This month on the ‘Women In Shared Mobility’ series, our CEO Sandra Phillips interviewed Kristin Welch, Strategy and Operations Manager at Ford X.
Kristin Welch is recognized as a leader with expertise in mobility, technology management, startups, global programs, leadership, business development and financial strategy. She develops and directs teams focused on profitability, quality and results. She is often a keynote speaker on the topics of technology, startups, venture capital, mobility, sustainability and women in technology. Before arriving at Ford X, her previous experience was with SPLIT as head of Business Development & Corporate Strategy, where she helped lead the ride sharing startup through growth and globalization and its acquisition by Bosch in 2018.
If you missed our WiSM interview last month, you can find it here. Want to have a look at all of Women in Shared Mobility interviews? View the entire category here.
Women in Shared Mobility: THE future of SHARED MOBILITY AND FORD X’S PLACE IN THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE
KRISTIN WELCH, STRATEGY AND OPERATIONS MANAGER AT FORD X
Sandra Phillips, chief executive officer, movmi
Before we begin, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am Kristin Welch at Ford X, I’m actually the Strategy and Operations manager. I have been here just under a year actually and for those who don’t know what Ford X is, it’s the incubator that Ford has established to basically test, try and develop new businesses and I’ll talk a little bit more about this later but we are basically looking at the convergence of viability, feasibility and desirability and looking from a start-up, a very startup focused perspective or entrepreneurial perspective at the new businesses, technologies and products that we can create for Ford, helping them to make strategy decisions and helping them to build the larger business or make decisions about the future of mobility, based on the ventures that we’re running at Ford X.
We are an incubator and not an accelerator so we’re incubating – building businesses on a daily basis and it’s just a really fascinating place to be and I’m super excited to be here because I believe that Ford has created the right environment to try these things, to work in a clockspeed startup environment move quickly and potentially fail but they’ll quickly move on, but hopefully to create something successful that we can then bring back into the business for creating the future of mobility. I think it’s super interesting, what Ford in general is doing around the mobility space.
1. WITHIN THE SHARED MOBILITY LANDSCAPE, WHAT HAS CHANGED OVER THE LAST FIVE YEARS AND WHERE ARE WE GOING IN THE NEXT DECADE?
Great question but overarching and very large of course, when I think about the last (and I’ve been in the space for about four or five years) I think primarily of shared-use mobility, the future being in autonomy and what that frees up in vehicle – the space it frees up even, in the electric vehicle space. Without this internal combustion engine what can we do with this extra space? How many extra people can we put in there? How can we increase goods capacity? I mean, at Ford we’re always thinking about the combination of moving people and goods as being moving forward humanity and people in general.
As we look at the trends over the past especially few years, obviously shared-use mobility in the micro mobility or micro transit space is key that’s come up where players in that space and actually Ford X built a venture called Jelly at Purdue University using a different scooter to help influence the strategy around the purchase of Spin. The scooter company, which Ford now owns as well and there’s beautiful data coming off of those but the shared-use and just the future of micro transit in general is very interesting to us in a space that we’re looking closely at.
Personally, I feel that one of the biggest trends in the last few years is the ability by investors to continue to fund business models that are not profitable and so I wonder at what point that’s going to to fall apart but I would sort of set the stage here and I think you’re very much attuned to this to – that shared mobility in particular is not ride hailing, it’s not the taxi services like Uber and Lyft and other models that they’re moving into, but I’m very focused on the fact having spent a few years at a startup that does ride-sharing, literally ride-sharing, carpooling, that we need to think about that and the burgeoning startups and also large either, auto makers or others that are looking at that space and continuing that trend, both in the bike, dockless bikes, scooters, the approach to scooters and the fact that they don’t need to be dockless – that’s a particular problem. What we’re doing at spin is basically going in with a conversation with municipality and establishing a relationship, which I think is one of the trends that has proven successful thus far, when everyone else – well, not everyone else. Others are consolidating and pulling out – Lime is pulling out of 12 additional locations and Cirque has been acquired by Bird, or is it acquisitioned? Spin is really focused on establishing a relationship and combining with the municipality and other providers at the platform level to go in and be most useful in the future and the now, so I think that’s a really interesting trend that we’ve seen be successful.
