Donkey Republic has the potential to revolutionize bike sharing everywhere and become the Uber of cycling.
From humble beginnings, the company has developed their own cell phone controlled locks and a bike sharing system that isn’t dependent on stations where the bikes have to be picked up and returned.
Instead, Donkey Republic’s bikes can be picked up everywhere and left everywhere, including in front of your home or where you work!
In this interview we talk with the team about their system and how it might disrupt bike sharing everywhere.
Can you start out by describing how your system works?
Our system is simple, you simply download the app, find your bike via the in-app map and unlock it with your phone. Once you’re done using the bike, you lock it manually (as you would with any other lock) and the app will tell you how many minutes you’ve gone and what it cost you.
We track the bikes via the phones GPS, and this is also how users find them in the map.
We have now done initial tests since May and these initial tests have been extremely valuable to us, as they’ve taught us a lot about how users interact with the app, and how we can improve their experience and generally helped us learn about many of the problems such a service can encounter. We’ve had many happy users, and we’ve had some who’ve experienced issues. Luckily, they share that with us, so we can improve.
Why should people use Donkey Republic instead of buying their own bikes?
Donkey Republic is not a substitute for one’s own bike. But sometimes your bike is flat, or you’re in the city and need to go from a to b quickly. Or you commute to work with a train or bus and need a bike for the last mile. Or you’re visiting a new city, and need easy and quick access to a rental bikes. These are the people Donkey Republic has been invented for.
When you do need a bike, the price is currently 50 øre pr. minute to ride a donkey, and minimum 7 kr pr. trip. Tourists can rent a bike for 24H for €10. Renting a donkey is easier, because you don’t have to find a bike shop in certain opening hours and you don’t have to put down a deposit. Also, you won’t have to worry about whether or not there’ll be space in the docking stations as many other systems use.
We make sure the bikes are properly maintained by working with local maintenance partners. We are currently working to set up maintenance partnerships locally wherever we will have bikes. As an example, we work with Roskilde Cykelcenter in Roskilde. Our philosophy is get things out in the real world fast, learn from that and improve. So in regard to bikes being stolen, our first version was easier to steal than the one we have now and we are working on the next version which will make the bikes even better protected from theft.
Where did you get the idea from?
The idea came from one of our co-founders, Erdem Ovaciks friend. He had a bunch of old bikes he fixed up and would lend out to friends and friends’ visitors. He would do it via text and a codelock. Erdem got inspired by this and started playing around with the idea of making it easier to share bikes. And that’s when we started to develop the lock.
As we see it, one of the biggest advantages is definitely the flexibility. With Donkey Republic there are no docking stations you have to put your bike back into, which means that you don’t have to worry about finding one, and equally you don’t have to worry about whether or not there’ll be space in the one you find.
We believe that bike sharing schemes are still under development, and so far it has just been the norm that they were subsidized, but we think it makes a lot of sense to run them privately. In a recent article that Treehugger wrote on AirDonkey they mention that they believe the GPS tracker will become the norm in the future, and we believe so too.
How did you choose the bikes you are using?
We wanted high quality bikes, that were not heavy and were reminiscent to a normal bike that people would use everyday. We started with just 25 bikes to begin getting some experience with the whole concept.
We now have 150 of our own bikes and soon a growing number of other people’s bikes where we mount the lock.
How do you maintain the bikes and make sure they aren’t stolen?
We’re working with local partners to help us maintain the bikes. We have not yet experienced theft, but it is still something we continuously work on, to ensure as little theft as possible in the future as well.
If a user finds a bike that’s broken in some way, the user contacts us when a bike needs maintenance. Equally, if we see a bike has not been used for a while, we will check up on that bike, as we suspect it may be in need of maintenance.
We’re doing different things to prevent theft. First of all, the lock is strong. It is as solid as any of the old school back wheel locks. But anything can be cut with an electric cutter. So we have to strike a balance of making the bike difficult enough to steal while not being too valuable to steal. We are working on newer versions of the lock, as an example, and people who order a lock through airdonkey will receive the next version. One new feature is a leash, that will allow users to lock the bike to something. This will definitely decrease theft.
Can I join Donkey Republic with my own bike?
YES! Very soon at least. We will soon launch a kickstarter, which will allow people to buy a lock and put it on their own bikes and add them to the system when they don’t use them themselves. People can sign up to pre-order at www.airdonkey.com
We know there are lots of bikes around the world and many people who want to promote biking. So we see this as a great way of enabling people to be part of this movement, give the service a local anchoring and improve our speed of scaling.
We’ve seen similar platforms work extremely well, and as with similar companies (Uber, AirBnB) we can see that ratings work very efficiently to promote trust and good ‘deals’. So we have faith that this will work just as well.
If you could start over, are there anything you would have done differently?
When you’re a startup you will without doubt run into problems, and so have we. However, all those problems helped us improve. Had we known differently from the beginning and done something else, we would have probably run into different issues. We try not to dwell too long at our mistakes, but instead quickly learn from them and move on.
You have a number of investors, but now you are also considering crowdfunding. Why is that?
Crowdfunding is about building a community, have people join a movement. And we’re keen to have as many people as possible join this one. So we hope that crowdfunding will give us a lot more than cash. We’re looking for new customers and we want to build the foundation of a strong, growing community.
There’s a lot more to crowdfunding than what meets the eye. There is actually a surprisingly large amount of work in doing a crowdfunding campaign, so it should be well considered. The advantage we appreciate the most is getting into contact with so many people around the world who are excited about the project and have a LOT of good feedback.
What will the future bring for Donkey Republic?
Many different things, we hope! We’ll definitely be crossing some new borders, build great communities around bike sharing and involve many locals in the work.
And of course, more people biking!