A startup on the Cambridge Social Ventures programme aims to disrupt the bike-sharing market and encourage an innovative, eco-friendly way of travel.
If you live in a university city like Cambridge or Oxford, a pile of bicycles on the street is a common thing to see. A lot of them are unused and abandoned, and it’s becoming a big headache for councils not knowing how to deal with the clutter.
Social venture Cycle.land might have a partial solution: a social bike-sharing platform links up people with a spare bike to those seeking to rent one for as little as 50p per day.
Cycle.land was founded in April 2016 in Oxford by Agne Milukaite and in January 2017 the startup joined the Cambridge Social Ventures programme, run by the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation at Cambridge Judge Business School, to get support and advice for successful scaling-up.
It’s pretty easy to join the Cycle.land community. If you want to rent out a bike, you create a profile on the website, upload a picture of your bike and indicate when and for what fee it is available. If you’re looking to rent a bicycle, create a profile and start searching – and when you find a suitable bike, contact the owner for more information on payment, where to pick it up and get a code for the lock.
Agne, originally from Lithuania, is a keen cyclist herself. She has lived in different cities in Europe and the US and bicycles have always been an intrinsic part of her lifestyle. “When I first started thinking about the sharing economy and the success of CouchSurfing and Airbnb for living spaces, I thought: ‘Why not create something similar for bicycles?’” This, coupled with the idea that as a society we should seek more eco-friendly transport, also motivated her to start a business based on sustainable urban mobility.
After graduating with an MSc in Migration Studies at the University of Oxford, Agne moved to Berkeley, California, to work for a Canadian home robotics company. But her passion for bicycles and developing business idea brought her back to Oxford. “I enjoy bringing people together. Bikes are perfect for connecting people: practical, environmentally friendly and an affordable solution to get around.”
Cycle.land now has offices in Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh, with a team of six, and is planning to launch in London, Bristol and Brighton before expanding abroad. The venture already has few thousand customers and people are joining from all over the world in cities including Beijing, New York and Vilnius.
Oxford Alumna, Krizia Delgado, likes the idea that the sharing economy can also make an impact. Her vision is that a bike that she has been renting out through Cycle.land for almost a year, will help to support a cause she cares about – raising funds for humanitarian projects. “If more people see this example and follow it, I think it can change the world because it provides a positive impact,” she says.
Adrien Jacquin, a French student undertaking an internship in Cambridge, was looking to rent a bike for a friend visiting from France. “Everything went perfect,” he said. “Amy made things very convenient and her bike was appropriate to cycle in the countryside.”
In some cities, such as London, there are established bike-rental systems based around fixed locations where bikes are stationed – and users typically rent them through their credit cards.
Other less “fixed” systems have also cropped up in Cambridge and elsewhere. Ofo, a Chinese bike-sharing scheme, recently brought 20 yellow bikes to Cambridge for a trial as part of its first European venture. People can hire bikes through a smartphone app and can pick up and leave them anywhere in town.
Agne says that Cycle.land’s business proposition is different from the other bike-sharing models:
“Our approach is more personal and flexible,” she says. “On Cycle.land’s platform people interact with each other, book the bikes for the particular time, and maybe even meet to pick up the bike and exchange knowledge about cycling. It is ideal if you need a bike for a weekend, a week, or a few months.”
Other differences: Cycle.land offers a selection of different bikes including road bikes, cargo bikes and tandems, and people can book a bike in advance and keep the bike for a long time.
But Agne thinks there is room for different models to succeed: “The aim should be to make cycling the most natural choice for as many people as possible.”
Karen Leigh Anderson, Business Advisor at Cambridge Social Ventures, is Cycle.land’s mentor. She said:
“People often want to share or loan products rather than buy something that might not be used often. Cycle.land does for cycles what Airbnb did for spare rooms or what the community car clubs are doing for cars.
“The technical challenge of connecting people and bikes is one of the reasons the company needed to raise investment. Finalising this, combined with building a good team, has been the initial focus of the founders. Now they need to address the usual issue for businesses – marketing to grow the community of bike sharers.”
This article is part of Venturing Forth, our new series on the aspirations and challenges of ventures connected to students, alumni and others associated with Cambridge Judge Business School.