A Cleaner Transportation Alternative with EVELO Electric Bicycles’ Boris Mordkovich

May 1, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so excited to have Boris Mordkovich on with us. He’s the co-founder of EVELO electrical bicycle company. Welcome to Green is Good, Boris. BORIS MORDKOVICH: Thank you, John. Good to be here. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, Boris, I’ve read your story, I’ve been on your website. For our listeners’ sake, what is an electric bike? I’ve never ridden on one. I don’t think I’ve seen that many. What is an electric bike? BORIS MORDKOVICH: That’s a really good question, actually. A lot of people, when they come to us, they’ve never heard about an electric bike before, and it’s a really cool experience that they have when they ride one. So, at the core, an electric bike is just like a regular bike. It looks, it feels, and it handles just like a regular bike would. The main difference, though, is that there is a small motor and a battery that is integrated. For example, when you’re riding on the road and you approach a hill and you engage something called pedal assist, the motor will actually help you pedal, so that to you it feels like you’re going on flat ground, even though you may be going up, and it just make hills and make headwinds, all that disappear. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. Explain, though, where will you have an electric bike? Boris, you’re sitting in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Are they popular there? Are they popular in Europe? How did you come up with this idea? BORIS MORDKOVICH: An electric bike is interesting because it’s the bestselling electric vehicle in the world that nobody knows about in the U.S. Right now you have about 30 million of them being sold a year, but I would say that 90% of it is in Asia, a couple million of them are sold in Europe, and just about 100,000-150,000 a year of them are sold in the U.S. Most of them you can find on the West Coast in states like California, Oregon, Washington, but they’re starting to pop up on the East Coast as well. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You say 30 million are sold a year. How did you invent a better mousetrap? Why is yours the best electric bike in the world? BORIS MORDKOVICH: Well, a big thing with electric bikes, especially in the United States, is that people are just not aware of them, so we see our job is something where we introduce the good quality electric bike, and our main job is to educate people about what electric bike is and how it works. What we did, we kind of went a little bit out of the norm. We developed something called the mid-drive motor, which makes our electric bikes more powerful than a lot of the other ones on the market. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so interesting. Now, Boris, for our listeners out there that want to see Boris’s great product, please go to his website, www.evelo.com. Boris, you’re a humble guy, but there’s more to your story. You had an investment in this great invention of yours by Google. Explain how that came about and what that means to your great venture. BORIS MORDKOVICH: Well, actually, before doing electric bikes, the way that we came to electric bikes, before I was involved in a car sharing company. It was a car sharing company that allowed people to rent out their own cars to others when they were not using them. It was a really interesting experience because it gave me exposure to how people feel about car ownership these days. What we found was that a lot of people are looking for alternatives to owning or driving a car, and that was one of the things that led to developing the electric bike because it’s a bike for people who typically would not really be riding a regular bike. But because it makes it easier to pedal, it makes it easier to ride to your destination without getting sweaty, it makes cycling a lot more sensible to a wider range of the population. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, the people that are interested in your product really isn’t the Lance Armstrong types; it’s for the general population at large that wouldn’t necessarily ride a bicycle. BORIS MORDKOVICH: That’s exactly right. When we talk to people, there are lots of reasons why people generally choose not to ride a bike. It could be because there are hills in the area, it could be because they’re maybe out of shape, or again, they just don’t want to arrive to their destination sweaty. That’s probably the biggest reason that we hear why people don’t ride to work. So, an electric bike just solves all of those problems. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Google found out about it, and they came to you? Or you went to them? How did that happen? BORIS MORDKOVICH: Just to clarify, Google invested in the previous company that I was involved in, the car sharing company. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. That makes sense. OK. I understand. So you’re a serial entrepreneur. You learned a lot about the world’s mentality with regards to ridesharing and traveling, and now you have this amazing bike. Now, explain, though, the information and knowledge you learned from your previous venture, and how you’re applying it to your electric bike world and the bike challenge that you created. BORIS MORDKOVICH: Sure. I’ll say a couple of things about the challenge and how it all ties together. On May 1st, we’re launching something called the 30-Day Electric Bike Challenge. Essentially, what we’re doing is we’re encouraging people to give up their car for a period for 30 days. What we’ll do is we’ll give them an electric bike for that period, just to try it out and see how it fits in their lifestyle. We believe that for most people, once they try to commute and to get around town on an electric bike they’ll see that it’s a lot easier than they expected. Our objective is to get people to either give up their second car, or potentially consider a car-free lifestyle with the help of an electric bike, of course. