There are few feelings worse than returning to the spot you locked up your bike after a fun evening and seeing nothing. As a San Francisco cyclist, I’ve had my stomach sink more than once at that discouraging sight of nothing. Bikeep, a startup founded in Estonia, is looking to bring its connected locking tech to the States to address the bike theft epidemic.
This morning at San Francisco’s 16th St. Mission BART station, Bikeep made its highest profile U.S. deployment to date — a row of locks, underground, inside the bustling station.
Kristjan Lind, CEO of Bikeep, told me that he’s overseen the rollout of 1,000 smart locks throughout Europe and after a million uses, not a single bicycle has been stolen from one of his locks.
Bikeep’s locks are activated with Clipper cards (the Bay Area’s reloadable transit cards). After a short sign up process, scanning a nearby QR code with your smartphone, Clipper cards become associated with the locks so that only you can access your property.
The sturdy metal locking mechanism fits around most bicycles. I tested my larger e-bike and was able to make it work, though I couldn’t manage to get both my frame and wheel locked simultaneously. Another bystander tried to lock his mini foldable bike and faced a similar situation.
To cater toward the growing e-bike community, Lind plans to equip some of his locks with chargers in the future. His team is also working on a mobile app that could allow users to remotely unlock a bike, if say a friend nearby wanted to borrow it.
Lind tells me that a bike sharing community has developed in Europe whereby people lend their bikes out for money during the day when they’re not in use. Consolidating that process around a single digital marketplace matching and payments app could help get peer-to-peer bike sharing off the ground in the United States.
Other startups like Ofo and Mobike in China have made a business out of providing bikes on-demand in high volume metropolitan areas. U.S. efforts like New York City’s well known Citi bike share program are considered a success but they’re still fundamentally centralized systems that require the maintenance of large fleets of bicycles.
Municipalities today can either purchase Bikeep’s locks upfront or pay for them on a month to month basis. According to Lind, most of his customers have opted to pay upfront.
With only a small amount of angel funding, the company has been able to bootstrap itself to traction — though it’s going to need to diversify its revenue streams to attract institutional capital, a goal Lind is actively pursuing.
Once the mobile app is pushed out, Bikeep will be able to collect money on advance and longer term reservations. A commuter that exits the same BART station every day might pay for a permanent place to keep his or her bike and a family taking a trip might want to reserve a few spaces in advance to ensure spots are available. Both of these services could demand additional money.
Beyond those shorter term goals, I could see Bikeep collecting a transactional fee on a hypothetical Uber/Airbnb-style peer-to-peer bike sharing network. These service oriented revenue streams could help the company escape the recurring revenue hurdles that handicap many hardware startups. That said, scaling lock deployment is no easy feat, but even if the company sped that process up, cultural adoption is the real bottle neck.
Lind says that the U.S. reminds him a lot of Europe in its early days of embracing the cycling lifestyle. The Bay Area is home to one of the most active cycling communities, so fostering that by providing additional safety and security can only help to grow Bikeep’s market opportunity.