Ekar is the Middle East’s first pay-as-you-go carsharing service. It has made easier for people to experience the benefits of shared mobility.
To fill the gaping hole in the MENA region, CEO and Cofounder Vilhelm Hedberg launched a carsharing platform. You can rent a car at ekar and pay as you go, at affordable prices. ‘Ekar’ offers pay-per-minute, hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly car rentals via their smart car technology.
The best part about ekar is that fuel is free, and so is parking.
Find, rent and drive ekar. Cofounder Vilhelm Hedberg shares with us his journey from idea to conception.
What did you like most about this idea to start “Ekar” and what made you sure to be able to grow a successful company with it?
When my business partner Ravi and I first discussed carsharing in 2013, we were most compelled by the fact that carsharing is a brand new concept in the Middle East. Carsharing exists in most major cities in Europe, the United States, and the Far East. There was a gaping hole in the MENA region, and we knew that we had a lion by the tail.
Ideas alone are not enough. It took a lot of great people to implement this idea, and long nights working.
We named ekar with an ‘EK’, as this is the call sign for Emirates Airlines flights.
The cabin crew was an obvious choice for us to target, and some of the best days of my ‘ekar’ life were the days Emirates Airlines and Etihad Airways said ‘yes’ to us. We have been supporting cabin crew for the last 3 years with affordable per minute car rentals. Of course, today ekar has grown much bigger than a cabin crew carshares platform, but our relationships with these amazing companies built ekar to what it is today.
How does ‘Ekar’ works?
Download ekar App
Download our ekar app available on both the play store and Apple store. Register with a valid UAE driving license, Emirates ID (or passport), pay AED 1 via your credit card and receive a confirmation email from our customer service team.
After, locate the nearest ekar to you and hit the road. It’s that simple.
Locate and Book
Once you’ve registered, you’ll be able to locate the closest ekar on the app after which you can either book your ekar on a pay-per-minute (up to 5 hours), daily, weekly or monthly basis. Looking for a long-term ekar? We can even unwrap our baby blues for you. To book your ekar, simply tap on the ekar.
Using your ekar car rental app, locate and unlock your ekar. Once this is done, simply locate the ekar key inside the glove box, enter your personalized pin code and remove the keys from the key holder.
Should you encounter any problems or notice any damages to the ekar, please email us at email@example.com
Once you are finished with your ekar, simply input the ekar key back into the ekar portal and place it inside the glove box to complete your booking. Please don’t forget to take all your personal belongings!
What was the whole early genesis of the company?
ekar was started by myself and Ravi Bhusari. Ravi is the co-founder of DUPLAYS, an online platform allowing its 80,000 members to book adult sports venues. He has a strong understanding of what people ages 21-40 fancy in Dubai, and he was a strong advocate for carsharing. He knew that it would be a success.
My background is in logistics, automobile shipping, and quality management systems implementation and certification. Together, we made a good match and have challenged each other ever since.
Our vision was to bring carsharing to cabin crew, a rather tiny vision compared to the ekar of today, with operations in UAE and Saudi Arabia.
We have to date raised over $10 million USD for this business and have over 100,000 app downloads and 45,000 active members.
‘U drive’ is another carsharing service in UAE. What makes ekar unique, how do you differentiate from your competitors?
ekar has invested heavily in its people, its technology, and its automobiles. Today, ekar’s App is unrivaled, being built in-house by a dedicated tech team, the system is amongst the top carshare apps in the world. We offer more features than most car share companies even in the top cities in Europe. Over the last 3 years, we have gathered more than 1 terabyte of data, which gets analyzed via our in-house back office system ECP (ekar Control Panel), giving ekar real-time analytics of user behavior and ‘hotspots’ in the region where we offer our service.
Our staff are well trained and have a high degree of competency. We are known for our multilingual customer service team who always answer calls with a smile.
Finally, our cars are unparalleled. We have a fantastic fleet which includes Tesla Model X’s, Infinity Q70’s, Mini Coopers, and a plethora of fun crossovers. We will be launching with 15 supercars in our Dubai fleet very soon… keep posted!
If you could change one thing about the company, what would it be?
I wouldn’t change anything about our history. All the mistakes and successes we have made in the past have developed ekar in to what it is today, one of the most exciting startups in the Gulf since CAREEM.
Being awarded as a top 5 startup company by Forbes Middle East in 2018 also didn’t hurt.
If I could change something about our future, it would be to grow even faster. We were conservative with our approach to entering Saudi Arabia. Now we are ready to take on the rest of the Gulf.
As the CEO of the first and most rapidly growing car share program in the Middle East. What was the hardest thing about setting up the business?
Setting up a business in Abu Dhabi and Dubai is relatively painless. The most important element is ensuring that you are working within the parameters of the laws. We have always maintained an excellent relationship with the RTA and the DOT, and consider ourselves a part of the mobility network of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
What is your favorite thing about having your own business? Walk us through your typical workday.
My favorite thing about being a business owner is being responsible for my own life journey. I had a career in logistics for 7 years, and it brought me very little security. You can lose a job easily, but losing a company is more challenging, and my ego would never allow it.
What is your work culture like?
At ekar, we have 3 offices, in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Riyadh. Our Headquarters is the Dubai office, where the ekar holding company is stationed, along with the ekar tech team. In all of our offices, we have customer service, finance, fleet management, and sales. We are proud to have a very diverse company, with staff from more than 20 countries, with a strong balance of women and men. Each country has its own General Manager. Ole-Petter Moen, from Norway, runs the UAE operations, and Hisham Salah runs our Saudi Operations. Both General managers are extremely talented and push the envelope daily.
The ekar culture is fun and young, and driven by customer centricity. The average staff age at ekar is 30, which is a testament to knowing our customers, who pay us in age. All managers drive ‘ekars’, so we are equally as many users as we are employees of the company.
Who has inspired you in your life and how?
I have always been inspired by Richard Branson. I’ve read all of his books, and I find his life story to be quite compelling. It’s amazing to think that Branson, a dyslexic, has achieved so much both in business as well as the sporting world.
Branson inspired me to take the plunge into business ownership. I also put the investment down a few years ago for The Voyager Experience at World View Enterprises, a spacecraft that will reach 100,000ft in to ‘near space’, and I will be the first Norwegian in space next year. I think Branson would be proud.
Tell our readers how the launch of ekar reduces levels of air pollution, lessen parking infrastructure issues, decrease the need for road expansions and allow more resources for park development and urban green spaces”
For each car that is shared, 17 owned vehicles are off the road. This results in less traffic, less need for parking, and lowered level of pollution. We calculated that since inception, ekar has saved more than 20,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions.
Where do you see yourself in next 5 years and what are your goals for ekar in coming years?
In the next 5 years, ekar will continue to be the largest carsharing operator in the Middle East. We will have operation throughout the Gulf, and have a ‘network effect’. I imagine we will cover the Gulf region over the next 3 years, so within 5 years we will likely be entering North Africa (Egypt, etc.).
What three advice would you give to someone starting out?
Starting a business is not easy. Its more likely that it will fail than work, and you’re probably better off staying in a career. If you have the bug, and you are sure you want to undertake such a challenge, make sure to have the following 3 things completed:
- Build a business plan, have it reviewed by at least 5 industry experts, and then do as much due diligence as possible before launching. Surveys are cheap and easy ways of getting data on whether or not there will be demand for your business.
- Surround yourself with like-minded people. You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most amount of time with, so choose wisely!
- Get mentors. Starting a business is oftentimes lonely, and overwhelming. Make sure to have good mentors and/or a good co-founder who can help navigate the early stages.