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In conversation with Cowboy: The Apple of e-bikes that rode off with $80M investment for green revolution

Belgian bike manufacturer Cowboy has announced an $80 million Series C investment. The pioneer in personal transport has set itself apart with innovative products, creating a full-service offer for customers while expanding across Europe and the US.

The funding round was led by Exor, HCVC, and Siam Capital, with additional investments from Tiger Global, Index Ventures, Eithon, Isomer Opportunities Fund, Future Positive Capital and Triple Point Capital.

Cowboy plan to use the funding to not just continue their expansion, but increase their internal capacity, further strengthening their research and development. With ambitions to have over 100,000 riders by the end of this year, the company will also develop its vibrant community.

An innovator in personal transport

Established in 2018, Cowboy’s founder started with big ambitions, CEO and co-founder Adrien Roose told TFN, “I started the company to accelerate the adoption of cycling, making e-bikes more desirable and more accessible.”

Although that started with a focus on the bike itself, Roose quickly realised that the experience could be enhanced with additional services for their riders. One of the core differentiators that sets it apart from competitors is the full-service package they offer. As well as launching a new bike model in 2021, they updated their app, introduced Cowboy Circular — creating a certified refurbished market for their bikes — and launched Cowboy Care, a first-of-its-kind on-demand and all-inclusive service helping owners with maintenance and repair.

Their bikes have developed a reputation for their design and engineering. The latest version, the Cowboy 4 which was also launched last year, won a ‘Best of the Best’ Red Dot Product Design award.

Racing into a growing market

The worldwide cycling market has been growing. Lockdowns and quieter roads saw a surge in demand, in some countries, it was close to impossible to buy a bike of any type. However, the longer-term threats of climate change meant that was only an acceleration of a trend.

The need for more sustainable modes of transportation has never been more apparent, especially among this era of conscious consumers,” says Siam Capital’s Sita Chantramonklasri. “By marrying best-in-class hardware, software, and subscription services to deliver an elevated experience, Cowboy is uniquely positioned to emerge as a leader in making electric bikes not only accessible but also aspirational.”

The market was largely nonexistent a few years ago. However, with improvements in technology, the e-bike became a viable form of transport and has started to be seen as a serious option. “The market’s been growing at 30% year-on-year over the last 10 years,” explains Roose. “When we started globally, most people didn’t even know what an e-bike was. Now people are starting to discover these products. It’s become a real vehicle.”

The Apple model of bikes

Cowboy has taken a development approach that has been compared to Apple’s. Rather than offering a selection of models, they have focused on exceptional design and engineering across a limited range.

“It is like the iPhone, we started with the Cowboy 1, then Cowboy 2, Cowboy 3 and Cowboy 4. The numbers refer to a bundling of the design, the technology, the performance, the quality,” says Roose. There are just two models, the Cowboy, or the open-framed Cowboy St — or step-through.

The comparison extends to quality, emulating Apple’s position of offering premium quality products that stand out. Talking about major competitors, Roose commented that they offered high-price, low-innovation products. “They essentially they buy off-the-shelf parts and systems that they have assembled,” he says. Cowboy, however, is taking a different approach, “we innovate on the product side to make it to make it more appealing from an aesthetic, performance, and connectivity point of view.”

Further development and expansion

Cowboy’s model means they intend to use their latest investment to further develop their production capability. The investment will help expand their research and industrial design capacity to continue producing stunning iterations of the Cowboy.

They are also using it to expand. They are currently recruiting within Europe, and intend to recruit an American team later this year. Cowboy is also taking its first steps in retail, with stores in Berlin and Paris opening in spring to add to their Brussels flagship store.

The adoption of e-bikes has varied depending on the cycling culture in each country. Northern European countries have, traditionally, been more pro-bike than places like the US and UK. But with habits changed by Covid-19, and reinforced by the concerns about climate change, Roose is confident that growth will be rapid. “The switch from bikes to e-bikes is natural, and with those major trends pushing people, the e-bike market is growing very, very fast.”

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