Bike messengers have been a staple of urban life for years. But why stop at using bikes for package delivery? We all know that bikes are a greener form of transportation, but from a business standpoint, they are also far cheaper than their gas-guzzling cousins and far more efficient in congested downtown areas.
Enter B-Line, a bicycle delivery service that is not only about transporting goods, but also about developing green-collar jobs, supporting local businesses, and helping those in need. Here, we sit down with owner and CEO Franklin Jones to learn more.
What was the spark that inspired the birth of B-line?
After teaching for many years, I was eager to be a “doer” and B-line was a great opportunity to combine a long-term interest with what I hoped to be a viable vocation. B-line emerged from a desire to try to build a company that could harness the power of business to improve our environment and strengthen our communities.
What problem does your business solve?
There are substantial environmental and economic costs of traffic and congestion in our urban core. But in most locations, there is no alternative local delivery option for businesses that want to challenge the status quo and meet internal, mission-driven environmental goals and/or government mandates. The evidence of the problem and lack of solutions is seen daily as delivery vehicles idle, block streets, and rack up costs. B-line works to solve this challenge by using a better tool for the job—a unique electric-assist cargo trike—and a business model that is hyper-focused on urban logistics.
Look for that intersection where what you believe in meets what your community is looking for.” (Tweet this.)
What’s the best thing about being an entrepreneur?
It is very exciting and fulfilling to not only take a concept and turn it into a reality, but to see it iterate and build upon itself in ways that you may never have imagined.
What has been the biggest surprise in your entrepreneurial experience to date?
I think my biggest surprise may be the international recognition we have received despite our relatively small size. To me this is exciting because I see it as an invitation to build our concept and increase our impact in our communities.
Your biggest success?
I think B-line’s biggest success is the community of staff, clients, and partners that has been built over the years. Everyone notices the trikes, but it is really the people that make this endeavor notable.
Do you have a failure story to share? What did you learn from this failure?
We, like many startups, were under-capitalized from day one. I think it was naive to believe that we could build a company on what little savings went into its foundation. While it may be enough to prove concept, it wasn’t enough to create scale. Had we had capital reserves earlier I believe we would be in a better position to now grow the company’s revenue and impact.
As an entrepreneur, what keeps you up at night?
I used to stay up at night haunted by nightmares of missed deliveries, broken-down trikes, and short cash flow. While these concerns remain, my nights now are disrupted more by questions of growth and how to best navigate the waters of a very complex industry.
What is your #1 piece of advice for a budding entrepreneur?
Look for that intersection where what you believe in meets what your community is looking for… even if not everyone knows it. Essentially, we are problem-solvers and I guess if we are really good at what we do, we are solving problems before they exist.
Imagine your venture becomes wildly successful. What does that look like?
If we were wildly successful I’d hope that our cities would be quieter, less congested, healthier, and in so many ways more livable. Also, we’d have inspired others to build businesses that focused on positively impacting our world while also bearing financial fruit.
Can you describe your typical day?
Coffee… emails… meetings on operations… Mate… meetings on systems development… Beer… cooking and dreaming of skiing fresh tracks—at least until the season turns.
What’s your favorite local business and why?
You remember I live in Portland, right? How am I supposed to choose just one?
I am a big fan of Pacific NW Kale Chips – as a fellow B-Corp, I am so impressed with their attention to what really matters as they scale their company.
I am most thankful for all of the people, directly and indirectly, that support the vision for a more sustainable city. In this manner, I feel that despite looming climate change and global concerns, I am not alone in believing that innovation, creativity, and good honest work can create a place where we all want to be.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
At one point a submarine captain… at another, a chef. I guess I am closer to the chef than the captain.
Do you think Oregon is a good place to start a business? How has it helped you, and what challenges has it posed?
Oregon, and Portland in particular, has been fundamental to B-line’s success. We have a culture that embraces collaboration, new ideas, and… of course, bikes. All of these were critical for our early success. However, our model needs greater density to really fly, and while Portland is getting there, we are looking at larger urban markets to take us to the next level.
Any other tidbits or fun facts to share?
Though people may often see our trikes downtown, many are unfamiliar with our B-share program, in which we rescue food no longer suitable for sale from retail markets and bring that directly to agencies working with homelessness and hunger. Through this program we not only provide thousands of pounds of surplus fruits and veggies to those with limited access, but we also further demonstrate how a business can be a catalyst for social and environmental progress.