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Portfolio startup case: Whizz

Today, we talked to Ksenia Proka, the co-founder of Whizz, an e-bike rental startup for last-mile delivery drivers.

Despite the economic downturn, Whizz is showing sustainable 20% month-to-month growth and has reached $1.5 million in ARR during its first year of operation. Drivers from Uber Eats and Doordash are already raving about the company's vehicles as Whizz offers state-of-the-art e-bikes, on-demand repairs, and maintenance.

We asked Ksenia how her team came up with the idea for Whizz, the challenges they faced while expanding into the highly competitive US market, and their plans. Here's what Ksenia shared with us:

Whizz: the game-changing rental model

Whizz is a New York-based company built on a simple idea: providing affordable and sustainable transportation for delivery drivers with flexible subscription plans for e-bike rentals and purchases. All this while guaranteeing vehicle maintenance and repair with daily tech support.

Most of Whizz's customers are gig contractors working for large food and grocery delivery companies like Grubhub, Doordash, and Uber Eats. However, the last-mile delivery industry has an unrealistically high barrier of entry for drivers, with the average price of an e-bike being around $1,500. Moreover, many drivers are often immigrant workers without a credit history, making it difficult to afford such a purchase and qualify for a loan.

That's where Whizz comes in. The company offers affordable long-term e-bike rental and rent-to-own subscription plans, which don't require large upfront payments and save much time in choosing the right vehicle to drive. In addition, the Whizz subscription includes everything that delivery drivers need, from convenient e-bikes with 8-hour battery life, GPS trackers, and built-in anti-theft systems, to on-demand maintenance and repairs. 

Thanks to our unique Whizz Automation Platform, an ERP system for automating business processes, we've decreased operational expenses by 35%. This enables us to maintain 20% cheaper than the competition while providing exceptional customer service.

In other words, Whizz is on a mission to help gig workers access expensive equipment needed for their work when traditional financing is not an option. We aim to enhance economic opportunities for last-mile delivery drivers and provide them and the local community with sustainable transportation.

How we started: the evolution of the idea

Our team previously had experience with a mobility startup that was successfully acquired. Back in 2018, we wanted to purchase an e-scooter, but we weren't sure if we would use it daily and how to repair it if something happened to the vehicle.

That's how we came up with the idea of a long-term rental service for e-scooters with maintenance included. We presented our concept at the Techstars Startup Weekend Hackathon 2020 and won the contest. The original plan was to launch Whizz in April 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic hit. So we realized that no one needed e-scooters while everyone remained locked at home.

That's when we decided to focus on last-mile delivery workers. These heroic people were among the few who dared to go outside and needed cheap, mobile, fast, and reliable transport for their work.

We ran ads on Instagram and Facebook targeting delivery workers, and a number of them lined up immediately. Moreover, people afraid of using public transport also showed interest in renting e-scooters.

Whizz was gaining momentum as we introduced a new rental model for e-vehicles. But once fall came around, we realized that scooters are a seasonal product. So, after receiving requests from food delivery companies and their workers, we decided to introduce e-bike rentals.

Challenges we faced in the US

From the very beginning, our team decided to scale up our business in the United States, and we eventually settled on New York City as our launchpad for conquering the American market. However, we quickly discovered that many challenges were waiting for us there.

The thing is that our business is more operationally complex than most online startups, and it requires offline processes that involve hiring people, including specialists like mechanics, and a physical location to store and repair our bikes. We faced many obstacles on our way, like finding a reliable bike supplier, recruiting skilled professionals, and dealing with complex bureaucracy while being new to the country without any credit history.

Here are some of our most challenging struggles:

  • Finding a location was our primary concern. Many people warned us that finding an office space in New York City within such a short timeframe (we aimed to launch within a month) would be nearly impossible, given that we were not US citizens and our business model was unfamiliar to many landlords. Nevertheless, we were lucky enough to find a perfect location in just one month, and our million-dollar account balance helped a lot in this struggle.
  • Hiring for a startup can be challenging since it requires employees to be willing to devote themselves entirely to the business, which can be exhausting. But there's a certain energy and motivation that comes with working for a startup that you can't find in a large, established company. Many hiring agencies typically provide candidates who prefer a traditional 9 to 5 work schedule and are hesitant to venture outside their field of expertise. Afterward, we brought on an experienced HR manager in-house, and now we're attracting like-minded employees to join our team.
  • Scaling our business faced difficulties due to challenges in the venture capital market. Both the kick-sharing and delivery industries experienced a decline in investment, as many funds were hesitant to invest due to the ongoing crisis. Despite these obstacles, we have shown good traction and have been able to keep our promises to existing investors, which has helped us to retain their support. In December 2021, we raised $1.9 million from TMT Investments and several other investors, which has enabled us to continue growing our business.

Ultimate advice to founders

Success in the world of startups is not solely dependent on having talent or a genius idea. While having an excellent concept is an essential part of it, it's just the beginning. The real challenge lies in implementing your idea and overcoming all the obstacles that come your way. To achieve your goals, you need to take small steps every day, no matter what.

Creating a startup is undoubtedly a challenging undertaking, and not everyone is suited for it. However, if you have true grit and the desire to work tirelessly on your business, you're more likely to succeed.

It's crucial not to be afraid to revise your ideas, make minor adjustments, and build the path for your vision. Always remember to validate your hypothesis on the market and focus on resolving the specific problems your customers face. Networking is also essential, so don't underestimate the power of building connections and seeking new opportunities within your industry.

Creating a successful startup requires hard work, perseverance, and a willingness to adapt and learn. By taking these steps, you can increase your chances of success and achieve your entrepreneurial goals.