Toby Kernon has owned 19 cars in 20 years, he says. During that period he has switched models, makes, and styles, for a host of different reasons; a growing family, a new job, a change of scenery.
But the best experience he had was an arrangement with Ford, who delivered a new car to him every 6 months, and whose mechanics were always on hand to fix any problems. If only you could get the same service from all automotive companies, thought Toby.
It so happened that at this stage in his career, after working as a self-employed bond trader, investment associate at a venture capital firm, and angel investor, Kernon had the time and energy to devote to solving this problem.
Wagonex is the result – quite simply, a car-on-subscription service; sign-up, pick a car, use it for 3-6 months, and swap. SUV for the winter, convertible for the summer, for example – all whilst being looked after with concierge levels of services and repairs.
Having achieved more than 1,700 sign-ups already despite there being no tangible product (until agreements with car manufacturers are put in place – Kernon says he is talking with several major automotive companies) yet, it seems plenty of people agree with Toby about car ownership; it’s cheaper to rent and preferable not to have to worry about maintaining the car after over the long term.
Kernon – an entrepreneur with a highly engaging personality and never-say-die spirit – shared many a horror story around car ownership when we met at the offices of freelance development collective Ucreate recently, whom he has commissioned to help develop an MVP and works with closely from their office beside the Kingsland Road, in Haggerston.
Ucreate are a team of designers and developers based in London and Chandigarh, India, who can build entrepreneurs and founders a minimum viable product (MVP) in less than 90 days, at a fraction of the price of many other development teams, because they take an equity stake in the businesses they work with, becoming vested in their success in the process.
Kernon is delighted with the results, having struggled to find co-founders in the past who could last the pace.
He recounts dark times at a promising start-up he co-founded; “our business partner became like a rabbit in a headlights and hid all of the bills from us – in the end we had to vote him off the board and make him a minority shareholder while we attempted to rescue the situation.”
After spending some time on this project, a sports social network, a process he describes as a “baptism of fire”, Kernon eventually concluded the project could not work, and regretfully took the entire team of 3 out for a slap-up lunch to say goodbye. It was there he finally got the slice of luck – sadly a few months too late – he had needed all along. David Beckham, the perfect celebrity endorsement and potential investor, was sat on the table next to them as the team exchanged tearful goodbyes.
But Kernon isn’t phased by challenges and does nothing if not live in the moment. He has quickly shifted all of his focus on to Wagonex, which he believes can be a game changer. He has been speaking with VCs having raised a first round of funding , and says:
“a lot of the people I’m speaking to are familiar with the idea and very keen to explore new propositions within this space but haven’t seen a project where its 95% there yet, which I believe Wagonex is. All we’re waiting for is a nod from the right people We are simply waiting for the final pieces to fall into place.”
As an entrepreneur in residence at Ucreate and a start-up mentor at Mass Challenge, Kernon feels he has “been at the coalface” long enough to know that the subscription or sharing economy, or even “mobility as a service”, represents the way forward. “why own anything anymore?”, as the famous sharing economy maxim goes.
He plans to launch Wagonex in London, where rival, similar services might include Drive Now, or Blablacar, for example, the ride sharing app that has been a huge success on the continent but is barely used in the UK.
Why? “there’s something about the British and their cars, we prefer to use our own if we can and find little comfort in sharing”, says Kernon, and environmental politics aside, he’s undeniably right.
Still, with autonomous driving very much on the horizon, and the concept of ownership of automobiles becoming more of a historical footnote every day, Wagonex “fits the niche” that has arisen between what drivers require today, and the no-turning-back changes on the horizon.
Ownership is so last decade. Today it is all about sharing. Kernon is sharing his dreams of an upwardly mobile automobile start-up with Ucreate, who are dividing labour between London, Eastern Europe and India.
Who says globalisation is finished? As we hurtle through 2017, all the talk to date has been of deep tech and B2B – but B2C is still the glamour play that gets the public, and investors, unreasonably excited.
Let’s hope Wagonex provides its users with a smooth ride, and that local entrepreneurs continue to “crush it”, as teh saying goes, throughout 2017.