Uphill Progress: The Charitable Bike Model that’s on Observe to 7-Determine Gross sales

The Bike Mission is a neighborhood that intakes used bikes, restores and resells them whereas donating bikes to refugees. The group permits newcomers to have a cheaper and lively technique to commute whereas adjusting to life within the UK. On this episode of Shopify Masters, we communicate to founder Jem Stein on how the neighborhood was impressed by a friendship and it scaled whereas sustaining influence objectives in addition to profitability.

For the total transcript of this episode, click on right here.

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Present Notes

The friendship that impressed a charitable group 

Shuang: Inform us what impressed you to begin The Bike Mission?

Jem: I used to be a scholar on the London Faculty of Economics in London, clearly, and I joined a befriending scheme for unaccompanied refugees who have been then asylum seekers, and thru that, I met a boy known as Adam. He was an asylum seeker from Darfur. Adam arrived with actually simply the garments on his again and he was fleeing the preventing in Sudan. And he arrived and he mentioned, “I am a refugee and I wish to apply for asylum.” And within the UK, meaning you are given simply £35 per week to reside off and you are not allowed to work. And that limbo can final a few years while your declare is being processed, it takes a really very long time. And one of many massive prices there may be really the price of public transport. So a bus go by itself is £21 per week, and that does not even embody the tube or trains or something. And in case you’ve ever been to London, getting round London on buses alone will not be that simple. So one of many first issues I did for him was getting him a motorbike and that allowed us to do actions collectively. So take him to do some sport or take him to the cinema, and it meant that he might entry sources, services, and all types of companies that he would not be capable to afford to entry if he did not have entry to a motorbike. After which after I graduated from college, I bought considering a bit and arrange The Bike Mission in my spare time. We sort of collected outdated bikes, mounted them up, donated them to refugees, regionally. I ended up quitting my job and establishing as an unbiased charity, and we launched in March 2013.

Jem Stein along with volunteer Silla in the workshop of The Bike Project.
Jem Stein together with volunteer Silla within the workshop of The Bike Mission.  Bike Mission

Shuang: I wish to ask about this crossroads you have been after. How did you make the choice to not take job provides and begin one thing of your individual?

Jem: I feel the factor to keep in mind is I used to be very younger and really silly. Individuals usually say to me that, “Oh, you’re courageous to begin The Bike Mission when you did not have any cash.” And the reality is, I actually did not perceive what I used to be getting myself into. I pulled it off, however I can faux that it was a calculated threat and that these are the components I weighed up, however actually I sort of did not actually perceive what I used to be getting myself in for. However I feel when it comes to the upside, I felt like I would carried out my analysis in regards to the influence it might have and I felt that it could possibly be actually massive.There are 30,000 asylum seekers arriving within the UK yearly, and there are many bikes deserted in London. Round 27,000 bikes are deserted yearly in London. So you have got an enormous quantity of bikes, you have bought an enormous quantity of people who want them, so my imaginative and prescient merely was to match the 2. When it comes to logistics and enterprise mannequin and marketing strategy, I sort of figured that each one out as I went, slightly than having some sort of grand plan after I left my final job.

Shuang: How did you progress outdoors of your good friend circle and your volunteer circle to begin scaling this concept and really take care of the logistics of turning this right into a full blown enterprise?

Jem: Step one is you need to have a enterprise mannequin. Initially after I checked out it I felt like we might elevate cash by means of fundraising. However fairly shortly I noticed we have been getting bikes donated to us, proper? So we accumulate all bikes, refurbish them, and donate them to refugees and asylum seekers. What I noticed fairly shortly is we have been getting fairly good bikes that have been new and fairly priceless, individuals have been really not simply donating us outdated garbage, rusty bikes that might haven’t value a lot. And the opposite factor that was occurring is there was at that time and to an extent nonetheless is an enormous development in the direction of classic bikes. Classic bikes turned very modern in London for a protracted time period. So we’re getting these actually priceless sources and in addition it was not that nice to be donating them as a result of refugees did not have a safe place to retailer them. So, in case you donated these bikes they’re extra prone to be stolen than the bikes that might be extra applicable to refugees.

