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Reinventing the wheel

How a group of friends started a successful bicycle company.

5 min read

Most of us follow the saying “don’t reinvent the wheel”. Back in 2014, three young Estonian men decided to ignore this wisdom and engineered a new electrically powered bicycle.

Ampler Bikes Team

Ampler Bikes Team 

Ardo Kaurit (28) and his friends Rait Udumäe (31) and Hannes Laar (28) decided to design a bicycle that could not be identified as an electrical bicycle. It looked just like a regular bicycle that a hipster in a trendy part of the town would use. They garnered a lot of attention and decided to form a company, naming it “Ööbik” (’nightingale’ in Estonian), and started to sell the bikes.

Soon they realised that the name is difficult for foreigners and renamed the company Ampler Bikes. Now you can find Ampler bikes in 23 countries. 99% of the Estonian-made bikes are exported.

Thanks to Ampler, Kaurit was awarded the Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2019 award back in October.

Kaurit talked to ‘Life in Estonia’ about the reasons they founded the company, what their plan was at first and why they have been so successful.

Ampler has surpassed their own expectations

Ampler Bikes has been in the Estonian news quite often, one of the most recent stories was that the company raised 2.5 million euros in August from investors in just five days. Despite their success in recent years, according to Kaurit, who holds the CEO position at the company, they did not have a five-year business plan carved out.

“We did not think too much about business at all. But I think in the very early days we expected to sell more, but honestly the product was also not quite ready for that, and I think later on we even surpassed our expectations at times,” says Kaurit.

The idea for an electric bike came to them because the founders call themselves product people, meaning that they always think about improving things.

“When we got ourselves involved with electric bikes, we soon started to believe that we could do this and we could be better at it and so it got started. I believe that often the biggest inventions are the small and simple things.”

Nowadays, Ampler focuses mainly on the German market, which is roughly 75% of their marketplace. The company is profitable and they are overbooked with production.

According to Kaurit, it is hard to evaluate the success of the company, and he believes they could have been even more successful than they are.

“In general we work hard; we do things that we believe in and have a team of highly motivated people; this is quite a good recipe for success.”

Talking about potential obstacles on the way, Kaurit sees that entrepreneurship in general is tough and every success story has its dark sides. He does not want to mention the hardships that they have faced but concludes that their story has by no means been an easy one.

Range of a fully charged Ampler bike is 70km

As of today, Ampler pays the wages of around 40 people. Most of them work at the factory near to the capital of Estonia.  Some of the team is also located in Berlin, Germany. “We just moved to a new factory in Jüri, near Tallinn, where all the bikes are assembled. We are constantly growing in headcount and will probably go over 60 in the next 3-4 months.”

The CEO’s message is clear – Ampler’s goal is to become the first choice for an urban commuting solution. To accomplish this they sell their bikes online, directly to the customer without a middle man. This gives them the option of keeping the cost of the bike to the customer as low as possible but still maintain a good enough margin.

“One of our main values is accessibility, which means being the best choice for more people. Cost is one of the variables and we want to be affordable for many. In the short term, we are focusing on keeping costs down by offering very high quality (low service and repair costs alongside long lifetime) and offering different leasing and flexible payment options.”

In general, he sees that electric bikes will get cheaper, but a 500-euro bike which is used daily and can withstand 5+ years is a bit too optimistic.

Although the whole product development process in done in-house, many of the parts used in the bikes are produced elsewhere. The final assembly is done in-house. Due to controlling the assembly, Ampler can offer quality that they are proud of, in the words of the CEO.

With a fully charged Ampler bicycle you can cycle 70 km, Kaurit says that is good enough for a day’s commute and it would be wasteful to carry more energy with you, for example, by having a bigger battery on the bike. Kaurit says that they have found the optimum balance between cost, weight, size and range.

Kaurit does not think that developments going on in battery technologies will change electrically powered bikes any time soon.

“I would say that available technologies for batteries to be used in electric bikes are very sufficient. As the bikes are light and have limited power, the batteries are not being used to their limits, thus extending their lifetime. I do not see that super-capacitors will be widely used for light electric bikes, but for getting more peak power in cars they make sense.”

The most popular electrically powered transportation vehicles, electric scooters, are something that Ampler has looked at but plan not to endeavour towards in the near future. Kaurit believes bicycles have the most potential to change peoples’ lives for the better.

Source: Life in Estonia magazine

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