Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

BorrowBike: re-imagining biking culture on college campuses.

BorrowBike: re-imagining biking culture on college campuses.

Name of Social Enterprise and URL?

BorrowBike LLC (http://www.borrowbike.com)

What sparked the idea behind BorrowBike?

BorrowBike: re-imagining biking culture on college campuses.

Boris Nanazashvili

Boris Nanazashvili.

When I went on a study abroad program to Lyon I was surprised and excited to see that biking was a default everyday mode of transportation there. Getting around by bike was as common as taking public transportation. You could see people every morning dressed up in office clothes commuting to work by bike. I too started to bike every day to my university and back. There are numerous benefits to biking including health, environmental impact, convenience and affordability – so I thought that it would be great to find ways to promote this biking culture back in the States. I could not get the idea out of my head and that’s what eventually led to BororwBike.

What is your product or service?

BorrowBike offers campus communities a student tailored semester-long bike rental service. Customers get to order their bike online through www.borrowbike.com , pick up the bike at the beginning of the semester and return it at the end, having the freedom to use the bike as if it was their own for a whole semester. Storage between semesters is included in the service – so students don’t have to deal with the hassle of finding a place to store their bike over breaks. The service is built to deliver a healthy and environmentally-friendly recreational option for the college communities.

BorrowBike is committed to a paradigm shift in regards to biking culture in the U.S. Today when parents send off their kids to a college campus they bless them with a new laptop, a futon, and a mini-fridge. Tomorrow – parents will have a new laptop, a futon, a min-fridge and a campus bike rental on the list of college essentials. College campuses are the best places to incite a biking culture revolution in the U.S. because college students are a progressive and trend-setting subset of the population. College years are some of the most formative years of our lives and the habits developed in college stay with us long after graduation.

What is your plan for expanding the impact of the venture?

BorrowBike is one of 8 teams to reach the final round of national Sparkseed social entrepreneurship competition sponsored by Ashoka’s Youth Venture, has won Georgetown Social Entrepreneurship Competition, was featured in a cover page article in Georgetown Business Magazine, and became the inaugural venture sponsored by Compass Partners. Through these fundraising opportunities, as well as partnerships with Compass Partners and a prominent DC chain of bike shops called Revolution Cycles, we were able to launch operations on Georgetown University campus, and are on a trajectory to expand to George Washington University and American University this fall. Our medium-term goal is to raise enough capital to expand the system to 15 campuses nationwide within the next year and a half.

How does BorrowBike connect with the broader community?

Fostering a sense of community is important to us. BorrowBike is working with Revolution Cycles to coordinate group rides for our customers around DC, Northern Virginia and Maryland bike trails as well as group biking trips to baseball games at Nationals stadium. We are also considering working with the university officials to organize trips around DC monuments for the Parents weekend.

Could others help you and how?

We are looking to establish connections with the university administration officials on campuses around the country. BorrowBike is partnering with Compass Partners, a company that promotes social entrepreneurship on campuses around the U.S. and is on trajectory to have 15 campus locations nationwide this fall of 2011. We are looking to link our growth with the growth of Compass Partners and engage socially oriented entrepreneurs on Compass campuses.

How many people are currently working, including employees (freelancers or independent contractors for specific projects)?

We have a great management team of 4 people and a freelance web designer. It is a fun environment.

What is the best advice you never got?

One of Woody Allen’s famous quotes is “80 percent of success is showing up.” I think that quote is very applicable to starting a business. Neither I nor anyone else on our team had a particular expertise in bicycles prior to BorrowBike. But we just decided to go ahead with the idea anyway, do it right on a small scale first, learn from our mistakes, and then scale the idea.

Another important lesson learned is that forming partnerships with other businesses and organizations is crucial. BorrowBike would not have lifted off the ground had it not been for the support of Compass Partners, Revolution Cycles, and the social entrepreneurship contacts we made through participating in various competitions and events. Just when things were starting to look dim, there would be people who helped us move forward because of the partnerships we had made.

What is the one thing that you did right?

Quality over quantity. Even though in the long run BorrowBike’s goal is to serve a large number of students, for the pilot stage we decided to start with a smaller fleet of bikes but get higher quality bikes. That allowed us to establish a good first impression on campus and save a lot of money on marketing, since the word of mouth was the best marketing we could get.

We stuck to the idea of providing rentals on semester long basis. A lot of people suggested that shorter term rentals could generate higher profits. There are two reasons why we refused to do that: 1) it would hurt our core competency of being a campus-tailored service and position us as just any other bike rental service, and 2) it would make managing the business much more difficult because of the frequent bike pickups. We had to learn to walk before we learned to run.

What was the biggest transition you had to make (i.e. new skill set, habits, abilities, focus)?

Personally I come from a pretty quantitative educational background, in science and finance, so I am used to communicating ideas in a very quantitative schematic way. However, in order to manage a team, communicate with customers, and generate support from others I had to learn to be a better verbal communicator. This of course is an ongoing process. A great aspect of entrepreneurship is that it accelerates your personal growth. The communication and persuasion skills that I learned will stay with me no matter what I do in the future.

What can you tell other potential social entrepreneurs who are deciding to make a difference?

I recently read an article based on the survey of Stanford Graduate School of Business alumni. According to the article, entrepreneurs are more likely to be generalists than technical specialists. People with more diverse educational and professional interests have been more likely to found a company than people who specialized in one technical field.

You don’t need a PhD in a certain field to start a venture in that field. In fact, according to Tim Ferris (an author I highly recommend), in business sense – an expert is simply someone who knows more about a product that they offer than their customers. None of the people on our team were bike specialists before starting BorrowBike. So if you think you have an innovative idea that you just can’t get out of your head, don’t let a lack of formal expertise stop you from pursuing that idea further.

What book(s) have you read that others should read?

Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. Getting Things Done by David Allen. Both books had a great influence on me and I regularly refer back to them. Additionally I highly recommend watching Simon Sinek’s speech called “How great leaders inspire action” on TED.

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