Aussie e-bike startup Bolt Bikes has raised $16 million in funding and rebranded its eco-friendly fleet to become Zoomo, as COVID-19 drives an uptick in business, and in e-bike use in general.
Co-founders Michael Johnson and Mina Nada — the latter a former Deliveroo exec — launched the business as a side-hustle back in 2017.
The pair would purchase electric bikes, modify them with delivery purposes in mind, and rent them out to gig economy workers in the food delivery sector.
By 2019, they had gained enough traction to go full time.
“We also saw that there was a lot of investment going into micro-mobility,” Nada tells SmartCompany.
For the most part, that funding was being ploughed into bike and scooter-sharing businesses, he notes.
Bolt, however, was focused on utility, rather than on the everyday consumer. It also focused on subscription, rather than sharing.
“We thought we had something that was a bit differentiated,” the founder says.
In June 2019, the startup secured its first round of funding, and launched in Australia, the US and the UK.
Immediately, things picked up.
“We had a lot of traction and we ended up really growing rapidly,” Nada says.
The startup has been seeing consistent double-digit revenue growth, month-on-month, Nada says, and it now has a presence in Sydney, Melbourne, San Francisco, New York and London.
This latest funding will partly be used to further expand that global footprint.
Bikes will soon be on the road in LA and Brisbane, while operations are ramping up in all the other cities they’re in as well.
The nature of the business means the startup needs boots on the ground to support subscribers and maintain the vehicles.
“One of the biggest costs is the bikes themselves,” Nada says.
“We really needed a lot of capital to sustain the continued purchase of more and more vehicles, as well as all the other bits we’re doing.”
But, the founders will also be investing in R&D, developing both new hardware and software, as well as boosting their marketing efforts.
Finally, Nada and Johnson will be working on expanding their offering with regards to financial products, moving into microfinancing.
“A lot of people who rent from us want a path to ownership as well,” he explains.
What’s in a name?
It’s also this growth that led Bolt Bikes to rebrand, taking on the shiny new name Zoomo.
The founders admit they would have preferred not to go through the rigmarole of finding a new name, as it’s a significant undertaking for a young and growing business.
But, the quick success of the business effectively made the process unavoidable, Nada says.
“We would have liked to avoid changing the name,” he says.
“The challenge was, as we moved overseas we were coming up against several other companies that were called Bolt, and that were much larger than ours, also in the mobility space.”
Specifically, Uber competitor Bolt has a significant presence in Europe, where it also has a fleet of e-scooters.
“When we started this, it wasn’t going to be international … it was our side-hustle,” Nada adds.
“But the reality is that now our overseas markets are bigger than our Australian market, so it made sense to change the name, practically speaking.”
The founders landed on Zoomo after “probably much longer than we should”, the founder admits.
But, it has connotations of motion and speed. And, crucially, it wasn’t already trademarked.
“The reality is, it doesn’t matter which 10 names you like. It’s also a question of what’s available,” Nada says.
“Often the final say is less in your hands than in the lawyers’ hands.”
A bumpy ride
Zoomo’s point of differentiation in the micro-mobility space has come in handy during the COVID-19 crisis, which has seen cities all over the world plunged into lockdown.
While the pandemic has hit some bike and scooter-sharing platforms hard, Zoomo has seen “really rapid growth” during this time.
In fact, the startup has even managed to expand its user base, seeing more people subscribing for personal use, as well as to meet home delivery and e-commerce demand.
“It’s been a really tumultuous period with various phases,” Nada says.
Regulations vary country-to-country and city-to-city, he explains.
The startup saw huge growth in Sydney, which died down again when restaurants and cafes were able to re-open. Demand is still up in Melbourne, which is still in the throes of stage four lockdown.
In London, however, the environment was completely different, with restaurant chains closing down.
“The UK, in the early days of the pandemic, was one of the only countries where food delivery demand dropped”, he says.
“Now, however, it’s one of our fastest-growing markets,” he notes.
“It’s been really busy for us, just reacting to the constantly changing environment that COVID has created.”
But, ultimately, like in so many sectors, the pandemic has served to accelerate trends that were already underway.
“A whole host of people downloaded food delivery apps for the first time, and are going to continue to use that,” he says.
Nada also suggests that food delivery and e-commerce have been normalised in Asia for some time already. The western world was falling way behind here, he says.
“The pandemic has accelerated our catch up to where they are.”
At the same time, with people wary of public transport and itching to get outside, we’ve seen people rediscovering the humble bicycle as a mode of transport, and having fun while doing it.
“I think off the back of that electric bikes are going to take off,” Nada says.
“People are realising that it’s much quicker to get around their urban areas, and bikes that offer utility and can carry things are really useful.”
All of this comes at a time when cities around the world are rolling out urban infrastructure to support cycling.
“Most of it looks like it’s not going to be rolled back,” the founder says.
“I do think there will be a new normal that is supportive of both e-commerce and light electric vehicles, fundamentally.”