Ant Portrait: Michael Darchambeau
Today we talk with Michael Darchambeu. Co-founder and VP Business Development at URBANTZ, Michael is an advocate for sustainability and imprits his passion in our business model.
This is a part of a series of interviews with URBANTZ employees or Antz like we affectionately call each other. Through these conversations, we want to get to know the person behind the title and understand their motivations.
Kasia: Can you please tell us what it is that you do at URBANTZ?
Michael: Hello, I’m one of URBANTZ’ Co-founders. At the moment, I’m responsible for growing the company revenue, teams and for developing innovative projects. I like to see myself as a sort of evangelist for the company: sharing our vision at events and inspiring people with what we do. This is one of my goals, communicating about our vision externally. Another one of my goals is to build a sustainable company, in all aspects from giving opportunities to the employees to promoting it in our operations.
Diogo: Since your studies, you’ve been very engaged in sustainable growth. Can you briefly tell us about your first project working towards a positive social impact?
M: My family always liked traveling. So, it started with a willingness to get to know the world. That helped me to understand how big it is, and that not everybody has the same opportunities in life as we do. When I went to business school, I decided to study economic development to understand the social impact of a business. I did my school internship at Suez, as an engineer, to learn how a business could be at the service of society. They were providing support to humanitarian aid missions in Africa, developing access to electricity. This woke my desire to keep working on humanitarian missions, so I founded an NGO to bring electricity to a Tanzanian village and build a hospital there. We started fundraising, collected 500 000 € and invested in the construction of a hospital.
“We need to teach people and companies to understand that if you want to do business, you need to do it in a greener way”.
D: As a long-term entrepreneur, you founded your own eco-deliveries startup before URBANTZ. Can you briefly share that experience with us?
M: Before URBANTZ, I worked in the sustainable mobility field for 5 years with a company called The Green Link. We were 100 employees doing deliveries with electric cargo-bikes. We introduced this new eco-friendly concept in Paris using consolidation centers, city hubs from where we received the parcels from delivery companies like TNT, DHL, FedEx and we were putting the goods in electric vehicles to do the last mile.
Kasia: Why such a focus on the environmental impact?
M: Because sustainability is a transversal subject. We need to make people and companies understand that if you want to do business, you need to do it in a greener way. Otherwise, we can’t do business responsibly. For example, I am influenced by the work of some companies, like Patagonia - they are a big company, offering a lot of products but they are investing their profits in local suppliers. This is exactly how I want to do business, with a purpose, for good. Generating revenues is important in business, to pay salaries, get investors but having this has to be combined with sustainability to make sure you don’t have a negative impact on the planet.
D: We were talking about sustainability and what it means to you, but what does it mean to an industry like ours?
M: Doing business in logistics often means using trucks and involving people, so if you want to be more sustainable, you need to use electric vehicles, optimize the trips and the capacity of the vehicles. This is how logistics can be carried out in a greener way. It’s not just saying that you need to use electric vehicles. It’s just like in the energy sector: it isn’t enough to provide renewable energy technologies like solar panels. It’s important to improve efficiency first by reducing consumption. So if you do both, you have the perfect solution. In logistics, you optimize the rounds first, then it’s necessary to use electric vehicles or cargo-bikes. That’s much more effective.
"It was about doing the usually complex job in a simple, relaxed way. It was also about collective intelligence. Everything was based on that and collaboration."
K: Where did the idea for URBANTZ come from?
M: The Green Link was a business operating a city warehouse with drivers using bicycles. On a daily basis, I had to create delivery rounds for drivers by hand and manage all the activities with pen and paper only. My activity wasn’t scalable because of the lack of technology. So, I decided to build this technology. I’ve identified the gap for a simple, flexible solution. With this idea, I met IT partners, software companies etc. and then I met Jon. Jon understood what I wanted to do and was also interested in building a company. That’s how we started; after a few months Melanie joined the company and in the next 6 months we started to grow and hire people.
K: What was the main mission driving this project back when you started?
M: The slogan we were using at the time was “let it flow”. It was about doing the usually complex job in a simple, relaxed way. It was also about collective intelligence - this is why we’ve chosen the Ant as a mascot, to represent this. Everything was based on that and collaboration. We still weren't sure if we wanted to do the business ourselves or just sell the software. It was either going to be operating as a marketplace or just selling the technology. I wanted to do both, build the technology and offer a service. Jon wanted to focus on the technology because the operations were quite complex. In the end, we decided to focus on the technology.
K: Are we still on the same path of fulfilling this original mission? Has anything changed in the meantime?
M: Now the mission is clearer. The mission today is to make deliveries more efficient and ecological, in order to reduce the amount of traffic linked to deliveries. In addition, we want to create an immersive, flexible, connected customer experience. I would say what we’ve added is the focus on customer experience.
D: Do you see a greener future for last mile delivery and what are the biggest obstacles on the way to getting there?
M: The future of the last mile will be with AI and non-human drivers. I imagine a city where, at night, robots go around delivering parcels to shops. Why not do all of the logistics at night? Completely automated logistics! We already see some progress in this area with robots, AI and some autonomous vehicles. Logistics shouldn’t have an impact on the environment - we have all the solutions to not impact our ecosystem: we can use electric vehicles, we can use city distribution warehouses, bicycles. You do not need any cars to deliver parcels around the city. The major obstacle, besides the cost of change, is the city’s regulation. Cities often prohibit vehicles and deliveries from the city center without giving alternatives - they need to come up with solutions. Soon, people won’t have a choice whether or not to practice green delivery, so they will need to follow the trend. If tomorrow there’s a regulation that says you can’t use your car anymore, then you will either walk or take your bicycle, you won’t have a choice. I think this needs to happen rapidly and in a radical way - from night to day and the industry will adapt.
D: Thank you, Michael.
M: My pleasure.
This interview has been edited for better understanding.