Charlie Gleeson, general manager of mobility business FREENOW in Ireland shares his life and business lessons.
Before joining FREENOW, Charlie was the CEO and founder of leading Irish micromobility start-up Zipp Mobility, and will now oversee the continued rollout and expansion of FREENOW’s mobility offering in the country.
In April Zipp Mobility was acquired by rival ZEUS Scooters for an undisclosed sum.
“In 2022, we completed over 1m EV trips across Ireland, five times the amount completed the year previous. And this year so far, we have already surpassed last year’s total with our current tally nearing 1.2m EV trips”
Tell us about your background, what journey did you take to arrive at where you are?
Before joining FREENOW, I was the CEO and founder of leading Irish micro mobility start-up Zipp Mobility, until it was acquired by ZEUS Scooters earlier this year.
During my time with Zipp, I was responsible for launching eScooter and eBike services in 10 locations across Ireland, the UK and Poland.
At Zipp, we attracted over €8.2m in funding, grew the business t0 a team of 30, and I gained great insight into the changing world of transport, from micro mobility innovation to multi-modal transport.
FREENOW is a business I have admired for many years. I have been a loyal customer for the last 10 years, but I also worked closely with the team here in Ireland when we integrated Zipp eScooters to the FREENOW app.
I’m passionate about the continued evolution and improvement of the transport sector in Ireland and as general manager, I will be leading the company’s strategy to expand our taxi offering further across the country, and help make multi-modal transport accessible to more people and locations nationwide.
“I come from an entrepreneurial background which means that by nature, I embrace discomfort and see opportunity when faced with adversity”
Why are you doing what you are doing? What need are you meeting? What’s your USP?
FREENOW is Ireland’s leading multi mobility app and our goal is to help reduce over-reliance on private vehicle use over time, and support more flexible and sustainable approaches to daily transport.
We are fortunate as a pan-European company that we can draw insights from our European counterparts and apply that knowledge to benefit the Irish market and bring new transport solutions and technology to our passengers here. For example in Germany, FREENOW passengers can book a taxi, rent a car, an e-scooter or e-bike and even buy their monthly public transport pass all through the app. This is the future of mobility!
Our passengers use FREENOW because of the convenience and flexibility it offers and moving forward we want our Irish passengers to have the ability to adopt a more blended approach to their individual transport needs. This involves the continued expansion of our transport options which will include taxis, eBikes, eScooters, among other modes like public transport integration – all connected via the FREENOW app. Of course, this will require wider support from the public transport sector overall to make this feasible and accessible consistently across the country, but it’s a focal point for our approach as a business.
What are your growth plans for FREENOW?
We have exciting growth plans for the next 12 months. Firstly, we will be expanding the taxi service beyond our established presence in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick making FREENOW available to more passengers in new locations across the country. In line with the growth of our regional footprint we are also committed to the support and growth of our excellent driver partners across these new locations.
Secondly, the continued growth of our electric vehicle fleet is hugely important so that we can provide passengers with more sustainable options when using our app. In 2022, we completed over 1m EV trips across Ireland, five times the amount completed the year previous. And this year so far, we have already surpassed last year’s total with our current tally nearing 1.2m EV trips.
Thirdly, we have exciting plans to add new mobility options to the app early next year in partnership with leading mobility operators. We look forward to providing our passengers with more choice when considering daily transport options. This is part of our wider commitment as a mobility app to provide passengers with more choice when it comes to daily transport, so that they have multiple transport options at their fingertips.
What are your key skills and qualities that set you apart?
I come from an entrepreneurial background which means that by nature, I embrace discomfort and see opportunity when faced with adversity.
When you start your own business, you face many challenges, but you also have to learn quickly as a result.
I believe any business can benefit from a management team that can navigate change and manage risk, and views challenges as motivation to adapt and try new things.
“I think being surrounded by the right people is crucial. Having a supportive team and working well together can be a big factor in finding success”
What (or whom) has helped you most along the way? Who was your greatest mentor/inspiration?
There are so many people who have helped me and inspired me along the way that I couldn’t possibly name them all! Their combined expertise and advice has been invaluable and will stick with me throughout my career.
What was the greatest piece of business advice you ever received?
“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”
“We are in a position to make important contributions to sustainable transport in Ireland, from growing the number of EV taxis available via our app, partnering with companies offering new modes of transport like e-bikes – and in the not-so-distant future e-scooters”
What circumstances/qualities/events can mark the difference between success or failure in life or business?
