“Donkeys” is the name of a new type of bicycle sharing system, which the Danish company Donkey Republic launches in late July this year. The concept is inspired by the car sharing service Car2Go, and the team behind have already received their first million-investment.
By Josefine Maria Hansen
The idea for Donkey Republic emerged as CEO Erdem Ovacik had seen his roommate tinkering with repairing bicycles, which he subsequently loaned out to friends and acquaintances in Copenhagen. His friends would typically call and demand cycles, after which he sent them a text with info on where the bike was parked, appearance of the bike and the code to the lock.
Erdem Ovacik thought it was a beautiful and simple initiative, so he and his companion sat down with a beer and began to discuss options to scale the idea. Here it quickly became clear to them that the locking system had to be rethought, to make the sharing service function.
“It was soon clear to us that it would be necessary to change the code for every person who had borrowed the bike. So we decided to develop a system that was as simple as possible, and at the same time made it possible to share bikes efficiently,” explains co-founder Alexander Frederiksen.
And thus the idea for Donkey Republic’s very own electronic smart-lock was created. The company has currently sold 120 locks and several major companies have already shown interest in buying it.
A lock you open with your smartphone
The smart locks are electronic and very similar to the regular ring locks that are fixed on the back of bicycles. The lock is controlled by a controller that Donkey Republic have developed themselves. Low energy and reliability have been two key points in the design, partly achieved by keeping the design as simple as possible and not be tempted by complex technical solutions.
“The way it works is simple: the person who will use the bike connects to the lock through the Donkey Republic app and press ‘Unlock’. Then the bike is unlocked and you can pull the lever on the lock back. When you are finished using the bike, you just press the lever on the lock down – then the bike is locked and a message is sent via Bluetooth to the phone, that one has locked the bike and checked out,” explains Alexander Frederiksen.
Bicycles response to Car2Go
The concept behind Donkey Republic is that Donkey Republic own the sharing bikes in the system to ensure that the bikes are of high quality and that service levels are stable. They put their Donkey-bikes with electronic smart locks up, where people need them, so that there will always be a Donkey nearby when the need arises.
“It may for example be commuters who take the train and bus and want to ride the last piece of the way, or if you have been given a lift by a colleague or one’s bike is broken” explains Alexander Frederiksen.
Everything is easily accessible through an app, and when you are finished using the bike, you just put it where you are. The team’s goal is to create a global bicycle sharing service in the style of the car sharing service Car2Go.
A tech wizard, a former McKinsey employee, a LEGO talent and a philosopher
The team behind Donkey Republic is composed of a motley crowd, which together form a team with plenty of experience.
There is Jens Frandsen, who is the team’s ‘tech wizard’ and an experienced electrical engineer. Erdem Ovacik is CEO and responsible for production, business and the overall concept. He is originally from Istanbul and has a background from McKinsey and other startups.
Then there’s Rune Kokholm, the team’s LEGO enthusiast, who is product owner and responsible for managing the team’s work and coordinate programmers. And last but not least Alexander Frederiksen, who has a background in philosophy and economics, and is the one who speaks with customers and partners and is responsible for marketing and sales.
Big companies are buying Donkey Republic’s smart locks
So far, the boys have sold their smart locks for a variety of businesses and workplaces, among other Topdanmark, NNE Pharmaplan and RUC. Organizations, who have reported that they would like to have company bicycles or a campus-bike service that is easy to use and easy to keep track of.
“It is not our primary focus to use this business model, but it is a good way to test our service and get feedback from users,” says Alexander Frederiksen.
The launch of the bicycle sharing service is set to end of July 2015, where the boys will open their first Donkey Republic in a city on Zealand as a test city. They are currently in the process to find out the most advantageous location.
First million investment in house
The boys have just got their first million investment with five different investors behind. About the reason for the choice of having several investors Alexander Frederiksen explains:
“We have chosen to include a number of small investors in this round in order to gather as much network and knowledge around us as possible. We are still open for additional investors if there is anyone out there who have skills and networks, which they believe can help Donkey Republic with their quest of getting the world to cycling more.”
According to Alexander Frederiksen the investment must be used to continue development of the app and also perform a series of user tests of the service.
“We have the electronics and hardware in place. So our investment will be used to continue development of our app and especially the back-end system to be able to handle a whole lot of data and functionalities such as payment, zones, dynamic pricing, and more,” says Alexander Frederiksen and continues:
“It should also be used for a series of pilot tests of our service, so we can investigate how users interact with our service. Here we will also test solutions with local partners, which is responsible for maintenance of bicycles.”
Nominated for Nordic Startup Awards
Donkey Republic is nominated for the Nordic Startup Awards in the category “Best Social Entrepreneurial Tech Startup”. You can check out and vote on them by following this link, where you can also see and vote for the other nominees.