Rad Power Bikes founder Mike Radenbaugh on fueling the e-bike revolution

Rad Power Bikes founder Mike Radenbaugh grew up among the Redwood trees on the Lost Coast of Northern California with “tree hugger parents and tree hugger neighbors,” and a life connected to nature. This exposed the founder not only to alternative ways of living that are more responsible to the planet but also to alternative energy. As a young teenager watching the electric vehicle space, Radenbaugh became energized seeing electric motorcycles and cars popping up but was impatient with their slow commercialization.

When Radenbaugh was 15, he built his first e-bike hacking together parts he ordered from Radio Shack and eBay with the money he saved from his job as a bellboy at the one hotel in town. This was back in 2007, and despite his young age, Radenbaugh says this is the year Rad Power Bikes was founded.

“I started advertising in the local newspaper and they gave me the first ad free I think because I went in as this punk kid and they felt sympathy for me,” Radenbaugh told TechCrunch.

Over the next few years, Radenbaugh continued as a sole proprietor building bespoke e-bikes for people who’d reach out looking for something fast and powerful to replace their car journeys. Along the way, he says he really got to understand what it was customers wanted and what was missing from the marketplace.

With all this knowledge and hands-on experience buffering him, in 2015, Radenbaugh relaunched Rad Power Bikes as a direct-to-consumer business. He and his growing team set to work perfecting the business model, adding in company-owned retail stores and mobile service centers around the country, partnering with a big network of bike shops and building a massive-scale supply chain.

Now, the company has 615 staff members with plans to hire more, over 350,000 customers and is producing bikes in six countries. The company’s getting big, and it’s getting big fast, with reported sales in 2019 of $100 million.

That number only increased in 2020, in large part due to the COVID-related boom in e-bike sales generally. Earlier this year, the company raised $150 million to scale globally, the largest funding round of a U.S. electric bike startup. But as the world begins to wrangle coronavirus to a point where cities are opening up, will this boom in e-bike sales last?

We sat down with Radenbaugh to talk about the e-bike revolution, diversifying the supply chain and building a product that’s made for how people want to use it.

The following interview, part of an ongoing series with founders who are building transportation companies, has been edited for length and clarity.

What would you say is different about your business model compared to the competition? Companies like VanMoof have also been scoring large funding rounds lately.

Being user-friendly is consistent across the whole lineup. We popularized fat tires on e-bikes, we popularized throttles on e-bikes, so our customers could have more power. None of those things really existed; they were just super nascent and more part of the DIY community until we commercialized them. So both of those features I think are kind of pivotal to the DNA of our business, and it just so turns out that we just knew something early on that a lot of people didn’t by listening to the customer — that the bike shouldn’t only be pedal assisted. They should be more substantial and really move your butt from point A to point B.