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, everyone thinks about money, and we’re all conscious about our pocketbooks. Boris, can people save money by driving an electric bike as opposed to a car? Is this actually good for the household pocketbook? BORIS MORDKOVICH: Yeah. I would say that for close to a gallon of gas, you can put about 500 miles on an electric bike. Actually last year, we did a cross-country bike trip from New York to San Francisco, which is a distance of about 4,000 miles, and we used less than $20 worth of electricity throughout that entire trip. JOHN SHEGERIAN: When you say “we,” how many people went on that? BORIS MORDKOVICH: It was two people. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. And you were one of them. BORIS MORDKOVICH: Yes. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And across the whole country on your EVELO bike. BORIS MORDKOVICH: Yep. That’s right. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s just amazing. What’s the youngest person that could use one of your bikes, and what’s the oldest type of person that should be riding one of your bikes in terms of danger and speed and things of that such? BORIS MORDKOVICH: Well, in general, I would say that our customers are generally between 30-50 years old who are using the electric bike for commuting, then we have a large client base of customers over 50 who use the electric bike for recreation, but it’s actually really interesting because I can’t tell you how often we get calls from somebody who says, “I’m 82 years old and I’m looking for a way to stay active, and I’ve come across this bike.” It’s great. If we’re able to help people stay active and get outdoors and stay healthy, it’s fantastic. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Let’s go back to the challenge. If people want to read more about the challenge, they can go onto your website and then click on the Challenge button, is that correct? BORIS MORDKOVICH: That’s right. You can either go to evelo.com or electricbikechallenge.com. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How would somebody join the challenge? Do they just fill out a form, or is there some sort of process other than filling out some documents to join this challenge? BORIS MORDKOVICH: It’s actually very simple. We just have a couple of questions online where you indicate what your current commute is like, how you feel an electric bike will fit into your lifestyle, and then we’re selecting the participants by the end of this month. We’ll reach out to everybody, and if you’re selected, then we’ll send you an electric bike and help you get started. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Let’s talk about that, though. We have listeners not only around the United States, but we have listeners around the world. Where can people and how can people buy your great bike right now? BORIS MORDKOVICH: So, today, we sell bikes through the website, evelo.com, and then through a network of dealers and ambassadors. Ambassadors are actually our customers who already own our bikes, but they make it available for test rides to other people. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How many ambassadors do you have around the United States? BORIS MORDKOVICH: We have ambassadors in pretty much most of the major cities. JOHN SHEGERIAN: No kidding. In your journey, Boris, why did you end up in Cambridge? This sounds like something that should almost be in Silicon Valley with all the billionaires and millionaires making internet and technology fortunes. Cambridge, Massachusetts for a startup and a bike company? BORIS MORDKOVICH: Oh yeah. If you want to see a town that shows you the potential of cycling in the United States, other than Portland, Cambridge is a great place to be. In fact, what’s interesting is that all of the major car sharing companies, like Zipcar, the one that I was involved with called RelayRides, they all came out of Cambridge. It’s a very progressive community that is also constantly thinking about ways to improve their impact on the environment. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, do you have a lot of students from Harvard and the surrounding schools buying your EVELO bike and using it? BORIS MORDKOVICH: Well, I think that what we find is that typically electric bikes fit the lifestyles of people over 30. For somebody who is in their early 20s and they’re riding around on a regular bicycle, an electric bike doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense just yet because of the cost and because, again, they feel perfectly comfortable on their regular bike. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Right. For our listeners out there that want to buy your bike on your website, which again for our listeners is www.evelo.com, you actually even have financing for your bikes. BORIS MORDKOVICH: Yeah. So, we want to make it as easy as possible, so if somebody wants to finance, we will be happy to do it to make it more affordable. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And what’s your goal here? You’re a serial entrepreneur, you’re a young guy. What’s the opportunity? If you were pitching me and we were in a pitch meeting today and you say, “Hey, John, the marketplace for electric bikes in the United States is 30 million around the world, but in the United States, this is how many we could be selling one day,” what’s your goal and what’s your vision here? BORIS MORDKOVICH: Well, to some degree, I think that the United States, in regards to electric bikes, is about where Europe was about five years ago, just in terms of adoption. I think that we are at a really interesting crossroads where on one hand, transportation costs are starting to rise exorbitantly, so parking, gas, everything is going up constantly. On the other hand, over the last few years, we’ve seen this push towards developing more cycling infrastructure in major cities, so you’re starting to see bike sharing programs pop up. You’re starting to see bike lanes being built, and all of this is great because it makes people more comfortable with alternative transportation like cycling. Most importantly, I think that people are starting to think a lot more about the choices that they make in terms of the transportation and in terms of their lifestyle, both for their health and for the environment around us. So, when all of these things converge, I think that the electric bike market is really quite prime in the U.S. I think that we’re going to start to see the adoption just really grow over the next three to four years. