As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Gocycle CEO & Founder Richard Thorpe.
After working as a design engineer at McLaren Cars and in the light EV industry, Richard was inspired by F1, high-performance automotive design to create the lightest in class, sustainable bike with on-demand electric power.
Richard started designing and building bicycles as a hobby. Once electric bicycles started coming over from China to Europe, he recognized the health and environmental benefits. He started Gocycle with the vision of creating the perfect e-bike to change how we get around (especially in England with congestion tax) and to create better transportation for our car-crowded cities. Richard also compensates his employees $0.52 per mile for commuting to work by electric bike and hopes that other companies will follow.
He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Boston University.
Thank you for joining us Richard! Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was born in South Africa and emigrated to the US when I was 10 years old. I went to high school in Colorado and studied mechanical engineering at Boston University. I moved to the UK to become involved in the UK Motorsport industry where I advanced my knowledge and experience designing lightweight components using high-tech materials such as carbon fibre and magnesium.
I’ve always been fascinated with bicycles and was inspired in 6th grade upon reading about the Vector human powered vehicle which was competing to win the Dupont prize — $10,000 for the first human powered vehicle to break the then US speed limit of 55 mph — spurred on by the fuel crises. I’ve always been designing and building bicycles as a hobby and interest, but after becoming aware of electric bicycles and having the vision to foresee the transformative potential for urban active commuting, I decided that there was a commercial opportunity to start a company and from my one bedroom London flat I began my journey to master the design of the world’s best urban electric bike — Gocycle!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
There have been too many funny mistakes made on my journey — progress and failure go hand in hand! I recall my first demonstration of XP1 — the first Gocycle prototype. I had the belief that Gocycles should be sold through premium branded car showrooms. After many, many months of preparation I had gotten a meeting booked with the UK brand leadership of a highly respected German car brand. I prepared meticulously for the big pitch and everything was going to plan. I arrived early and was able to set up the Gocycle in the show room prior to the meeting and frankly it looked spectacular as if it was made to be there. My hosts were equally floored by the visual impact, synergy, and potential. Following my pitch, it was time for the test ride of the amazing new Gocycle portable e-bike. With the rush of electric power, the decision maker zoomed off only to return pedaling furiously with the motor being dragged on the ground behind the Gocycle by its wires. Ouch! That day I learned that something will always not go to plan in a demo or pitch, and when that happens, you know your demo is going exactly to plan! I was probably 10 years too early into the e-bike market, e-bikes sold in car showrooms didn’t work then, but probably — but maybe Covid has shifted that adoption curve forward.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Unfortunately, I don’t have time to read books — running a company that is growing in all manner of ways is all consuming — the book I’m reading and writing at the moment is “Gocycle. No Compromises!” and the chapter we are currently on is how to prepare for the unexpected — like a global virus pandemic that sees us sell more Gocycles in one month than we sold in our entire 2013! It’s going to be a great read!
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
For me it’s about the journey of mastery. Whatever you are doing in life, there is immense purpose and satisfaction — regardless of the outcome — in the pursuit and journey to never stop learning and developing in whatever it is you set out to do. I suppose there is a bit of Star Wars Jedi here. I’m becoming a master of the art of designing the best urban electric bicycle.
When things get tough, you know you are still progressing, becoming smarter and wiser. Pitfalls and tough times provide context and reflection and are all necessary and essential parts of becoming a master of your life craft.
But when that mastery is focused on a truly trans-formative product such as the electric bicycle — things get super charged and our greater mission to accelerate the adoption of more healthy and sustainable personal urban transport becomes an overriding force within our team. Challenging days at Gocycle are all worthwhile given we are involved in bringing about real change and optimism for our local communities and our planet. Covid has super charged that mission. We are fortunate to be able to play a part in a brighter future.
It’s both rewarding and a constant source of motivation to know that the provenance of Gocycle is a force for good on our planet.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Mostly, it is about drive and energy levels. I think most entrepreneurs have an extra reservoir of energy when it comes to working on their business or product. Perhaps we all have the same size fuel tank, but entrepreneurs burn more fuel earlier in life! Everyone gets tired, but after a night of sleep, there always seems to be fuel in the tank to take some more steps forward the next day.
You also need to be good at a lot of things to set up and get a business like Gocycle going and growing, and you need to be the best in your field at probably one thing.
At heart, I’m an entrepreneur. As they say, the worst days working for your own company are often better than the best days working a job you don’t like. Certainly, there have been many days that are not so happy, and the electric bicycle business is highly competitive — very tough in fact — harder than I imagined. But I’d say I’m in the right position and career for my skills and experience as well as drive. It’s hard on family due to the sacrifices one has to make when running a small business.
It’s also important to be competitive to an extent. If Gocycle is not on a path to becoming the best urban electric bike on the planet, I’m uncomfortable. I have always been drawn to the competitive nature of the bicycle industry. The almost absurd idea and extreme challenge to believe that you can design a substantially better bike, a machine that has been optimized for 150 years, is actually quite attractive and motivating to me. Recently, the competition has ramped up even more and I feel it’s bringing out the best in me and the best in our team too. It’s fiercely competitive and Gocycle is a David and Goliath story as well which is seriously cool for our small team. I’m not sure who said it, but you hope that your competitors bring out the best in you and that they will lift your game. That’s happening now for sure.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The biggest challenge for us has been the impact on our supply chain. On the development side of things, we are seeing lead times and communication levels being broken. What we used to be able to get done in a week is now taking months, which is one of the biggest challenges to the development program of our 2021 line-up. There is panic ordering now too — just like toilet paper! It’s crazy.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
There will be many businesses that will become irrelevant post Covid, but bicycles — and electric bicycles in particular — will be more relevant than ever.
Everyone will be much more focused on their health and well-being. Staying fit and having a strong immune system is more important than ever. Conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes are known accelerators of risk of death from Covid and electric bikes can help to fix those conditions. But e-bikes offer freedom also. I’ve not been a fan of our UK governments approach to restrict movement of the healthy population during the lock down. But we saw how transformative bicycles could be as people flocked out onto the quiet streets to escape for fresh air and exercise. I had some of my best and most memorable commutes into our office during that time.
Besides avoiding unhealthy places like the underground, trains, and buses, people will also be thinking about their financial stability and no doubt about it an e-bike over the long-term will save you time and money — I believe they are possibly one of the best investments somebody can make in a post-COVID world from a health and financial perspective.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Everyone is now realizing that it’s no longer acceptable do nothing about big picture stuff. Whether it’s a virus, global warming or pollution.
If you drill down to the stats in Italy for example, you’ve got one of the highest Covid death rates because the Lombardy region has had one of the highest pollution levels caused by car emissions across Europe consistently over the last decade. Other dense cities like London and New York have suffered too with similar pollution related disease.
It’s just no longer acceptable to do nothing — I really hope Governments across the world actually do something over the long term and avoid short term political football with our communities health and wellbeing. They have a strong and clear mandate from the public to invest in infrastructure and sustainable transport solutions to make the world a better place.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We believe strongly in retail and local service being the corner stone of light electric mobility products such as electric bicycles, but we started to invest in developing our online channel many years ago. It’s still a small part of our business, but certainly Covid has accelerated growth of sales online. It’s a channel that will continue to grow in the post-Covid world and will be more important than ever.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Readers can keep an eye on Gocycle.com to see our constantly evolving product line and efforts to increase the adoption of healthier and more sustainable personal transport.