Meeting Jens Frandsen, CTO of Donkey Republic, a bike sharing start-up based in Copenhagen.
The Danish start-up Donkey Republic is now taking their bike sharing system to the masses through a crowdfunding campaign. The new concept is called AirDonkey. This means that in addition to renting out their cars and homes, people can also rent out their bikes using a bluetooth enabled bike lock. Technologist meets Jens Frandsen former DTU student, at Dare2Mansion in Copenhagen, Denmark (aka. one the strongest bike nations in the world).
TECHNOLOGIST Why do you call your bikes “Donkeys”?
JENS FRANDSEN In Danish a bike can also be called “iron horse”. So we found it funny to name our bikes “Donkeys”. It’s mainly because a donkey is an animal…maybe not as fast as a horse, but always working and reliable.
TECHNOLOGIST How did you join the adventure?
JENS FRANDSEN We all come from different backgrounds or countries but we have this one thing in common: we believe in bikes and its beneficial impact on society. It started from a practical problem to solve: providing friends visiting Copenhagen with bikes, ending up as a venture project. The start-up received a grant from Innovation fund Denmark, so that we could work with Delta to develop the prototype for about a year. That’s when I fisrt heard of the project and joined immediatly.
DARE2Mansion is an autobody repair shop turned innovation hub in Copenhagen. This funky and creative space is home to some really cool start-ups and an escape for corporates looking for a unique offsite location.
TECHNOLOGIST Why going from corporate to start-up?
JENS FRANDSEN I hold a bachelor’s degree in IT from DTU (Danmarks Tekniske Universitet), and I’ve worked for 8 years for a Copenhagen-based company called Oticon. From DTU I learned the fundamentals, like how to engage an idea and problems-solving. Then my work experience allowed me to drive concrete projects to the final point. It’s a useful background when you start a company. I think this project arrived at a good time of my career, at a moment I was ready to change my way of working and the purpose of it. I really appreciate being in constant feedback with the users. We always have to adjust and work fast. It’s a challenge and a responsibility. For sure it’s scary, but also very satisfying at the same time!
TECHNOLOGIST What technical challenges have you had?
JENS FRANDSEN I’m the CTO of Donkey Republic, which means, I take care of the technical aspects. To make it short, I’m dealing with: mechanics, electronics and firmware. Now two developers joined to focus on our two apps. The biggest challenges that we faced were:
- Low power consumption for the lock. A Donkey’s battery lasts up to 500 days, but that was not easy to achieve!
- Connectivity. Our lock is using the latest Bluetooth system v4.2. That is supposed to work the first time you activate it. The app could always send a message to the lock to check if it’s actually locked, but once again it’s draining the battery.
- Internet. You need a smartphone to unlock the bike. We’re working on an off-line system to make it more accessible to tourists not having a Wi-Fi connection.
- Localisation. A precise GPS using three radios help localise each Donkey. If at least two of them work, then it’s still possible to geolocalise the bike.
► We needed a simple system that always works. Making it as simple as possible meant low chances of one element not working. It’s all based on reliability: every single lock is tested, one by one, at Dare2Mansion before shipping.
TECHNOLOGIST Where can you find a Donkey?
JENS FRANDSEN Mainly in Copenhagen, and we ‘re also developing in the main cities of Denmark, like Aarhus and Aalborg. We’re thinking of adapting to other markets by providing another type of lock. The rear wheel lock is indeed pretty Nordic, but you might want to use a leash to tie up your bike to something in other big cities. We now provide these two types of locks.
Good to know:
Donkey Republic won Guldæg 2015 in the IT category.
Donkey Republic is nominee for Ivækst prisen in the category “Idealist”, vote until November 30!
Last but not least: Donkey Republic is on Kickstarter, until November 26.
Interview by JB
Photos and video: Donkey Republic