In September 2016, Thijs de Ligt and Rendel Hijlkema started The BikeBoys, because they recognized that it was very difficult to find a good quality second-hand bike. For exchange students, it is very convenient to have a proper bike immediately at arrival in Amsterdam, the bike capital of the world. We interviewed co-founder Thijs de Ligt about what it is like to be a young entrepreneur developing a business and what he recommends to other aspiring entrepreneurs.
How did you and Rendel Hijlkema come up with the concept of The BikeBoys?
Rendel and I were housemates, we both have a very entrepreneurial spirit so we were often brainstorming about different ideas we had that might work as a start-up. Our first idea was to do a starter gift package for exchange students, including items such as an OV Chipcard, mobile sim card, and a bike as well. The three and a half years ago we contacted an international office that is part of the VU and they told us they liked the idea, but that they were only interested in the bikes. They said: “If you can offer this service, then we can move on to a trial. We started off 40-50 bikes in the winter semester and we totally underestimated the logistics, because handing out 40 bikes at the same time is very stressful. Luckily it everything went well.
What role do you play in the organization?
Together, Rendel and I are the co-founders and CEOs of The BikeBoys. Right now we are still doing it with the two of us, but we are also part of Enactus which is a global community of students, academics and business leaders helping to develop start-ups. We have now been running this company for three and a half years and besides that, I am almost done with my master. This means that there will be many things coming our way. Right now we are only Amsterdam focused, where we are present at all universities and colleges, but we are planning to expand to Rotterdam as well.
How do The BikeBoys differentiate themselves from the competition?
The key business point of our company, what differentiates our concept is characterized by the idea; “You get a suitable bike when you arrive”. This is because we provide bikes of all sizes, so also very small sizes are available. We use second-hand bikes. For example, the bikes at Swapfiets are quite large, they are made more for Dutch students, whereas we also accommodate for people who are not that tall. However, if you need a very small bike, you will have to order in advance because it can be very difficult to get smaller sized bikes in The Netherlands. The good thing is that here at the VU, the bikes always go to either the main campus or the Uilenstede campus, and then the students immediately get their bike when they arrive. That way students don’t have to pay for OV and there are also no waiting lists this way.
What challenges did you face when you were first starting the business?
Of course, there were quite some challenges in the beginning phases of the business. Thankfully we did not need a big investor, as we started really small. That is also what I would advise to other people looking to start a business, to first think of how far you can carry this yourself, by starting off slow. In our case, this would be starting with just 10 bikes and seeing if you can sell them, and then either expand or decide to quit the project. Entrepreneurship is trial and error, there is really no shame in quitting. Other challenges where for example that the first time, as I mentioned, we had not really thought the logistics through, so we had some challenges with the storage of the bikes and the number of small bikes we needed. There were also other logistic issues, like finding a place to store the bikes considering Amsterdam is quite crowded. Now we thankfully have a deal with a parking garage, so that makes handing out the bikes much easier. However, it is important to recognize that challenges are also a fun part. As an entrepreneur, you have to enjoy problem-solving. You have to be motivated to make the business work as well as possible to sell your products.
Where do you see The BikeBoys in five to ten years?
That’s a tough question. We have now been running this business for three and a half years, and we are still really enjoying it so this summer the project is still definitely going to take place for the new exchange students. But the company might be changing a little in the future. We are playing with the idea of turning The BikeBoys into a big social project, in collaboration with the project Roads, which helps people transition back into society. There is also a chance the company might be sold, however, I really can’t make any conclusions about that yet. For us, The BikeBoys is a really fun, escalated student business, but being realistic, there are many factors we have to take into account when it comes to the future of the business.
What would you like to achieve in your career, besides The BikeBoys?
Having worked at different companies, what I really advise people is to find something that they are good at and genuinely interested in, but not to put too much pressure on themselves. In my perspective, looking for just the jobs where you can make the most money, is not enough motivation to keep a person working for 40 to 50 hours a week. That is very tough if you are doing something you don’t like. I always do my best, so within my studies I am involved in a project that places windmills in the North Sea, but I don’t pressure myself too much. You have to be passionate about what you do and believe in the company you work for. So in conclusion, I don’t really have a specific career goal, I just want to find something that I’m good at, that I enjoy, and realistically speaking, something that pays sufficiently.
Hopefully, this interview has given you some insights into the inner workings of entrepreneurialism and start-ups. Do you like reading about these topics? Make sure to check out our other blog about Next Urban Mobility, a Pon start-up aiming to revolutionize transportation!