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The Shared Economy: Access Beats Ownership

Charging anxiety is something we can all relate to. In fact, according to multiple surveys, 9 out of ten of us experience ‘low battery anxiety’ when it comes to our phones. And the research around this topic reveals some interesting behaviors around charging anxiety: on average, people own three or more smartphone charging cables, they will secretly borrow someone else’s charger, they will order something in a bar or restaurant just to use a power outlet, one in three will skip the gym if it means they would have to forego charging their phone, and nearly half of us have gotten into an argument with a significant other as a result of unanswered calls or texts due to a dead smartphone.  So, is there a solution that can get our romantic lives back on track while also making sure we hit the gym a few times a week? There is indeed and its name is Brick, the fast-growing Swedish startup that makes sure you can charge your phone no matter where you are – and you can do it on the go. 

Back in 2019, Brick CEO Emil Esselin came home from a night out with his girlfriend and couldn’t open his front door because his phone was out of power and that meant he wasn’t able to access his digital home lock.

“I’ve always been a tech kind of guy, but when I couldn’t get into my own home because my phone was dead it sparked the fundamental idea behind Brick: you should always be enabled by technology, not disabled,” says Emil Esselin. “But ownership is not the solution to the problem – it’s about tapping into the shared economy, which is what we are doing with Brick.

Access beats ownership – it’s better that you have things when you need them, rather than carrying things around for that moment when you might need them.

Emil Esselin CEO Brick

People have been lending, borrowing, and sharing things since time began, but the modern concept of the sharing economy – or collaborative consumption – is being enabled by new technologies and apps. According to PwC (Price Waterhouse Cooper) the shared economy is set to reach $335 billion by 2025 and companies working with sharing economies will grow by 2,333% over the next twelve years. But while many of us think of Uber or Airbnb when we think of the shared economy, it’s spreading to many other business models and turning some of them on their head. Why? Consumer expectations and demands play a big role, as do sustainability and cost.

Unlike earlier charging station solutions, you don’t put your phone into a Brick station and wait for it to charge. Instead, you scan the Brick station with the app on your phone and a power bank pops out. It has all the cords you need, no matter what kind of portable device you want to charge. And you can take the power bank with you as you go about your day, returning it to any Brickstation anywhere.

“The Brick  station solution is there for people when they need it – we’re your reliable partner,” says Emil Esselin. “We have Brick  stations installed in grocery stores, department stores, hotels, bars and restaurants, shopping malls, office spaces, and even on buses. For example, Stockholm invested millions installing USB chargers on buses. Now that they’re there everyone is moving away from USB ports. This points to a big problem: when it comes to technology and large corporations, if you want to do installations you’re always going to lag behind. We’re now working on the Stockholm buses and offering a retrofit, so they don’t need to invest during the production phase. Instead, we are installing Brick stations and tech-proofing their investment. But we’re not competing with the cord – we’re the solution when you have 15 percent left and you are running to an appointment or a meeting and need juice. We’re your lifesaver on the move.”

The Brick solution not only answers to consumer demands – it does so in a sustainable way.

“If you look at a car, it’s not even used 95% of the time. If you look at a power bank you might carry in your bag, it’s probably not used 99% of the time,” says Emil Esselin. “We’re doing away with all of that extra electronic waste by making power banks available where and when you need them. I think the mindset is shifting and the shared economy is going to come to everything, which will boost sustainability and reduce e-waste.”

And if people don’t return the chargers to the same or another power bank? Not a problem. Brick charges a small deposit so if you don’t return the charger, it’s yours to keep and you will lose your deposit.

“We do want them returned, though,” laughs Emil Esselin. “We are developing an ecosystem with stations everywhere so that you can take a charger from one station and return it to another. You can even grab one in Stockholm and return it to a Brick station in Australia because the ecosystem we’re building is global.”

Brick developed its concept in Sweden, building up the technology – both the software and the hardware – so that they are able to scale quickly.

“The biggest challenge we’re facing is that of building infrastructure for the shared future. We are on the path of making our ecosystem expand rapidly and just signed Nigeria, Poland and Panama, so now we have 8 different network partners signed in the last eight months. All of the network partners have individual challenges in terms of IoT and connectivity so we are grateful for the expertise from Tele2. Soon we’ll be available on every continent in the world – our ecosystem has become global”

Tele2 IoT, connectivity & data

Most Brick stations are connected with Tele2 IoT SIM cards using 4G and LTE, although for some countries where there are regulatory challenges the setup is slightly different. The SIMs are managed with 2CONTROL (Cisco IoT Control Center).

“2CONTROL has been great – we have nothing to complain about at all,” says Emil Esselin “And without reliable connectivity our solution literally won’t work. If the connectivity isn’t working then no one can rent a charger and no one can return one because the app won’t be able to speak to the station.”

The Brick stations themselves don’t require much data – around half a megabyte a day –  but they do require constant communication, so Brick is taking advantage of roaming.

“We collect as little data as possible,” says Emil Esselin. “For instance, we don’t have GPS in the power banks, so the data we get is more around usage – how much each station is being used. We have different setups in different countries and have built a whole infrastructure and platform for our franchisees so that they can see usage and other parameters that allow them to run Brick in their countries.

“This is why Tele2 IoT is such a great partner. We have so much support when it comes to international expansion. We want to build a one-stop solution for bringing these shared services to different markets and having a reliable IoT partner is one of the major components,” says Emil Esselin. “We’re a startup and there are components where we lack the right competence and IoT is an area where we are learning a lot. Having that support from Tele2 IoT is crucial to our solution and our future.”

One example of the Tele2 IoT team acting as critical support is when Brick was testing in Canada.

“We sent stations to Canada – samples – and we realized they are using a different bandwidth than we are in Europe,” explains Emil Esselin.  “Our station’s  GSM module is designed for the EU, so some of the samples aren’t working in Canada because they weren’t connecting on the same bandwidth. After consulting Tele2 IoT’s solution consultant, he recommended we go with a global GSM module, so we will now change the production. This is how we are benefiting from working with Tele2 IoT. When he came with that recommendation one of my problems just disappeared – it was great!”

The future

Brick is building an infrastructure where people can start their own sharing services in their own markets. Emil Esselin says that they’ve chosen to centralise what can be centralised, and localised what should be localised.  Business is local – but technology can be global. It’s easier to have people who know their local markets than for Brick to go in and try to find out how things work. The Brick team might not know where to make connections in just say Slovenia, but the local franchisee will.

“We’re currently running a pilot with the buses in Stockholm, but we wouldn’t have those connections in Brazil to make things happen in an easy way. Our franchisees know the local market in a way that we can’t, so it makes sense for us to take the franchise route.

“If people do this on their own, without the global infrastructure we’re building, they will have small resources, which means they will likely go for the cheapest things out there, which will never drive growth or sustainability in the same way,” says Emil Esselin. “We want to drive responsibility in this sector of the shared economy and that can only be done by a large player, which is what we’re aiming to become. With our large volumes we can be an agent of change, looking at how we can use recycled plastic in our stations and power banks, for example. The infrastructure we’re building enables people to become a part of this business – and with that power comes the ability to do something great.”

If you would like to learn more about how IoT can enable your business, please get in touch.