Bike sharing is a great idea, and one which has been getting a lot of attention recently. It looks like it’s coming soon to a city near you. But, will it be as easy as it sounds?
Bike sharing is nothing new. The early 20th century saw the invention of trolleybuses and cars, mostly for commuting (though some for tourism). It didn’t matter that the trolley was faster and the cars were more comfortable. The reason people were going to get on the trolley was because they didn’t have a car!
The same thing will happen with bike sharing, except that this time it will be because people don’t have cars.
All of us are familiar with all too well the frustrations of not being able to find a parking space in most cities these days, or getting stuck in traffic jams at rush hour – even if we do have access to a car. This is because bikes are so much cheaper than cars (a fact which you can check out using our interactive map). So when people can pay by time rather than money they won’t have any excuse not to use them.
If you think about why people may not want bike sharing then you start to see how quickly things can go wrong:
They might not know how to use and park their own bike (there will be lots of them around) or theirs may suffer from flat tyres or other problems which make journeys longer than necessary and perhaps more uncomfortable for everyone involved (especially car drivers who may find themselves having to weave across obstacles in order to avoid hitting pedestrians) or if their bike gets stolen there is no “reward” for their efforts – they simply lose the privilege of going where they want when they want without having any reason not to do so – there is no “reward” for breaking any laws either – there is only frustration and inconvenience while everyone else has fun being able to enjoy themselves without having anything bad happen.
Creating an enjoyable experience gives some sense that this activity is worthwhile, something worth paying for… but what exactly does this mean? What makes something worth paying for? What makes it worth making an effort towards achieving? This seems like such a simple question yet we still often struggle with its answer. We talk about incentives all the time but those incentives can seem so conflicting: designing an app with an attractive user experience means lowering your users’ expectations; designing IA with high performance
The history of cycling in the US should be as varied and interesting as the history of cycling in the general world. At first, it was a solitary pursuit; then it became a way of life; then it became a job; then it became a sport. Then came the advent of carriages, then bicycles, and now we’re on to electric bikes.
A bit like many such transitions (like getting from horseback to carriages), you can’t really draw direct comparisons between any time period and any other. But I think we can make some interesting comparisons that are relevant for our product and hence our story:
1> A century ago, men were only able to get about a mile or two every day. Today you can get about 30 miles daily and you rarely have to stop for gas or food.
2> The average distance covered in a century has increased by about 300%. The average distance covered by women has increased by 1% over this time frame.
3> In contrast, the average age of an American male is around 50 years old today — when you look at bicycle sales through ages 18-24, you notice that they have almost quadrupled since 1850 (when they peaked).
4> The average age of an American woman is 34 years old today — when you look at bicycle sales through ages 18-24, you notice that they have just doubled since 1850 (when they peaked).
5> Bicycle sales have doubled every 5 years since 1850 — if I were to guess where we are heading next year I would put my money on electric bikes and perhaps bicycles with small engines (25cc vs 50cc).
What is it?
Bike sharing is a multi-billion dollar business, one of the largest in the world. It is also a business that is growing at an exponential rate. New bike share systems are being built all the time, and each one promises to be better than the last and much cheaper than the last.
Even though you can find bike share systems everywhere and they will probably continue to grow in number, I think it’s important to understand what they are, how they work and how they can help you — and all of these things happen down below.
Bike Sharing Systems
With so many bikes on the road, it’s no surprise that there are so many companies trying to figure out ways to get people off their bikes for short amounts of time (say 20 minutes). A bike share system allows people to rent out their bike when they need it and return it back after a certain period of time. The more bikes are on the street, the more likely there will be people who want to ride them for short periods of time. It doesn’t matter if you want to go for a 15 minute ride or a 30 minute ride — in either case your bike can be in use for longer than you do (even if you don’t plan on staying long). The bike share company takes care of everything else: monitoring your bike; collecting money as customers return it; figuring out when you can use that bike; balancing your cycle; etc.
Two major types of systems exist: those with fixed stations which allow riders to transfer between stations with ease (think: LimeBike) and those which are based around mobile connections (think: Mobike). You can find some basic definitions here but basically, those two types exist: fixed-station systems have “heat islands” where riding is not possible because there is no infrastructure — this reduces hours of commuting time while still allowing easy access by ridership (think: most large cities); mobile-based systems have more flexible maps available on users phones so that riders can get from place to place without having to navigate complex network routes.
A third type exists but I think it might be more appropriate for this discussion: microbiking. This is where small fleets form in densely populated areas where biking isn’t feasible or comfortable due either to traffic volume or because there aren’t enough other options aside from walking/running/jogging/etc. Mobikes have been used in South Africa as well
How to ride it?
I was asked to contribute to a series of articles on how startups can do more when it comes to marketing. This one seems to be the most popular topic and has generated a lot of discussion around the web, especially here at Startup School. I’ll be leaving out some of the more specific advice (for example, this advice on how to get your product into people’s hands), but I want to discuss something more general:
How do you know when you’ve reached product-market fit? There are a couple of ways that are useful for different kinds of companies, so let’s look at them separately.
The first is the simple one: just ask yourself, “do people actually use it?” If not, move on. The second way is more subjective and leads us into our next topic, which is about testing all your assumptions with users before you move onto launch day:
Testing assumptions for launch day
The simple way to test product-market fit is by simply asking yourself if any users have tried your product and if they have liked it. You can also ask them what they think about your product; if it was good enough for them then it probably will be good enough for customers too! It really comes down to whether or not you believe that people will actually use your product once they hear about it (and even then). However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that users should tell their friends — even if those friends are other startups!
The next step is much harder. For example, even if someone says they used your app but didn’t like it, how do you know that there were no features missing? If a feature isn’t necessary or really useful then why would someone sign up in the first place? Is there an explanation as to what these features were supposed to do? Are there benchmarks in place so we can measure success? And lastly, who made the decision as to which features were added and which weren’t? You need answers for all three questions before trying go public with your new app.
Some people have trouble putting the bike in the picture. This is a problem. It’s fairly common for bike accessories to be sold as a service rather than as a product (e.g., the “Go Pro” on your handlebars) and it’s even more common for cycling accessories to be sold by resellers rather than direct from manufacturers or distributors.
The reason for this is twofold:
1) A lot of people would rather buy one accessory instead of three, which makes it challenging to forecast demand for new products and get enough margin above cost of goods sold (i.e., to maintain profitability).
2) You don’t see people buying a lot of doubles, triples and quads (the most popular bike accessories, used by about 2% of all cyclists) because they are not seen as being particularly valuable or desirable.
Despite these challenges, we believe that there is a lot of room for innovation in this space and our hope is that we can help with that by demonstrating how some of the best practices are working in other parts of the industry. We will give you an overview on how to avoid some common pitfalls when selling bike accessories as a service — including our own experiences with selling them ourselves!
I hope this post has been useful to some extent. I know there are many more topics that I could have covered here, but the point was just to show the range of information that can be found in a small amount of text (and hence, a relatively inexpensive amount of time). As always, do feel free to add your own comments or questions below.
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