Lynk & Co’s Alain Visser: “I Never Gave in and of That I Am Proud”
Do you drive a dingy old compact car with a cassette player as its main entertainment center? Or worse – you don’t have a car at all and have to take the tram, the train and the bus to visit your countryside friends? And do you ever fantasize about driving a brand spanking new car even though you don’t know if you’ll be needing it next month, let alone next year? If you do, then I might have *just* the thing for you! With Lynk & Co, you don’t buy or lease a car – you subscribe to it! And on days you don’t need it, you can share it with whoever you like and earn back part of your monthly membership fee. Last month, I was invited to come to Berlin and attend the opening of the new Lynk & Co Club, which is not (I repeat: not) a showroom. Instead, it’s part meeting place, part designer concept store that happens to have a cool car as well. As part of my visit, I met up with the man behind it all, Lynk & Co CEO and car industry disruptor Alain Visser.
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Lynk & Co’s Alain Visser: “I Never Gave in and of That I Am Proud”
Do you remember the moment that the idea for Lynk & Co came to you?
AThe concept is something I’d had on my mind for ages, but I never got the opportunity to actually realize it. Now, I have two sons – both millennials. A few years back, I suddenly thought to myself that if they asked me what I had actually done with my life, the answer would have been: I spent the last thirty years selling cars. And that made me feel terrible! I started out in the car industry all the way back in 1986 and when you think of it, everybody is still doing the exact same thing. They design, engineer and build cars, ship them to dealers who then sell and repair them. Over the past few decades, the world has been changing at a pace we’ve never seen before. Yet there is one industry who keeps working with the same old business model. Why? Because they can and because it’s profitable. I don’t see any true responsibility for sustainability in the car industry. And they’re very bad at keeping in touch with consumer trends. Long story short: I wanted out. But just before I actually quit my job, I got the opportunity to do something new and revolutionary – and that something is what you see here today: Lynk & Co.
Okay, so you have a revolutionary new idea, you already work in the automotive industry… what happened next?
I traveled to China and presented my idea to the board of Geely, the company that owns Volvo Cars – which was where I worked at the time. I wanted a) people to be able to drive a car through a monthly subscription, b) allowing them to safely share it with others whenever they don’t use it and c) give them the feeling they’re part of a larger community. My idea initially did not get a warm reception, to put it mildly. In fact, I’m pretty sure everybody must have thought to themselves, what has he been smoking? I didn’t give up, however, and made several more trips to China during which I backed up my plan with all the numbers. And then incredibly enough I got the go ahead! I went from leading a global team of about 4,000 employees at Volvo one day to working all by myself the next. I remember driving to my local IKEA for some desks and office chairs on my first morning. Talk about starting from scratch!
And how did the name Lynk & Co come about? It’s such an unusual choice for a car brand!
Our project initially worked under the code name Link, which I thought was very bland and generic. And then I remember one night in March 2016, I was sharing a taxi with a colleague. We had drunk a few glasses of wine over dinner and somehow ended up talking about how much we loved the ‘&’ in brands like Abercrombie & Fitch, Pull & Bear, Tiffany & Co. We wondered why it had never been used in the car industry before and decided then and there to go with the name Lynk & Co. We’ve never tested it or given it another thought. We just did it. And let me tell you, everybody outside my team hated it – especially the engineers.
Wow! How come they hated the name Lynk & Co so much then?
I can talk freely about this now, because our head of engineering at the time is no longer with the company. But he had requested a meeting with me and then when he walked into my office I could see from the expression on his face that this was not going to be a fun meeting. He sat down and then he said: Alain, I have 2,500 engineers who have spent the last four years working on a car for me. And you have given it a name that is simply atrocious. Who is ever going to buy a car called Lynk & Co? Shame on you!
That is…quite something!
Yes, but I knew we were on the right track. Although I did of course feel sorry for the guy. I insisted on a name that had nothing to do with the car industry. But if Steve Jobs could start a computer company called Apple and turn it into one of the world’s most iconic brands, I’m sure we can do something similar. Lynk & Co is supposed to stand out and elicit a response. We have a very clear visual identity. And if you don’t like it? Well, then there are about 150 other car brands to choose from. But this is us.
So you had a concept that was based on a monthly subscription, the possibility to share the car via an app and a community that can meet both online and offline. But which came first: the concept or the car?
Early on, we decided to offer one model and one model only. And so, it had to be small enough to drive in the city yet big enough to hold a family. The choice was obvious: a small plug-in hybrid SUV. The Lynk & Co 01 is for everyone, whether you’re twenty or seventy years old. We offer zero options, which is admittedly a radical choice. The only choice our customers have to make is the color: blue or black. Looking back, I’m sorry we didn’t just limit it to one as well.
