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Where are the Bicycle Startup Successes?

by Josh Lipton

Its 2014 and Tech Startup Culture/Silicone Valley/Ambitious Teenagers have been  going strong with producing great consumer focused companies for over 10 years now.  So what about bikes?

When I look up bicycling Startups at Angel List, its not that they are non-existant.  There are some interesting and meaningful efforts being made.

But when I see Faraday Bicycles as the startup with the strongest signal, I’m glad for them but disappointed that what amounts to a specialty, luxury product is the leading example of bicycles in the startup space.

On the other hand, the 5 startups that follow Faraday on the list, Beeline Bikes, viaCycle, ZagsterHammerhead and Helmet Hub are the types of startups that I would like to think have the potential to be impactful in a way that really scales.  But from what I can glean from AngelList’s indicators and the company’s websites, there are not any breakout successes waiting in the wings.

Bicycle Startups at AngelList

Lets hope I am wrong.  Perhaps in a year from now, I can followup and identify one of these companies or a new comer as the budding AirBnB, Uber or Tesla of bicycles.

So why am I probably not wrong?  What is it that makes renting bedrooms or manufacturing electric sports cars great opportunities for startups?  Well obviously if I knew the answer to this question I’d too busy building the breakthrough companies of the future to write this blog post.

What I can say though is that it seems that consumer startups are currently in a phase of going for the low-hanging fruit.  While there is a growing list of successful companies, success is by no means easy for startups to come by.  It is hard to tell whether great entrepreneurs have an instinct for the markets that will lead to great success or if rather entrepreneurs are made great by being in the right market at the right time.  Or said another way, are the great entrepreneurs not sniffing opportunity in bicycling or are the entrepreneurs who have focused on cycling just not yet blessed by the market opening up.  The truth probably lies somewhere in-between.

Now is the fun part of this blog post where I get to speculate.  What do I think could make for an incredible bicycling focused startup that delights consumers and brings greater accessibility to bicycling?

This question brings me back to my post on Maximum Impact Bicycle Advocacy, in that the answer might be tied up in the conundrum that for cycling to grow significantly in a car-centric culture, we must find a way to ignite significant investment in the building of bicycling infrastructure.

Despite the current car-centric market in the U.S., I believe there is plenty of opportunity for a successful bicycling startup to emerge.  However one of the real startup opportunity could be to figure how to help facilitate the building of bicycling infrastructure.  A related perspective is that perhaps bicycling focused startups would have their greatest opportunities in focusing on markets in Europe and Asia where bicycling is well embraced.

Bicycling Infrastructure – egg before the chicken

  • SimCity for Bicycle Infrastructure – Virtualize and porototype the building and implementation of bicycle infrastructure, while demonstrating the positive impacts on health, economy, congestion, environment.  For example one would virtually transform Boston’s roadway infrastructure into that of Amsterdam.
  • Crowdfunding Platform for Bicycle Infrastructure – Similar to what Mosaic does for Solar Projects.  Bicycle infrastructure does not work well for implementation on a project-by-project level.  But I wonder if city governments might considered using crowdfunding platforms to support infrastructure projects.
  • Coalition Building Platform – Combined with some of the above ideas, this could be a bike focused startup or broader to support many forms of local coalitions.

Its the Bicycle Stupid – chicken before the egg

  • A Bicycle Company Focused on Usability – The O-Bike, the bike to rule them all.  I have been conceptualizing this idea with my posts on the J.O.Y.B.A.G. bike.
  • Consumer Friendly Bicycle Retail -  The bike shop business model is built around servicing old school, sport-focused consumers.  To scale with everyday consumers, a fresh new approach to retail would go along way.  Think an Apple Store with the O-Bike.
  • Mobile Bike Shops – Bike repair equipment is fairly light and compact.  For cyclists who rely on bike transportation, having to bring their bicycle into a shop for repair can be very inconvenient.  Maybe the shop should come to you.  Beeline Bikes is giving it a go.
  • A Comprehensive Database of All Bicycles, Parts and Accessories – Make it easier to get the most out of a bicycle (this is one of our long-term visions at BikeShopHub.com)

Bike Sharing – can I borrow your bike?

