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Want a transportation bicycle but don’t want the downtime and mess of mending flats? For a monthly subscription Swap supplies a bike and on-demand repairs or replacement. For now, the Netflix-for-bikes service is available mainly in the Netherlands, but the startup is also expanding across Germany, Denmark, and Belgium, and could one day roll out in America, the company CEO told Forbes.
Steven Uitentuis added that he and his young management team are “also investigating Asia.”
With the motto “an always working bike,” Swap promises to fix flats, replace stolen machines and even switch out broken bells within, at most, 12 hours, and usually faster than that. Initially aimed at students, the majority of subscribers to the service in big cities are now everyday residents.
“Our youngest customer is 12, our oldest is 83,” said Uitentuis.
Swap employs its delivery drivers and mechanics.
“This is the only way how we can take ownership of the process and the result. We would not be comfortable by letting freelancers handle the core product of our business,” stressed Uitentuis.
Founded in the city of Delft in 2014 by four entrepreneurial students, Swap initially self-funded its expansion but has also received investment from the Dutch family-owned venture capital firm Ponooc, which specializes in green technology.
Swap – which grew 1600% in 2017 – is known as Swapfiets in the Netherlands. “Fiets” is the Dutch word for bicycle. When the firm expands to the English-speaking world, it could rebrand as Swapbikes.
Swap bicycles have distinctive blue front tires, and the machines can now be found in 39 European cities, including Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Brussels, and Berlin.
“In 2019 we will mainly focus on our expansion in Germany with 15 new cities,” Uitentuis told Forbes.
To work out which European cities to target the firm drew up a list of 220 and measured each for the number of bicycle shops, length and quality of cycleways, and public investment in cycling.
“We are ticking off each city as we go.”
At 33, Uitentuis is the elder statesmen of the company. His fellow cofounders – Dirk de Bruijn. Martijn Obers, Richard Burger – are all under 28. They took to the stage when Swap was made the Marketing Start-Up of the Year in the Dutch Marketing Awards last year.
In the Netherlands, Swapfiets offers a standard Dutch bike for €15 a month and a more luxurious model for €19. Elsewhere in Europe, only the deluxe model is available, for €19.50 a month. (Students get discounts.) The company also plans to introduce an electric bike.
Swap isn’t the only bicycle subscription service available. Danish brand Van Moof has a monthly bicycle leasing service – a key benefit of which is you can grab a loaner bike from Van Moof stores in Paris, London, San Francisco, Taipei, and other cities – but it also includes an up-front fee and higher monthly prices than Swap.
Swap bikes are robust. “As we are selling a subscription we have to pay for the bikes when they break down, as well as the labor,” said Uitentuis.
“The bikes are well made as we don’t want the bike to break down ever. The interest of the customer – always a perfect bike – is the same as our interest.”
Swap is on-trend: in cities there is a growing shift away from owning cars and bicycles, and instead hiring them when required. Known to transport wonks as “mobility as a service” – or MaaS – this trend includes Zipcar-style car sharing and hopping on bike-share city bikes. Swap’s version is BaaS – “bicycles as a service.”
Uitentuis said his firm’s goal was nothing if not ambitious: “in every city, in every bike rack, a blue tire.”
January 23, 2019 at 11:40AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs