Michel Willems, cofounder and CEO of Rotterdam-based startup BimBimBikes, managed to expand his “Booking.com for rental bikes” business to over 60 countries with only €250.000 in funding. In his interview on the Startup Milestones podcast he revealed how he managed to do that. He also talks about the cultural differences he met in various countries, and how that effected his sales approach. And he talks about the advantages but also the challenges of starting BimBimBikes as a “side project” to the web agency, he and his cofounder had founded earlier.
The Netherlands first – and then 60 more countries
When Michel started BimBimBikes, he went door to door of bicycle rental shops to convince the owners to join his online booking platform. Once he had figured out the sales pitch, he handed the key to his car to an intern, who was tasked with driving all across The Netherlands to acquire more bike rental shops. The only rule was, “that my intern returns the car and the key every night”, Michel laughs. Once that process was streamlined, Michel approached and recruited exchange students from university. He used their language skills to have them call bicycle rental shops in their home country and convince them to sign up to BimBimBikes, too.
Cultural differences, or: “show me the contract” vs. “no problem”
Michel and his team noticed some interesting differences. The types of questions that bike rental shop owners asked varied starkly between countries and regions. “In Germany, they often asked us, whether BimBimBikes was member of ADAC motorclub; and they said: first send us a contract to review, then we will take a look”, recalls Michel. In other countries they just signed up, and were happy that BimBimBikes brought them new customers for taking a 15% commission.
Synergies and difficulties of a “spin off” BimBimBikes
Michel and his cofounder of BimBimBikes ran a successful web agency business long before the idea of BimBimBikes even came up. When Michel started working on BimBimBikes, he had to draw clear lines between this new startup and the agency business. The agency would do the web page of BimBimBikes, offer office space and other resources – but very early on, Michel and his business partner defined rules, calculated costs and budgeted time. Michel says, it is very important to draw these clear lines – otherwise you can trick yourself into thinking that your startup is running better than it actually is. Having an overview of what time and money resources go into the startup project is important to actively manage it.