  • A Commercially Run Bike Share Company – More and more municipalities have been running bike share programs.  Could a Startup do it even better?  Zagster and viaCycle are coming at it from some interesting angles.
  • Support Bike Share with Helmets – Helmet Hub is giving a go at it.

Bike Navigation – so where are we going?

  • Crowdsourced Bike Maps – Google Maps essentially does this.  Strava is gathering very relevant data.  A smart startup might really bring it all together.
  • Bike Specific Navigation Systems – Small screens don’t work that great on a bike.  There has got to be a better way… See Hammerhead whom we’ve blogged about previously.

I am guessing that there are many more nuances to bicycling focused startups than I have covered in this brief post.  I could really use some help on this topic, if you care to share in the comments.

Specifically here is what I am looking for:

  • Insights into the success level of U.S. based Bicycle Startups.
  • Any and all information and insights about Bicycling Startups outside of the U.S.
  • Your speculation/ideas for what would make for a successful Bicycle Startup.
  • Your speculation as to why there hasn’t already been a Breakout Success. (or maybe there has been and I just don’t know about it. Do GoPro and Strava count?)
 
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4 Responses to “Where are the Bicycle Startup Successes?”

  1. Alex says:

    Hi,

    I enjoyed your article, just thought id let you know im in the process of starting up a bicycle company but im all the way over in Australia. Although the brand will be global soon enough. Any thoughts you may have a welcome

  2. David George says:

    Hi Josh,

    I came across your article from a Google Alert on bicycles and like the article. Some very interesting points around an industry which is growing and affects a huge number of people’s lives but as you suggest, other than some innovative products in the Kickstarter space and GPS area, doesn’t have any runaway successes.

    I’m the founder and CEO at Bikmo.com, a resource to make life easier to cyclists by bringing together the prices, retailers, reviews, video and technical files you’d normally have to spend hour searching for.

    We’re UK based but should soon be looking at the US and have the larger retailers on board already.

    Our vision is to change the way in which information is sourced and purchasing decisions are made, by giving the cyclist consumer everything they need in one place. Think of the effect that Feedly had on content, enabling a user to consume all the content they’re interested in, in one place, in a short amount of time.

    But I guess the question is always, will Bikmo be a success? We’re cyclists and will always focus on what our fellow cyclists want but it takes more than that to have a runaway success.

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on what we’re doing and if you think this could have the impact we’re intending it to have.

    We’re just going through a crowd funding raise after building the platform and initial partnerships, which will provide enough to launch smartphone and tablet apps, then market it effectively.

    There’s a video to explain what we’re about so take a look https://www.seedrs.com/your/startups.

    Dave George
    Founder & CEO | Bikmo

  3. Josh Lipton says:

    @Alex, tell us more. Do you have any info? The link in your name does not seem to be working.

    @David, Great job with your progress so far! Your startup looks like it has great potential to delight cyclists and scale. Of course they say startup success comes down to execution which emerges from that special combination of persistence, timing and luck.

    Your site looks like it has a strong design behind it which is as important as the idea these days. I hope that the investors recognize this and come knocking.

    I enjoyed the video as well which does a great job of summarizing your startup, but had to create an account at seedrs.com to get to it. To you have an easier way for our readers to access the video?

  4. @Josh, just randomly stumbled upon this article again and noticed your reply, sorry its taken so long to get back to you.

    The website is now up and running (www.atmacycles.com) and we are a couple of weeks away from receiving our first shipment of bikes with a reasonable amount of presales achieved.

    Our point of difference is that for every bike we sell we give one to a schoolgirl in India so that she may get to school, additionally at least 50% of our profits will go to the same cause.

    The bikes we will be launching are high quality, everyday use commuter bikes.

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