We talk to Andrej Sobotkiewicz, whose startup lets businesses host app-activated e-bike infrastructures.
Currently, sponsorship of self-rented bike services is usually limited to big corporations, as the installation process is simply too costly for individual businesses. As cities become more congested however, driving becomes a less attractive option for commuters. This is especially the case for tourists, when getting from point A to B can be faster via peddling.
That’s why, when we covered Lock & Charge in October last year, it was particularly popular with our readers. Their service lets anyone host an electric bike-sharing infrastructure, be it hotels, shopping centers, offices, or cities, and enhance their customers’ travel experiences. Food delivery services, for one, can easily install charging stations for their bike messengers, and increase the speed and quality of their services. Through an open API, customers can also connect Lock & Charge to their own logistics software and manage their fleets more effectively.
Last year, Italy-based Lock & Charge were focused on testing the product in real-life conditions. They tested different business models (from monthly subscriptions to vending machines), and had fleets in hotels, utility companies, co-working spaces, servicing companies, and more, across Italy and Slovenia. They made 3000 rentals with 140 riders, received a user rating of 4.3, and none of the bikes were stolen. Founder Andrej Sobotkiewicz tells us that testing the system on the market helped the team better understand the user context, identify bugs in the system and define the target market.
In February, the team started selling the L&C system through existing and emerging bike sharing/rental operators, e-vehicle shops and vehicle producers. They have also nailed the first pre-orders and contracts with customers in Australia, and expect to have the first batch of bikes ready by this month.
When asked about the foundations for the company’s progress to-date, Andrej points towards their partners. “We have been very good in building strong relationships with all key partners. This helped us a lot, as it brings stability and continuation into the development process.” These included an electronics and firmware company, an engineering and rapid prototyping partner, and a company that developed a unique lock cable for Lock & Charge.
Of course, their journey has not been without challenges. “The devices need to interact between each other and through the cloud,” Andrej says, “So the most crucial part is a good communication between the hardware and the software development teams.” Another challenge was the bike lock cable, which Andrej did not think would be much of a problem. “The truth is, it’s a security cable with a steal core and electric wires around it, and it’s the part that is moving around a lot, so we needed quite some time in order to bring it to a satisfying level.”
The startup has already have received inquiries for expansions to e-scooters, e-boats, golf carts and push scooters. They are also preparing a special system for cycle delivery companies, and will look to simplify the process of protecting the vehicles and the cargo boxes from theft and damage.
The next iteration will involve NFC integration. “This means that the bike messengers will be able to secure the vehicle and the box with just one finger, and service their clients without the fear of things or the bike getting stolen,” Andrej explains.
The founder shares three key learnings from his experience. One is to pay attention to detail. Another is to not develop too much in advance — “A lot of the time we thought the market needed this or that, but in the end it wasn’t really like that. So I would suggest anybody to make prototypes and actually test them with the customers on the market.” Third is simplification: Andrej encourages developers to make their minimum viable product as simple as possible. “Develop everything on your own brings a lot of risks, but you can diffuse this if you use parts that are already working well and on the market.”
Soon, Lock & Charge plans to launch an equity crowdfunding campaign, and give those who are passionate about their product a chance to buy share in the company.
Read more about Lock & Charge here.
13th July 2016