It was a sunny afternoon in October 2019, with blue skies and no clouds, the seatbelts sign had just been turned off a few minutes earlier, when the captain came back on the intercom with an alarmed voice, announcing we were going to perform an emergency landing.
In row 3, we just settled in for the short hop to Munich, together with fellow Sofia entrepreneur and angel investor George Brashnarov, on our way back from a startup workshop we had given in Ukraine. As our plane diverted to Lviv airport to offload a passenger who fell ill, George asked me if I had heard of Hobo, the soon-to-launch micro-mobility startup he had recently seeded in Sofia together with a few other members of our local angel club.
And as it happened, I did know Hobo. Earlier that year, as electric kickboard scooters were taking over European cities a dozen at a time, I was walking the cobblestone streets of downtown Sofia when I noticed a few young men and women aligning five incredibly good looking scooters for what appeared to be a photo shoot. The logo, featuring a bee, read Hobo, and I instantly reached for my phone to find and install the app to try them out. Alas, there was no such app available. When I asked the guys shooting the scooters, they told me to keep an eye out on Hobo.bg, where the launch would be announced in a few months.
Sitting on the tarmac at Lviv airport waiting for our plane to get refueled, George took me through his rationale for Hobo. Despite big players like Lime and Bird pouring tens of millions into rapid market expansion in Europe, often sidelining local regulators and safety rules, there is a way to make shared e-mobility sustainable as a business, as well as beneficial to the livability of a city like Sofia. A locally owned and operated player, with a business model geared for revenue and profitability, deep integration with city transport providers and local businesses, and sturdy equipment that is safe even in poor weather conditions, is what could set apart a VC-fueled hype from a lasting, solid business.
A few weeks later, back in Sofia, and with Hobo just launched, we took our first meeting with the founders, Teodor and Todor, and started learning that this is exactly what the company is about. Teodor and Todor are nearly as perfect as a founder team could be. Teodor is the original founder and CEO, a thirty-year-old firmly rooted in the community of young entrepreneurs that is fundamentally changing the face of Bulgarian business. Wide-eyed, charismatic, visionary, with a strong, convincing voice, as good a spokesperson for the clean, ecological, uncluttered way of moving about a city as you can imagine. Todor is a more mature type, with 25 years of experience in finance, a man that crunches numbers instantly and without error, modeling the not-always-easy scenarios of reaching profitability in a business model with a lot of capex and write-offs.
One reason why Hobo is relevant is the location, size, and overall urban characteristics of Sofia. While we’re lucky to live in a city where 2 million people walk around every day surrounded by stunning mountains and ancient forests, our location in Sofia Valley also means we get some of the lowest wind speeds in Europe, and some of the highest air pollution figures in the EU. Combined with a very compact downtown area, over 300 days of sun per year, and increasingly excellent public transport, the argument for last-mile shared personal electric vehicles is considerably more valid and attractive than in most other cities in Europe.
Another reason is the business model. Other than giants like the aforementioned Lime and Bird, as well as their big European counterparts like Bolt and Voi, who expand based on tourist load factors and volume-driven valuations in the hope of reaching a quick and rich IPO, Hobo presented us with a sound plan, aimed at becoming sustainable in one city, and then expanding regionally city by city, building partnerships with municipalities and service providers to create a fully integrated zero-waste transport option for urbanites, all the while keeping revenue and profits as main targets.
Today Hobo boasts two cities in Bulgaria, over 14,000 users, and just passed 150,000 kilometers of safe e-scootering by conscious commuters who get access to Hobo either as regular pay-as-you-go app users, or through integration with their Sofia city transport card, or as users of a business mobility plan by their employers. Hobo’s recently introduced 2.0 scooter is the best model currently on the market; a sturdy, beautifully designed scooter, with swappable batteries, double brakes, turn indicators, and a number of other features that make it a safe option even on cobblestones and in between heavy car traffic.
At Vitosha, we’re very excited that through our investment we can be part of this journey with such a great team and product. Hobo has a number of exciting new features that will be announced soon, and from our side as investors, we are looking forward to the challenge of helping a team that makes our cities sustainably more liveable, reach a business model that is no less sustainably profitable, generating returns for investors and business success for the founders, all while generating fundamental value for all people in our urban areas.