WHO: Hybrid Bikes

Founder: Frank Witowski

HQ: Nelson

website: www.hybridbikes.co.nz

What products, services, solutions or technology have you developed? 

Hybrid Bikes Ltd is a carbon fibre e-bike innovation company based in Nelson. We design our own frame moulds to manufacture the carbon fibre frames and have designed the overall look of the bikes to stand out in the e-bike market.

We started with two urban e-bike designs and now have 10 different models we can offer to our customers. The models range from urban, entry-level mountain bikes, all terrain bikes, road bikes and gravel bikes offering two frame configurations each.

Because every rider is different based on their size, weight, experience and age, we offer a custom design specific to them to accommodate these factors in order to build the perfect Hybrid e-bike for them. This is a very unique business model which our customers appreciate because it means every ride is so much more enjoyable for them and with the frame being so versatile, it can be used for many different riding applications.

Hybrid Bikes is a small company and our frame innovation has been the key to our success as this has allowed us to minimise the amount of stock we need to hold while maximising the amount of e-bike models we can build from our two base frames we have manufactured.

What key customer problems do your products solve, or what customer “wants” do they fulfill? What is the impact or consequences of those problems or unfulfilled “wants”?

We spotted that just taking a standard e-bike out of the box and selling it the customer wasn’t the perfect way. Every rider is different and by offering e-bike customisation to suit the specific needs and wants of our customers we can understand what our riders desire from their e-bike.

In our frame design we considered many factors, for example:

  1. flexibility in the way the e-bike can be used such as urban, gravel and all terrain bikes
  2. the ability to accommodate people ranging from 5.2ft to 6.3ft
  3. having a max load capacity of 160kg on our e-bikes to reach a wider range of customers which exceeds any alloy frame by around 40+ kg
  4. offering a lightweight e-bike to allow the older age demographic to still manage to get the e-bike on and off a bike rack
  5. a sturdy design to create a well-balanced bike so that even an inexperienced rider is able to get on and off with ease and reduces the nervousness around riding

All of these design factors have helped many to get onto an e-bike which was either not possible before or they had hesitations.

Who and where are your target customers?

Our customer demographic is mainly the 50+ aged group located anywhere in New Zealand as these customers enjoy the customisation options we offer.

Many of them struggle with the weight of today’s e-bikes and can hardly lift them onto the bike rack and therefore are also harder to handle with riding.

Carbon fibre frames are normally used for example in high performance racing or extreme mountain biking due to the incredible strength and performance it can offer.

At Hybrid Bikes we wanted to capture these characteristics and hence we only offer carbon fibre frames in our e-bike range. The older demographic is all about comfort, ease of handling, the ability to obtain a boost to power up hills, ride longer distances and the reliability of a New Zealand based company.

Many of our nationwide customers like to cruise around New Zealand in their camper or caravan and by carrying an e-bike this allows them to see all the fantastic trails New Zealand has to offer.

Hybrid Bikes e-bike ride on the West Coast Wilderness Trail.

How and when did you first come up with the idea for your business?

When I recovered from cancer in 2017 I was actively looking for ways to stay fit and healthy and riding came to mind. Our family had also recently moved into an energy positive house which is located on a hill, which helped inspire the idea that the bike needed to be electric and both powerful and light.

After some time spent researching, I saw that the type of e-bike I liked was priced at over $10k which was far too expensive for the everyday casual rider and so I designed my own e-bike.

It was a very difficult task because I am not a cyclist, so needed to understand further about what makes a great bike and what was missing in the e-bikes currently in the market, to then be able to design Hybrid Bikes e-bikes.

I travelled across New Zealand and spoke with many bike shops as to what a good e-bike should have and what are the most critical factors to consider in my design. I started this idea in April 2017 and after many months of research, design, 3D modelling, and 3D frame printing I finally had a frame which was up to the e-bike standards of big global brands.

I never thought this would turn into the business it is now just from my initial interest to become a healthier version of myself and the company Hybrid Bikes Ltd was born in February 2018.

What are three things about your business that you are proud of?

1) Using my prior business knowledge and experience to take the time to research the industry and e-bikes to the extent needed to feel confident with the idea I was bringing to life. 

