Bootstrapped Co-Founders Build Demand with Free Marketing

Bootstrapped Co-Founders Build Demand with Free Marketing

Tell us a bit about yourselves

Marina: I'm a founder of GIN E-bikes. And I look after marketing and branding in our company.

We manufacture and sell electric bikes. Our USP is that we offer high-end specs at a very affordable cost. So our bike is one of the cheapest premium e-bikes, in the market of the UK at least, and I think US and Europe as well.

Rahul: I am the second co-founder of the company. I look after technology and customer interface, like talking to customers and handling their queries and issues.

How did you come up with the idea for the business?

Rahul: We met more than a year ago on the Y Combinator platform. We both had experience as previous entrepreneurs. And we both had this inclination toward making something sustainable. So there was this connection, like, let's go and build something together.

Electric bikes seemed to be the first thing that came to mind because I was already researching that field anyway, and I had enough customer data and statistics to show that this is perhaps the next big thing.

Marina: After Rahul introduced me to this idea, I did my own smaller-scale research, in terms of looking at volume requests, for example, in the UK and US markets.

Just based on a little research I came to know that the market is huge. It was what people often call a "blue ocean" - there was moderate competition but still a lot of opportunities to jump into the market and start your big thing there.

That's why I believed in this idea, and I thought that I could contribute something in terms of my marketing and branding skills based on what I had already achieved by that point in time.

How did you fund your business?

Rahul: It was pretty much bootstrapped between us. We already knew the bike design we wanted to go forward with, as I had done some testing before.

I knew this business could work well based on all the customers that we had been talking to. They had given us a lot of inputs - what features it should have, what the price point should be, and what the expectations were.

Basically, we were reverse engineering from the customer side, that's why we were confident that if this thing launches, it will be successful. So the bike assembly and everything was bootstrapped.

We started with nine bikes, actually we started with ten bikes, and one got stolen. But we sold those nine bikes, and we got plenty of pre-orders in the first two or three months.

Marina: I think our financial model is based on two aspects. The first one is the investment into the product - investing the first several thousand pounds to design the product and to buy the first ten or whatever bikes.

The second aspect is that you need to have some funding to always have stock in hand. I think we were lucky regarding the second part because we built our marketing strategy based on online publications.

They were interested in the product because it was kind of revolutionary, and it still is. I would send them our press releases, which they would then publish, that is how we got pre-orders. People were willing to wait two or three months to get the bike. And we built our business on that money.

Rahul: One thing I would like to highlight is that the problem we are resolving for customers is not the lack of new electric bikes on the market.

We're trying to resolve the problem regarding the affordability of a good quality product. Compared to brands with similar specs, we are almost 50% cheaper, without compromising the quality or customer service.

How are you finding customers?

Marina: It's been almost one year since we officially launched the site and product, and so far we have invested nothing into paid marketing.

But every month we are getting up to 50 or more orders, all of them are without any paid advertisement. Right now, our strategy is based mostly on collaborating with influencers.

But only with influencers willing to review the bike for their YouTube channel or blog for free. We arrange to give them the bike to test for a week or a few weeks, and they make their unbiased reviews.

We don't even know what they're going to say about the bike, but so far, all the reviews have been very positive. They don't charge for the review, but we offer them affiliate links, so they make a commission, and we get more brand awareness.

What has been the biggest challenge you've faced?

Rahul: The biggest challenge is keeping customers happy in terms of giving them the bike on time because we are sold out every month. Marina and I discuss starting Google ads and conventional marketing, but we never have stock in hand.

So that's one of the biggest challenges. Not just having stock, but having more than is required. That number keeps jumping every month, so it's difficult to forecast the actual inventory we should have.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew when you started ?

Marina: I would tell myself don't be afraid to order more bikes. We were ordering the bare minimum because we were uncertain that we could sell them without paid marketing.

I would have told myself: don't be scared to order 100-200 or 500 more because you can sell it. You will sell it.

Rahul: I'll tell you where that fear comes from. Back in December was a very, very stressful time for us.

It was a nightmare because the bikes in Europe and the UK got stuck in customs, and being December, nearly everyone in customs was on holiday. Before that, they were with the UK Border Force, who were on strike in Felixstowe port, so the whole of December, no one was working.

The bikes only got cleared on the 9th of January in the morning, and that's when we got the bikes in our warehouse.

People at the time were understandably getting impatient, so we hired a van and we took like seven or eight bikes in that van, and we crossed from London to Southend-on-sea (Marina: 11 hours of driving!), delivering the bikes ourselves and apologizing to customers for the delays. But they were happy with us, and we got a lot of good reviews for doing that.

What advice would you give to new entrepreneurs?

Marina: I would say first, whatever idea you have in your mind, you have to validate it. We explored the market in terms of Google search volume and competition, we also referred to the research of Deloitte and other big accounting companies for E-bike market forecasts.

Once we had that, we designed the bikes and validated the idea by selling our first bikes without any paid marketing. We had our MVP (minimum viable product), and we knew from there that we could start ordering larger amounts.

Raul: Her advice is more practical than mine, which is that, if you have an idea, just go forward with it and don't worry about failing. You will arrive at the right destination at the right time anyway.

People overanalyze a lot and make things seem much more complicated than they actually are. Life itself is complicated anyways. Just do it.

Have you ever felt like quitting, and what keeps you going?

Marina: Yeah. I think about it every day (laughs)! That was the same in my previous business as well. Every day there are problems, and you think, I don't want to do this anymore. But if you have a purpose, it keeps you going.

Rahul: In one of my last companies, I had a team of people. Then, in my second business, I had no one.

So I knew from experience that you always need at least one person, just to share everything with because it becomes very boring otherwise.

It gets tough at times, and you have no one to listen to all of your grievances and complaints. I think it's very important to find a shoulder to cry on sometimes.

What are your plans for the future?

Rahul: We are designing some new bikes right now, we have something in mind that will dissolve a couple more problems for customers looking for that type of bike. Our price point will again be very sweet in terms of affordability.

Marina: During our extensive research, we've found that the problem people are facing is weight.

Because electric bikes are heavy, like 25-30 kilograms, our bike is 19-20 kilograms, which is much lighter than the average market competitor. But still, it's quite heavy, twenty kilograms for some women is a lot.

So this is the problem we want to resolve right now by offering an even lighter version at an affordable price.

Where can people find you?

Our website is at TikTok: @gin.ebikes

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