Life as a pedestrian is about to get more convenient and efficient at Newcastle University, where WhipBikes is bringing self-hire bikes to the community. While the startup is first implementing a bike scheme down south, I think this could have great potential for Edinburgh next! We met WhipBikes founders Robert Grisdale and Jack Payne earlier in the year at Enterprisers, and we’re very excited to note they are up for a Shell Livewire Award at the moment. I’m sure they’d appreciate any extra votes (today’s the last day – vote here) if you are taken by this idea too! We caught up with Rob for the latest:
What’s WhipBikes all about?
WhipBikes is a self-service bike hire system designed especially for universities. It’s all about making student travel easier and greener, quite literally.
From late September, Newcastle University will be home to the first ever scheme. Students and staff can register on our website (www.whipbikes.co.uk) to get access to all 150 of our awesome bikes, which can be found at racks all around the campus and accommodation 24 hours a day.
Once registered, you just find a WhipBike and text the bike number to 83222. Our system automatically replies with the lock code. The bike must then be returned to any university bike rack within 30 minutes. Best of all, there’s no bills or commitments. The 50p payment is charged to your mobile phone. Pay-as-you-whip!
This network of green bikes is also our golden ticket to be the first provider of on-campus advertising across the whole university. By sponsoring a WhipBike, companies get their message across in a viral way. Each bike is like a mobile billboard, following students wherever they go. We like to call it ‘nomadic marketing’.
What inspired you guys to get this going?
We’d seen the schemes in cities across Europe and thought the concept was just perfect for university campuses. So when we got the chance to develop a business as part of one of our Civil Engineering degree modules, WhipBikes was born. Our business plan won an award at the university enterprise challenge and it was there that we decided to go for it.
How did you decide the pricing – only 50p per trip?
That’s right. It’s £12.50 to register for life, then 50p for a 30 minute ride. But then our biggest competition is walking and unfortunately we can’t beat it on price. Where we can compete is on pleasure and speed, and at 50p, users are sure to get their money’s worth.
What’s been the craziest challenge?
The biggest challenge, without doubt, was getting the mass of the university on board our seemingly miniscule boat. We had to convince various parties and sometimes you would think we were proposing a network of self-service nuclear missiles. Some people found it hard to take us seriously.
Eventually we were forced to commit to investing in the system before getting the official go-ahead from the university. At least we now know what to expect next time.
Between now and launch, what’s left to do?
First of all, we need to get hold of some bikes! We had some production delays which were very frustrating but they are arriving very soon. In the mean time we are working on the marketing campaign plan with some help from a couple of students keen to put their skills to use. We are also working with a design consultancy to develop a new locking mechanism. The new lock will have some really useful features, including an automatically changing code.
Want to see WhipBikes come to Edinburgh? Any particular challenges here? Curious to hear your thoughts… (and if you wanted to vote for them in the Shell Livewire competition, note they are the dudes sitting on the wall)