Copenhagen enjoys a reputation as a cyclist friendly city with a booming start-up scene, and so it’s fitting that it is home to a sharing economy start-up dedicated to allowing bike owners to earn extra revenue by making their cycles available for rental.
By purchasing a specially adapted “Donkey” lock and registering on the Donkey Republic platform, users can leave their bikes at convenient spots in a city, and those looking to rent a bike can use their smartphone or mobile device to locate a nearby bike, and release it via a Bluetooth connection which automatically disables the lock, having paid either in advance via the platform, or on the spot.
The service, which launched in mid-2015, is now available in seven different countries, and there are more than 500 bikes available for hire. Users are free to lock and unlock the bikes as many times as they wish during the period they rent the bike for; there are no docking stations, no restrictions on when a bike can be located and unlocked, and all payments are cashless.
Donkey Republic’s founders say that Copenhagen has long served as an inspiration for larger municipalities, such as London, Paris, Barcelona or New York, and that the increasing adoption globally of urban mobility initiatives that promote cycling will provide the perfect “tailwind” to propel take-up of the Donkey Republic service.
Thanks to a €1.5m investment from the Danish Growth Fund and Luxembourg based VC firm Howzat Partners, Donkey Republic’s founders say they benefit from real first mover advantage, as the only bike sharing scheme that doesn’t rely on public subsidies to fund its activities.
“What we are bringing to the table is a green and inexpensive solution to urban transportation that can be run without subsidies and provides everyone with a share of the profit,” explains Erdem Ovacik, an ex-Mckinsey consultant and CEO of Donkey Republic.
The other founders are Rune Kokholm, a mobile application product manager, Jens Frandsen, “software superman” and Alexander Frederiksen, a Philosophy and Economics graduate and former motorbike repairman. The team have been awarded the Guldæg 2015 prize for Danish IT startups and won the Battle of the Vikings at the Nordic Startup Conference 2016, as well as being nominated for Best IoT Startup at the Nordic Startup Awards.
“Donkey Republic hits spot on with several of today’s big trends, by combining sharing economy and bicycle transportation which have both gained ground in cities around the world. Their platform has already proven attractive to both customers and end-users, in Denmark and abroad. This creates strong potential for scaling”, says Jesper Lilledal, Investment Director at The Danish Growth Fund.
The team hope to target tourists looking for an inexpensive and fun way to explore a new city, and are already in talks with numerous bike hire shops, hotels and tourist centres.
They also believe the service can significantly benefit commuters, particularly in areas where public transport is scarce – the team say they are already in talks with several Danish municipalities over introducing the Donkey Republic’s service.
“Public transportation is costly to run and maintain, especially in rural areas, where there are fewer users than in big cities. It makes sense to look at alternate solutions like shared bicycles as part of the public transportation flow, e.g. when the citizens need to cover the last few miles from the train station to their workplace.” Says Ovacik.
The team say that on average 85 rental days are booked every day through the Donkey Republic platform, distributed across 40 hubs. Hubs have been created in Sweden, USA, UK, Spain, New Zealand and Finland – more than 500 bikes overall – with the potential to grow to more than one thousand bikes by the end of 2016.
Donkey Republic are constantly on the lookout for more partnerships from hotels, marinas, conference centres, and any other organisations who feel the scheme could be of benefit to them.
At a time when the sharing economy (“why buy anything anymore?”) is decidedly en vogue, it’s likely they won’t be short of approaches. Look out for the distinctive orange stickers, or if you are a bike owner who doesn’t get out on cycle routes as often as you’d like, maybe let somebody else have a go?
Donkey Republic may still have questions to answer around safety and convenience, possibly, although Airbnb racked up a valuation in the double digit billions before they began to address some of their core concerns, so it’s clear the appetite for sharing and trust amongst individuals has never been stronger – time to say goodbye to Boris bikes?