So we began promoting initially by means of eBay. We began sending bikes by means of there, refurbished them on a small scale. And shortly we realized that truly that had potential, the bikes have been promoting fairly shortly, we have been getting numerous demand. However we wished to scale that fairly shortly. So round 2016 we raised some funding into the Bike Mission to construct a web site and in addition to construct up our capability to refurbish the bikes basically. And we launched our store on Shopify in early 2016, which was actually thrilling and what that meant is that we might construct extra of a model than on eBay. 

It meant we might use our Google Advert Grants. In order a nonprofit, we get a grant from Google each month in credit on Google. And it meant additionally that we might upsell so we might promote different bikes, we might promote equipment. And thru that we have constructed enterprise over time. So in our first 12 months, I feel we solely bought about £20,000 by means of the web site and that was possibly 2016, our first full 12 months of buying and selling. And in 2020, we did about £520,000 by means of the web site. So in 4 years, we ramped up fairly comparatively shortly, helped partially by the growth in biking across the pandemic. So on the coronary heart of it, it was the enterprise mannequin that is allowed us to develop and that in itself additionally allowed us to boost extra charitable donations off the again of it. So yeah, that is allowed us to do this.

Switching gears: Learn how to alter the enterprise mannequin as you scale 

Shuang: How did you come to phrases with pivoting and adjusting your enterprise mannequin to incorporate new bikes?

Jem: I feel initially once we have been doing a handful of bikes, it did not really feel like such an enormous deal. In the present day it is round 50-50, and we made that call consciously about a few years in the past that we have been going to extend the proportion of bikes that we have been promoting. And that felt like an enormous deal as a result of in some methods it looks like, properly, really these are bikes that could possibly be going to refugees, however actually the useful resource, the bike actually is a useful asset. However we get heaps and plenty of bikes, proper? There are heaps extra bikes that we might get in and refurbish, what we actually want is more cash to pay mechanics to refurbish the bikes to donate, proper? So for each bike we promote, we are able to donate round three bikes to refugees. So once you take a look at that sort of return on funding, it is sort of a no brainer.However we nonetheless get questions at present, “Why accomplish that many bikes get bought?” Individuals really feel in the event that they donate their bike to us or a motorbike’s donated to us, they’d prefer to see it go to a refugee, and so we sort of have to clarify to them that, by promoting it, we’ll be capable to fund three bikes for refugees. So it’s nonetheless a little bit of a pressure within the mannequin, nevertheless it’s one thing we’re consistently coping with and consistently addressing and really consistently adjusting as properly.

  A few cyclists gather outside of The Bike Project for an event.
Incorporating new bikes allowed The Bike Mission to achieve new clients and have a relentless provide of bikes. Bike Mission

Shuang: Inform us extra about balancing the enterprise and charity sides of The Bike Mission? 

Jem: Fundraising is an entire different division. So we’ve got a workforce of fundraisers that elevate cash for us, I assist as properly. Then we’ve got a buying and selling arm as properly, so it is a bit totally different, however working a nonprofit is like having two companies, there’s the enterprise the place you are delivering the service that creates an influence and there is the enterprise the place you are elevating the cash to fund that service. It is virtually like in a personal enterprise you may need two earnings streams, two utterly separate companies, one makes a loss, one makes a revenue and the revenue subsidizes the loss. 

Shuang: Inform us a little bit bit in regards to the totally different groups and the totally different people concerned. 

Jem: On the core of what we do are bike mechanics, so that they refurbish the outdated bikes. And we make use of about 16 bike mechanics throughout London and Birmingham, the place we even have a base. We even have a fundraising and advertising and marketing workforce sort of collectively, they work collectively, and in addition we’ve got an operations workforce to help the gathering of bikes, upkeep of the workshops and supply of bikes. We additionally ship a few different applications round donating bikes. So sort of our core work is donating bikes to refugees. And since 2013, we have donated virtually 8,000 bikes. Each bike comes with a lock, a helmet, and a brief cycle coaching course.We additionally run a mission known as Pedal Energy, and we make use of a few employees to ship that. Via that we educate refugee girls who’ve by no means cycled earlier than to cycle for the primary time. After which the rationale we do that’s, in our expertise many ladies that we come throughout who’re asylum seekers refugees have by no means cycled earlier than as a result of they arrive from international locations the place it is not socially acceptable for girls to cycle. And so we educate them from scratch, they will profit in the identical method. Then we’ve got an individual that runs a mission known as Bike Buddies, the place we match refugees with volunteers to go on rides collectively and attempt to construct extra of a neighborhood and help them with that private growth in addition to giving them the bike.

