recently, we have received cars from manufacturers, dealers, and car rental companies under a profit share scheme - this has proven to be a quicker onboarding. However, there is still a lot of work to be done in this area. ekar's challenge is to re-think how we onboard cars.

Secondly, each new city requires about 6 months to scale to gross profitability, and takes a lot of staff training in order to accomplish a new city launch. Although we have hired great talent, and built a fantastic playbook including the world highest utilized service in Dubai, there is still a lot of work to be done.

6) What are the most exciting things happening in the transport-tech space right now?

Hands down, autonomous driving is the most exciting thing in the transport tech space right now. As per mobility experts, its estimated that humans will be banned from driving in major cities around the world within 10 years - it’s just too unsafe when compared to computer driving.

7) What advice would you give yourself 5 years ago? 

Time is your most precious resource. Make sure you spend it working with people who believe in your company’s vision.