By Jack Stubbs
Advances in vehicular technology will no doubt continue to shape the commercial real estate industry as transit-oriented developments become increasingly central to the plans of real estate professionals.
Envoy Technologies, founded in Culver City, California in May 2017 , is a ride-sharing platform that looks to connect property owners and developers with electric vehicles in the built environment. Envoy looks to capitalize on trends in transit-oriented development building owners with easier access to amenities and services.
We recently spoke with Aric Ohana and Ori Sagie, co-founders of Envoy, about the platform and the services it looks to provide its clients, how advances in technology are impacting the built environment in the commercial real estate industry and how electric vehicles are changing the landscape in an increasingly technology-dominated industry.
What can you tell me about Envoy Technologies (where and when the platform was founded, current objectives of the company, etc.)?
Envoy was founded by commercial real estate veterans as a real estate service. The intersection of the mobility revolution and the built environment will dramatically impact the commercial real estate industry. Envoy provides a turn-key solution for owners and developers to integrate mobility as an amenity to their communities, but that’s just the beginning. Envoy electric vehicles are helping cities update their building codes with vision-based policies to assist the industry in creating EV-ready and shared mobility communities in favor of reductions in parking and other development incentives.
Who are some of the platform’s primary users and investors and where does the platform operate geographically?
Envoy’s primary users are tenants and guests of a community. Envoy is [helping] tenants [make] a lifestyle change by relinquishing their personally-owned or leased vehicles in favor of Envoy and [other] ride-hailing services.
Many of Envoy’s investors are commercial real estate industry leaders that understand that for the last 70 years, building codes have been heavily influenced by the personal automobile, and the coming mobility revolution of shared and self-driving cars will change everything we know today. Envoy’s current focus is dense urban cities; however, Envoy believes shared vehicles will also play role in rural areas as well. [The company] is currently launching programs at student housing [developments] in Tennessee and Ohio.
What are some of the day-to-day services that the platform provides its users with?
At residential communities, Envoy vehicles are being used for errands, for visiting guests and [for] assisting families to reduce their cost of living by becoming a one-car family. At workplaces, Envoy is being used for personal appointments, offsite business meetings and [as] a guaranteed ride home for those not commuting to work in single-occupancy vehicles. Envoy helps leverage workplace commuter programs to encourage employees to commute using alternatives modes of transportation such as public transit, car and van pooling, walking, biking or ride-sharing. At hotels, it’s about saving time and money—skip the rental shuttle at arrival and departure and enjoy access to vehicles parked onsite when and where you need them.
Can you elaborate on the goals of the platform in terms of broader trends around transit-oriented developments (TOD) and the provision of amenities nearby where people live? What was the idea behind privatizing the platform?
Envoy is leveraging the trends of TODs to provide an additional layer of transportation to those developments which help reduce the amount of personally-owned vehicles. Envoy’s goal is to influence the way people move on a community level. Community amenities are typically not open the public. Sharing vehicles with neighbors and co-workers just makes sense. Envoy users have a sense of ownership with Envoy vehicles; if it wasn’t privatized it would just be a rental car [and] not an amenity.
More broadly, what trends have you seen over the last couple of years in terms of what clients are looking for in their immediate living environment? Specifically, how have vehicles become more of an on-site amenity now compared to years passed?
Historically, the real estate industry has been slow to adopt to new technology. That trend is quickly changing, and most regional and national owners are hiring Chief Innovation Officers, [which] was a position that didn’t exist ten years ago. Mobility trends have also quick shifted. Just a few years ago, getting into a car with a stranger to take you somewhere would have not been an option—companies like Uber and Lyft allowed us to start thinking and discussing a world [that is] post-personal car ownership. The daily headlines of new technologies and autonomous vehicles has accelerated that conversation. A few years ago, mobility as an onsite amenity would have fallen on deaf ears.
Can you elaborate on Envoy’s technology partnerships? How do these partnerships allow Envoy to expand its reach on a local and regional level?
Envoy wants to provide its technology partners with the services and data to enable them to accomplish their development goals. Most of the partnerships Envoy has created are with regional and national owners with goals of national expansion. Envoy believes the trends and data it’s establishing on the West Coast will translate to other markets.
Part of Envoy’s go-to-market plan is to partner with nationwide and global real estate partners [to] provide them with a in-house amenity that is best suited for their community lifestyle. By standardizing mobility as part of the amenities and services, we allow our real estate partners to offer a valuable solution as part of their tenants’ lifestyle, pushing the market in a positive new direction. [This] creates additional revenue sources but also provides tremendous value that can help tenants save time and money on transportation without having to look beyond the property.
In the bigger picture, as real estate developments increasingly look to capitalize on proximity to transit hubs to increase accessibility and mobility options, how do you see the ease-of-use of tech-based platforms shaping the industry?
Envoy’s users consistently indicate ease-of-use as the number one reason why they use its service. We owned cars because of the ease-of-use and ease-of-access—mobility needs to be as easy as having car keys in your pocket and a car parked downstair for you to use. The bigger picture is [about] aggregating mobility options from public transit, ride sharing and car sharing under a single app.
More broadly, how does the platform look to build upon previous car-sharing methods? In your view, how will the increasing prevalence of technology continue to shape the industry over the next 1 or 2 years? Is there anything in particular that concerns you about the rapid rate at which technology is changing the industry?
Uber and Lyft built upon the taxi industry to completely transform and disrupt it. Envoy is doing the same thing to the rental car industry and car ownership model. We’re not concerned with the rapid rate at which technology is changing our world; we embrace and build it. We believe over the new few years [that] we’ll see personal lifestyle changes that will lead to dramatic increases in services like Envoy.
Looking ahead, how will Envoy seek to differentiate itself from other car-sharing platforms at a time when so many tech-based platforms are entering the marketplace? What are some of the challenges involved with making sure that Envoy stays ahead of the curve?
Envoy has a first-mover advantage. Other car-sharing platforms were established by the auto industry or [in] the Silicon Valley. Envoy was created through the lens of the real estate industry [and] understands the future, [that] self-driving vehicles will be parked and charged in structures owned and managed by our clients and [that] passengers will live, work and stay in those same structures.
Can you elaborate on the sustainability goals with the platform? At a time when concerns around environmental sustainability are paramount, what do you foresee for the electric vehicle industry?
The obvious benefit to electric vehicles is they don’t pollute our air. The claim that electric vehicles are just long tailpipes shifting emissions from the vehicle tailpipe to the location of the electrical generation plants has some truth today. However, as the real estate industry adopts and uses alternative sources of energy like solar and wind, that will change. Envoy’s goal is help create a future of net zero energy buildings; Envoy vehicles are essentially battery storage devices. In the future, Envoy vehicles will be able to store clean energy and feed it back into the buildings when clean energy is not available.