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 both 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 he’d do would be to find a set of wheels – he eventually ended up moving 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.
He started to build an app-first bike lock – and in 2015, Donkey Republic was born.
Ovacik started by setting his sights on 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’. “They see how easy and unexpectedly safe it is, how fast they can get around,” he explains.
On seeing the same Donkey Republic bike brand in their next destination, travellers are even keener to get back on two wheels, says Ovacik: “When they can use the same app and the same service, suddenly cycling becomes so convenient.”
The CEO even says this enthusiasm lives on when his customers get home.
“If their city is not adapted to cycling, they start demanding it from their municipality, and they start their own cycling projects,” he explains.
“We, Donkey Republic, are helping build that community globally.”
Donkey Republic is rather different to most bike sharing apps because unlike many other services, you can rent your wheels for as long as you need – locking and unlocking your bike with a tap of your smartphone as you explore.
Another key difference is there are no docking stations involved, you simply return your bike to a drop-off point at the end of your rental (so it doesn’t end up discarded in the middle of the pavement – or a river).
Donkey Republic also operates through local partners – who own and manage the bikes – which means they don’t end up lost or damaged. (It costs around €1,600 for a partner to buy 20 Donkey Republic smart lock kits, and when bikes are rented out for €12 per day, partners taking home around €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.
It’s a win-win-win-win.
We know that traffic congestion, lack of space (or bad use of urban space), are a huge problem today. And, as Ovacik says, “cycling is the fastest, cheapest, and healthiest way to get around”.
In a year, the businessman plans to expand across Europe, and last month the team even set up its first city membership plans (in Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Budapest).
“On a longer term, we want cycling to become the natural choice for short distance journeys, and for Donkey Republic to be top-of-mind when that need arises,” says Ovacik.
We’re going to be downloading the app before our next city break. Will you?