Tying the KNOT on micromobility

With a passion for innovation and a green heart, Polina Mikhaylova, Co-Founder of KNOT, and her fellow visionaries, set out to start a company that specialised in universal docking and charging points for micromobility solutions.

This article originally appeared in the July/Aug issue of Startups Magazine. Click here to subscribe

Tying the KNOT on micromobility

With a passion for innovation and a green heart, Polina Mikhaylova, Co-Founder of KNOT, and her fellow visionaries, set out to start a company that specialised in universal docking and charging points for micromobility solutions

A micromobility journey

KNOT began its journey in 2016. “At first we started with the idea of sharing scooters, but the human-powered ones,” explains Mikhaylova. This was an idea which stemmed from one of her fellow founders, in quite adorable fashion. “He bought his kid a scooter, and quickly realised he now had to constantly try and keep up with how quick they were going!” From there he realised that having access to something like this could be a great form of mobility around cityscapes or urban environments.

To make this idea a reality, KNOT created its first docking station, which would come to be the staple of the company today.

“Throughout the years we were changing direction all the time,” says Mikhaylova, and it was in these shifts of direction that KNOT discovered what it truly wanted to achieve – accessible urban micromobility. “Once electric scooters appeared on the market, we switched our docking station to fit just one of these early brands,” however, as the market expanded, this singular approach become unrealistic in the long term. This is where the agnostic universal station was born.

However, something like this doesn’t just happen overnight, and according to Mikhaylova, KNOT “had to find a good team of engineers to help develop the product.” Mikhaylova and her team envisioned a similar system to that seen in EV charging stations, where they are becoming universal points instead of being designed for specific brands. “Even for electric scooters and bikes there are so many variables; different batteries, different voltages, different standards – that’s the problem we are trying to address.”

KNOT-ing together the product

Mikhaylova was eager to share how KNOT is bringing together its product, and how they have managed to create a formula for a universal approach. “You can divide it [the docking station] into three primary components. You have the software, the hardware, and the engineering that goes into it,” she says. It is only by approaching these three areas with an open mind that KNOT has been able to innovate traditional charging stations into universal ones.

“The software is needed to allow the different devices to communicate with the docking station, or if communication isn’t possible it will try to translate and ‘shake down’ the device when it comes into the station to charge,” explains Mikhaylova. Once this process is paired with the appropriate hardware, which makes sure to deliver the correct voltage, as well as the volume of charge to ensure battery lifespans, KNOT can enable a charging station to link with a variety of different brands and devices.

On top of the docking station, KNOT has also developed a ‘universal sleeve.’ This, Mikhaylova explained, “can fit scooters and bikes so that they can connect to our stations, even if they don’t work traditionally.”

None of these developments would have been possible without the work of KNOT’s engineering team, who worked to make these solutions in-house.

A close-KNOT team

KNOT’s team has certainly grown over the years; however, it still remains a close family – expanding at a rate it finds to be healthy. However, at the start, it was in dire need of specialist expansion. Mikaylova noted: “One of the core values of the company is to make everything internally, but when we started, we were working on engineering, without any real engineers! That was the first step, to hire the team.” Now, KNOT has a team of developers and engineers that have been with the company for almost 5+ years, with the capabilities to produce its product locally in France. “It went from just four of us at the start with the ideas, to now 12 on the permanent engineering team and up to 15 or even 20 depending on the time of the year.”

The low-charge and high-charge points

KNOT has undergone several challenges, as all startups do, but Mikaylova touted two as being the most significant to the company. Primarily, one of the struggles lay in the nature of KNOT’s business: “Whenever you’re a hardware company the biggest concern is finding a way to prototype, test, produce, and everything else that comes with it. That is especially a concern for B2B startups like us, given the lack of opportunities and scale that comes with B2C models,” she explains.

Beyond just the hardware side of the business, there also comes some often overlooked challenges that KNOT has had to deal with. Mikaylova describes: “There have also been other extraordinary problems that a team of engineers doesn’t usually have to face, and that’s problems with payment systems internationally.

“Now that we have managed to get installations in 10 countries ranging from France, to Canada, all the way to Uzbekistan, this sort of problem has only grown.

“If you go to the Maldives, they don’t really have PayPal over there for a quick payment. In Uzbekistan, only 2% of the population use bank cards – so this raises complications.” But these concerns haven’t stopped KNOT from pushing for its vision.

On the flip side, there’s a plethora of positives that have come from KNOT’s journey. Fundamentally, for Mikaylova, it’s all about her team: “I think, for sure, the main highlight is how lucky we got with the team. It’s one of the biggest motivations we have here, we’re always working because we’re just so motivated.

“We believe in what we do. We really believe in the bikes, in scooters, and we think micromobility is something we should push forward.”

One of KNOT’s biggest challenges has also birthed one of its greatest highlights – and that is the hardware. “Having hardware is a struggle, but it is also very, very, satisfying. In the end, you get to build a product, put it in something like central London, and then get to see it in person. You get to say: ‘Yeah, I made that.’”

What’s next for KNOT?

KNOT is constantly looking to the horizon, both figuratively and literally, when it comes to its future. “Going forward we’re looking to be even more universal in our approaches, including new kinds of mobility solutions, not only bikes and scooters,” promotes Mikaylova. “We’re also looking to continue our growth, not just locally but internationally.” KNOT is also excited to eventually push for a future where it is creating micromobility solutions in-house, “that’s our awesome dream of everybody here.”