Shuang: How’s the journey of letting go of tasks, increasing the workforce and in a way constructing out this entire group of people to hold out this imaginative and prescient that you simply had?

Jem: It has been actually difficult if I am trustworthy. Letting go of accountability, I feel emotionally will not be one thing that I struggled with. I like delegating, I like hiring somebody that is actually good at one thing that I am not that good at that I have been sort of making do . We have had a advertising and marketing supervisor who is aware of much more about advertising and marketing than me, for instance. However piecing all of it collectively, constructing the workforce, growing the workforce and managing the infrastructure, it has been an actual problem, significantly as a result of I used to be fairly inexperienced after I began and I’ve needed to sort of be taught as I am going. It has been vastly difficult and I am nonetheless studying. And the final 12 months of the pandemic has positively actually pushed us laborious when it comes to how’d you retain an operation going and a workforce motivated by means of a number of lockdowns, which we have had right here, by means of lots of of hundreds of deaths? Everybody is aware of somebody that is died from COVID and it has been a extremely difficult interval.

Tuning up logistics within the wake of a pandemic-borne demand

Shuang:  It looks like everybody wished a motorbike throughout COVID and also you’re confronted with logistics restrictions. Inform us about managing these two features of enterprise. 

Jem: Arduous is the very brief reply to your query. I quote him actually loosely right here, however I feel, so Jeff Bezos a couple of years in the past wrote a abstract to traders the place he talks about sustaining the values of a startup, the advantages to begin up as you scale, and I feel one of many issues that we have carried out properly, that he talks about is what he calls excessive velocity decision-making. And that additionally means me not having to log out on each determination, and I feel what we’ve got managed to keep up as we have grown, so with 30 employees members now, we’re nonetheless an beginner in comparison with Amazon. It is a comparability very loosely, however I feel one of many issues that we tried to do is preserve that. So there’s not seven committees that you need to undergo to decide, and that did enable us to pivot actually shortly within the face of the pandemic and react each to new alternatives but in addition to new challenges round logistics. But it surely’s been vastly difficult and for the primary interval was laborious, however not less than it was summer time so individuals could possibly be out and about. We had a very nice summer time final 12 months. 

When the brand new lock down was launched in December of 2020 then it did not actually ease until March thirty first. To have a full lockdown for that interval was positively the hardest three months of my life, when it comes to preserving the workforce motivated by means of a grey, horrible English winter. And with enormous logistical difficulties round COVID, it was difficult as a result of our mechanics have been entering into however our workplace employees weren’t. And so we wished to maintain our mechanics protected, however proceed to leverage our influence by donating bikes and nonetheless generate income to cowl that value by promoting bikes and to maintain the mechanics keep protected and supporting them adequately with a workforce that was immediately all working remotely was vastly difficult. And hopefully we’ll by no means should undergo that once more, nevertheless it was very laborious.

 The Bike Project’s workshop filled with customers, volunteers, and mechanics.
IDemand from customers and refugees was at an all time excessive throughout COVID-19, the place it outpaced provide by over ten folds. Bike Mission

Shuang: Was there any level the place it appeared just like the demand was too excessive that you did not have sufficient time or the logistics in place to fulfill that ever by means of COVID?