But why blue and black specifically? There’s an entire industry out there of trend forecasters who make a living out of predicting car colors of the future!
You know what? Blue and black is just what we liked best. A very simple matter of taste. Some people have asked me whether a choice that limited can even be called premium. But then again, you don’t pick out a black designer jacket and then ask the salesperson if you can have it in green with brown buttons, now do you?
I don’t have a marketing background, but defining your target audience as ‘everyone’ sounds a bit tricky to me!
I remember four years ago when our marketing team started out with a series of photos of handsome young guys and pretty young girls. And I said, guys…this can’t be it! We’re not a brand for the good-looking people. We gave it a lot of thought and ended up defining our target audience not by physical age, but by mental age instead. You can be in your twenties and old or you can be young and in your seventies. Age is just a number. Having a modern outlook on life is what matters to us.
I loved the videos on the Lynk & Co website in which total non-experts read the specs of the car!
Up until now, that type of video was totally unheard of in the automotive industry. Most people don’t care if a car has 420 Newton meter torque or accelerates from zero to one hundred in so many seconds. To them, that is totally irrelevant. And so we decided to take the mickey and let the non-experts talk. After all, we don’t just target current car owners. We also want to reach people who don’t necessarily need a car fulltime. In fact, one of my sons always used to say that he would never buy a car. Why should I, he used to ask me. But then the other day, he told me that he might consider Lynk & Co. That definitely felt like a bit of a victory to me. Also, there are so many people out there who could use a car right now but don’t have a clue what their life is going to look like in a year. Isn’t it perfect that they can now get a car with a monthly subscription they can cancel at any time?
And I guess I’m one of those people! I’m currently sharing an old Peugeot 107 with my ex, but I’ve been driving it so much that I’m thinking of getting my own car. And I never in my life would have thought that a shiny new SUV would be a viable option for me. After all, the last thing I need in my life is another long term financial obligation.
You know, sometimes people ask me if a 500 euro monthly subscription isn’t a lot of money. But then again one of my friends recently got a new Volkswagen Polo and he’s paying more if you add the insurance and taxes. With Lynk & Co, everything is included.
There is this great community page on the Lynk & Co website where people can submit new ideas. Do you ever read them?
I don’t only read them, I love them! Some of the ideas are a bit out there, but we’re always open to feedback. A couple of them made us go, now why didn’t we think of that? And that’s exactly the kind of thing we aim for. Being open to new ideas also implies that we don’t just arrogantly assume we’ve already thought of everything ourselves. One subject that has been on my mind is micro mobility. I mean, how great would it be if you could park your car in Amsterdam and take a foldaway electric scooter for the remaining 500 meters? Another reason why I believe in our online community and our brick and mortar clubs, is that they create an emotional bond. Up until now, people switch from BMW to Toyota and from Toyota to Renault because they don’t feel connected to any of these brands. Uber is another perfect example. Their business model is brilliant, but where I live in Gothenburg, there now is a competitor called Bold. They’re cheaper and they pay their drivers more. Now, why would I stick with Uber if I’m not invested in them emotionally? Our community is changing that. People who drive the Lynk & Co 01 don’t just do so because they think it’s a cool car. They also choose our brand because they can share it and be part of something they like. Our clubs and the events we organize there are key in this line of thinking.
A curated selection of designers can sell their work at Lynk & Co clubs. And there are even club nights with all sorts of workshops. What is the synergy you aim for?
Our clubs are not traditional car dealerships. Instead, they are the physical manifestation of what we stand for. You may have noticed that when you first walked in, you didn’t see the car. It’s only part of what we do and that’s why we keep it all the way in the back. Our aim is to organize two events per week and invite everyone who is interested. We don’t want to be exclusive, we want to be inclusive. And you know what? If you just want to come in for a coffee or take some photos, then that’s just fine as well. As for the brands we sell here at the club, we all have in common one thing and that is sustainability.
We sell pens, for instance, that are made from recycled illegal weapons. Talk about a great story! One of the products I actually use at home is Forgo. It is a Swedish brand of hand soap that is sold in powdered form to save on transportation costs. You add the water yourself and it turns into this deliciously smelling foam. So tasteful yet so disruptive – just like us! Retail can be very monotonous but thanks to our brand director Joel Winckler, who designs our clubs, we’re taking it to the next level. And let’s not forget all the people who work in our clubs, they bring Lynk & Co to life.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned at Lynk & Co so far?
It’s this: If you have a big idea, there are always more reasons not to do it than there are to do it. But if you have one single good reason to do it, then just go for it. I can’t tell you how many people told me that all this would never work. But I believed in it, I never gave in and of that I am proud.
Coming soon: an interview with Lynk & Co’s Brand Director Joel Winckler…but for now, why don’t you check out the other blogposts on Interiorator.com?