European e-scooter firm Voi bags $85 million in fresh funding round

Key Points
  • Sweden's Voi Technology says it hopes the fresh fundraising will help it reach profitability.
  • The firm plans to invest in its kick scooters and fund development of its software.
  • Since launching last year, Voi has lured in 4 million users who have taken 14 million rides.
An electric scooter from Swedish tech start-up Voi Technology.
Voi Technology

Swedish electric scooter sharing start-up Voi Technology has raised $85 million from investors, a move the firm hopes will help it reach profitability in the next few years.

The new round was led by Stockholm-based investment group Vostok New Ventures, Voi said Monday. Existing investors Balderton Capital, Creandum and Raine Ventures also invested. It comes just eight months after the firm last raised money.

"Already now we have seen seasonable profitability in some cities," Fredrik Hjelm, Voi's co-founder and CEO, told CNBC in an interview. "Next year we want to have a bunch of cities that are profitable over the whole year. And by 2021-2022, we should be profitable on a company basis."

Voi's funding round comes against a backdrop of rising wariness among investors about high-flying, high-spending start-ups that lack a clear plan for how they're going to generate profits.

In order to break even, Voi says it will use the fresh capital to ramp up work on its kick scooters to extend their lifespan. It will also fund the development of software to better understand where to place the vehicles overnight and see how users are parking them.

Anticipating profitability in 2020, Lime CEO says
Anticipating profitability in 2020, Lime CEO says

A big point of frustration for some local authorities has been people dumping scooters inappropriately on streets or even in rivers. In response, some U.S. and European regulators have clamped down on the scooter craze to prevent that kind of behavior.

San Francisco, for instance, brought in permits for scooter companies after the city was flooded with the two-wheelers, while France earlier this year moved to block people from riding them on sidewalks. In Britain, it's illegal to ride scooters on roads and pavement but there is a limited trial taking place in London.

A series of accidents and at least one fatality prompted Singapore last week to declare e-scooters illegal except on bike paths.

Hjelm said the company takes its regulatory duties seriously.

"Our thesis from day one was we would be deeply integrated into the city's transportation ecosystem," he said, adding that Voi does this by helping form policy around issues like parking and by obtaining the appropriate licenses for the cities it operates in.

We don't see scooters as a silver bullet. We think the world will be multimodal.
Fredrik Hjelm
CEO of Voi Technology

Voi, however, is up against stiff competition from some highly-valued U.S. rivals. Buzzy start-ups like Bird and Lime saw their valuations spike in 2018 as investors flocked to industry. However both companies — founded just two years ago — remain unprofitable.

Meanwhile, Uber and its European rival Bolt have both entered the scooter market, adding more competitive pressure on some of the younger upstarts. But Hjelm said he believes Voi can "beat" its rivals by focusing on getting to profitability.

"Just as Uber made sense as an alternative to public transportation, or other modes of transportation like driving yourself, this makes sense as a segment for the short distance," Lars Fjeldsoe-Nielsen, general partner at Voi shareholder Balderton Capital, told CNBC.

He added that Voi has been working with German rail network operator Deutsche Bahn to let users drop the scooters off at designated areas by train stations. "This is really about the last mile," said Fjeldsoe-Nielsen, a former executive at Uber.

Like some of its competitors, Voi is still pretty young. Since launching in August 2018, the firm has brought in 4 million users who have taken 14 million rides with its e-scooters. It hasn't, however, disclosed its valuation.

Looking ahead, Voi hopes to eventually roll out more modes of transport. Hjelm said the company plans to pilot electric bicycles next year. "We don't see scooters as a silver bullet," he said. "We think the world will be multimodal."