This is part of our series focusing on The World of Social Entrepreneurship, showcasing social impact stories at Beakerhead 2016.
Our Q & A with Kody Baker, Founder and CTO of VeloMetro, discusses the founders’ social entrepreneurship journey, “Aha!” moments, the startup lifestyle, their vision that drives them, and much more:
What is the personal journey that spurred your organization to start?
As founders, we were challenged by the issue of how to launch an electric vehicle (EV) for the masses without “Elon Musk Dollars”. We could clearly envision a future where EVs enable us to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels, but struggled with how to make EVs financially accessible to everyone. The first “Aha!” moment struck when we saw the success of one-way car sharing networks, and realized this would be an excellent business model to get many more people to use EVs at an affordable rate. The second “Aha!” moment struck when we realized we could build car-like functionality within the definition of an electric bike, opening up EV technology to an even greater number of people and allowing a faster and less costly development timeline. Once we put these two Aha moments together, we launched VeloMetro and hit the drawing board.
How long did you play with the idea before starting?
The concept for an enclosed electric assist trike for use in a share network was established about 8 months before incorporating VeloMetro. During this time, we came up with several initial velocar concept designs that we used to describe our business idea to key partners within several cities and universities, and to potential users. We wanted to ensure that we weren’t developing another “Segway” – an interesting engineering project with few real-world uses or areas it can be used legally. We spoke with these key partners to ensure we would be allowed to use city bike lanes and routes, and that people would actually be excited to use the novel velomobile we were proposing. The feedback we received was extremely positive and encouraging, fueling our development to date.
Who was your first sale? Did you have to “pitch” someone? How did that feel?
As a startup technology development company, our first pitches and corresponding “sales” were to close friends and family to invest in our idea. We had a lot of work ahead of us, and it felt great to have the support of those closest to us early on in our business. To this day, our friends and family continue to be among our strongest supporters. I couldn’t imagine riding on the rollercoaster of startup life without that support!
Has there been a time when the wheels almost or did come off?
I suspect you mean figuratively, and not literally (off our Veemos…). The startup lifestyle is not without its ups and downs, that’s for sure. There have been many times where it looks like the next development milestone is too far out of reach, but we have an amazing team with many talents and we have managed to fight through these challenges at every turn. The scariest moment was perhaps when we had an opportunity before the Globe conference to show our Veemos to Prime Minister Trudeau. We had just completed our second prototype and were hoping that he could take it for a spin. Unfortunately, due to a slight bug that we didn’t fix in time, there was a ~5% chance that the power door locks would have locked him inside the Veemo without any immediate way to get him out. The media exposure would have been dismal! In the end, the RCMP wouldn’t allow him to ride a prototype vehicle and we didn’t have to risk the potential embarrassment.
Can you describe a time when you felt a tension between maintaining the social and financial components of your business?
Many investors we speak with want us to simply get our Veemos made in China for as little as possible, and start selling them directly. There’s certainly a tension among potential investors who are familiar with traditional sales models versus our newer business model of one-way carsharing networks. However, the sharing model is so integral to our design and the business potential is fantastic that we have been able to stick to our original vision.
What impact do you hope your organization can make in the world if it fulfills its potential?
Imagine a world where an additional 60% of a city’s population switch to active transportation. Studies have shown that the issues keeping people from cycling around a city, like safety, storage, comfort, and convenience, are all addressed by our Veemo sharing network. If we can successfully convince that many people to use active transportation, the effects on a city would be dramatic. Improvements to air quality, physical health, and traffic would be enormous. This is the vision that drives us.
[box] Join us at Beakerhead 2016 to meet six extraordinary social entrepreneurs fusing design, engineering and entrepreneurship to make the world a better place – and still meet the bottom line!
Kudo’s from Oprah to ABC’s Shark Tank, Forbes Magazine and B-Corp; growing from 100 units a month to 10,000; hitting revenue of $5 Million; responding to over 270 disasters and humanitarian crises in over 95 countries – these social entrepreneurs have seen it all.
September 16 will be Social Entrepreneurship Day in Calgary. You will be able to check out:
A morning keynote by Michel Gelobter called “Lean Start-ups for Social Change: Insights and Perspective for Social Purpose Organizations”:
Michel is author of “Lean Startups for Social Change: The Revolutionary Path to Big Impact”. The lean startup approach has been revolutionizing businesses of all sizes for years and Michel’s book shows how lean startup can have the same transformative impact in non-profits, government, faith institutions and across the social sector.
“How Doing Good in the World is Great Business” Panel:
This candid, “how to make great ideas a reality”, lunch-hour panel discussion featuring the six social entrepreneurs and moderated by Kim Smith, Community Manager for the award-winning Capital Ideas in Calgary.
An evening pitch contest where five Calgary social ventures compete for a grand prize of $10,000:
Everyone wins as you can watch three of the Beakerhead social entrepreneurs give tips on how the local social ventures can enhance their pitches. The three Beakerhead social entrepreneurs will the transition to an “Art of the Pitch” panel discussion. The event us hosted by Calgary’s own Million Dollar prize winner of a Global Billion Dollar Idea Pitch Competition, Craig Elias.
Click here to learn more and register. [/box]