Lynk & Co: "If we don't make mistakes, we've made a big mistake"
As a man who's spent more than 30 years in the car business, Lynk & Co Senior Vice President Alain Visser might be expected to be an ambassador for the industry. Yet by selling mobility as a service rather than cars as a product, it's an industry the company seeks to turn upside down. So perhaps it's not so surprising that Visser has some outspoken views on the industry he labels a "dinosaur." After the dust settled on the reveal of the 02 crossover SUV, we hopped on a phone call with Visser to learn more about his unique take on the automotive landscape, covering company culture, branding and diversity along the way. What follows is a transcript of what was said, edited for length and clarity.
Hello! How's everything going?
Very very good. It's been an extremely busy start of the year. I can't believe it's already mid-May but it's going really well. We're extremely happy with the developments of the launch of the 01 in China. We have a lot of work to do in Europe, but there's a very good mood in the organization.
Are you in a position to talk sales numbers?
We keep it a little bit under wraps but what I can say is that when we launched the brand in China in November, we had an objective of 100,000 units for 2018, which is for only one car and we've adjusted that target to 150,000 with a clear chance to be above that, so that says a lot.
What's next on the horizon?
It's two things. It's the launch of the new product in China. We were only selling the 01 and have started to sell the 02 which hit dealerships a couple of weeks ago. And then the next step is to publicly launch that in China. And then by the third quarter launch the 03 so we're basically launching two new cars in our first year.
And then the other next step where my team is focusing on is the introduction of the launch in Europe which we did the event in Amsterdam last month or two months ago.
Do you have any more models planned in the future? A small car offering, maybe?
We haven't really disclosed our portfolio. We have quite a number of products in our plan, and we're not even yet 100 percent decided which ones we'll offer in Europe. And I will dare to say they come in all sizes. So without being specific, we have quite an array of products in the portfolio, but we will predominantly focus on SUV and crossover vehicles.
We know hybrids are coming, but are you thinking much about assistive driving technology?
Not a lot to say on that really. We are, as you know, within the Volvo group, which has the lead on everything autonomous driving. It's not a major focus for Lynk & Co. We will be following everything and offering everything that Volvo has in its pipeline.
Where do you see yourself standing apart as you from other car manufacturers?
The simple answer is that other car brands have a clear intention of selling as many cars as possible. Our intention is to offer best mobility solutions, so from selling cars to selling mobility. The idea is that we're basically saying we see a new generation of customers willing to spend a lot of money on a lot of things including mobility, but less and less willing to spend £20,000 on a car. So what we're saying is that that these people seem to be willing to spend a lot of money per month on mobility including public transportation, taxis and Ubers.
We offer a model where they have the ownership feeling of a car at an affordable price and that's what we do so in our model of subscription which is already being copied by some other brands. Our view with our expectation of subscription is that it's a model where customers can try out our models and have a mobility concept for one month. So I like to compare us with Spotify and Netflix where you basically buy mobility for a month and if you like it you extend it, and if you don't like it you stop.
And we see that these young customers are concerned about. They have no problem spending $400 per month on mobility. But if they have to sign up for the next 12 to 24 months they get worried, and that's why ours is going to be monthly.
Are there any other companies you admire whether it's from a customer focus point of view or branding point of view?
Definitely not in the car industry, no. I think there are some cool brands in terms of trying new things. I like companies that start with new concepts and shake up industries. From that perspective I am a big fan of Spotify, which has made the whole music industry accessible to a wider range of people at an affordable price. So I think Spotify is probably one of these examples, also from a corporate cultural point of view that I think are doing some great stuff.
Why is company culture important for success?
I think it it's the willingness to change and an openness to make mistakes. I tell my people all the time "if we don't make mistakes, we've made a big mistake." We need to have a fail-fast culture which means that we need to try and test new things. The safest way is always to do what already exists and try to do it a little bit better. And I think our culture is really driven by "let's really challenge things." The most often asked question in this company is probably "why?" Here, 70 percent of the people I recruit are non-automotive, with average age of 34 and we have 50 percent women.
I think a lot of companies do things and then try to test if it works well with the consumers. I would dare to say that our target consumers work for our company. If you visit us here, the target customers work here. In my whole career I've always asked people I recruit "what do you think about cars?" If they weren't super-enthusiastic I always told them yes go and work for a bank or insurance company. Now I'm recruiting these people who are not excited about cars because that's what our customers think. They don't count horsepower or acceleration from zero to a hundred.
The people who still do that work in the car companies. It's a dinosaur industry and I think that the difference in the culture we tried here is that people who live in this new world who really live in the new generation, so we know exactly what these people want because it's them. And I see myself as an enabler of having them express their ideas and then have good business people next to them to make them implement.
Look, I'm 54. I am the grandpa of the organization. The oldest in the organization. My role is to bring these people in and to help my management team to execute their ideas. That's how I see it. It's a very initiative-taking culture.
How important is gender diversity to Lynk & Co as an organization?
I think it's extremely important. I don't want to be negative about the industry where I've spent 30 years of my life but it's a very male industry. The customers out there have much more variety than those inside this industry. So I try to bring this variety within our organization. We have a team here of 140 people more or less so its really small and I want to keep it like that. And if I'm not mistaken we currently have 21 nationalities so we're doing quite well.
How important is branding?
The product is important, the business model is important, but the brand is crucial. People more than ever are brand-sensitive and buy brands more than products. So one of our targets is create a strong brand. Everybody has to be cool, but trying to be cool is not cool. We're very very careful of establishing a genuine brand that is really portrayed by the people who work in my team. So it's a very important thing, the marketing and branding of a new company because you can have the best car, the best business model. If it's an unattractive brand, it's not gonna fly.
Does the brand flow from the product?
I think particularly in the car industry you can't build a brand without a product. I'm going to be very very cynical now but in the fashion industry you can become a premium brand with poor quality. It's very good marketing and there are examples, I wouldn't name them but that exist. And you can be a poor brand with good quality. In the car industry I think that's impossible. You can not become a strong brand with poor quality it's impossible. So yeah I think the product is crucial to build a strong brand. I think it's more than that, it's more than the product.
What other areas of technology that you're excited by?
The whole social media area is something I'm extremely interested in. I personally have this view that we seem to have a cyclone/anticyclone world where everything that goes extreme in one direction is followed by the extreme in the other direction. I give the simple example from Spotify to the trend of buying LPs again.
And I think we need to be as much as we say we're a connected brand. I keep on telling my team you need to switch connectivity off. There are moments where people just want their privacy and want to be alone, Maybe some don't, but some do. I'm very interested in what I believe is soon going to happen if it hasn't happened already. So I think we need to be very careful that we don't go fully in one direction find ourselves out of date in 5 years time and that's something that we're working on. I'm very intrigued by that movement which I think is being underestimated.