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Besides the ambassadors and besides the special dealers, will it become more mainstream in bigger stores? Is that your goal? Are you going to be selling this through bigger outlet stores? BORIS MORDKOVICH: Probably not. The reason why is even if you look at traditional bicycles, you typically have local bike shops which specialize in good bikes, and then you have the big box stores that generally sell cheaper versions or kids’ bikes. I think that electric bikes, because of their cost and because of the slight complexity involved in servicing them, you will start seeing them at regular bike stores, but so much in places like Walmart or Target. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. Let’s go back to your 4,000-mile journey. How long did that actually take? BORIS MORDKOVICH: The entire trip took about 75 days, but that was in part because we did stops in major cities along the way to do presentations and talks and demos. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Right. It wasn’t a straight through. You made it a tour through the country. BORIS MORDKOVICH: Yeah. Well, one of the main objectives for us to first of all see what is cycling culture like in different cities. If you live on the East Coast or if you live on the West Coast, you see one side of it, but it doesn’t necessarily show you how people use bikes or how they feel about cycling in other cities. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And Boris, you’re successful, this is not your first venture. Google has backed you before. Tell our listeners a little bit about the journey here. When you came up with this idea, who put the money up for this idea? How many partners do you have? What’s your long-term here? Are you going to be in this for five years, ten years, or do you already have your next venture cooking up? BORIS MORDKOVICH: So, actually, as you mentioned, I’ve had a couple of projects in the past, so EVELO was funded by the proceeds from the sale of one of the previous startups. We’re in this for the long-term because with electric bikes and with the other companies, we’re always looking at ways to improve transportation, and that’s a problem where I think we have our work cut out for us. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Gotcha. And are the bikes made in the United States? Is there any other information about the bikes in terms of their greenness? Are they made out of recycled parts at all, or recycled metals or plastics? Talk a little bit about the eco-friendliness bike, besides being eco-friendly and being such a great saver as opposed to using cars. BORIS MORDKOVICH: No problem. The bikes are built of standard bicycle materials, so we use aluminum frames, lithium batteries. They do have a very long lifespan where the batteries are reusable for years, so once you get it, it’s really an investment for a number of years. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. And you have different models here. I’m on your website. Your website is great. How many different models do you have? I’m looking at three of them right now. How big is your line? BORIS MORDKOVICH: That’s right. We carry three different lines, and it has to do with our customers that we typically work with. So, all the models potentially cover the male version, the female version, step-through models which make it easier to get on and off the bike. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. So you have the Ares, the Aurora, and the Luna. BORIS MORDKOVICH: That’s right. JOHN SHEGERIAN: What’s your most popular out of all three? BORIS MORDKOVICH: You know, the Ares, I would say. We have a lot of guys who come in and they’re really attracted to the sporty look of the Ares. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Boris, it’s one thing to have one success; you’re a serial entrepreneur that goes from success to success. We’re down to the last two minutes or so. Can you just share some pearls of wisdom at your young tender age, but with all the success you’ve already had, for our aspiring and budding entrepreneurs out there in radio land that listen to this show because they want to be the next Boris Mordkovich? BORIS MORDKOVICH: Well, that’s a big loaded question. I would say two things. If you’re thinking about starting a business, first of all, I would say pick your problems well. Pick something that’s really important to solve because if you’re going to be spending 10-12 hours a day working on a startup, you might as well do something that has a positive impact on people, that will motivate you beyond the money. Then the other part is pick your team well. We’ve been really lucky with EVELO, the car sharing startup, and all of the other ones because the people that are involved, they’re really passionate. They’re happy to be involved, and they do it because they want to help solve the problem. So, those are the two things that I think are most important. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. Well, you know, I want you to be a big success, Boris. I love what you’re doing here. One day I want to try one of your bikes. I’m totally intrigued. I never even knew they existed before we started talking about you coming on the show and we read all about your great product lines. I want our listeners to go to your website, www.evelo.com, and look at these products, realize there’s financing available for them, and if they work for you, get one and try it because not only is it going to be good for your waistline, it’s also great for the carbon footprint. We just want to thank you, Boris. We want to invite you back one day to come back and share your journey. We hope your challenge is successful, and we want our listeners to sign up for you challenge. We just want to say Boris, thank you for all that you’re doing, not only for the environment, but for people out there that need a bike and need to get around in a more efficient way. Boris Mordkovich, you are truly living proof that green is good. BORIS MORDKOVICH: Thank you very much for having me.