I think being surrounded by the right people is crucial. Having a supportive team and working well together can be a big factor in finding success.
I would also embrace the concept of “failing fast”. I believe that one can’t have innovation without failure, but we also must recognise quickly when something is not working, learn from it and swiftly adapt and move on.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your current role?
The most challenging aspect of my role is navigating the evolving landscape of the transport and mobility industry, as it requires constant adaptation and innovation to support the needs both of our excellent driver partners and our passengers who rely upon our service.
How has digital transformation been a factor in your scaling journey and do you believe Irish firms are utilising digital technologies sufficiently?
Digital transformation has been instrumental in our scaling journey at FREENOW. As a tech app, we gather and analyse data – we can, for example, identify peak demand times, popular routes, and preferred vehicle types among our passengers.
Through a data-driven approach, we are able to optimise the overall experience for both passengers and driver partners, and this enables us to make informed decisions that enhance the efficiency, safety, and convenience of our services.
We are in a position to make important contributions to sustainable transport in Ireland, from growing the number of EV taxis available via our app, partnering with companies offering new modes of transport like e-bikes – and in the not-so-distant future e-scooters.
There is a place for the private car in many situations, however through EV transition, modal shift and the use of data and technology we can present passengers, through a multi-modal platform, with greater choice in how they travel, socialise and work.
The continued evolution of technology and data will be vital in making multi-modal approaches to transport even more seamless and hassle-free for passengers going forward.
As for other companies in Ireland, I think at this stage many are actively incorporating digital strategies into business operations to stay competitive and meet evolving consumer needs – it has become a must-do rather than a nice-to-do.
If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
I wouldn’t do anything differently. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved to date and the decisions I’ve made (both successes and learnings) have led me to where I am today, which is exactly where I want to be.
Who inspires you in business today?
I’m inspired by the people I work with, both on FREENOW’s local and international teams. I really believe that you are the sum of the people you spend time with, so I feel very fortunate to be working as part of such a talented group of colleagues across nine European countries.
What advice/guidance do you give new hires and how do you nurture talent in your organisation?
For new hires, I highlight the importance of gaining a deep understanding of the business as early in the role as possible. This allows them to spot opportunities that might not be immediately apparent, and I think, more importantly, it empowers them to trust their instincts and make informed decisions.
As for nurturing talent in our company, we provide ongoing learning opportunities, and a supportive environment where creativity and innovation can thrive. And we offer career growth opportunities for colleagues here in Ireland and across the European network. A number of employees who started out in the Irish market have progressed to regional roles supporting the growth of the business throughout Europe, so there’s great scope to scale your career with FREENOW.
What business books do you read or would recommend?
What technologies/tools do you use personally to keep you on track?
I couldn’t live without the fitness tracker I wear without fail every day to track my exercise intensity, sleep and overall recovery. It’s easy to sacrifice your physical and mental wellbeing when you are working hard, so sometimes you need to be reminded of the importance of both exercise and sleep amidst a busy working life.
I also have a task manager and to-do list app that helps me keep on top of professional and personal projects and tasks, it keeps me organised, and it also gives me insight into my productivity pattern.
What social media platforms do you prefer and why?
LinkedIn is an excellent platform from both a business and networking perspective. As a recruitment tool it’s excellent for identifying brilliant talent while also presenting great business development opportunities through new contacts. I also enjoy Instagram for leisure.
What are your thoughts on where technology overall is heading and how it will apply to business generally and your business particularly?
The future of technology in the mobility industry is exciting and presents a lot of potential for improvement. Advancements in areas like artificial intelligence, data analytics, and electrification could help the transport sector redefine how people move from A to B. At FREENOW, as an app-based service, technology informs everything we do and allows us to build a more future-focused transport solution for passengers and for driver partners.
As a business we are constantly looking at new ways to invest in the improvement of our app experience based on key insights and trends identified from our user data – tailoring and broadening our services to align with what people want from a mobility app is key to our continued innovation.
Finally, if you had advice for your 21-year-old self – knowing what you know now – what would it be?
I would encourage my younger self to embrace risk-taking. There will never be a better time to take risks than your early 20s, so embrace them. And don’t let the opinions of others hold you back. I believe too often untapped potential remains hidden behind the judgement of others, so we just need to try and recognise the opportunity that awaits after taking necessary risks (or leaps of faith!).