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[B-SIDE Podcast] Bend, don’t break: business lessons from bamboo

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The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out 80% of the revenue of Bambike, a socio-ecological enterprise that handcrafts bamboo bicycles. Prior to the lockdowns, Bambike was renting out thousands of bikes a month for its ecobike tours, which won the company a Tripadvisor award in March. Bambike founder Bryan Benitez McClelland tells BusinessWorld reporter Patricia B. Mirasol how the company is bouncing back. “Be resilient like the bamboo,” he said.

TAKEAWAYS

Recognize the value of your assets.

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When Bambike’s city tours evaporated, Mr. McClelland realized that he could turn his idle fleet of bamboo bikes into transportation for frontliners who were having trouble getting to work because of the lockdowns.  

Bicycles are enjoying a growing acceptance among a populace long burdened by poor public transport. Bambike has pivoted from conducting tours to selling bikes to customers. While operations are still not back to pre-pandemic levels, Bambike nonetheless finds itself fortuitously positioned in a growth market. 

“Your business plan is never executed exactly as you wrote it… We’re very fortunate to be positioned in a growth market. We are able to survive now,” he said.

The future of transportation is electric.

Bambike began producing e-bikes during the pandemic. Capable of covering longer distances with less pedaling power (and less perspiration), e-bikes get people around without emitting carbon. Bambike offers a range of e-bikes, from 500-watt commuter kits for easy cruising to 1,500-watt turbo kits for long distances to 3,000-watt hauler kits for extra power. 

“We’re making sure we’re doing the right thing for people and the planet as we become part of the new green economy and the next normal,” said Mr. McClelland. 

Support local.

Mr. McClelland makes a case for supporting MSMEs like Bambike instead of hopping on e-commerce platforms and importing goods. “There’s a lot to be said about still purchasing things from the palengke, or going to the small shops, or finding the entrepreneurs that just opened their online stores and are trying to continue to make a living,” he said.  “We should always look to buy Filipino first. It will pay off in the long run.” 

Be like bamboo.

This year is going to be “a year of survival, tenacity, and grit,” according to Mr. McClelland, who considers Bambike to be a customer service company at heart and counts on his team to adjust to the needs of the times, whether it’s by touring clients or selling bikes. “The goal is to keep all people employed and pull through together,” he said. “Be resilient like the bamboo, where you bend but you stay strong and stay firm throughout the challenging times.” 

Recorded remotely on October 1. Produced by Nina M. DiazPaolo L. Lopez, and Sam L. Marcelo.

Follow us on Spotify BusinessWorld B-Side

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