As the founder and largest shareholder of Spanish ride-hailing service Auro Travel, Leopoldo Alejandro Betancourt Lopez is a man with his finger on the pulse of the mobility sector in Spain, Europe, and the rest of the developed world. But even beyond mobility, his prowess and reach as an investor extends to the realms of energy exploration, eco-friendly fashion, international asset management, and banking and payment technology.
Betancourt Lopez founded Auro in 2017. Originally, however, he had a vision for car-sharing in Spain long before others did. His clairvoyance gave him the impetus to purchase 2,000 licenses for ride-hailing vehicles before there was even an active market for the service in Madrid and other Spanish cities.
“We foresaw a time, like today, when these licenses would be very desirable,” explains Betancourt Lopez. “It was a high-risk bet because we weren’t certain that market conditions would change in our favor, but we felt it was an important bet.”
Currently, Auro has more than 2,000 vehicles (comprising Spain’s largest fleet of private cars) to go with its licenses. Drivers for these vehicles can work on their own schedule and set their own wages. They’re able to work part-time on as few as a handful of jobs per month, or full-time, putting in at least 32 hours per week of driving or more. In addition to ride-hailing in cities, Auro also offers its own private car services with dedicated drivers throughout Spain.
In speaking about risk and investing, Betancourt Lopez admits, “The way I see it is, ‘Nothing risked; nothing gained.’ You have to take risks in order to succeed, but you also need to do your due diligence.” Still, he cautions, “I don’t advocate taking crazy risks; that’s being foolish. When you take a risk, you need to be fully aware of the consequences and fully understand what you’re going to do if it goes bad. That’s being a good risk-taker; you must be able to live with the result if the situation goes bad.”
Auro has attracted outside investment, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020 (likely in anticipation of rapid business growth after it fades). Investors in the firm include ventures GP Bullhound and FJ Labs, Félix Ruiz Hernandez, Zaryn Dentzel, José Antonio Parrondo — a former president of the Madrid Taxi Association, and Hugo Arévalo — a partner of Betancourt Lopez’s in the latter’s eco-friendly fashion venture.
Growing the Business with an App
Shortly after the founding of Auro, the company created a division called Arrow to lease its licenses to partner companies such as Uber and Cabify that wish to have a presence in major Spanish markets. For now, Auro has a very strong market position in Madrid, and it operates in the Spanish cities of Barcelona, Valencia, and Malaga as well.
“I see many ways we can grow,” says Betancourt Lopez. “We’re in the process of launching our own app, which will create opportunities for us to be an operator ourselves, not just providing licenses to other operators. I see us expanding beyond Spain and even challenging the big transportation players in Europe.”
Speaking specifically about Auro’s app, Betancourt Lopez notes, “We currently have a beta app. You can download it, and you can try it, but we’re not officially marketing it yet. We’re not officially in the market per se. This is partly because of the pandemic, and partly because we want to make sure we launch a product that’s way better than our competition. We want to have an edge; we want to use our app to help us be better than everyone else.”
The pandemic has certainly affected Auro’s expansion plans. “Right now, we’re concentrated on how we’re going to restart the company,” Betancourt Lopez posits. “We have more than 2,000 vehicles, all of which are parked because there’s [been] no demand for travel. Managing our resources in this challenging environment is our primary focus right now.”
The Future of Ride-Sharing and Auro
Still, Betancourt Lopez is clearly excited about the future of mobility. “The world population is constantly growing; regulation is changing all of the time,” he observes. “I think the growth of personal vehicle ownership has probably peaked. I think as people and governments become more conscious of reducing carbon emissions and their carbon footprints, there will be more and more interest in public transportation and ways to share rides. I believe that the ride-sharing model will continue to gain market share and that the big loser is going to be the personal car and the auto manufacturers.”
In the meantime, Auro Travel has experienced a degree of legal turbulence; a court decision involving a disputed exclusivity agreement with aforementioned partner Cabify was overturned, and now a new ruling has stated the original agreement was valid after all, which has the potential to negatively affect Auro. In the words of Auro investor Félix Ruiz Hernandez, Cabify “has won a battle, but not the war.” Hernandez says that Auro intends to appeal the case in the near future to the Spanish Constitutional Court.