With 40 cities saddled, we sit down with Donkey Republic CEO Erdem Ovacik.
Travelling across Europe is on many a bucket list.
But today, whether you’re backpacking, interrailing, or roadtripping across the continent, you’ll likely use another form of transport too: a bike.
In just two short years, the bike-sharing app Donkey Republic has already been used by 86,000 riders from across the globe. And with bikes on the streets of more than 40 cities across Europe, it’s perfect for holiday-makers with a hunger for culture.
Admittedly, the company hasn’t got a huge number of bikes in action (its 4,000 strong fleet is significantly fewer than London’s ‘boris bikes’).
But with rising popularity, and smart business model, it’s a company amateur and long standing cyclists will love.
Donkey Republic’s CEO and co-founder, Erdem Ovacik was just 16 when he fell in love with bikes after getting his first job at a cycle repair shop.
Later as he moved from city to city, the first thing on his to-do list would always be to find a set of wheels – he even moved to Europe’s cycling utopia, Copenhagen.
Here, his roommate would share a number of bikes with friends using manual combination locks – a system that prompted Ovacik to ask why there wasn’t a better way.
Together with his co-founders, he started building an app-first Bluetooth bike lock – and in 2015, Donkey Republic was born.
Ovacik first set his sights on meeting the needs of one group of people: tourists.
“The easiest way to make people saddle up is when they’re visiting a city, especially if it’s a city where cycling is already part of its culture,” Ovacik explains.
People simply want to get around ‘like the locals do’, he adds: “They see how easy and unexpectedly safe it is, how fast they can get around, and how everything seems more reachable – they have a great time.”
On seeing the same Donkey Republic bike brand in their next destination, travellers are even keener to get back on two wheels, says Ovacik:
“They can use the same app, the same service they’re already used to, cycling suddenly becomes so convenient.”
The CEO even says this enthusiasm lives on when his customers get home.
“If their city is not adapted to cycling already, they start demanding it from their municipality, they support projects aimed at improving the bike infrastructure, and they start their own projects,” he explains.
“We, Donkey Republic, are helping build that community globally.”
Donkey Republic is rather different to most bike sharing apps.
An in-app map helps you find the nearest bike, but unlike many other on-demand bike services, you can rent it out for as long as you need.
You can unlock your bike with a tap of your smartphone, before riding it and locking it as and when you need.
Although Donkey Republic bikes do not require docking stations, another key difference is you return your bike to a drop-off location at the end of your rental (so it doesn’t end up discarded in the middle of the pavement – or a river).
Instead, Donkey Republic operates through local partners – who own and manage the bikes – so the team can keep tabs on where bikes are located and make sure they aren’t lost or damaged.
These partners invest in ‘donkey kits’ to set their bikes up with smart locks (it costs around 1600 euro for 20 kits) and are advised to charge around 12 euros per day (which would see the partner taking home 9.6 euros, to Donkey Republic’s 2.4).
There are also no deposits, no keys, and no opening hours: you can rent up to five bikes at once – and you don’t have to be a resident of a specific city or country to rent a Donkey bike.
“Donkey Republic and their local bike owners earn all the revenue from the actual rentals – thus, we have to deliver the best service and think of the ways to get more people, more often, for longer periods of times, on bikes,” Ovacik explains.
We know that traffic congestion, lack of space (or bad use of urban space), are among reasons that cycling – and bike sharing – is on the rise.
“If a city’s infrastructure allows it, cycling would be the fastest, cheapest, healthiest and most fun way to get around … changing the face of the city, making it greener and more liveable,” says Ovacik.
In a year, the businessman plans to expand even further in Europe, and last month the team even set up its first city membership plans aimed at locals (these are available in Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Budapest).
“On a longer term, we want cycling to become the natural choice for anyone who needs a transportation means for short distances, and for Donkey Republic to be top-of-mind when that need arises,” says Ovacik.
We’re certainly going to be downloading the app before our next city break. Will you?