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Switched on Bikes: an LCC success story

When people come to Wellington, they don’t want to be stuck in the back of a bus. They want to be outside and active - electric bikes fulfil this - Ryan O'Connell, Switched on Bikes

You’ll find Switched on Bikes down at Wellington’s Shed One. Located in this hub for local tourism – kayak hires, helicopter tours and ferry rides are among the haunts close by – Switched on Bikes signals a new way of moving around Wellington.

What began as an idea for motorcycle tours soon morphed into Wellington’s first electric bike hire company, and on the back of the Low Carbon Challenge the company quickly expanding into bike sales, eBike conversions and tour packages.

This path wasn’t always clear. Co-owner Ryan O’Connell recalls the initial hurdles Switched on Bikes upon joining the Challenge. “Mentors came with lots of questions about whether eBikes were too early-phase and thus limited in their potential. They weren’t sure that people would see it as a viable transport option,” he remembers.

But a dose of skepticism through validation was what the company needed, and Switched on Bikes refined its approach. “In some ways we took a gamble on this,” O’Connell says.

Mentors helped him realise that instead of pitching the product of eBikes, Switched on Bikes’ real value lay in the broader tourist experience. “When people come to Wellington, they don’t want to be stuck in the back of a bus. They want to be outside and active - electric bikes fulfil this.”   

We agree, and it seems the punters do too.

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Switched on Bikes recently celebrated its first birthday – a year which has seen growing awareness and success – and is fast exploring new avenues. The company now sells and converts eBikes, works with inbound tourism agencies, is developing corporate packages and has teamed up with Zealandia to offer sustainable transport to the popular nature park.

The real carrot for ventures in the Low Carbon Challenge is the $15,000 available in matched funding. The need for capital looms large among early-stage business - a case no different for Switched on Bikes. O’Connell chose to crowdfund via PledgeMe and was quick to sing the platform’s praises. So long as your product is developed and polished, “crowdfunding is great in getting your word out. PledgeMe talks about utilizing your crowd and getting them to share what you’ve got throughout their networks.”

Switched on Bikes achieved 130 pledgers – effectively prepaid customers – who then talked to friends and gave testimonies on Tripadvisor (all excellent by the way), in addition to injecting the all-important capital. “It was great to have funding that wasn’t debt to get the ball rolling.”

Through matched funding, Switched on Bikes was able to expand its fleet, purchase a shared hireage space with the Sustainability Trust and eventually move into its current location on Queens Wharf.

The company has big plans to help drive Wellington’s growth as a smarter transport city - one of three categories in this year’s Low Carbon Challenge. O’Connell sees “massive opportunities” in this field, and envisages a wider range of options becoming normalised in the way Wellingtonians’ live, move and grow.

For any ventures out there looking to join this year’s Low Carbon Challenge, O’Connell has a few pieces of advice…..

  • Dedicate yourself to make the most out of the Challenge, but be smart about your time management and aware that it may very well consume you!

  • Recognize what the Challenge represents: an opportunity to learn and to grow your business. Be honest with yourself, adapt to feedback and don’t come into this with a finalized approach.

  • Keep a list of all connection made – emails, numbers and referrals put your business on radars it wouldn’t have been on otherwise. You mightn’t need them now, but mentors, advisors and peers could prove valuable in a few months’ time.

If you want to follow Switched on Bikes’ progress, be sure to check out their Facebook. We’ll be featuring more teams, partners and developments in the Low Carbon Challenge blog over next couple of months. Keep an eye on us via our Twitter and Facebook!

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