Also at Ford X we are incubating a venture called Voy. getvoy.com is the website and it’s really a commute analysis for corporations that are trying to move their people. It could be factory floor workers at the plant site or it could be urbanites coming to a downtown location and we’re looking at the commute in general and trying to alleviate the pains around that, trying to find an easier or better way for communities and individuals. So that’s a venture that we feel strongly about at Ford X. It also speaks to the shared mobility; the equity and shared mobility across different workhorses and so we’re really focused on that right now. It’s a live venture that we are building.
EVRe is a venture that we’re building right now for the electric vehicle space and it’s an online marketplace to connect EV owners with merchants, so that they can offer EV charging and subsequently hopefully lead to more foot traffic, people coming to the stores or even getting people to certain destination locations. Then they can walk the city or use public transportation etc. So EVRe is also a live venture that we’re building right now. One of the other advantages I’d like to talk about in being an incubator within large OEM, an auto manufacturing environment, is the the access to talent both within and without the organization, the subject matter expert taste that we can pull in, the deep content expertise and the brand awareness – we always talk about Ford’s right to win – what is our right to win in a space? Do we have a marketing reach? Do we have awareness reach? The vehicle offerings, the variety of vehicle offerings in the portfolio and items and software technology we can test around those offerings. Those are all just great advantages that we have here at Ford X that we’re using to build our ventures.
2. YOU MENTIONED HOW THE DESIGN OF VEHICLES IN THE SHARED SPACED IS CHANGING. HOW IS FORD EXPERIMENTING WITH THIS? CAN YOU ELABORATE WITHOUT GIVING AWAY ANY SECRETS?
That’s a great question and I can’t go into the detail around any ventures that we’re running in that space right at the moment, they’re not quite public yet, but just even the charging infrastructure around electric vehicles and the promotion of that and that Ford has announced we are creating this large national charging infrastructure play is super important to those EVs being more successful. We have a lot of new vehicle models coming out in 21, 22 and 23 that we know will have additional capacity and so our planning for that space – not the least of which is the more distant future – and it keeps getting pushed out a little bit, which is autonomy (full autonomy in level 5) but I’m also in level 4 to a certain extent and when you’ve got that additional space, what does that mean? We’re basically all in a phone-on-wheels and moving around and what else could we do on that phone? Is it entertainment? Is it work-life balance? Is it work? Is it something else happening in vehicle and so we are looking really closely, along with our partners in AVLLC and team Edison which is our electric vehicle division, we’re looking at what we could be doing with that extra space.
3. Maybe we’ll dive into how Ford is doing that with Ford X? what makes it so powerful to have this very different approach instead of having THE USUAL internal R&D department essentially?
We do have an internal R&D department. I mean that’s traditionally maybe advanced materials or some other areas definitely in the manufacturing side. At Ford X, we are rolling up into the smart mobility side so it’s separate but related to the manufacturing and we’re meant to bring together designers, engineers, subject matter experts and entrepreneurs – fully half of our staff is probably from outside of Ford – but we’re bringing all those pieces together. Our motto, our mission is to envision, build and validate new mobility technologies and so as a connector in a driving force to bring those parties together, we think there’s real value. The energy that that creates is amazing. We’re also moving very quickly and you know in a manufacturing setting, a three to five year vehicles cycle, with planning and productive development, you can’t often do that in the near term and we realize that some of these software applications and other methods are so near term that we need to be moving quickly.
At Ford X we are moving in typically, ninety day sprints – we call them learning experiments – with a little bit of discovery period before that and then potentially we move from the learning experiment into the transactional learning experiment and then if we choose to pilot and take it out further within four decks we would but oftentimes that venture could graduate back into the business or it could be positioned to graduate back into the business. I think what they’ve created here in Ford X is a sandbox in which we can play and be effective and move quickly, think clock speeds start up but fail, iterate and move on and learn these things and draw in the learnings back into the organization.
4. HOW DOES FORD ENSURE THAT THE BACK AND FORTH RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE LEGACY INSTITUTION AND THE START-UP ENVIRONMENT IS A SUCCESSFUL ONE?
