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The future of mobility belongs to light vehicles

Interview with Erdem Ovacik, Founder of Donkey Republic

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European Business: Your company originated in Denmark, but you have since expanded to markets all over Europe. Which do you think is the most bike-friendly European country (or city), and which market was the hardest to enter?

Erdem Ovacik: I think Copenhagen and Amsterdam are tied for the title of most bike-friendly city in Europe. The most bike-friendly country is probably the Netherlands. The hardest markets to enter are usually the ones where city space is most under pressure. Amsterdam and Barcelona are good examples of that.

European Business: Your business relies on bike owners renting out their bikes to customers through your company. How do local bike-share investors benefit from becoming partners with you?

Erdem Ovacik: Although we are currently running operations with more than 30 partners, we own and operate most of our 8,000 bikes ourselves. Our partners run smaller cities and campuses, while Donkey Republic runs operations in larger cities on its own. We offer local bike operators a flexible and convenient bike-sharing solution, from which they profit due to a reduction of their workload and the creation of considerably more demand. We provide them with our maintenance and operations apps, which are optimized for modern bike sharing, as well as the opportunity to buy high-quality Donkey-branded bikes at very competitive rates. Most importantly, though, our partners will gain the business of people who know our brand: We have served more than 300,000 customers across Europe to date – and their feedback is overwhelmingly positive.

Erdem Ovacik
By providing people with ideas of where they can go to explore a city, we let them enjoy and keep their Donkeys for longer periods. Erdem Ovacik

European Business: You want to enable your customers to explore cities on two wheels. To that end, you even provide them with a host of travel ideas on your website’s blog. How does your company benefit from providing such content?

Erdem Ovacik: By providing people with ideas of where they can go to explore a city, we let them enjoy and keep their Donkeys for longer periods. Naturally, this is good business for us. But the real beneficiaries are our customers who can enjoy themselves on two wheels while exploring an authentic place at a low price.

European Business: The cornerstone of your business’ user interaction is the Donkey Republic app, though. How important is it to provide the customer with one single interface to interact with – and how did you make sure that using your app is simple and engaging enough for customers to keep coming back?

Erdem Ovacik: We constantly conduct A/B tests on our app to improve our messaging and design for even better outcomes. Through our app, we offer our riders innovative programs such as group bookings, monthly memberships, offline usage and long rentals during which they can keep a dedicated bike. The app also allows them to switch bikes during rentals in a very efficient way.

We also made a number of larger changes and holistic design updates. Our long-term strategy is not only based on providing a convenient service for our customers, but also on the fact that our service is responsible from the perspective of city administrators and of those city residents who are not our users yet. It is very important to us that our bikes be of minimum disturbance to them.

Erdem Ovacik
Our long-term strategy is not only based on providing a convenient service for our customers, but also on the fact that our service is responsible from the perspective of city administrators and of those city residents who are not our users yet. Erdem Ovacik

European Business: The future of urban mobility is a topic much spoken about these days – usually, however, in the context of electric vehicles and self-driving cars. What will traffic in cities look like in twenty or thirty years’ time in your view – and is it Donkey Republic’s ambition to shape the future in this field?

Erdem Ovacik: Mobility experts who have analyzed autonomous driving and electric vehicles and studied their potential impacts mostly conclude that these phenomena will not solve the most important problem we face in cities: congestion.

We strongly believe that the future belongs to light vehicles such as bicycles, e-bikes and maybe scooters or super-light and small air-conditioned vehicles. Our ambition is to bring that change to Europe in a responsible and sustainable way. In that sense, we are very much a Copenhagen-inspired company and we would like to translate these Copenhagen values to the rest of the continent.

European Business: How do you define responsibility and sustainability for your business?

Erdem Ovacik: In the way in which we operate our fleet, we act responsibly for the city as a whole in terms of space management and the locations where we offer our vehicles. We also have high standards for our employment policies with regards to our fleet managers. The sustainability of our business model is attained by the longevity of our bikes and the prudent way we retire them when it makes little sense to continue operating them. We have also made sure that our business will not disappear from the map if investor confidence were to be lost due to some unforeseen reason all of a sudden – a risk companies like Uber are running.

European Business: A personal question at the end: Which is your favorite city to explore by bike, and why?

Erdem Ovacik: My favorite city to explore by bike has been Vienna. The city has a lot of hidden gems with beautiful parks and cool neighborhoods, and I had been dreaming of exploring it ever since I saw Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise”. Another favorite of mine is Krakow in Poland – but I won’t talk about that one since we don’t have Donkeys there yet.

Interview: Julian Miller | Photos: Donkey Republic

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