Going global with Urban Sharing’s new CEO Marius Olsen
Last week, Urban Sharing announced Schibsted’s Marius Olsen will be joining Urban Sharing as its new CEO to help bring our platform to a global market.
Through his time as Schibsted Media Group, most recently as Vice President of Platform and Technology Trends, Marius brings with him the experience to take our technology platform out of the Nordics and into the global stage. Marius formally joins Urban Sharing in September.
We recently sat down with Marius to learn a little more about who he is, and where he sees the future for both Urban Sharing and the micromobility industry.
Tell us a little about your time at Schibsted.
Marius: I joined Schibsted in 2014 as a product director of VG (Norway’s largest news outlet), managing the advertising and commercial product portfolio, as well as being significantly involved in sales and negotiations with the most significant commercial partners of Schibsted. We were in the midst of shifting from print to digital, and, at the time, digital was doing really well.
However, just months after I joined, global tech giants became much more aggressive in the Norwegian market and took a lion’s share of the advertising revenues. It was a significant threat to our business.
So we had to figure out how to compete with them and differentiate. Instead of trying to play in their field, we decided to look at how we could create our own field instead, make our market. How could we play on our strengths in a way that was not easy to mass-reproduce, and therefore make it less likely that the tech giants would beat us?
One thing we did was to found an agency — VG Partnerstudio — which hired some fantastic journalists to write high-quality stories funded by advertisers and commercial partners. We started in 2015, and in the first three years of business it went from zero to 110 million NOK in annual revenue.
We created something users actually want. It’s not something the tech giants can easily beat Schibsted on, because it requires high quality content creation and careful tailoring to provide a relevant user experience.
It’s funny that you mention “careful work” and “user experience,” as it sounds an awful lot like what we focus on at Urban Sharing.
I’m very happy to hear about Urban Sharing’s user experience (UX)-centric approach. It’s my feeling about Urban Sharing as well, and it’s one of the things that really attracted me to the company.
Through my experience as a consultant before Schibsted — and I have worked with many different companies across several industries — I know that it’s very tempting to do short-term optimization to create short term revenues, so you can deliver products to better serve the stock market. But in doing so, you may be leaving your users in the dust. And this might harm you in the long-term.
In my time reading up on Urban Sharing, I saw how it focused on providing tangible solutions for long-term shared infrastructure. How it used data to prioritize the needs of the user by placing bikes where they would actually be used instead of just flooding urban areas with unused hardware. How it researched the gender dynamics of bike-sharing users in Oslo, uncovered hidden biases, and readjusted its distribution model to better serve the population.
I found all of this to be tremendously impressive. I feel that Urban Sharing really has its head in the right place. While the micromobilty industry is filled with players and investors excited about the changes that will come to cities over the next few years, I truly believe Urban Sharing’s vision and approach will be the one that sticks around for a long time.
Do you think this focus on the user is particularly Nordic?
I don’t think it has to be Nordic, necessarily. The New York Times and the Guardian, for example: They both have a lot of trust from their users, and trust is a great gauge of how well a company is able to match what a user wants, to what it provides.
I do think that Oslo, for example, has a history of focusing on smarter solutions for its citizens, so they tend to trust institutions to provide what they say they’ll provide. When you have a trusting, tech-savvy population, you create an environment where UX solutions can thrive. So this makes Oslo a great testing ground to a more academic approach to micromobility than you might see elsewhere.
Next year Urban Sharing will expand its platform to Stockholm. I think it will do very well there for much of the same reasons. At the same time, I think the lessons we learn in Oslo and Stockholm will really help inform how we approach our partners both within and beyond the Nordic environment.
That’s one of learnings I have from Schibsted. It’s not easy to just blueprint a successful model and scale it perfectly. There is not necessarily a one-size-fits all solution. You have to take into account what is common, and what is slightly different within each market. And then be able to scale in that way.
What I’ve found, up to now, about Urban Sharing and its platform, is that it is already well positioned to adapt to a myriad of environments. It is flexible enough to integrate with a number of operating partners and cities, and smart enough to take the time to learn in which direction the platform should be flexible.
This is an exciting time to join Urban Sharing as its CEO and I’m thrilled to help it continue to expand to the global stage.
Are there any other lessons you would bring with you to Urban Sharing?
Just this: Where there are barriers for the global giants, that’s where local players have an advantage. That’s my experience from VG and Schibsted.
You can complain all you want about getting beaten by the tech giants, but I think it’s an opportunity instead to figure out new ways of doing things. Appreciate that in a lot of ways, they are really good at what they do. It doesn’t make sense to compete with that.
I think Urban Sharing has a lot going for it with its focus on operational excellence over feeding immediate demand. Not only does this give us a unique position to work from, but it allows us to fill in the gaps left unfilled by other micromobility solutions.
In this way, companies that may have been seen as our competitors can actually become operating partners. So far this seems to have worked very well for Urban Sharing, with its relationship with Serco in the scheme it powers in Edinburgh, for example, or its forthcoming partnership with Voi in Stockholm.
At its core, Urban Sharing’s open-data, forward-thinking approach lends itself well to productive collaboration. This is a wonderful space to work in. I can’t wait to get started.