Zebra Fuel, a London-based startup that wants to eliminate the inner city gas station by delivering fuel directly to your vehicle, has raised $2.5 million in seed funding.
The round is led by Robin and Saul Klein’s LocalGlobe, with participation from Brent Hoberman’s Firstminute Capital, and Alex Chesterman, the Zoopla founder and one of the U.K.’s more active angel investors.
Despite the familiar investor lineup, it’s actually the first investment made by Firstminute, the recently launched $85 million pan-European seed fund.
Founded in 2016 by Reda Bennis and Romain Saint Guilhem, Zebra Fuel is attempting to bring the convenience of on-demand delivery (or, more accurately, book ahead delivery, since it isn’t really on-demand) to refuelling your car. Via the startup’s smart phone app, you can book a time-slot to have one of Zebra Fuel’s mini-vans and trained personnel come to your location to dispense fuel to your vehicle.
For the time being, the company only offers diesel and delivers to inner city London, although petrol, hydrogen and even electric is on the roadmap. As is expanding to other European cities.
The idea, Bennis told me on a fun and rapid-fire call, is to eliminate the need to ever queue at a gas station again, which is not only inconvenient and time-consuming, but often sees a driver make an additional roundtrip journey and having to leave the engine running while in situ waiting for a pump to become available.
By bringing fuel to you and others in your neighbourhood, a proposition like Zebra at scale could help cut emissions and reduce congestion. Or so the pitch perfect pitch goes.
So what about the business case? The reaction from almost everybody I’ve explained Zebra Fuel to was to presume it will work out more expensive than visiting a gas station. Not so, says Bennis, although he concedes people are sceptical at first (and even more so before the company introduced a small delivery charge, which actually helped increase conversion significantly).
Instead, Zebra claims to be price competitive with inner city gas stations — offering fuel at prices on a par with or cheaper than central London — because it sources fuel from the same wholesale suppliers as the leading petrol stations and doesn’t have to soak up the high costs of rent for each premium gas station location.
In turn, the Zebra Fuel mini-vans themselves don’t need to travel to the wholesale supplier, but are refueled by the Zebra Fuel “mother ship,” says Bennis, a much larger tanker able to restock multiple Zebra Fuel delivery vehicles.
The startup is also well-positioned to offer a B2B service. This sees it bring fuel direct to commercial fleets, which are typically parked overnight in one central location.
In fact, whether consumer or business, overnight refuelling is a popular option. You can even instruct the Zebra Fuel app that you’ve left your fuel cap unlocked to negate having to be present when your vehicle is refueled, an idea first suggested by a disabled driver and early Zebra Fuel customer, and evidence that improving accessibility often benefits everybody. Connected cars could see this integrated at the API level, too: book a Zebra Fuel refill via your dashboard and your car will unlock its fuel cap at the right time.
Like a “Formula 1 pit stop,” is how the Zebra Fuel co-founder describes the service overall, and it’s not hard to imagine the startup expanding into other car health check or maintenance products, such as tire pressure and even MOTs.
The humble motor car, especially for city dwellers, is such an under-utilised asset, yet it consumes a disproportionate amount of its owners time and money. A sentiment and reality this nascent London startup hopes a large business can be built on.