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Doing Business Sustainably – feat. elmo

We caught up with Olly Jones, Co-Founder of elmo, an electric car subscription platform. elmo want to change the way that people view owning an electric car and to overcome the barriers such as upfront cost and charging. As a result their subscription service is competitive with the traditional car hire market and the minimum commitment is an initial 3 months, making it really accessible.

The purpose of our series “Doing Business Sustainably” is to feature experts, thought leaders and influencers within Sustainability. We capture and share their expertise. Peer to peer, whilst educating businesses and enabling the next generation of professionals.

ADLIB: Could you please introduce yourself, your company, and your role?

Olly: Hi there and thanks for having me! I’m Olly Jones, one of the co-founders of elmo. We’re making it easy and affordable for consumers to switch to an electric car. Through our electric car subscription platform, users can find out which electric car would work best for their lifestyle with our Suitability Tool and then drive that car on a flexible subscription contract with insurance, maintenance, breakdown, road tax and a carbon offset contribution included as standard. On top of this, users can choose to include a home charge point, discounted renewable energy (through our partnership with So Energy) and public charging access – all wrapped up in a single monthly bill.

We got started in early 2019 and were fortunate to gain backing at an early stage from some wonderful investors and advisors from the industry, including the former Head of Sales for Tesla Europe, the former Head of EV at EDF Energy and even a former Global Sales Director from Deliveroo! We’ve also been lucky enough to win grant support from the Department for Transport as a company decarbonising the UK transport system. And we’ve recently been invited onto the prestigious Tech Nation Net Zero accelerator programme as one of the most promising scale-ups tackling climate change in the UK.

ADLIB : Can you share the story behind the origin of the company and what its mission is?

Olly: My Co-founder, Luke Gavin, got an MSc in Petroleum Geosciences from Imperial. But his exposure to that industry put him off a career in it! He joined renewable energy supplier, Octopus Energy, as an early employee before working as a senior consultant on the e-mobility infrastructure team at strategy consultancy Element Energy.

His experiences over the years in both roles helped shape his view of the evolving energy and mobility sectors; where, due to the emergence of IoT, battery storage and electric cars, the two industries are increasingly merging into one landscape.

In late 2018 Luke realised that, due to the high upfront costs and the unfamiliarity around the new technology, on its current trajectory the uptake of electric cars as a consumer proposition was going to be too slow to have a meaningful impact on reducing the 26% of UK carbon emissions produced by the transport sector. This surprised him given that switching to electric car is a relatively low-hanging fruit for individuals to drastically reduce their carbon emissions and combat climate change. (After ‘living car-free’, driving a battery electric vehicle is the next best way to reduce your emissions saving 1.95 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per person annually, according to the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions).

Luke wanted to do something at scale that could have a significant impact in helping people access this powerful way to reduce their carbon emissions while benefiting from new technology – a scalable solution for people and planet.

Luke and I, who have known each other since we were thirteen, then met up for a New Year’s drink at the start of 2019. We ended up only talking about this idea and what could be achieved with it. I remember leaving with a pocketful of napkin notes and real sense of purpose.

So, that’s where the inspiration and motivation came for elmo and our mission to enable 10,000 UK drivers to switch to an electric car by 2024.

ADLIB : What has been your inspiration to work within Sustainability and what is your take on the importance of Doing Business Sustainably?

Olly: I come from a rural background in Dorset and was brought up with values that embraced sustainability and awareness for the environment. Before launching elmo, I was Head of Marketing at Angel Investment Network where we supported entrepreneurs in raising early stage investment. I also run and host ‘The Startup Microdose Podcast’ with my colleague, Ed Stephens, where we interview some of the most promising and successful UK scale-up founders. In both roles, I have been lucky to spend time with some inspiring founders whose product/service had been designed around solving a specific market problem, but with the added dimension of impact and sustainability playing a central role. And they all seemed to me to make compelling cases for the importance of building a business with sustainability at its core.

In the face of this, I felt as though no business was worth starting unless its ability to generate revenue was married to its ability to create a meaningful and positive impact on the world.

The problems most worth solving are those not only needed by the people of this world, but also by the world itself, in which we all live and on which we all rely. So, when Luke approached me with the kernel of the idea that grew into elmo, it really felt like the stars had aligned for me.

ADLIB : Could you share any challenges, barriers or preconceptions that you’ve come across and had to overcome regarding Sustainability?

Olly: I think that we often talk too much about the barriers and challenges to doing business sustainably. I don’t mean to say that it’s not a worthwhile discussion, nor that there isn’t more work to be done to make it easier for businesses to operate with those values. But, now more than ever before, founding a business with sustainable values at its core has so many advantages. The growth in interest in sustainability across from many stakeholder groups means that you’re getting a leg up from the start by aligning with that interest. Customers care more and more about the impact of their purchase decisions. Investors care more and more about the impact of their investments. Employees care more and more about the impact and purpose of their work. And added to all of that, you’ve got governments weighing in to support sustainable initiatives (though they could always do more!). If you can find product/market fit within those conditions, you’ve got a recipe for success; and one that doesn’t come at the cost of our planet.

ADLIB : Would you be able to share some of the wisdom that you have gathered around Doing Business Sustainably?

Olly: I have one story out of which you might be able to sieve some wisdom…

Right from the start, we wanted to make our subscription offering carbon neutral. Our electric cars are obviously zero emission but there’s still work to be done on the manufacturing and supply chain fronts before the green potential of EVs is fully realised. That’s why we include a carbon offset donation as standard (in partnership with ClimateCare) with each monthly subscription payment.

Now, our business is low margin and we have to work very hard to make the prices accessible to our target customers. “Is adding an extra cost per vehicle per month worth it or just an unnecessary expense?” We were asked this by one of our finance partners during the due diligence process. It’s a fair question – it is hard to justify putting seemingly needless pressure on our unit economics.

However, it only takes a little bit of reflection to realise the opportunities we have received as a result of sticking to our principles on this. We’re focused on building a solution for decarbonising the UK transport sector at scale – zero emission cars is one thing, but a fully carbon neutral offering makes the impact of switching to an EV far greater. And to meet climate targets, we need big, scalable and meaningful solutions. That’s why we stayed true to our convictions and that’s why some fantastic investors and partners have got behind us. And as a result, our customers value us not only for the access to electric cars that we provide, but also for making it easier for them to make a sustainable purchase decision.

I’d advise anyone in a similar position to do the same and stick to their sustainable convictions!

Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me, good luck with elmo and your plans for 2021.