Stories Talk | Presentation Skills and Effective Storytelling
bFlex is the embodiment of a circular business; a green concept that changes city life and people’s mentalities. The founder, Robbert van der Meer, describes the whole story at ImpacTalk.
#egg #innovation #citylife #circular #business #cycling
By Mia Kollia
Inspired by egg - enter•grοw•go
- What is the vision of flex and what are your dreams for the future?
I really enjoy living here in Athens, it’s already been 3,5 years. A city that has so much to offer, great people and weather. My only real frustration is the endless traffic and the pollution that comes with it. 46% of the emissions in Athens are coming from transport, a huge percentage. That doesn’t only affect the environment but also one’s health. And for me the solution seems very simple.
In the Netherlands we all commute by bike, it doesn’t matter how old or how wealthy you are. Everybody cycles. That’s something that I would like for Greece too. It’s in everybody’s benefit, it will save you money (a lot) and time. Cycling daily will help to reduce stress and reduce risk of all sorts of diseases. There is truly no downside. The air in inner cities will be cleaner so you’re helping your fellow citizens and on a larger scale, the environment.
It wouldn’t be realistic not to recognize the differences between Greece and the Netherlands, especially when it comes to infrastructure. The lack of cycling paths in Athens is a major issue. Nonetheless, people do cycle. In the center the roads are always congested, so cycling is easy regardless of your speed. The same for quieter suburbs.
I do understand that for some people the first step can seem big. That’s why with bFlex we now offer weekly subscriptions too. People can just try it for a week or two and quit the subscription if they’re not happy. But what we see most is that they convert the weekly into a monthly subscription. Just give it a try.
On the other hand, we include all services in our subscription; we deliver the bike to your home. If there’s an issue with the bike, electric bike or electric scooter, like a flat tire, we come to you and fix it within 24 hours. If we can’t fix it, like an issue with the battery, we give you a completely new vehicle.
With all of the above services included, we only charge €19 per month for our City Bicycle, that means it’s easy to budget each month. You get the freedom of movement as with a car but none of the costs or headaches.
We recently held a survey among our Flexy community and it turns out that 80% is using their subscription for commuting, that means we are on the right track!
Next to individuals, our b2b sales are growing very rapidly too. Our subscriptions are being used by food delivery companies, retail stores, hotels, bike tour operators and even the Onassis Foundation. For hotels and tour operators, our bikes even create an extra revenue stream by re-renting them to their guests and clients.
- Why did you decide to go forward with such a project in Greece? Doesn’t your native country love bicycles more?
That is exactly the reason why I started here. There’s simply more work to be done. The option Greeks had before we started bFlex was to purchase their green mobility. That means high up-front costs, in case of repairs you need to go to a mechanic and what often is the result is that the bike ends up in storage unused. Not only a waste of the bike but also of your money.
It’s really about the flexibility that we offer, someone can stop their subscription at any time, like Netflix. Also, because of the lacking infrastructure, small damages like flat tires happen much more frequently. We want to take all of this worry out of your hands.
I really hope that Athens invests in the infrastructure. A very good example is Paris. Nobody cycled there until recently. Now they already have 700 km of cycling paths. It’s amazing to see the changes there in commuting behavior.
What is very disappointing is that even now bike lanes are missing in the new plans for the center of Athens. I can’t understand why; It’s the way to address the high pollution directly. The great walk is not considered a success but how can it be? It’s a couple of hundred meters, are we expected to cycle back and forth?
You see now in some areas that they’re building cycling paths, like in Nea Smyrni, and that is great. But it only works if areas are connected with each other. If one can go to work, get their groceries and go for coffee by bike.
Even if the people’s health, finances or the environment aren’t reason enough, look at the tourism industry. Eco-tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors. To remain competitive with countries like France, Spain and Italy, changes need to be made.
- How do you motivate the people you are working with?
bFlex is really trying to make a change in the way we commute and deliver goods and by doing so, contributing to a greener future. I believe that vision motivates people.
We are always trying to improve our services and everybody’s opinion is valuable, that means it’s very engaging. When your idea is being implemented and you can see real-time results it gives a great feeling of accomplishment.
Leading by example I believe to be most important. I work 7 days per week with an average of 10 hours per day. The same for my personal transportation. I can hardly convince someone to start cycling when I drive away in my Jeep; I don’t even have a car.
We also offer bonuses to our employees in Flexy shares. We don’t hand them out but if you can make yourself irreplaceable through hard work and creativity, you should be rewarded.
- How did egg - enter•grοw•go contribute to your project?
Egg has been a huge help. They really give you the tools to turn your idea into a working concept and from there to develop it into a company. bFlex was already operational when we joined the startup program but with their support and vast experience, we managed to optimize our project further and have a clearer focus.
One of the reasons I joined egg was the networking. My grandfather always said: “It’s not about what you know, but who you know”. As I’m still relatively new in Athens, I needed help and support and I found that through Egg. Egg opens the door to any business and then it’s up to you to capitalize on the opportunities.
With the help of egg, we have managed to gain a very strong partner that we will announce in the coming weeks!
- What were the most difficult moments of the realisation of the project and how did you overcome them?
At the very beginning it was challenging. bFlex is the first green mobility-as-a-service provider in Greece. A country where only a handful people actually cycled and there weren’t any Netflix-like subscription earning models. We don’t ask for a deposit or guarantee, everyone can start our subscription. Also, the service industry is not really present here. Greeks really have the tendency to own things unlike for example northern Europe, where we value the convenience of a service.
Introducing a fully innovative service involving green mobility in the Greek market didn’t appeal to investors. I actually tried to launch a similar concept at the moment I moved to Athens, I ran into the same hurdles; finding starting capital. As I was and am convinced that such services will appeal to both individuals and companies, I started bFlex alone. I really went all-in. Once I had a stronger proof of concept, I found the People’s Trust that helped with the next step. From thereon I managed to get equity investments.
About 7 months after I launched the project, the first competitor entered the market also using subscription models for e-bikes and e-scooters. And since then, we see even more companies joining our effort. That on itself is really an accomplishment. In the end it’s our objective to get as many people cycling as possible.
The start was tough, I had to prove the concept, find funding, there were of course the lockdowns and even something as small as purchasing my first bikes. The entire first year I ran bFlex alone up to the point where I started generating small profits. That means deliveries, maintenance and pick-ups, sales, advertising, partnerships, social media, customer service, cleaning, developing the website, expansion, funding and so on.
The main advantage is that you get to know your company inside out. Plus, when every euro counts you don’t make any rash decisions or unnecessary spending. I truly believe that we achieved a lot with minimum resources. To give you some context, bFlex’s starting capital was €250.
In the end, it’s all about passion, working hard and constantly trying to improve yourself. We are close to launching our mobile application, giving us that edge again. And there are more developments on the way, so stay tuned!