Member Spotlight: Baas Bikes Is Reinventing Two Wheels
Most people in the bike share community think about transportation challenges from the cyclist’s perspective. According to Baas Bikes, the real problem is on the buyer’s side.
For now, universities and cities that want to add a cycling option to the transportation mix face significant roadblocks, including the major expenses associated with installation. In response, Baas Bikes is making bike-sharing more convenient and flexible for cyclists and more affordable for communities.
Baas Bikes is a transportation startup that brings app-based bike rentals to university campuses nationwide. It’s focused on making bike share affordable for communities and enjoyable for riders.
Bikes As A Service
Rob McPherson founded Baas Bikes when he was transferred to the Amsterdam office of a multinational company. He quickly discovered the robust cycling culture in Amsterdam and witnessed two major cultural shifts happening in the United States.
First, urban centers in the United States began investing in public bike shares as alternative methods of transportation. Second, smartphone and Bluetooth technology developed significantly.
McPherson realized a bottom-up, technology-based approach to the bike share model would allow cyclists in the United States to use the same infrastructure whether they owned or rented their bikes — which would make bike rental a less expensive, more convenient way to reduce traffic congestion. He then met Justin Molineaux, Chief Technology Officer at Baas Bikes, at 1776 and they began building a new platform for bike sharing.
Baas Bikes uses a mix of innovative technology to manage the bike share process. Rentals occur through its app, which “pins” all available bikes to a map in real-time. Customers select a pin to rent a bike, walk to it within 15 minutes, and use the Bluetooth feature on their phones to unlock the bike locks.
Users can then ride the bikes anywhere and their reservations will stay active for as long as they need — even if they temporarily lock their bikes. When they’re finished, customers lock the bikes to any public bike racks within a specific geo-fenced area, and indicate that the bike has been returned within the app.
The University Connection
Urban bike share has been growing at a global rate of 34 percent per year, and university and campus-style living environments are on the crest of emerging as a major component of the bike share market. There’s an extremely high density of people who face a transportation challenge, and face it in the same way, on a college campus.
Freshmen often are not allowed to have cars on campus and therefore need to do a lot of walking. Seniors often live off-campus and need to walk to class. Even at relatively small schools, walks can be fairly long, and having a bike can be the difference between getting to classes on time or late for students in a rush. These problems are largely unaddressed by current bike-share solutions because their high costs are barriers to implementation by the university.
Most universities already own infrastructure for bike owners and are actively interested in adding a bike share transportation option to their communities. However, setting up a bike share can be a long and expensive bureaucratic process that is difficult for administrators and bike-share providers alike.
At Baas Bikes, the technology is in the bike. So, it is much less expensive to launch a comparable system of the same size. Baas Bikes is primed to find users and solve a problem, but it also has the potential to grow quite a bit over a few years.
In particular, the company is targeting campuses designated with a high “Ease of Bikability” rating by the League of American Bicyclists. These campuses are relatively flat. They also already have a population of students who cycle, public bike racks and dedicated bike lanes.
On these campuses, students already know the value of a bike. Baas Bikes wants to find these bike-friendly campuses and provide the bikes those students need.
Building Strong Relationships
Baas Bikes envisions a model that is symbiotic with its partner universities’ goals. In the future, McPherson and Molineaux see Baas Bikes approaching universities with a sustainable, low-cost way to solve their transit challenges. Reducing congestion, reducing the number of parking spaces, and adding more green spaces is a priority at almost every university.
It makes sense for universities to bring companies that can contribute to their transit goals to campus, especially when it doesn’t cost them anything except for a few spots on a bike rack. Baas Bikes is also interested in partnering with the university to create connections with talented students. In addition to getting students on board the app, Baas Bikes is looking to hire students who can act as on-campus ambassadors, maintenance specialists, and customer service specialists.
Within the last year, Baas Bikes has proven that demand for a bottom-up bike share exists, and that it can build a profitable business without the upfront expenses of biking infrastructure. Baas Bikes proved demand at the University of Miami, where it registered one percent of the campus in the first week using word-of-mouth marketing alone.
Baas Bikes soon repeated its success at the University of Maryland, College Park. Three-hundred students signed up in two-and-a-half weeks, and about 100 people used the system regularly. On average, users would ride about two-and-a-half times per week, allowing the model to become viable in about a year of comparable usage.
Over the course of the next year, Baas Bikes plan to launch and conduct detailed case studies in about five markets. Once it has conclusively proven the financial viability of its model over time, Baas Bikes will ramp up efforts toward obtaining university alumni bike share system donations. Currently, the company is in advanced talks to place its bikes at two universities.
Transportation Startup Tips
According to Justin Molineaux, Chief Technology Officer of Baas Bikes, the point is building something that a few people love, rather than something that many people like because then customer buy-in will happen naturally. In a transportation startup, launching in a city is not essential. Molineaux said,
“In fact, it might be better not to. Launch in the smallest community possible where your problem still exists. It allows you to avoid costs and operating overhead, and focus on understanding what makes your business work really well. You can probably find a small enough market that will allow you to just work on the problems related to your business and not all the other problems that come along with a large market.”
Molineaux’s advised focusing on building what people need rather than what might be helpful for them. While helpful technology is a smart investing decision over time, people rarely hesitate to engage with the technologies they need. Using this principle to guide the development process will create a highly viable product.