Smartbike startup Vanhawks, part of the Y Combinator Winter 2015 class, has raised $1.6 million from Real Ventures, Olympic triathlon gold medallist Simon Whitfield, Brenda Irwin of Relentless Pursuit partners and various angels. The company will use the funding to help deliver its Valour smartbike, which raised over $820,000 on Kickstarter last year, to its first customers starting this spring. The funding will help the startup overcome some of the challenges it encountered going from concept to full production in Taiwan, and set the company up for future growth plans, which include becoming category leaders in bike-based software.
Vanhawks co-founder Ali Zahid explained in an interview that the startup wasn’t surprised that it needed more funds to start shipping over and above what it raised on Kickstarter, since they were first-time entrepreneurs and didn’t know exactly what to expect when it came time for actual production and manufacturing. Despite missing their initial launch target of late last year for shipping the first Valour bikes out to Kickstarter backers, Zahid says they’re pleased with how things are going now and will start shipping in batches of 25 to 50 bikes at a time this spring, with the intent of working through the backlog by this summer and then offering two- to three-week delivery times on new orders. The funding also helps with the company’s long-term strategy, which extends beyond making bikes.
“The vision is a lot bigger than just making bikes,” Zahid explains. “Think of us as the software layer for the bike industry of the future. Everyone says that software is eating the world, and we see that in the bike industry, too, which has been sitting in the past.”
Zahid thinks this is the right time for someone (ideally Vanhawks) to emerge as the connected pioneer for the biking industry, which he expects to explode in the coming years. He points out that in Europe and elsewhere in the world, bikes are an incredibly popular mode of transportation, and he expects that adoption of bikes in North America will grow to match. Biking among city-dwellers has been on the rise in North America among commuters, especially between 1990 and 2011, so in urban centers at least Vanhawks has a growing user base to target.
The Valour will showcase what Vanhawks’ software can offer bikes in terms of software, showcasing built-in turn-by-turn and blind spot detection, as well as speed tracking, road condition reports, distance and elevation, all of which helps serve a Waze-like crowdsourced route planning service for fellow bike commuters. The software also enables anti-theft tracking measures, which helps to alleviate a primary concern especially among riders who invest considerable money, time and effort into their bicycles.
I like biking, and while part of the reason I like it is because it requires my full attention and essentially ensures that I can’t be glued to some kind of data feed, I see plenty of opportunity for passive data gathering that can better equip a future of connected two-wheel commuters. The Valour is cool, but long-term, as with most tech startups, the data will probably be the bigger story here.