Our Start-up of the Week is Modmo, an urban mobility start-up building personal electric bicycles, with a focus on creating transport that could replace cars.
Modmo is the brainchild of 23-year-old Jack O’Sullivan, an Irish entrepreneur living in Vietnam. While O’Sullivan is still relatively young, however, this isn’t his first business.
“As a 13-year-old, I was addicted to downhill mountain biking, a very expensive sport, and I needed a way to fund it,” he told Siliconrepublic.com.
“I began importing and selling refurbished iPhones and grew that revenue to around €20,000 per month. After a year or two of that, I learned that it wasn’t scalable as barriers to entry were too low.”
Sometime after this, O’Sullivan said he was “kindly asked to leave secondary school for lack of attendance”. He took it upon himself to continuing studying at a local library, while simultaneously working, until he completed the Leaving Certificate and got accepted into UCD to study business.
“It was a fantastic course but my earlier experience put me way ahead of the class. Combined with my very short attention span, I dropped out within four months,” he said.
The move to Vietnam
After this experience, O’Sullivan got involved in the world of entrepreneurship again and started a Dublin-based business, Vital Fixies, focused on selling fixed-gear bikes. “I wanted to buy a fixie but my local bike shop was selling them for more than €500, which I thought was way too expensive,” he said.
“So I found a supplier, did some maths and pitched the idea to my big brother and dad who agreed to invest to cover the initial cost of 165 bikes. We started selling at €250 and quickly grew our market share.”
“I thought I could create the best bike in the world,” O’Sullivan added, but he soon found it difficult to do this “without much money” while living in Ireland.
He booked a short trip to Shenzhen in China to meet engineers and suppliers, shortly before he was directed to “an amazing factory in Vietnam”, so he packed his bags and has lived there since. Now, the Dubliner plans to create a global business with Modmo.
“After using a bicycle as my primary mode of transport for many years, I identified three core limitations and set out to solve them,” O’Sullivan explained.
“People are lazy and certainly don’t want to arrive at their destination tired or sweaty. If you’re travelling by bicycle, you can’t carry anything with you unless it’s in a bag on your back. Then, bicycle theft (or the fear of it) is a big issue in Europe.”
He said that he gained the last bit of insight from Vital Fixies, who were often buying a second bike because they were too afraid to leave their more expensive bikes locked in the city centre.
To deal with all these concerns, Modmo has created a modular electric bicycle. “A quick-release mount on the front and rear of the bicycle allows you to easily add or remove a range of accessories in seconds, without any tools. These accessories include seats for children, surfboard racks, baskets, trailers, and temperature-controlled food boxes for delivering food.”
With this design, the company hopes to eliminate many people’s need for a car. The bike is electric with a battery that lasts up to 100km built into the frame tubes, making it invisible from the outside.
There’s also a touchscreen built into the handlebars that runs Android and displays turn-by-turn navigation so you can see Google Maps, with plans for other apps that Modmo is currently working on.
Finally, there’s a GPS sensor hidden inside the frame, allowing owners to track bikes in the event of theft. This sensor also lets cyclists see their activity data through bike’s screen. According to O’Sullivan, there’s plenty more technology in the pipeline and the company is also working on a bike that he hopes could replace vans for urban deliveries.
“Elon Musk believes that we need to move roads underground, but I think we need to shift towards personal modes of transport. If everyone was using our e-bikes for urban transport and companies began using our cargo bikes for transport and delivery, there would be a drastic reduction in congestion and vehicle-emitted pollution.”
So, what next?
While Modmo is still prelaunch, the start-up had a soft launch at EuroBike 2019, where the product was met with interest, according to O’Sullivan, who added that there’s a partnership with another bike brand in the works for 2020.
The start-up was recently involved with a Vietnamese accelerator programme, which made a small investment into the company. The aim is to eventually raise €400,000 in angel investment before the new year to pay for the final tooling and custom parts needed to mass produce a Modmo bike.
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