After a year prototyping and designing a simple and clean commuter bike, Chelsea Koglmeier founded the socially conscious bicycle company, Bikes Of Reckless Optimism (ORO). With each purchase, buyers support the donation of a bike to someone in need around the world. We spoke with Koglmeier on the eve of the launch of an Indiegogo campaign about her project, its mission and how ORO plans to roll into the lives of those who need it most.
Tell us a bit about you, what inspired your project and the need you feel ORO could help meet
I’m a 26-year-old girl from Cincinnati, OH, but currently living on the wonderful island of Cape May, NJ. I’m a Duke grad, accidentally fell into technology after college because I like growing things. Worked at a technology accelerator for a year and then joined an early stage startup and helped our team grow to 40 people in two years. I race triathlons and like to stay active. I really believe in everyone having a bit of outdoor time everyday and think bikes are a great conduit to achieving that.
I spent time living in Uganda when I was in college and it’s absolutely where the idea for Bikes ORO started to percolate. I was actually working in microfinance at the time with a refugee population on the outskirts of Kampala. Somewhat unrelated to the bikes, but also super closely linked. I started to see how powerful a bike could be to give people access to opportunity. To explain that a bit, because of the way the country and infrastructure is laid out, some kids have to walk km’s to get to school. That walk can be unsafe and takes a while, no matter how you swing it. It’s proven that access to a bike can improve school outcomes 59% — which is partially related to attendance, which is incredibly important!
That’s just kids. It is also very impactful to an entrepreneur who’s taking their product to a market. You have more choices of market, because you can travel farther, and you can carry up to 5x more product on a bike than you can on foot. It’s huge!
I had the specific idea for a “TOMS for bikes”. It hasn’t turned out to be totally the same model, but we’re definitely linking the sale of a bike with the support of getting a bike to someone.
It’s exciting to be part of the movement to start companies with double bottom lines.
Why bikes? What does biking symbolize practically or otherwise?
Bikes are freedom, opportunity, and joy. That sounds cliche, but we’re talking symbolism here, so that’s what they are to me. For Joy — when you ride a bike, there’s really no way not to smile. It just feels so good. For Opportunity — bikes give mobility and movement to people who don’t have other options. For Freedom — it gives you access to the world around you in such a different way then traveling in a car or even on foot.
How does the venture work exactly? (Can you also explore the business model)?
We are a for profit company with a double bottom line. Profit and a social mission – which is mobility. We’re out to increase access to bikes for people all around the world, focusing on financially supporting [the opportunity of] getting bikes to people in need and functionally making bikes more accessible.
For every ORO bike that we sell, we make a donation to a nonprofit called World Bicycle Relief. There may be other nonprofits that we work with over time, and other products that we sell, but our donations will always be based around “mobility” and giving people access to opportunity through that.
How did you design the bike? Are you a designer? What challenges did you face?
We designed the bike in partnership with a great boutique bike builder from Perth, Australia, Flying Machine. Since I’m not a designer, I choose to work with a best designer a could find– a brand with an existing wonderful aesthetic and someone open to doing things a bit differently. I think it’s always challenging to build out a detailed product and I was working through it with no experience, at all. We ended up having only two rounds of prototypes before getting to our final product specs, but I think that’s due to having the serious experience of Flying Machine on our side.
What are your short and long-term goals?
Our short term goals are to successfully launch ORO on Indiegogo. Our long term goals are to create a company that gets more people around the world onto bikes.
How can our readers help you?
Help us tell the story to the right people! And check out our campaign on Indiegogo