Nifty powerpack for mobile phones in distress

Zurich-based start-up Chimpy lends batteries to smartphone users who’ve run out of juice. But CEO and founder Andreas Braendle first had to convince retailers of the advantages of the Sharing Economy.

Text: ceo magazine editorial staff | Photos: Andreas Zimmermann | Magazine: Customer focus – January 2019

These flat, slime-green contrivances with a cheeky monkey visage affixed to them as a logo are no larger than the devices they’re supposed to resuscitate in an emergency. Dead battery – a phenomenon that indefatigable mobile phone users are surely familiar with. Always at the dumbest moment, often in the evening, out on the town, the power flatlines. No Net, no WhatsApp, no SOS possibility, and nary a socket in sight. Nothing works anymore.

“Use Chimpy once and you’ll always come back.”

Andreas Braendle, who together with three friends founded Chimpy five years ago, experienced precisely this calamity more times than he could count. So he devised a solution: making available easily and inexpensively and at as many places as possible fully charged backup batteries, a.k.a. power banks, for the purpose of recharging dead-on-arrival mobile phones. Braendle already gained pertinent experience with this kind of business in his earlier years when he would take rechargeable AA batteries to companies and then rent them out on the premises.

That batteries tend to give up the ghost rather quickly when devices are used intensively is a universal problem, one which Braendle is quite aware of. On the road, though, it always seems to happen that you don’t have a charger with you or, if you do, you don’t have the time to plug it into a socket for an extended period of time. The Chimpy team offers a simple, ecologically convincing solution: “We perceive ourselves as a mobile power supplier.”

Andreas Braendle is CEO and co-founder of Chimpy. Headquartered in Zurich, the company lends portable powerpacks for recharging mobile phones and other electronic devices at more than 1,200 points of sale throughout Switzerland, most of them kiosks, but also booths at festivals, events and ski resorts. The five-year-old, multi-award-winning start-up company, which uses only certified solar energy for its powerpacks, today employs a permanent staff of 13 as well as 20 part-time workers. SBB and Valora are just two of Chimpy’s high-profile partner companies.

How first-time customers become regulars

It takes an average of about 16 seconds for a customer to get a freshly loaded Chimpy, replete with the appropriate power cord, at one of the company’s points of sale. The borrowing cost is CHF 4 for an entire week, plus a CHF 15 refundable deposit. Making the service known is a challenge, says the young entrepreneur, even as he stresses its potential: in Switzerland, the market penetration of smartphones is now well over 90 per cent.

In this instance, product promotion works well via word of mouth. “Once you’ve used a Chimpy, you always come back,” says Braendle. And then first-timers make the offer known in their circle of friends and on social media. The Chimpy team are present wherever throngs of people are joined at the thumb with their mobile phones and electricity is scarce: summers, at all major music festivals in Switzerland; winters, at selected ski resorts. In cities, the service is also offered at a number of bars and clubs.

Not least in the target group are commuters and hikers: those who need to be reachable throughout the day, be it in the office, on the road or on the trail. In the meantime, it’s even possible to load a Chimpy subscription onto the SwissPass for public transport, which works even if your mobile phone has chucked a wobbly.

Shared logistics with press and kiosk articles

At company headquarters in Zurich, where a photovoltaic system is installed on the roof, the atmosphere is laid back. Stylish music entertains the afternoon shift: the team cleans, recharges and checks the returned Chimpys. After that, back in the small delivery boxes, back in the logistics chain.

The small boxes are transported pallet by pallet to the central warehouse of Valora, the largest kiosk operator in Switzerland. From there, they get distributed together with newspapers and other kiosk goodies to the points of sale, and are later collected again. Braendle is proud that Chimpy was the first to establish a sustainable, rentable, recyclable consumer electronics product in the local retail market, thereby adding another element to the Sharing Economy.