Mozambikes is an innovative new bicycle enterprise in Mozambique, which is championing cycling as form of sustainable mobility - as well as offering companies a unique opportunity to get branded on their mobile ‘bikeboards’. Mozambikes is helping to create a sustainable cycling culture in Mozambique and is actively involved in promoting cycling and the social, environmental and economic benefits of this form of transport.
Green Africa Directory was thrilled to interview Lauren Thomas, Mozambikes co-founder. Lauren is originally from the United States and has an investment banking background. After completing her MBA, she traveled to Mozambique for an internship and her eco-entrepreneurial abilities and love for Mozambique resulted in the startup of Mozambikes in early 2009.
1. What was your inspiration for founding Mozambikes?
Mozambikes started as an idea during a road trip across Mozambique in March of 2009, when Rui Mesquita, the co-founder of Mozambikes, and I encountered person after person walking with massive containers of water or bundles of firewood on their heads. Given the scarcity of public transportation in rural regions, these people often have no alternatives. Even where the system of mini-buses exists, many people must walk kilometers to and from stops and are subjected to dangerous overcrowding during their rides. Lower cost than other modes of personal transport, bicycles were an obvious solution, yet we found few providers and none with prices affordable to people who truly need them. We began to discuss how we would design a bicycle business, and our excitement in planning prompted us to execute the idea.
2. What does Mozambikes offer and how is your business model different from other bicycle organizations in Africa?
Many traditional business models will not work in Mozambique, as products are targeted towards a segment of the market where purchasing power of the residents is low. We realized quickly that we needed to be innovative with our model, and that’s how we built our adjacent offering for the private sector.
Mozambikes’ model incorporates the private sector to offer two low-cost solutions: bicycles and advertising. We sell 1) fully branded bicycles, which are then distributed by the advertisers to their stakeholders, and 2) advertising for local brands on the bicycles to earn an income stream for the bicycles that permits us to sell bicycles at reduced rates. Our bicycles are painted with the colors of the advertiser, and then branded in multiple places with their logos and slogans, creating a moving billboard that can cycle through communities for years. Mozambikes is a for-profit social venture, incurring profits for the sake of scaling the mission.
Our bicycles are higher quality than similar bicycles on the market and have features important to our developmental mission, such as a carrying structure on the back, reflectors and front light. Quality bicycles are crucial to the continuity of the benefits that they can provide. Mozambikes assembles and customizes our bicycles locally with a phenomenal team of bicycle experts, and thus we also contribute to the economy with labor, regional sourcing and taxes.
3. What are the benefits of cycling as a mode of transport, particularly in the African context?
Mozambique is an agriculture-based nation, with nearly 90% of the population engaged in small-scale farming in the informal sector. These are the people living on less than $2 per day, as they face numerous obstacles in finding employment, reaching markets and carrying product, among others. Mozambikes was started to provide these Mozambicans with a form of efficient transportation: the bicycle.
Moreover, the impact of bicycles encompasses healthcare and education as well. Nearly 2 million people in Mozambique are living with HIV or AIDS. Over 3,000 people die each year from the treatable disease malaria. Bicycles allow people to access health facilities that they otherwise might not be able to reach, allowing them benefit from medicines and diagnoses to keep them healthy. An estimated 60% of adults in Mozambique cannot read and write due to the lack of sufficient schools. Bicycles enable people to travel further to reach existing schools.
4. What are the benefits to advertisers of having their logos or artwork displayed on bicycles?
There are powerful economic benefits for advertisers, as bicycles are a more efficient channel for advertisers to reach low-income markets where people do not read newspapers, own televisions or drive along main highways. Historically it has been a challenge to reach these consumers, who in aggregate are a key market segment for many local brands. Moreover, moving ads have been proven to be more effective than static ads, incurring a higher brain engagement and subsequently, double the effect of brand recognition.
The response that we have gotten from potential advertisers is phenomenal. In nearly every meeting we gain a new perspective on how bicycles fit into business here in Mozambique. Some clients purchase the bicycles to distribute to the local communities where they operate. Some have expressed a need for an in-house fleet to quickly move around large facilities and some contemplate pairing their own products with a free bicycle to increase their social impact as well as their sales.
5. What types of companies have advertised on your bikes?
There is no common theme to our customers, which proves our thesis that every company has a need for branded bicycles! A number of construction businesses have purchased bikes for their employees to quickly get around large sites. Pathfinder, a health-related NGO has purchased bicycles to facilitate their initiatives with local communities. Massmart in South Africa purchased bicycles to offer to the local community in a moving groundbreaking ceremony during the launch of a new Save-Rite supermarket in Mozambique. DSTV is offering the bicycles as a promotion to customers, and Golo (an advertising agency) has their employees ride around to spread the provocative message “Think Local” throughout the capital city of Maputo. This is just a shortlist – we have also sold to banks, NGOs with varying missions, agriculture businesses, food distributors and mobile phone carriers, among others.
