“Driving Cars … as well as Social Change”
Kovi is democratizing access to personal transportation across Brazil and beyond
In the modern world, transportation is fundamental to economic prosperity, whether it is to enable people to get to work, get around town, or go anywhere else. This has become even more pronounced as gig work such as taxi services, food delivery, and others have proliferated across economies, as almost all rely on workers having their own transportation to enable their work. So, what happens if nearly 80 percent of the population of a country does not have access to the financing needed to purchase essential transportation? That is the challenge facing workers in Brazil.
There are a number of reasons why credit is hard to come by in Brazil – high-interest rates, subsidies to favored market sectors, as well as others. Whatever the cause, the impact is a vicious cycle for consumers. To begin, it is extremely hard for most Brazilians to get credit – without a starting point, they cannot build their credit and end up with poor credit ratings, and this in turn makes it even harder to get credit when needed. For a significant majority of Brazilians, this means banks won’t approve them for a car loan, which excludes them from new economy jobs that require personal transportation. A different approach to this problem is urgently needed.
Kovi was founded by Adhemar Milani Neto to deliver that solution. The company provides a range of services for the underserved Brazilian population, including novel leasing programs, which enable them to gain access to personal transportation, often for the first time. By taking a non-traditional approach, Kovi is already making fundamental changes to the auto and financing industries in Brazil.
LOCAL & INTERNATIONAL BEGINNINGS
Adhemar was born in Brazil just outside São Paulo. His father was an engineering professor at a local state university while his mother was a social worker. Adhemar jokes that his upbringing means he has always had two brains, one for engineering and one for social justice.
Initially, it was the engineering side that had the upper hand, leading Adhemar to study mechanical engineering at a university in Brazil. However, after graduating, he found management was more his calling and worked in a range of positions at an NGO, as well as large multinational companies such as Bosch and International Paper before returning to school for his MBA at INSEAD in France and Singapore.
It was while Adhemar was at INSEAD that he first began exploring solutions to solve the complex problems around transportation and logistics. Adhemar and some of his MBA classmates developed ideas around how to solve challenging logistics issues facing Latin American exporters. In his words, “Many of the big logistics exporters filled containers leaving Brazil, but each one came back empty because there was not a marketplace to optimize the logistics.” They took part in and won venture competitions with their marketplace-based approach, and while they did not end up forming a company to commercialize those ideas, Adhemar had caught the transportation bug.
During a post-MBA stint consulting at Bain & Company that interest bore fruit. A Brazilian startup called 99 started out by transforming the taxi business in Brazil. Adhemar was tasked to help 99 build and launch the next step in their business – a ridesharing platform. Before long he moved on from Bain to work for 99 full-time, helping grow the ridesharing business and taking ownership of the P&L for the original taxi business. Not long after Adhemar joined 99, the company was acquired by Chinese ridesharing giant, Didi Chuxing. As a part of the M&A process, Adhemar visited Didi headquarters in China and it was there that the final piece in his journey to Kovi fell into place. While in China, he observed firsthand the infrastructure to enable drivers to get access to cars-as-a-service. When he arrived back in Brazil, Adhemar knew that building a similar service in Brazil could speed the growth of ridesharing and, at the same time, solve the trials facing Brazilians regarding access to cars. Kovi was founded in 2018 with this mission, “To accelerate the urban mobility revolution in Latin America.”
"We want to make car ownership affordable, efficient, and accessible to all, by building a scalable platform that creates value for all.”
SAFETY IN NUMBERS
As Adhemar describes it, the company wants to, “Make car ownership affordable, efficient, and accessible to all, by building a scalable platform that creates value for all.” He found a willing cohort of ex-99 employees to join him in building the company. Most of his new colleagues had seen firsthand the challenges gig drivers faced getting access to cars, which prevented them from joining the burgeoning gig economy in Brazil. Many of those who want to be drivers come from underserved backgrounds with low or no credit scores, and the existing system was not set up to allow for success with traditional loans. Aside from the challenges inherent in credit scoring in Brazil, the banks faced their own set of challenges that keep approval rates low. Monthly payment schedules mean it takes too long for banks to know when someone is defaulting on their loans. The ways of the Brazilian legal system also mean that repossessions can take up to six months. Finally, when the banks do get their assets back, they are not set up to sell them effectively, so they lose even more money disposing of these diminished assets. The result is a system that’s constrained to deny loans to almost all applicants.
Kovi has taken a different approach. Cars are leased on simple subscription plans that are easy to understand. Payments are made weekly, so the identification of default is quick. The company also installs hardware in its fleet of cars to track location as well as speed, miles driven, phone usage, tickets received, and other safety factors. This enables Kovi to identify whether drivers are keeping their side of the agreement and enables swift location and repossession if terms are not met. The upshot of all of this is it gives the company the confidence to approve 80 percent of all applicants, and that confidence is well placed. Of the first 50 cars leased by Kovi, only 1 was lost, and at the end of 2021, with its fleet at more than 12,000 cars, the company recorded its first month of not losing a single vehicle.
DISRUPTING THE SYSTEM
Kovi has identified a successful car ownership experience that goes beyond financing. As a result, Kovi’s plans also include insurance and maintenance, so cars are kept in good shape and are automatically covered in case of accidents.
This holistic approach has other knock-on positive effects. Kovi identified there was a shortage of professional mechanics in Brazil as the traditional dealers do not have maintenance centers. To combat this, Kovi created a University of Mechanics, providing opportunities for Brazilians who want to build these skills and enter this profession. That program is also creating profound cultural change, as a significant number of the maintenance classes are for women only. In many cases, these courses are giving women who have focused their adult lives raising their children a second chance at a professional career.
LOGGING FUTURE MILEAGE
The word “kovi” means “to live” in Tupi-Guarani, an Indigenous Brazilian language. This fits with the company’s philosophy of, “Every car we finance or rent is a new job opportunity – it is a life that we change.” As of 2021, Kovi has a fleet of 12,000 cars, employs over 1,000 people, and has over 10,000 customers, but the company does not want to stop here. Looking ahead, Kovi is growing in Brazil, has already opened operations in Mexico, and plans to continue expansion across Latin America’s biggest cities.
“Every car we finance, or rent is a new job opportunity – it is a life that we change.”
Kovi is also focused on driving environmental impact through its business. A goal from the beginning, the company is focused on reducing greenhouse gases by converting gasoline-powered cars to run on natural gas. That plan had to be shelved, but the underlying ambition did not go away. Kovi now hopes to use its market power to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles in Latin America.
Adhemar and Kovi are focused on solving challenging problems around the provision of transportation in growth markets, while also driving positive change on key societal issues. If Kovi continues along this track, Adhemar should be keeping his “two brains’ busy for quite a while yet!
For more, visit Kovi: https://www.kovi.com.br/