Jem: Via most of COVID, the demand in each senses from refugees and from clients outstrips provide. Usually we goal for a conversion fee of for gross sales, that is about 3% to 4%. Final summer time, our conversion fee was about 9% as a result of we simply could not sustain with the demand. We have been promoting extra bikes than ever, we have been refurbishing extra bikes than ever for the web site, however we simply could not sustain with our site visitors that was coming to the web site, that was the distinction. So it was fairly mad, but in addition from refugees as a result of unexpectedly, the problem of London isn’t just that public transport is pricey, however the public transport is harmful within the sense that you simply’re extra prone to catch COVID. So enormous demand from refugees and that is been actually, actually difficult managing individuals. We have now nowhere close to assembly that demand, I feel at peak we had about 1200 individuals on our ready checklist and to place that in context we give away about 120 bikes a month, so you are able to do the mathematics when it comes to how lengthy that was going to take us to get to individuals. So it has been very difficult and it has been laborious to handle the expectations of refugees that it may take us a very long time to get them a motorbike and that is been robust. However look, we have ramped up and we’re actually lucky that biking is a type of issues that is carried out properly and we have massively expanded and reached extra refugees than ever earlier than. So we’re actually grateful that we have had the chance to do extra as a result of biking has been a lot.

Shuang: Did you make any modifications to the web retailer in any technique to anticipate or help with the upper site visitors? And did you alter your advertisements throughout that interval as properly?

Jem: Our advertisements sort of remained the identical, we launched a couple of extra merchandise and added advertisements for these. So we began promoting new bikes for the primary time, which went properly final summer time and we launched a higher vary of equipment for individuals to purchase with their bikes. We additionally used a couple of totally different cross-selling and upselling apps and options of Shopify. And we launched the tipping operate that I feel was launched final summer time. We additionally used apps that give reductions on equipment once you added it to the basket, the tipping operate after which additionally put up checkout as properly. So simply giving individuals a number of alternatives to become involved, to help us in a method that we most likely would not have gotten away with. Having that sort of person journey pre-COVID, individuals would have been delay by having so many alternative distractions on the way in which to the checkout, however due to the additional demand it massively elevated the typical basket measurement. In all probability about 17%, which is massive for us.

Biking into new territory

Shuang: Talking of recent bikes, how was the choice strategy of that pivot? 

Jem: I feel we have been capitalizing on the demand, but in addition in case you go on our store web page and it could be fairly dangerous, there’d be a handful of second hand bikes there. So what new bikes did was enable the entire thing to really feel like there have been extra choices for purchasers. Even when they weren’t shopping for a brand new bike. So new bikes allowed the second hand bikes as properly to really feel extra enticing, I feel in that method, but in addition have been in their very own proper a superb choice and we bought a number of them. Ecommerce is way simpler in case you purchase a product line and then you definately simply promote it by means of them, proper? Whereas with our bike, our second hand bikes, each bike’s distinctive, so each bike wants its personal itemizing, and that in itself is an effort each when it comes to, gathering the main points, images, all of that stuff. Whereas with new bikes, it is simply, you checklist it as soon as and then you definately checklist the product as soon as with the scale assorted for highest and sort of variance if there are them after which that is it, till they’ve all bought out and then you definately simply order some extra. In order that’s a lot simpler from a retailer administration perspective, than… We have got the method down when it comes to itemizing second hand bikes, nevertheless it’s nonetheless time, effort and cash. 

Shuang: How lengthy is the typical strategy of receiving a donated bike to look on-line? 

Jem: We have now a triaging system. In order the bike comes, it is principally primarily based on how a lot work the bike wants. So on the quickest, it is going to take possibly 10 days to undergo the system and be out, from the purpose it is donated to on-line, on the slowest it may be 4 to 5 weeks if it is a bike that possibly wants extra work. It is an entire course of and the bike needs to be assessed, it needs to be labored on, it has to then be assessed to examine if it’s protected, photographed, added to the web site after which described and the options listed.

Shuang: What are another applications and avenues you’re planning to increase into?

Jem: One of many issues that we tried during the last 12 months is in selecting bike servicing and permitting individuals to e book by means of the web site. And that has been actually efficient and we wish to scale up. We’re additionally wanting into trial cross-sell alternatives when individuals e book in for bike servicing. And that is one thing, we’re utilizing our Google Grants to drive site visitors to these pages and making an attempt to ramp that up. And that is been an actual success story this 12 months, we’re investing in additional capability there. We’re investing in a brand new vary of small merchandise. So we have got a brand new vary of motorbike jerseys. The opposite factor that we’re doing is that we have added a donation as a product. So one of many merchandise that you simply cross-sell is the power to donate a motorbike to a refugee or donate equipment, we’ve got totally different ranges you could donate at with totally different costs. And that is been most likely the simplest factor when it comes to elevating donations by means of the web site, as a result of it is simple for individuals simply so as to add on £20. And in the event that they’re shopping for a motorbike they will simply empathize with the necessity for a refugee to have equipment or have an entire bike or no matter product degree that they select. And that is labored fairly properly for us.

