Case: Vapaus Bikes Oy

Hi, I am Mikko.

I have two babies. The first one is my 8-month-old daughter Nuppu. The other one is my 2-month-old start-up Vapaus Bikes Oy. I love them both very much and I am looking forward to helping them grow.

I will spare you from the story of how Nuppu came into my life, but instead I will tell a story of how my 10+ years in market research, consultancy and service design helped me start my “bicycle-as-a-service” start-up.

During my years as a researcher and consultant, I came across several models which are to help business to innovate. One very helpful model is the innovation cycle from Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen. Clayton argues, that for a company to be sustainable in innovation and avoid getting disrupted, it should have 3 different approaches to innovation.

Firstly, creative innovations are something completely new. Apple introducing the App Store together with the touch screen iPhone is a notable example of a creative innovation.

Secondly, you need sustaining innovations where one can make the product or service nicer and better. Good example of this is bigger TV screens and better cameras in mobile phones.

Thirdly, you will need efficient innovations. The service or product stays the same but is delivered faster and cheaper freeing resources to new creative innovations, which can then be made better and again made cheaper. This will create the innovation cycle.

The wisdom here is to understand that usually a single person do not have all the skills necessary for the several types of innovation. So, build your team around these diverse types of innovations and skills of individuals.

Another approach I used with coming up with the concept for the Vapaus Bikes business was foresight -> insight -> service design.

When quitting my job last summer and trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up, I looked at the trends shaping the world. You can just type” trend report + PDF” to Google and you will receive a bunch of excellent quality stuff to read.

Google results included global warming, health and well-being, subscription economy, sharing economy and Internet of Things among others. So, something promoting health in an environmentally conscious way with a monthly payment and using a resource smart approach. Ok, sounds good but some time a kind of broad?

This is where empathy kicked in. I remembered how excited my friend Julien was when he got his first eBike (a bicycle with an electric motor assisting the ride). He was smiling when he explained how he had  sold his scooter and started commuting with the eBike. And, I realized and remembered my pain when I bought a too expensive bicycle which I didn’t take enough care of. It had a flat tire for a year because I did not bother to take it to bike service.

So, eBikes and bicycles sold as a service? The bicycle and service as a bundle with monthly payment. Sounds great! Fits in with the mega trends and fixes problems in the society now and also in the long run.

But what is the market like? Who is the customer? I went to the insight a bit. I interviewed experts, bicycle enthusiasts, everyday cyclists and businesses. I found a lot of possible approaches to the market and issues to be solved and what can be done better. Servicing the bicycles is a pain, eBikes are very expensive, shared bicycles are nice and cycling is cool, but still a lot of people talk more than cycle.

Some companies have bought cheap 200€ forth bicycles which are a pain to ride. Some companies have had bicycles, but they have been stolen or lost during company summer party’s. There are approximately 200 000 to 300 000 bicycles sold each year in Finland but B2B is a relatively unorganized market.

In the last few months, I have found my market.

  1. Companies with campus-like offices. For example, businesses operating around the airports. A sub set of the target customer is an office located a bit too far from let’s say a metro station.
  2. Companies who have over-invested in cars and ended up with excessive costs with parking plus employee benefits which do not activate or support well-being
  3. Companies who want to stand out by offering activating work environment and support well-being. As the activity is in, sitting is out now.

But companies consists of people too. How can I empathize with the HR making the purchase decisions? What is really driving the decision? One key is and will be getting as many people as possible to try the eBike for the first time.

Now we have moved into the process of more detailed service design and design thinking. We have big issues;  what is the key problem we are solving? Cycling has so many benefits that choosing just one feels harsh. Also, how can we promote and increase cycling and not just sell bikes? We have also some trivial things; the design of a smart lock or the application that we will provide? These are insignificant things but also crucial ones for the success. How do we keep people smiling and anticipate all the problems?

The problem of course is, that people are not always honest. We say what we think the other person wants to hear or what makes us look good. My approach considers items usually from three different perspectives. Here are my tips- Find people who trust you and who you trust. Such people who will give you also the unwelcome news, when you need them. Secondly, observe people in situations where people don’t understand they are being observed. Thirdly, use protective methods with research. Ask people to describe other people and their problems. The answers tend to be rooted from real life. By working this way we for example realized  that some people don’t feel safe riding a bicycle in the center of Helsinki. Some people have ridden a bicycle last time 20 years ago. How can we solve this issues?

All in all, empathy and deep understanding plays a crucial role in creating delightful services. A start-up will need to create a lot of these delightful customer moments when trying to grow its business. Facts show the direction to your business plan, emotions will dictate, if we take the right first steps and then scale to the pace of movement.

Do you have the knowledge and methods for empathy? Analytics are cool and necessary but not enough to understand a human being and her deep motives. At least not until your AI tools are in the level of Facebook.

Mikko Ampuja

Mikko Ampuja

CEO, Vapaus Bikes Oy, Service Designer
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