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business models, strategies and technologies

From drool-worthy e-bikes to bankable corporate value

Sleekly designed Maravelo e-bikes are yet more interesting because of the business model used to sell them

I’ve been considering an e-bike for a while: my old bike is on its last legs, and it seems a bit silly not to take advantage of modern technology to make sure I get more exercise – and that I’m less daunted by distance. Good intentions aren’t enough …

But new technology also brings new concerns. E-bike battery, motor and driveline technologies are developing in leaps and bounds, but – for example – it seems there is no agreed standard for e-bike batteries and chargers. Unfortunately, many of the first-mover manufacturers are relatively small and unlikely to survive – regardless of the brilliance of their designs. And the more drool-worthy the design (the kind I know I’m tempted by), the greater the likelihood of it getting stolen. Especially if I buy a foldable e-bike to put in the car and use when I’m in the city.

So the attractiveness of the hardware is also its biggest bugbear. There are loads of choices, technologies and configurations, but you’ll always end up with the lurking doubt that you made the wrong choice, or that there’ll be something newer/better next month. The onus is ultimately on me – the owner – to predict how e-bike technology will develop in the immediate future, and all that risk and uncertainty falls on my poor shoulders. Any purchase is a blindfolded leap into an uncertain future. If I guess wrongly, I’ll just be adding to the standard consumption dance with the devil. I certainly won’t be benefiting the planet with a collection of technological dead-end e-bikes that I can’t get to work because of dodo battery configurations, or can’t repair because of the technical complexity.

Escaping the hardware ownership mindset

Quite by chance, I recently encountered the Maravelo Hybrid Bicycle Club. And this suddenly made me realise that pretty much all my concerns stem from the traditional hardware ownership mindset – not from the e-bike itself. And that is what the Maravelo business model is addressing, and what makes it interesting. You can buy these pricey bikes if you want, but the main focus of the Maravelo setup is to help customers score a top-notch e-bike on a subscription basis – and then keep them zapping along and happy.

Maravelo PR pic

Dispelling doubt and concerns

The Maravelo business model kinda’ makes all these concerns irrelevant, dispelling doubt (at a price, of course) because the company takes on these responsibilities, via a subscription structure that involves a longer-term investment in a prima experience, configured for ongoing enjoyment. The hardware is almost irrelevant, because:

  1. You can exchange it for a newer version/different Maravelo model every two years, so you always get the best possible mobility experience, in line with your changing needs. Ride&Swop, in Maravelo-speak
  2. A subscription includes a full guarantee and all service within that two-year period. Maravelo calls this Ride&Smile

If there’s anything wrong with the complicated stuff on the bike, the whole single-arm integrated driveline is simply replaced (in minutes) so you can quickly continue cycling. This could probably be called Ride&Swop, too, but Maravelo seems to prefer the “pit stop” analogy from the car racing world of the company’s founder.

Maravelo structures its business model around providing mobility services that’re named after getting you (or your employer) to stop worrying, and enjoy the user experience – rather than the burdens of the ownership experience. It’d be easy to dwell on the details of the design and the technology – the Neox F8.11 drive, the single-sided rear frame, etc. – but that would actually just be a regression to the conventional hardware consumerism mindset. It’d miss much of the real point behind the Maravelo “purpose” message about less-effort mobility and quality of life – Maravelo aims to get you to the fun stuff faster, with less hassle and sweat, and lots more pizzazz and enjoyment.

Another Maravelo pic

Incentivisation and a benefits ecosystem

However gorgeous they may look, or however technically refined they may be, selling individual bikes isn’t a business model that’s easy to scale up. The amount of time/effort/money that goes into an individual sale – especially in these early market-building stages –  can never really fuel an upward profitability curve.

It’s our business to enhance yours

Maravelo seems to be keenly aware of the potential that lies in volume sales to the commercial/corporate market. This is why they’re trying to build communities of enjoyment, exercise and appreciation in big organisations. There are probably cost-effectiveness arguments as well – the Italian factory that builds the Maravelo bikes seems to have supplied quite a number to Italian pedalling police. But the main corporate selling arguments lie in fringe benefits, encouraging staff loyalty, HR brownie points and promoting better health – perhaps by incentivising staff to cycle to work, because the Maravelo mode is much less strenuous and has an obvious conversation-starter/coolness factor.

Fully financed, insured and with full-service backup, employer-provided e-bikes (apparently) only cost about the same as some employee commuter card. Just Ride&Smile, as Maravelo chirps. The company benefits from happier, healthier staff, with a possible extra dimension to their lives outside work,

The messaging challenge

In the e-bike market, there’s no longer anything new about good design or a subscription-based revenue model. What’s notable with the Maravelo setup and its messaging is that they avoid drowning in bike-nerd techie details, and instead zeroes in on uninterrupted, empowered mobility and rider enjoyment. “Feel it”, more than “read it”.

Not surprisingly, the company struggles with the same messaging challenges as a lot of other “service concepts” – the hardware is sexier and a whole lot easier to photograph. Intangible benefits are difficult to portray without succumbing to the usual lifestýle cliché images and metaphors – which in fact accrue more to the individual rider than to any corporate provider.

The founder’s own Instagram page does its best to tell a story of family togetherness, enjoyment and quality experiences, but that, too, is really more an illustration for the individual subscriber. Unfortunately, there’s a distinct lack of imagery and narrative for the corporate angle that is Maravelo’s volume target.

The workings and benefits of the company’s Italian/German/Danish triumvirate origins aren’t entirely clear, either, perhaps leaving the reader in doubt about volume/strength/focus – unfortunate when selling in to corporate fleet buyers. The same applies to eco-credentials and disposability. There are a few other quirks and weak points in Maravelo messaging, but nevertheless it seems like a concept with big potential. As well as drool-worthy e-bike designs.