This Franco-Tunisian entrepreneur has revolutionized one of the blind spots in the tourism sector. In 2012, he launched TravelCar, a platform that offers travellers the rental of their car in exchange for free parking at the airport when they go on vacation. He sold his company in 2019 to PSA and aims to offer a complete mobility solution.
“I took the sexiest part of the trip, I stayed in the airport parking lot,” laughs Ahmed Mhiri, 37. When in 2012, as part of the Founder Insitute’s entrepreneur training program, he had to brainstorm about a potential business project, Ahmed Mhiri decided to take over the entire user journey of a traveller who wants to organize his next Holiday. He travels almost twice a month to discover the major European capitals, has some experience in the field. He realizes that there is a solution for almost everything: book a hotel room, find the cheapest flights… But there was still a blind spot: “When I went to the airport and saw these parking lots full, I wondered: either these people who pay so much for these parking spaces are armoured, or they can’t do otherwise.” That is obviously the second option that is at stake. The people who drive to the airport are those who do not have the luxury of having public transport that connects their homes to the tarmac. And often pay an exorbitant cost of parking.
The importance of the cross-cutting of service
Hence the idea of TravelCar. Integrated into the collaborative consumer movement since the end of 2012, TravelCar offers car owners a solidarity and eco-responsible solution: renting their car in exchange for free parking at the airport when they go on vacation. The owner thus pools his vehicle and allows another traveller to enjoy a car rental at a lower cost, up to 50% cheaper than a traditional renter. For people who do not want to share their vehicle, TravelCar offers a wide range of “paid” parking at airports in more than 60 countries: official car parks, shuttle parking, valet parking to meet the expectations of each traveller . TravelCar now has more than 1.5 million users, is present in 180 countries for car rental and 62 countries for parking booking and continues to expand its service worldwide.
Ahmed Mhiri’s success is such that his company was bought by PSA in 2019 for a still secret amount. The marriage between the automotive giant and the young company of nearly 250 employees was built on a common vision of what mobility should be: a cross with travel needs. “Since our beginnings, we had a lot of activities: rental, car sharing, etc.,” explains Mr. Mhiri. Everything was complementary. Many people who have invested in TravelCar [21 million euros have been raised three times since 2012] advised us to focus on only one of these activities. PSA, which has entered our capital in 2017, has always shared with us this vision of transversality. TravelCar is now part of the same entity as Free2Move, PSA’s car-sharing service.
A “seamless” customer experience
Of course, Ahmed Miri is not an obsessive car. He hasn’t had a car for two years. Between the problems of traffic jams and pollution, he knows that this means of transport is in crisis. But he still believes in it: “There is a questioning of the car, but it is more questioned its possession than its use. I think there will always be cars because they meet a lot of needs.”
To meet all transport needs, Ahmed Mhiri aims to introduce new services such as car-on-demand, the equivalent of leasing. He also wants to pool, via Free2Move, all the services available for transport: cars, but also, metro, trains, bicycle, scooters… “Today, what’s annoying is that you have to juggle fifteen applications to get around. We want to improve the transport customer experience to make the most of all these services already available, without breaking.”
“Children are worse than an investor”
An entrepreneur for almost 10 years, Ahmed Mhiri has found many reasons not to be bored in this life. A computer engineer by training, in the security of information systems in particular, at the age of 29, at the beginning of 2012, he obtained a position as project manager at Kenynectis, a subsidiary of the Atos Group. “I had found everything you could dream of: the right job at the right salary, in the right environment. But in the end, it wasn’t what I wanted.” He quit this golden job after four months, embarking on a first entrepreneurial adventure by wanting to launch gyms in Paris relying on a big brand as a franchise. It’s a failure. Before the success of TravelCar.
Curious, always looking for information, he left his native Tunisia at 23 to see the country. France will be his home and also the starting point of many trips, especially in the major European capitals that he likes to discover. He spends his time learning about business and the investment world: “I feel like I never work,” he says calmly. Well, almost. Father of two little girls two and a half years and a year old, he had to let go of a little ballast with his heightened taste for business and all the subjects that revolve around: “Children are another level of competence, he laughs. The pitch, the seduction, it doesn’t work. It’s worse than an investor.”