Promoting bikes—and a trigger

Shuang: Is it the correct assumption to assume is, you aren’t essentially competing towards the conventional bike store, however your advertising and marketing is extra nearly consciousness and permitting individuals to find your group and realizing about your initiatives?

Jem: So when it comes to bikes, most individuals purchase a motorbike from us having clicked on an advert about second hand bikes or low-cost bikes or one thing round eBay or one other model that sells low-cost bikes. We have now totally different components to our advertising and marketing, totally different earnings streams and totally different advertising and marketing methods. Positively our fundraising is extra about consciousness elevating and content material and producing curiosity, however with our gross sales the preliminary step is that folks click on on our advert round bikes after which on our web site, we attempt to promote them on the trigger. So you are not simply shopping for a motorbike, you are shopping for bikes for refugees, so that is supporting a refugee. Though what piques their consideration is the value and the worth that they are getting for the bike, what helps help the conversion is the good stuff, that is sort of how we strategy it.

 A Mechanic and cyclist greet each other outside of the shop of The Bike Project.
Incorporating The Bike Mission’s story and mission all through the gross sales funnel is key for consciousness and gross sales. Bike Mission

Shuang: Is there something specific that you simply do with the gross sales funnel or steps inside the buying journey to include particulars in regards to the mission of The Bike Mission? 

Jem: There’s positively extra we are able to do, however one of many issues that we do is, once you click on on a product web page, you know the way with most merchandise you’d have a listing of options, the highest of the checklist of options is, “This bike pays for X quantity of refugees to get bikes” So that you’re sort of integrating it into the place persons are going to look anyway to ensure the story comes up. After which yeah, we’ve got blogs alongside the underside of product pages and ensuring that the product web page actually interweaves the tales. I feel that is a extremely essential bit when it comes to upselling the trigger. And after they add it to their basket, we then give them the chance both to purchase an adjunct or to purchase a motorbike for a refugee, so basically a donation however you sort of pitch it as, “Why do not you buy a motorbike for a refugee?” After which that method you sort of additionally interweave the story. Then lastly, there’s our signing up for our mailing lists. So individuals have to decide on to join our mailing checklist, and we develop our mailing checklist pretty shortly by means of individuals signing up and wanting to listen to extra about us. 

Shuang: What are some issues that you simply really feel like individuals ought to know earlier than they begin a social influence enterprise?

Jem: I meet plenty of social entrepreneurs that begin a company purely as a result of they’re captivated with our trigger. And truly, that is usually not a superb purpose to begin a company relying on the mannequin. So one of many first issues I did after I went full-time was I skilled as a motorbike mechanic, and I used to be a garbage bike mechanic, I am nonetheless a garbage bike mechanic, I am a joke within the workshop, a working joke about how dangerous a motorbike mechanic I’m. And truly, that was top-of-the-line issues that occurred to me as a result of I noticed I wasn’t superb and the place I add worth and the place I needs to be will not be working as a mechanic. It should not be me who’s spending time fixing bikes, it needs to be the founder that’s main the group and working the group.

And I see in different organizations that I am concerned with, or after I mentor different CEOs, there’s usually a pressure as a result of the founder or founding CEO or managing direct assume that the easiest way to pursue their trigger is to discovered a company they usually assume they will be on the frontline that method. However really once you run a company, you are doing issues like enterprise plans, managing individuals, taking a look at finance, spreadsheets, HR, all of that stuff. Whereas lots of people I feel have a little bit of a disaster after they understand really the place they need to be spending their time will not be the place they wish to be spending their time, and then you definately understand that after they began the group. In order that’s often the recommendation I give to individuals, is it is a little bit totally different in case you’re simply working it in your spare time as a voluntary group, however if you wish to run it as a full-time enterprise and also you wish to scale it, take into consideration what you need your function to be and the way you get pleasure from spending your time. As a result of it might be that in case you actually get pleasure from engaged on a trigger you must work in a company, go get a job in a company which lets you try this and let another person fear in regards to the stuff that entrepreneurs want to fret about.