6. Where in Mozambique can people buy your bikes and how much do they cost?
Businesses, organizations and individuals can order branded bicycles by contacting us at email@example.com, and can elect to deliver the bicycles to any region of Mozambique or neighboring countries. They can also visit our office in Maputo to purchase a standard Mozambike for approximately $130 USD. Reduced rate bicycles (approximately $30 USD) are sold only into rural markets following the orders placed by advertising clients, but the majority of bicycles reach the rural region completely free. To date, our advertisers generally find it most attractive to purchase the fully branded bikes and distribute to their communities, employees or other stakeholders for free.
7. When was Mozambikes founded, what have you achieved since then, and what are your goals looking to the future?
Mozambikes began assembling its first bicycles in October of 2011 and has sold over 600 branded bicycles to date. Sales over the past few months have demonstrated continual growth and we target a steady-state annual sales of 15,000 bicycles, which is conservative given our estimated need of 1.5 million bicycles in the country. To accomplish this, we must have a regular flow of advertising and therefore within five years we hope to be a standard advertising channel in the low-income markets. Our local vision is to be the prominent provider of bicycles in Mozambique, and thus our vision for the road involves a fleet of higher quality bicycles and more productive farmers.
We launched with 6 members of our branding and assembly team, and currently have 10 workers preparing and painting components and assembling bicycles. We were fortunate to hire 6 people who were already entirely fluent in bicycle assembly and work hard to ensure our orders are met on time and at top quality. They are also fundamental to our inventory and pipeline (sales) scheduling and management.
We have a lot of social ambitions for Mozambikes, which must wait until we prove the main business model before we launch. However, within five years, we hope to be campaigning for bicycle safety throughout the country and bicycle lanes in Maputo, building a network of entrepreneurs to provide aftermarket bicycle repairs and engaged in some of the new bicycle technologies discussed above.
8. Is bike culture increasing in Mozambique? In other areas of the world, events and groups like critical mass, open streets and car free days seem to be increasing in popularity.
Bike culture is certainly increasing in Mozambique, but Mozambikes’ mission also encompasses building this culture out further. Mozambikes is re-instating a critical mass chapter in Maputo that dissolved when the previous coordinators moved away, and maintains a close relationship with the country’s professional cycling team and club team. Two members of the professional team are affiliated with Mozambikes, one as a reseller of bicycles to support the massification of quality bicycles and one as our factory manager. Vicente Mafumo emerged as a leader of our team from the first week and was promoted just as early to lead the branding and assembly operations in Mozambique.
An obstacle to building a stronger culture for bicycles in Mozambique is rider safety, as drivers are still unaware of how to share the road with riders and there are no protected margins on the roads. Mozambikes is launching a safety campaign to educate both riders and drivers on how to share the road, and will be pitching a network of bicycle lanes to the local municipality.
9. Are the bikes made locally and are local materials used to make them? Do you use sustainability principles and practices in your operation?
We procure everything locally that we can, and purchase all paints, branding materials, tolls and labor from Mozambique. Unfortunately, there is not a component manufacturing facility in Southern Africa and so we do import components. This is a potential exciting expansion opportunity for Mozambikes in the future as well. The bicycles are assembled locally from nut and bolt and spoke, however, leveraging the talent and work ethic of our entirely local operations team.
All bicycles are assembled by hand, and therefore energy and water usage is nearly nonexistant. Each bicycle that we put out into the market reduces the carbon footprint of someone who would otherwise be traveling by car, taxi or minibus. Given the passion that our workers have for cycling, they nearly all elected to bicycle to work before we even had product on the ground! We also provided bicycle transport for a volunteer who helped grow our impact this past summer.
10. What are some great cycling routes in Maputo?
Sunday mornings in Maputo are perfect for cycling. When the roads are calm and largely absent of cars, we love to hop on our bikes to discover the city. This ride is particularly enjoyable when people are visiting Maputo for the first time, as the bicycle is the ideal form of transportation to see all of the sights in the lower area of town (the “Baixa”) or up the hills where the views of Maputo Bay and the town Catembe across the bay cause visitors to wonder if they should ever leave.
11. How can the rest of the world get involved?
When we announced the launch of Mozambikes, our family and friends had a similar reaction: How can I contribute? To access the resources of this network, and of the philanthropic power of the developed world overall, we launched a sister organization to gather donations to give away bicycles in Mozambique to people earning less than the national minimum wage. Visit our website at www.mozambikes.com/en to donate a bicycle or get inspired by the pictures of some of our donation recipients to date.