We had the opportunity of chatting to Stephan Dörner, the editor-in-chief of the German tech magazine t3n, which covers digital business. He’ll also be moderating the fireside chat “Dangerous liaisons: Who wins when startups meet corporates?” at the NMW on the FORUM stage.
How do you think we will get from A to B in 2040?
In a lot of different ways – the same as is the case today. Especially in urban places mobility will be a commodity you can order via an app. But I don’t think that there will be one unified platform for mobility.
What do you think of the interplay between startups and larger corporations?
I think for a long time there was the false hope that the cooperation or acquisition of startups can help in changing the company culture. They will not. The change of corporate culture must happen inside the organization itself, especially with the support of c-level management. But cooperations and acquisitions of startups should be part of the innovation strategy of every corporate.
Looking at extreme funding rounds (such as Bird, Lyft and Uber in the US), do you think Germany/Europe is trailing behind when it comes to investing in mobility startups?
Valuation of high-growth companies is higher across the board for every industry in the US compared to Europe – for a lot of good and not-so-good reasons. The fact that leading mobility startups like Uber, Didi and Lyft are valued so extremely in comparison to the rest is partly reasonable if you consider network effects. Some investors are betting on a world in which mobility is a problem that will be solved by a few Amazon-like platforms, a kind of operating systems for mobility, so to speak. Being large is a competitive advantage in this environment as customers will be attracted by apps that get them a cab faster and drivers will also use the app in which they get the most customers. Being bigger also means getting access to more data to train your models.
When looking at developments, we mostly talk about what is happening in the US, Europe and Asia. But what about economies in Africa and South America?
In a lot of ways countries in Africa and South America have been using things like carpooling cabs, which the West considers as an innovation, for many decades – just without the apps. Technological innovation is still driven by the US and Asia in the first place, but with a rising middle class and its big populations, Africa and South America will increasingly play a role in customer demands and thus influence the way things are developing.
It is clear that for future mobility to work the government, politicians, manufacturers, startups, etc. have to work together. What are the pitfalls and promises of these collaborations? Where can it go wrong, and where can it go very right?
Mobility is a field with a lot of implications for the environment and society as a whole so that regulators will play a big role in shaping mobility solutions of the future. The big question is what kind of mobility solutions can be better provided by an open market and which are better provided by public infrastructure. I think that a combination of state or city-run public transport and market solutions, reaching from car-sharing to apps such as Uber, will be the future of mobility in cities.
It is important that apps like Uber, Clevershuttle or Moia are allowed in a way that supports public transport. As a city, I would allow a lot more than for example German cities are currently allowing, but with certain conditions. I would like to see that all kinds of mobility services are allowed if they also serve the outskirts of the city, which are not well served by trains and busses. I would allow every mobility service even in the lucrative inner city if they use eco-friendly electric vehicles and so on. The aim should be to bring down traffic in cities to benefit its inhabitants.
Mobility events have had to adapt from the static motor shows of the past. In your experience, what makes a good event? And what results from such an event?
A good event is always a good mix of information, communication and entertainment. You want to meet the right people and connect with them, you want to get inspiration and information about your industry – but you want to get these things while having fun.
What do you consider to be the most innovative company at the moment?
That depends on the fields you are looking for. When it comes to one field that will change every industry as it happened before with the Internet – I’m speaking of AI –certainly Google and Amazon are on the forefront of the current advances in Machine Learning.
What would you see as the most surprising mobility concept/trend/product?
If it would surprise me I cannot think of it before I have seen it. 😉
Can films, comics and books in popular culture sometimes correctly predict parts of what future mobility might look like? Has there been a film/music video/etc. where you thought: “Jup, that looks realistic.“?
Yes, but most imaginations of the future have been terribly wrong. A common mistake is that we take current trends and extrapolate as if the trends will continue forever and no new developments come into play. Certain aspects of the future – like StarTrek’s communicator or the tablet-like devices in later StarTrek episodes from the early 90s – have been correct glimpses of the future, which is our present today.
Thank your for your time, Mr. Dörner!