Businesses are finding it increasingly difficult to communicate with their customers, says Tom Hares, founder of cycling-based tech startup Buzzbike. At the same time, he suggests, consumers are becoming ever more demanding. They don’t just want a great service or product; they also expect their chosen brands to be making a positive difference to the world.
So the former advertising man – Hares was previously the managing director of ad agency Media Arts Lab, where he oversaw campaigns for Apple – has created a feel-good tech company that rewards people for cycling regularly and gets the brands to pay for it. ‘We looked at the model of London’s [Boris bikes] cycling scheme and decided to do things differently,’ he explains.
Potential users can apply via the Buzzbike platform, submitting, among other things, their home and work postcodes. If selected they’ll receive a free bike and equipment, including locks, lights, helmet and insurance, worth around £1,000.
Crucially, the bike is the rider’s to keep, both at home and work. ‘There are no stands – it’s yours 24/7 and this is one of the key differences between us and other schemes,’ says Hares. ‘One of the reasons cycle schemes can struggle is because they are restricted by the infrastructure, which is expensive.’
The bike is branded with the sponsor’s logos and riders become a moving billboard. To access rewards, they must log in via their mobile to a Bluetooth beacon on their bike each time they take it out. This enables Buzzbike to track and record their journeys, which means it can then submit the data to its clients.
‘The model enables us to show a return on investment to our brand partner and means the rider can earn rewards. Also, the bike is going to be parked in locations where the brand wants to be seen so it’s a geo-targeted campaign. We take the work and home postcodes, then we can get that “on the street” awareness.’
Hares was inspired to create Buzzbike when he returned to London after a number of years working in California. He saw a big rise in the number of people cycling and improvements to infrastructure.
He also recognised that his ambitious plan would require a combination of funding, commercial partners and technology to make it work, which is why Hares and business partner Andy Nunn quit their jobs at the end of 2015 and spent a lot of time networking.
‘You realise quite quickly as an entrepreneur that you need to be out there building your network on an ongoing basis. Both of us had pretty good contacts – one person tends to lead to another,’ says Hares. Eventually, they reached agreements with Cooper to build their single-speed bicycles, with kit from Brooks and locks from Hiplok. But Hares says the technology was the hard part.
A crazy journey
‘We made the decision that if we were going to be a technology company we’d have to build our own tech, so we worked with freelancers. We did have offers from agencies and companies to build it for us but we made the decision to do it ourselves. It was a crazy journey but we’re glad we did it.’
Finance for the project came from a successful crowdfunding campaign, which raised £360,000 through Crowdcube in June 2016. Hares says this showed the company’s pitch was working.
‘We took on some interesting investors, from startups to people in senior positions in media companies who could see the proposition was really interesting,’ he says.
The company launched its pilot model in October 2016 with 200 bikes branded by fintech company Braintree, which became involved as it wanted to increase its engagement with London’s tech entrepreneurs.
Buzzbike targeted the management teams of the capital’s digital startups, pulling in more than 2,500 entries through a PR and email marketing campaign. These companies have also enrolled into the Tour de Tech – a virtual race around the UK using data from the riders’ bikes.
‘The rewards on offer range from coffee machines to an advertising campaign for the team that rides the most,’ says Hares.
Following the pilot, there are plans to have 1,500 bikes on the road by the spring of this year, and a fleet of 4,500 over the next three years.
It’s early days, but Hares says Buzzbike has big ambitions. ‘We need to get the pilot right, then we want to look at cities globally, rather than just going to UK cities,’ he says. ‘Ultimately, we have the goal of making cycling the dominant mode of transport in cities around the world.’
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