I think, personally, that Ford is a leader in this space – thought leadership around modern mobility in general and the awareness that we need to keep some of these high value ideas, on the software around the vehicle, on other services. We think of it as the vehicle itself but the added services and the additional aftermarket opportunities that can be posed are very important to the customer. I would say customer focus and solving the pain point is probably really what we’re after here and the ability to do that quickly, by an arm’s length (related and controlled) subsidiary or LLC is really important and thinking about solving for the pain point not finding a solution and sort of applying that into a customer environment. That’s what we’re constantly doing and we think about those pain points and those challenges for the customer and then we try to overcome and bridge – or be the bridge – back into the organization. Obviously with the dealer network we don’t have the direct customer flow as much as maybe some other types of industries would. Also the fact that we just are very human centered design. We are bringing that theory and those sort of elements into the way that we work here and focusing on the customer in the design build and the design thinking, is very important to us and the way we’re operating at Ford X.
5. You MENTIONED EARLIER THAT HALF THE PEOPLE WORKING AT FORD X ARE HIRED INTERNALLY AND HALF EXTERNALLY. Maybe you can elaborate a little bit more on that very unique set up?
If you bring an idea into Ford X in particular, internal ideas, then you come over and you work for Ford X while you’re building the venture. You are getting constant coaching, you’re getting those who’ve gone before. We’ve got a lot of entrepreneurial spirits that can help you build your business. So literally, your pension, your salary, everything, comes over to Ford X and you’re working for us for the period of time of diligence and the learning experiment and the potential transactional learning experiment. It’s a mindset – here’s your new employer, not outside the organization – not that risky – and then hopefully if you need to you can go back to either your day job or some other form within Ford.
It’s very important that people work for us and with us on a daily basis. We’re rubbing shoulders, we’re having weekly meetings, we do a quarterly off-site where all of Ford X comes together and our Greenfield Labs office in Palo Alto and we really kind of crunch through what our methodology is, our mission and any budgetary constraints. Just speaking about the budget on each venture, it’s like having your own startup but you’re running your own P&L too, so your salary is coming up your P&L. To do it quickly and to maximize your budget in that period of time is very important, in that role.
Right now we’re really shifting our focus from looking at both internal and external opportunities in our pipeline, our venture pipeline, not our talent pipeline. We’re looking at internal ventures to build right now just because of some of the challenges we’ve experienced in trying to build external ventures or work with external startups around a POC. As we build these internal ventures, if we need to supplement the team, maybe we’ve got engineers that have come to us with a great idea, we take them in and they’re working for Ford X for that period of time. We might supplement with either Ford labs, maybe we’ve got developers that are coming in and working with the team and other subject matter experts or we can pull from the wider talent pool, Ford having name recognition, and all the benefits of being Ford, both within and without the organization. We can pull some really amazing talent in, to help us build these businesses and then hopefully as we graduate the business back into Ford, then they can stay with it and grow it or then maybe move on to a subsequent venture or work on a separate project moving forward.
6. If we had this SAME conversation in ten years, what DO YOU THINK YOU will look back on, to make you say, “I’m so proud THAT I was part of this?”
I hope when we look back in five/ten or more years we’ll see that we’ve placed bets in the right areas, we’ll see that we have thought of the right things or have developed or exposed areas of modern mobility, where we were forward thinking, that became the future and that Ford was right there creating that. We’d like to think that’s what we’re all about here and thinking about the future mobility is just really exciting it’s a great time to be in Auto and mobility in general and I think this is giving us like ultimately a lot of opportunity to test these theories and to look at this market place and to say “alright, what will the future look like? What do we think? How will we get there? What will we build in the meantime?” I would say that one of the other things that helps us be very successful when we graduate a venture, is if we’ve got a champion within the organization who can pick that up and help it build along the way. That’s another thing that we look to and we will say “yes, leadership, we had it right, leadership had it right, they brought it back in, we enveloped that concept, we helped build that business that created a separate area of focus for us or a separate modern mobility take for for the larger organization.” I hope that that’s where we come to in the next decade at least but we’ll see in the meantime as it all unfolds.
What are your thoughts on the future of shared mobility and what developments are to be expected in 2020? What about the future implementation of shared mobility within rural areas? If you would like to be interviewed or to nominate a woman working in Shared Mobility for our next series, get in touch with us here.