Children grow fast. Unfortunately, bicycles don’t. BikeFlip offers subscriptions to refurbished second-hand kids’ bikes, including home exchange and repair services. What started out as a student project has grown into a business that’s given a new lease of life to hundreds of bicycles in less than two years. We spoke to co-founder Casparis Beyer.
Making the industry more sustainable
During their master’s course in sustainable business and innovation, Casparis and four fellow students had to come up with an idea for a fictitious start-up. Their two main thoughts were: children quickly outgrow their bicycles, and: could a subscription service be super-sustainable? “Around 4 million bicycles in the Netherlands are sitting in sheds unused, and meanwhile at least a million new ones are purchased every year,” says Casparis. “We want to reform the industry.” His fellow students didn't continue with the project, but he believed in the idea and decided to take it forward. By March 2021, he was so busy that he invited Paul Remie to join as a partner.
Circular, convenient and reliable
Users can choose a bike on the BikeFlip website and have it delivered to their doorstep free of charge. If the child outgrows it or it needs repairs, it can be exchanged or fixed. “We provide suitable circular bicycles and you never have to worry about a thing,” explains Casparis. You pay a fixed monthly amount and can cancel at any time.
Plenty of bikes
With 4 million unused bicycles in the Netherlands, it’s not difficult for BikeFlip to get stock. “Lots of them get donated,” Casparis says. “A few weeks ago, we ran a collection campaign with the city of Utrecht and brought in more than 150 bikes in a day.”
They collect others from thrift shops and bulk buyers who snap them up after they’ve been cut free of their locks by the municipality. “Those bikes have to go somewhere, and they’re often exported. Many of the ones we buy up would otherwise go to Poland and be melted down.”
Getting people back to work
The second-hand bikes are transformed into “new” ones at BikeFlip's socially inclusive workshop. As a job-training company, it offers work experience placements, often to older people who have been on benefits for a while. The six-month programme enables them to get back to work and take on more responsibility over time. There are six participants at the moment.
Sustainable social impact
Casparis is proud of BikeFlip's brand of sustainable social entrepreneurship. “Instead of maximising profits, we aim to maximise impact. Not only do we reduce CO2 emissions, we also make a difference in the lives of the people who work for us. For example, the current team includes two guys who fled Syria a few years ago. They’re making great strides with their language skills. That social benefit is so valuable.”
Brand awareness is key
“Your idea may be fun, socially inclusive and sustainable, but if people don’t know who you are they won’t support you,” Casparis says. “So investing in brand awareness and visibility is a prerequisite for becoming successful.” He and his colleagues do that by giving puncture-fixing courses at primary schools and key-ring-decorating courses at after-school clubs[LM1] .
DOEN: the first financier
Casparis applied for support from the DOEN Foundation early on, through the Circular Entrepreneurship programme. “Without DOEN, we’d never be where we are today. Having a financier who’s brave enough to support you at the outset is so important, but they’re hard to find. Financiers are extremely cautious. DOEN had the courage to take us on, and we’re eternally grateful.”
BikeFlip currently operates in the Utrecht region. “We hope to hit 2,000 subscriptions there as soon as possible,” Casparis says. “But in the meantime we’re also going to look seriously at expansion opportunities elsewhere in the Randstad. Logistically, it’s an obvious choice; then we could have one big distribution centre and one big workshop.”
Keep believing in your idea
Casparis’s fellow students left the project because they were busy with their studies, but also because they had doubts about the idea. “If you focus on the obstacles, you’ll fail,” he says. “You need to be persistent and a bit stubborn. Even if it doesn’t work out how you envisaged at first, you have to keep believing in your idea.”