I also took great risk to design a frame out of carbon fibre for my e-bike models. Many bike shops initially told me that I would fail by using a carbon fibre frame because it was seen as overkill for an urban bike. Researching further into why other bike brands hadn’t brought the lightweight and durable carbon fibre into their designs was particularly around the worry of price points, but we are proud to have managed this very well and offer a e-bike at a competitive and affordable price with the added benefits of a carbon fibre frame.

2) Being compared to and seen as a direct competitor alongside some of the world’s biggest e-bike brands such as Specialized, Giant and Merida. 

For a company built out of a small garage in New Zealand and to bring such a high quality and affordable e-bike to the market, is an outstanding achievement. We are also very proud to be backed by Consumer Magazine’s reviews which has allowed us to strengthen our position in the market.

3) We have been able to establish a trusted brand in New Zealand due to the quality of our e-bikes and our positive and strong relationships with our customers. 

Our sister company Hybrid Bikes Global Ltd is the company to now establish the Hybrid Bikes brand in different countries. We are now attracting global attention, with dealer networks starting up soon in Australia, the UK and Germany. We are proud to be taken note on a global scale and that others outside of New Zealand are seeing the uniqueness and market advantage in our Hybrid brand and that they want to be a part of it.

How do you market your business and what advice do you have for others around marketing?

Overtime, we discovered it is important to have a mix of marketing platforms to reach a wider audience which required different marketing companies. Around six months into our business start-up TV1’s current affairs programme “Seven Sharp”, filmed us here in our garage which gave us nationwide coverage of our brand and the service we provide.

This PR was the best start a company could have and lead to an avalanche of interviews and articles written about our story and our key highlights. This included features with Kia Ora Magazine, NZ Business Magazine, radio interviews, podcasts and various newspaper articles.

Examples of the type of marketing we undertake includes online marketing, magazines, newspapers, PR exposure, interviews and so forth. These various areas require a different set of skills and can have either equal or varying levels of impact when reaching out to your target demographic.

My advice would be to talk to people you trust and ask them who they have worked with and why. If you don’t quite have this network of people to talk to built up as yet, take the time to get to know the marketing companies, ask how they can work for you and help to tell your story in a way which is impactful and unique to your brand, as this will assist when making decisions around who to work with. These things will all assist you when trying to increase your brand awareness and helping to generate the revenue you need to grow.

Hybrid Bikes riding group.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in building your business so far?

Starting a business in an industry I had no prior experience in. This is not what I ever thought I would do and required a lot of research to get up to speed with the biking industry.

It has been an incredibly rewarding challenge and has taught me you can in fact continue to learn many things and turn ideas into a successful business with the right dedication.

When I was initially starting this challenge, I was advised by bike shops with many years of experience to not use carbon fibre as they didn’t think there was a market for this, but I backed my idea and took the risk to move forward with my vision for a e-bike constructed with a carbon fibre frame.

Moving through this challenge I was looking to understand why they thought my idea would not be successful, and it came down to the high price point it could have on a e-bike. For my idea to succeed the key element was cost and the target was to sell a e-bike with a price point under $5,000. When our first e-bikes were released for sale, we had managed to achieve this by working through smart ways to keep our costs down and keeping the margins to a minimum.

Our next big challenge now is for us to sell our product across different countries using a similar business model to what we have here which has proved to be a successful strategy.

What is the biggest entrepreneur lesson you would like to share with other Kiwis thinking of starting their own business?

In my opinion the biggest lesson is to research about the potential of your business idea and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What makes my business succeed – what advantages have I got over my competition?
  2. What is my point of difference – it pays to offer something others haven’t got to grasp the attention from customers
  3. What problem will my business solve – creating a solution to a problem is always a good way to start a business
  4. Has it got the potential to be nationwide business – is it scalable so that you can build the business up into a multi-million dollar venture years down the track
  5. What is the exit strategy – has it got the potential to be sold later at a profit to a larger company which hasn’t got the product you have or will it stay in the family to become a global brand
  6. Have I got the financial backing I need – managing cashflow can be the key to succeeding or failing
  7. Passion for what you do – you need to love what you do and be prepared to work long hours and weekends to get your business off the ground
  8. Listen to advice – listen to successful entrepreneurs which have achieved tremendous goals, you will normally always find some tips which can be considered and applied in your business

Story created in partnership with Nelson Regional Development Agency (NRDA).

Innovation Nation is a series celebrating stories of innovation and diversity in entrepreneurship from around New Zealand.

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