Alejandro Betancourt Lopez Discusses Auro Travel and What’s Next for the RideShare App
As the founder and biggest shareholder of Spanish ride-hailing company Auro Travel, entrepreneur Leopoldo Alejandro Betancourt Lopez likes to keep up with the mobility business in Spain, Europe, and much of the rest of the world. Beyond mobility, however, his skill and shrewdness as an investor extend into the worlds of banking and payment technology, international asset management, energy exploration, and even eco-friendly fashion.
Betancourt established Auro in 2017. But originally, he had a unique vision for car-sharing in Spain before almost anyone else did. His intuition convinced him to acquire 2,000 ride-hailing licenses for vehicles prior to there being a viable market for such a service in Madrid or other Spanish cities.
“We foresaw a time, like today, when these licenses would be very desirable,” explains Betancourt. “It was a high-risk bet because we weren’t certain that market conditions would change in our favor, but we felt it was an important bet.”
At present, Auro possesses more than 2,000 vehicles (forming Spain’s biggest fleet of private autos) to accompany its licenses. The drivers for these vehicles are able to work according to their own schedules and can set their own wages. They can work part-time, taking on just a small number of jobs each month, or they can work full-time — 32 or more hours per week. Besides ride-hailing in cities, Auro offers private car services with its own dedicated drivers throughout the entirety of Spain.
Regarding investing and risk, Betancourt notes, “The way I see it is, ‘Nothing risked; nothing gained.’ You have to take risks in order to succeed, but you also need to do your due diligence.” Still, he warns, “I don’t advocate taking crazy risks; that’s being foolish. When you take a risk, you need to be fully aware of the consequences and fully understand what you’re going to do if it goes bad. That’s being a good risk-taker; you must be able to live with the result if the situation goes bad.”
Auro has drawn outside investment, even after the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020 (likely because it’s anticipated that business will grow rapidly once it fades). Investors in Auro include ventures FJ Labs and GP Bullhound, Zaryn Dentzel, Félix Ruiz Hernandez, Hugo Arévalo — Betancourt’s partner in the latter’s aforementioned fashion venture, and José Antonio Parrondo — the former president of Madrid’s taxi association.
Expanding the Business via an App
After Auro was founded, the company formed a division named Arrow that leased its licenses to partner firms such as Cabify and Uber that wished to participate in major Spanish markets. At the moment, Auro has an enviable market presence in Madrid, and it also operates in Barcelona, Malaga, and Valencia.
“I see many ways we can grow,” states Betancourt. “We’re in the process of launching our own app, which will create opportunities for us to be an operator ourselves, not just providing licenses to other operators. I see us expanding beyond Spain and even challenging the big transportation players in Europe.”
In speaking about Auro’s app, Betancourt observes, “We currently have a beta app. You can download it, and you can try it, but we’re not officially marketing it yet. We’re not officially in the market per se. This is partly because of the pandemic, and partly because we want to make sure we launch a product that’s way better than our competition. We want to have an edge; we want to use our app to help us be better than everyone else.”
The COVID pandemic has definitely affected Auro’s plans for expansion. “Right now, we’re concentrated on how we’re going to restart the company,” Betancourt concedes. “We have more than 2,000 vehicles, all of which are parked because there’s [been] no demand for travel. Managing our resources in this challenging environment is our primary focus right now.
Auro and Ride-Sharing’s Future
Despite the pandemic, Betancourt is clearly still excited about mobility in the future. “The world population is constantly growing; regulation is changing all of the time,” he declares. “I think the growth of personal vehicle ownership has probably peaked. I think as people and governments become more conscious of reducing carbon emissions and their carbon footprints, there will be more and more interest in public transportation and ways to share rides. I believe that the ride-sharing model will continue to gain market share and that the big loser is going to be the personal car and the auto manufacturers.”
In the meantime, Auro is experiencing some legal turbulence; a recent court decision concerning an exclusivity agreement with partner Cabify was overturned; now a new ruling states that the original agreement may have been valid after all. This has the potential to affect Auro negatively. To quote Auro shareholder Félix Ruiz Hernandez, Cabify “has won a battle, but not the war.” According to Hernandez, Auro will appeal the case soon to Spain’s Constitutional Court.
Originally published at https://www.tmcnet.com.