Being lifelike about monetary sustainability as a basis 

Shuang: What do you concentrate on the 2 balancing sides and sort of the stress that exists inside this enterprise?

Jem: I feel that each one charities must generate income principally. There’s a pressure to an extent, and in all charities there’s a little little bit of a push and pull between the 2 wings, however basically everybody on the sort of operation service supply facet understands that somebody has to pay their salaries. And in the end nothing else can occur in case you’re not a solvent group, in case you’re not a financially sustainable group, nobody will get a motorbike, that is sort of how it’s. Monetary sustainability isn’t just an element that you simply weigh up towards different components, monetary sustainability is the muse of your group. If you do not have foundations, nothing occurs. So I feel our workforce by and huge get that, and I am not saying there’s by no means a battle, there’s by no means a pressure or push and pull between it, however I feel basically we have managed to get individuals to grasp how essential that’s. 

Shuang: What do you assume that made you determine to pursue this past a volunteering expertise?

Jem:  I by no means noticed myself as an entrepreneur. I am not a type of individuals who grew up considering, “I will begin a enterprise someday, I simply want to search out the correct enterprise to begin,” that was by no means me, I completely by no means thought I’d go down this path. In order that sort of begs the query, how did I find yourself on it? And I feel, I suppose a combination of things, I feel positively my expertise with Adam, the refugee that I mentored and befriended by means of the scheme was positively pivotal in getting me there. I feel I at all times had plenty of empathy with the refugee trigger. My mother and father are South African, they don’t seem to be refugees however they moved to the UK from apartheid, South Africa, and speak usually in regards to the challenges that they confronted as migrants shifting to the UK within the ’70s. And I am Jewish, and I feel within the Jewish expertise and historical past, the refugee trigger and empathy in the direction of refugees is big due to the Jewish expertise of being refugees. I at all times felt an affinity to the trigger, and I suppose that mixed with my expertise with Adam and seeing the influence that it had made me curious to sort of discover what extra influence I might have by means of that. And right here I’m, greater than eight years later I am nonetheless pursuing it.

 A mechanic fixing up a bike in The Bike Project’s workshop.
Scaling a charitable enterprise additionally means stepping again from the frontlines to make sure logistically the group runs easily. Bike Mission

As I mentioned initially there was no grand plan, it was, “Let’s give this a world and see the way it goes,” after which clearly I needed to develop a plan as I went. However yeah, I feel these are sort of the principle causes. I say I by no means noticed myself as an entrepreneur, however there have been lots of people from LSE, “Go work within the metropolis of London, go work in finance or banking or regulation.” That by no means actually appealed to me, I at all times wished to work someplace the place I felt like I used to be having an influence. In all probability, I did not take into consideration this, however that was at all times the trail I feel I used to be on.

Shuang: What did your family and friends really feel about this determination? And the way did you’re feeling in these preliminary days and years of setting this up?

Jem: So my mother and father have at all times been actually supportive, and I used to be capable of take a threat firstly, from my private monetary perspective. And so they did not must bail me out, however I knew that if all of it went very badly fallacious, I wasn’t going to be homeless. And that my mother and father would help me, and meaning you possibly can take the sort of dangers that I took. And that I feel it is actually good for entrepreneurs to be trustworthy about these issues. I feel plenty of entrepreneurs inform tales about rags to riches, “Oh, I began my enterprise in my lavatory with only a piece of paper and a pen and look the place I’m now.” However I had actually nice help from my mother and father initially, when it comes to being that security web and permitting me to take dangers. And they also’ve at all times been vastly supportive fortunately. My associates, they’re all vastly supportive. I think about a few of them thought I used to be a bit loopy, however everybody sort of saved their counsel to themselves initially. I had an excellent mentor in my final job who had left his job as a CEO, and left his job and arrange a company which is now fantastically profitable. And his affect, not essentially intentionally, however seeing what he’d carried out and seeing him achieve success positively allowed me to assume that it was doable.