Vietnam Innovator: Modmo’s ‘Saigon’ E-Bike Makes Urban Commute A Breeze
Vietnam Innovator: Modmo’s ‘Saigon’ E-Bike Makes Urban Commute A Breeze
Modmo is offering an exclusive offer to Vietcetera readers: pre-order your Saigon bike on Modmo platform and receive a limited edition Vietcetera x Modmo helmet, designed and made in Vietnam by Rice Creative. You’ll still get your other pre-order perks, of course! Just put in ‘Vietcetera helmet’ in the Order Notes field to receive the stylish helmet upon delivery.
As a life-long cyclist, Jack O’Sullivan knows all too well the reasons why the take-up of commuter bikes, at least in urban areas outside of Europe, the U.S. and Australia, has been slow. Aside from the dearth of designated cycling lanes, in Southeast Asia the hot and humid climate can make biking feel more like a strenuous workout than a leisurely ride.
Modmo, Jack’s Vietnam-based startup, has addressed these and other concerns with the launch of a groundbreaking e-bike called Saigon. A portmanteau of “modular” and “mobility”, Modmo’s name reflects the Irish founder’s vision to create zero-emission personal transport vehicles for dynamic movement around urban areas.
Unlike most businesses, the e-bike industry has had a good crisis with demand for alternative ways of commuting skyrocketing (germy public transport has fallen out of favor worldwide amid Covid-19 scare). Modmo is determined to build on the momentum.
In this interview with Vietcetera Jack tells us about Modmo’s eco chops, a very healthy pipeline of pre-orders and why you don’t have to compromise on aesthetics for practicality.
What challenge is your product trying to address?
We set out to create a bicycle that would replace your car. As someone who has traveled by bicycle my entire life, I am aware of the common reasons why people don’t cycle: sweat, theft and utility.
People are looking for the easiest way to get from point A to point B and they definitely don’t want to arrive at their destination tired or sweaty. Introducing an electric hub motor that is silent and discretely powered by a battery hidden inside the frame solves both of these problems.
Another common issue is utility. When cycling, you can’t bring anything with you unless it’s in a bag on your back. We’ve tackled that by introducing a modular mounting system that allows our range of accessories to clip on and off in a second. modular accessories include a child seat, trailer, baskets and racks.
The final issue is theft: 70% of active cyclists have had a bicycle stolen. We fit our bikes with a hidden GPS sensor so both the bike and your activity can be tracked through our iOS and Android apps.
Who is your customer and what need of theirs are you aiming to meet?
Our biggest market is Germany, but we also ship to the U.S, Australia, UK and other European countries. Most of our customers are men between the ages of 30 and 60, but we’ll be bringing out a women’s bike soon which should change our customer makeup a little.
What route did you take to build the product here in Saigon? Has sourcing been a challenge?
I originally came to Vietnam because I had traveled to Taiwan and China looking for a suitable factory. Out of the blue, one of our engineers mentioned he had heard about a state-of-the-art motorbike factory in Vietnam that I should check out, so I took a flight and I’ve been living here ever since.
Sourcing hasn’t been too difficult once I figured out how it worked. In China, a factory would have a red carpet rolled out for you when you arrive (no joke), but in Vietnam they will generally turn you down the first time.
Business in Vietnam is much more relationship-based. I find that if a factory initially doesn’t want to work with you, the best thing to do is buy a case of beer and drive down to meet with them. It works pretty much all the time.
What’s the one thing that truly sets you apart?
Saigon bike is the first truly modular bicycle. We’ve designed a range of practical accessories that snap on and off in a second, such as a child seat, baskets, racks and food delivery boxes.
Design-wise, what inspired you?
Actually, I didn’t have any design experience before starting Modmo. So design was based purely on what I had imagined in my head. It was pretty natural. I believe that e-bikes can be functional without being ugly. We wanted the Saigon bike to look like a traditional bicycle and that meant concealing the battery and cables inside the frame tubes. This brought on a lot of its own challenges but the end result is a pared-down, minimalistic look.
What are Modmo’s eco-credentials?
We do all frame manufacturing in one location. Unlike many other bike brands who work with over ten factories to produce a single frame, we go from raw material to finished product under one roof. This helps us to considerably minimize waste and cut transport costs. Our factory also has its own water treatment center so we don’t pollute the environment. Testing for impact and fatigue, weather chambers, rolling roads etc. is also done in house.
Next year we plan on opening our own solar-powered assembly factory in Binh Duong and will begin producing our own motors and batteries.
You’ve received $800,000+ in pre-orders. Where are they coming from and how did you drum up the demand? Why are the customers excited about the product release?
We got featured by some of the big tech blogs quite early on and that drove a huge amount of traffic to our website, which converted exceptionally well.
If you compare design, components and features, we pretty much beat the competition in every single category. The reason I moved to Vietnam in 2018 was because I wanted to create a far superior product, which has taken 2.5 years of design work to achieve. I’m happy to see that people appreciate a well-designed product.
In terms of value, where do you sit on the pricing scale?
In Germany, the average price of an e-bike is €3,250 so we’re very affordable in comparison but we also offer more tech and innovative features than the established players. We’re taking advantage of our lean business model and low-cost base to offer a better bike at a better price, hopefully gaining market share quickly.
Given the current economic climate, what will be your focus in the next few years? Have you had to adjust the business in any way?
The bike industry has seen huge growth since the start of covid-related lockdowns. People are apprehensive about returning to the crowded public transport. As a result, we anticipate a mass adoption of bicycles as a primary mode of transport. This is possibly the biggest growth opportunity the bike market will ever see and we plan to be at the forefront of that.
We will continue to invest in R&D and release more models of bikes, addressing different price segments in the market. We also plan to open our own zero-emission production facilities in Binh Duong next year.
Covid-19 definitely hasn’t dampened our outlook for the future! We’re using this time to build a strong foundation for the business and as soon as the lockdown is lifted, we should have a few hundred bikes ready to be shipped worldwide.
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