My name is Ali Halabi, and I was the founder and CEO of Volt.
I’m writing this letter to officially announce that Volt has closed shop. I’m writing this to people who tried our app but failed to find value in it and to our power users and fans who really tried their best to make Volt a success. I’m sorry we have failed you, but I can tell you with all confidence that we’ve tried everything there is to make this happen, and now I’m feeling good about turning the page on this chapter of my life, taking the learnings, friends, experience the last 4 years have given me, and moving forward.
Background on Volt
Volt was founded with the vision to solve traffic congestion in cities by filling empty seats in traffic. We wanted to do so with on-demand real-time peer-to-peer inner-city ridesharing. Hundreds of startups tried the same idea before us, and probably hundreds will after us, but the dynamics of urban mobility (low planning and complex web of route to name a few) make bring such an idea to life a daunting task.
Marketplaces are tough as fuck
I guess everyone in the tech industry agrees that marketplaces are one of the toughest businesses to build. You’ll always have to crack the chicken and egg problem, where one side of your marketplace (say, demand) can only find value if the other side exists (a matching supply). But at the same time, that’s what makes marketplaces so valuable, because once they’re built, they’re extremely defensible against new entrants.
In addition to the chicken and egg problem, Volt had Time, Location, and Trust as moving parts that also needed to align/match for a successful ride to happen. This means that supply for Volt was not drivers, and demand was not passengers.
Supply is a ride that’s happening around you, right when you’ve requested a ride, that happens to be going in the same direction, at the same time, with enough flexibility from the driver to check your profile, find enough verifications to trust you, and park somewhere safe to pick you up.
What about planning? Doesn’t work. Won’t work.
Planning rides/requests simply doesn’t work in inner-city. Car owners would never wait for a passenger, not even for 5 mins, and no one would really adopt a behaviour that’s new to them that easily. Just think about this question: what time are you leaving the office today? 6:00 pm? Or is it 6:10? Maybe 6:30? Maybe 5:45? Nobody knows.
I raised 1.2$m for Vol over 4 years. 900$k of which were spent on building the technology needed to reach our peak supply of 26,000 real driver trips per month. That’s an insane number if you think about the minimal marketing dollars we had to spend to get there. But when you consider the fact that for passengers, it’s an on-demand experience, monthly numbers then don’t mean shit, you’re left with a couple of hundred rides at the rush hour at best.
It took turn-by-turn navigation with real-time traffic data, a miles & rewards gamification program, a cash incentive program, a community verification system to increase trust and safety, national ID number verification, just to name a few of the tech we’ve build to solve this problem. I honestly was a victim of the famous “Next feature fallacy”, where a founder always thinks that the next feature will save the day, and put us on track for growth.
In a blog post on Medium, I wrote how from the ashes of Volt, a new business idea was born that we’re super excited about. Though only the name is common (because I like the brand:)), Volt Lines is a new venture that takes everything we’ve learnt as a team over the past 4 years and applies it to the corporate shuttle bus market, or as it’s known in Turkey: “Personel Servisi”.
I want to close with a special thank you to everyone who was part of the Volt journey. First I want to thank the Hipo team for helping me with the Volt MVP back in 2013 and for helping me hire amazing talent; Taylan, Serkan, Yiğit and Kaan, I owe you guys big time for teaching me tech.
Second, I want to thank Volt’s first core team for baring with me as a first time founder, and probably the most terrible first time CEO: Ahmet Karalar, Yasin Çetiner, Emin Buğra Saral, and Şevin Ballıktaş. I’m sorry for being a pain in the ass. :)
Then, I want to thank all those who joined and left Volt over the past 4 years, whether in full time, part-time or as interns. Ümit Dincel, Aybars Badur, Cemal Eker, Niyazi Sırt, Asım Can Güleşgen, Selcan Güner, Can Ülker, Erin Seda Taner, Elif Ece Arslan, Selin Şevki, Atakan Karslı, Berkay Unlu, Öykü Yavaş, Ayça Hazal Atmaca, Emre Yılmaz, Emre Çınar, Ömer Faruk Bakırcı, Uğur Polat, Elvin Emel Yıldız, Batıkan Erdoğan. I hope your assignments at Volt have touched your career in a positive way, helped you acquire new skills, and developed your talent even further. I wish you guys the best of luck in your careers.
Lastly, I want to thank all of Volt’s investors for taking a swing at such a tough business while being fully aware of the challenges. Emre Aydın, Mr. 39, thank you for supporting me after 38 investor rejections. Maybe I’m an entrepreneur only because of your investment, and maybe I would’ve given up and Volt would’ve never seen the light of day if it wasn’t for you. Hasan Aslanoba, Cankut Durgun, Ali Çebi, Antoine Boustany, Alp Saul, Fares Ghandour, Kaan Kalıpçı: thank you guys for taking all the time and effort to advise me and support me. And of course Walid Mansour, Walid Hanna, and Jad El Boustani from MEVP: Thank you guys for believing in me and for being Volt’s biggest supporters. I’m very happy to see you all by my side in the new journey.
And now to my biggest THANK YOU to the Volt Lines team that showed amazing loyalty and resilience despite knowing that the previous company had ran out of cash in back in July. Umut Afacan, Ayşe Helin Yıldız, Yasir Buğra Eryilmaz, Kerem Şanyılmaz, Uğur Yörük, Hasancan Yetik, Alper Sezer, and the one and only Kees van der Meeren. You guys are the dream team every founder wishes to work with. Without you guys I wouldn’t have made it that far and I’ll be forever thankful.
All the best,