Irish startup Cyc-Lok is on a roll with its theft-proof lockers
With the growth in the numbers of cycle commuters in Europe and the US, it was only a matter of time before the concept of providing secure and alarmed bicycle lockers at key locations in large cities would take off.
Even if you diligently lock your bicycle to a bike stand and follow all the textbook advice about how best to lock them (often with two or more locks), they are still vulnerable to theft.
Furthermore, many people are choosing to invest more in expensive and slicker-looking machines, which are, of course, even more attractive to the prying eyes of both casual and professional bike thieves. These include electric bikes, many of which are particularly pricey.
But a Carlow-based startup, Cyc-Lok, has been setting the pace in the global bicycle locker space with their secure, weatherproof, alarmed units that you can book with a Smartphone app and open with a dedicated PIN. And unlike other products, you can pay-as-you-use rather than stump up a hefty annual rental fee.
"We are the only ones globally to provide this unique product," says director Louise Murphy, who runs the business with her husband Stephen Murphy and her brother, Kenneth Finn.
"It's a product and service that can be deployed worldwide, so the opportunity is huge - if not a little daunting as you want to get it right."
The idea for Cyc-Lok came about just a few years ago, when Stephen and Kenneth began researching the market for bicycle storage lockers and "looking at what was missing". They began working on prototypes alongside another business before asking Louise, who had worked in sales and marketing in the pharmaceutical industry for some 17 years, to come on board.
Shortly after, they took their ideas to Dolmen designers in Dublin to finalise the design, and also enlisted other suppliers to tailor the software to suit what they wanted it to do.
Since Cyc-Lok installed its first units in November 2015 at a pharmaceutical company campus in Cork, its products have been installed at two Irish Rail stations - Pearse Street and Heuston Station - and at locations in Norway and California. The firm also hopes to sign a deal this year which will see its units become available in Switzerland. Furthermore, it has signed up a well-known US tech firm in Cork, which it hopes will lead to a similar deal for some of its campuses in California. Developing a solid export market was always in the game plan for Cyc-Lok, says Murphy.
"From the very start, when we were looking at the global market, we knew this could be big," says Murphy. "All countries have the very same issue with bike theft and the lack of 'secure' bike parking. What the market already offers still lends itself to bike theft, and cycling figures worldwide are on the rise."
The moment the firm knew it was onto something big was in winning over a US tech firm at their large campus in Cork, which prompted them not just to open the champagne, but to spend a significant chunk of 2016 in California.
"My husband and I made the brave decision to go to Silicon Valley in the summer of 2016, as we really felt the market was for us there," says Murphy. "We waited until the summer hols from school [the couple have an eight- and a five-year-old], packed our bags, and off we went. I had 45 high-level meetings set up with all of the top companies and institutions there via LinkedIn. We also managed to sell to Stanford University whilst there, as they have 12,000 cyclists per day!"
Another milestone for the business was in signing the Norwegian government and in winning the interest of an investor in Switzerland. "The Nordic countries love their cycling and have very expensive bikes," says Murphy. "We also charge ebikes in our lockers and they are on the rise in a big way."
While the benefits of the product and service are self-evident to any cycle commuter, Cyc-Lok's marketing approach is proactive.
For instance, it is negotiating with a retail property firm based in both the UK and Ireland. "We put forward a pitch that goes out to all their commercialisation managers, so that if one goes with it, the rest follow suit," says Murphy. "This allows us to create global customers."
It's not always that straightforward, however. "The hard part is finding the person responsible for bike security and parking in an organisation who can make the decision," she says.
"This is a high-ticket item so may not be in their budget. I think that the more units we get out in the public eye, it will become a more 'build it and they will come' scenario."
While it might be a high-ticket item, Cyc-Lok is hoping that buyers will be drawn to the potential for creating revenue. For example, 12 lockers in a unit hired out at a cost of €3 per day over 250 days per year will generate an income of revenue of €9,000 a year.
From an operational point of view, there is a back-end management 'dashboard' where units can be remotely monitored by security or a facility management person. The lockers can also be opened remotely if needed.
"We also have a massive opportunity for advertising on the units, as they are in high footfall locations and companies want to be associated with all things sustainable," says Murphy.
Cyc-Lok employs a small team of nine staff with a range of skills that allows it to market successfully to export markets. It aims to hit a conservative turnover target of €2.5m for 2018 rising to €4.7m by 2022, although there is a potentially big deal in the works that, if realised, may generate over €2m this year alone.
So far the firm has been self-funded with the help of small grants from Laois Local Enterprise Office and Enterprise Ireland.
Its plans involve working on pent-up demand in markets like Austria, Germany and Liechtenstein, but it also hopes to expand into the manufacturing of parts at its base in Carlow in a move that would create more jobs in the area.
It's been a tough but rewarding road getting the firm to this point, says Louise. "To start on this journey of setting up a potential worldwide company, you need to be very positive and relentless. It has its ups and downs - some days are very tough - but the wins are amazing and very rewarding. It's also nice to feel that we are setting something up together and for the future of our family. I've always worked in the corporate world but for someone else. It's nice to be doing it for myself. The hours are long but the reward is high."
Louise certainly had no hesitation in leaving the pharmaceutical industry to work full-time with Stephen. "We have very different skills but they complement each other and ultimately we are creating a future together, and that's exciting."
Sunday Indo Business