Valerie Wolff of VELLO bike tells us about the first self-charging folding e-bike.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Valerie Wolff: Thank you! We’re doing fine and keeping afloat. Most importantly, so far, no one from our family or employees got sick, and everyone’s still upbeat despite the difficult circumstances.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded the VELLO bike.
Valerie Wolff: I’m the co-founder of the business. Together with my partner, Valentin Vodev, we founded the VELLO bike in July 2017. But in fact, in my head, the company already existed seven years earlier when my partner and I prepared for a bike trip to Cuba. I believe that the combination of my partner’s vision and passion for functional and aesthetic products bundled with my passion to make good and impactful ideas grow is what made the business successful. I would not have had the ability to create a new product from scratch. He would not have been able to mobilize resources, create partnerships and take care of day-to-day business, including all matters relating to finances. He does what he loves to do, I do what I love to do, and that’s how great things come about. Before starting the business, I worked for about 10 years as an employee for international organizations focusing amongst others on policy research on countries’ business infrastructure and public-private partnerships. I also worked as a consultant advising and supporting small and medium-sized enterprises in the mobility sector. My partner, Valentin Vodev, is an industrial designer, and prior to focusing on the VELLO bike, he was making designs for other manufacturers and accompanied those from prototype to production-ready products.
How does VELLO bike innovate?
Valerie Wolff: We are an R&D hub and manufacturer of innovative mobility products. Our flagship project is the VELLO BIKE+, the first self-charging folding e-bike. With the innovative K.E.R.S technology, we have managed to develop one of the lightest e-bikes on the market. We have more than a decade of experience in designing and overseeing production processes for bicycles, baby carriages, and electric mopeds as services to third parties. So bringing out our own product to market and embedding our DNA in a business was a logical next step. In the meantime, we have over 15 registered technical international patents.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Valerie Wolff: The corona pandemic has affected the bike business globally: there’s a huge surge in demand while the producers haven’t built up their capacities quickly enough to deliver the requested components to companies. I believe that it is near impossible for anyone who wants to enter the bike business now, orders for components are placed years in advance because of the boom. We were lucky that we got a head start and have good relations with key suppliers.
The crisis showed once more that bikes are essential to the economy. And as we’ve seen during the last economic downturn in 2008, the bike business is crisis-proof. It grows even during the economic crisis, just as consumer behaviors change slightly as to the type of bike customers want to buy. Especially this past year, we’ve seen a growth in non-electric bikes – I think that people have become more conscious of their health and environment. Biking helps to build your immunity system, keeps you fit, and the environment clean!
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Valerie Wolff: We believe it’s important to nurture motivated and talented employees and let those who are not a cultural or skill fit to our company go quicker. It is important to catch those signs of resignation early enough so that you can have an open talk with the employee and see if changes are possible to make him/her happy in the company. When it is not possible, then those difficult decisions are needed, also one-sided if there’s no other choice.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Valerie Wolff: As a start-up, there are so many things to do and think about. And usually, thinking of a system that will allow you to scale right from the onset is not on the front of one’s mind. Retrospectively, it would have been important to prioritize that from the get-go rather than waiting until you find yourself using 5 different software programs, all of which are not integrated. Now we use a CRM that is linked to our Sales, to our Inventory, our Marketing, and to a Project Management Tool, and which is accessible to all relevant employees. So if you person’s not around, someone else can easily take over while at the same time, we save on time not having to export/import contacts. So, in the end, setting up a scalable system would have helped us to free up time for more important things. Maybe we would have grown even faster.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Valerie Wolff: Yes, we did. Grants are limited according to the de-minimis-regulation providing up to EUR 200.000 in 3 years. It was immensely helpful: first, to have a jury believe in your project and team before you even have some success to show – that builds confidence. And then, the money, of course, to cover the experimental development in the early stage. I doubt there’re many hardware companies who get it right, the perfect product, with the first prototype. It usually takes many iterations, and then there are expensive certification processes needed to get products on the market.
Your final thoughts?
Valerie Wolff: We’re growing fast and hiring talents in various areas. Check out our vacancies: