OtherOEN Member Spotlight – Bob Vander Woude, CEO of Conscious Commuter

Conscious Commuter™ is helping shape the future of urban mobility with folding and full-frame electric bicycles, bicycles upgradeable to electric-assist, and campus electric bike share.

Q: What does your business do?
A: Conscious Commuter’s goal is to re-acquaint everyone with the joy of the daily commute, wherever it may take you – to the office or to the market, or in a campus environment.

We’re using the bicycle (more aptly, an electric bicycle) as our transportation platform, as it is the most commonly used mode of transportation around the world, it helps create cohesion in communities – changing the way we relate to each other and the urban environment.  In many of the most crowded, densely packed cities around the world a bicycle is the most convenient way to move around. Now even cities with more well-developed transportation infrastructure are catching up and adding bicycles to the mix. That’s because bicycles are an essential part of our culture and our lives.

Conscious Commuter CEO Bob Vander Woude

Q: What problem does it solve?
A: The commuting bicycle or electric-assist bicycle provides the “choice” rider a sustainable transportation alternative to commuting alone in a car.  With gas prices on the rise, it is an attractive financial alternative to young urban professionals, as well as a fun way for baby boomers to get more active.

Major companies with corporate campuses are telling us that they are spending tens of millions of dollars per year on employee transportation – mainly moving employees around in vans, with dedicated drivers, high maintenance costs, high gas prices, expensive parking spaces, etc.  We’ve been told that every parking space we can eliminate on one Silicon Valley company’s campus is worth $10/day to them.  Our electric bike share solution drastically cuts their campus commuting costs.  

Q: How did you come up with this business idea?
A: I’m a serial entrepreneur, and I noticed in my travels overseas that electric bikes were growing increasingly more common throughout Asia and Europe, and decided the time was right to get into the market in the U.S. while the e-bike market was still in its infancy here.  I found an award-winning designer who had already designed a beautiful folding electric bike as part of his graduate thesis at the world’s top auto design school, and we formed a company to bring it to market.

We’re now focusing on integrating the e-bike into electric bike share for campuses and as part of a multi-modal public transportation system.

Q:What are your biggest challenges?
A: Fundraising is an ongoing effort.  We started out as a hardware company (e-bikes only), and a lot of investors don’t have experience, nor do they want to invest in that space.  But as we’ve moved to electric bike share software and a re-occurring revenue business model (from corporations), investors are reacting positively to that business plan “pivot.”

Q:What are your goals for the company?
A: We are positioning for acquisition, as this is a very large market opportunity.  The electric bicycle market is forecast to be one of the largest markets in the world by 2025, and the bike share market (electric bike share, in our case) has grown from nowhere to being a household word and being implemented in communities worldwide in five years.

We have an investment banker on our advisory board to help position us and to help negotiate with the brands that have approached us.  The major automobile manufacturers, consumer brands and bike brands are acquiring e-bike brands and moving into this space, and we have a unique offering.

Q:Do you have any news to share about your company’s evolution, new products or partnerships?
A: Lexus is currently promoting Conscious Commuter in their Lexus Ignition campaign, which runs through Sunday, October 21st.  We have the opportunity to receive a grant of $25,000 to help us bring our product to production if we get the most votes this coming week.  Please go to www.LexusIgnition.com to help us secure the $25,000 grant.  And, you can vote once per day!

We also recently received a federal grant through Drive Oregon and the National Institute for Transportation and Communities to produce 30 electric bikes that will be used by Portland State University to gain an understanding of e-bike early adopters and the potential for electric bicycles to substitute for auto trips or supplementing transit trips.

Lastly, as we are nearing production, we’ve just upgraded our web site to an ecommerce site for taking pre-orders and deposits for our first production run of e-bikes.

Q: Are you looking for funding?
A: Yes, we’re halfway through our Preferred Series A round, which will take us to full production.  We’re then embarking on a $4M+ Preferred Series B round, which will most likely be lead by a strategic investor.

Q: Have you been an entrepreneur before?

A: I’m a serial entrepreneur with over 30 years startup management experience.
Q:What brought you to OEN?
A: Conscious Commuter participated in the OEN’s Angel Oregon 2012 Competition, where we were chosen “Concept Stage” Audience Favorite.

Q: What has been the biggest surprise in your entrepreneurial experience to date?

A: At the software company I co-founded – DataTools, Inc. — BMC Software wouldn’t pay $30M to acquire us, but came back two years later and paid a total of $70M (including a previous $10M purchase option). That was a happy surprise, and I look forward to Conscious Commuter facing a surprise like that!

Q: What has been the best entrepreneurial advice you’ve received?
A: Start your company right – patent searches/applications, incorporation, etc.  Don’t do it on the cheap and try to do it yourself.  (OEN helps in this area!)

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