Innovation in electromobility

Interview with Johannes Biechele and Fabian Reuter, Managing Directors of Fazua

With their self-developed Evation drive FAZUA is now the market leader among the system suppliers in the e-road segment and was able to win well-known bike manufacturers such as CUBE, Pinarello and Focus as customers. These integrate the FAZUA drive system into their series products. The Munich Business Plan Competition 2013 was one of the groundbreaking stages in the company's history.

You have participated twice in the Munich Business Plan Competition. What was your original business idea?

Johannes: Business ideas often start with fulfilling one's own product desire. And as a cyclist, that wish was of course a bicycle. Not bulky, clunky e-bikes, but e-bikes that feel like a real bike. But the focus was naturally on the technology required for this, the drive system.

You then revised your business concept again – why?

Johannes: Exactly. We then switched from a consumer approach to a B2B business model. The jury was right to doubt the growth in the environment of the countless bicycle brands. So we said to ourselves: then we'll be in every bicycle in the future.

You were more successful with that – in 2013 you took second place in the final. What did you get out of participating?

Fabian: The most important thing is first of all confirmation. In retrospect, everything always sounds so clear. But the path of founding a company and the path of growth are always marked by uncertainty. I won't call it doubt at this point. So when a jury of experts says we see great potential, that gives you a boost. Of course, it also opens up a great network for the further development of the company. Last but not least, you can also do something with the prize.

Parallel to your second place in the 2013 finals, you were already looking for investors in order to go into series production with your Evation drive. What should startups pay particular attention to before they start looking for investors?

Fabian: The product and the target group have to fit. However, almost more relevant is the team. There should be absolute clarity and transparency within the team. This applies, for example, to the points of shares, IP rights, role in the company and, above all, what happens in the event of changes. In addition, there is of course the question of strategy and the basic corporate philosophy. This also becomes more complex the more founders there are.

It took a while from the participation in the competition and the first round of financing with HTGF and Dieter Mayer to the market entry. What were the challenges?

Fabian: An e-bike drive system is much more complex than you might imagine. In addition to many technical details of mechanical development, there is also a large software component. Once you have overcome these challenges, it's time for operations. Of course, it was obvious to find a suitable partner for this. After several attempts, we failed, which in retrospect turned out to be very fortunate. It was not possible for us to find a suitable partner for such a new and complex machine, nor to draw up contracts that were satisfactory for both sides. So we started to build up production with our own resources and gradually expanded and improved it. To be honest, this was a wild ride with a blood young team of about 20 persons. But when you have a goal like that in mind and also customers who want your drive system, it works. But certainly not for long. From then on, it's indispensable to continuously work on professionalization. A continuous process of change, which is the biggest challenge.

How have you been able to convince established manufacturers of your drive technology?

Fabian: The manufacturers convinced themselves – we did product demonstrations and the results and possibilities spoke for themselves. Our contacts at the manufacturers saw the right target group for the product. The stronger the product and the more relevant the target group, the higher the chances of success.

To what extent did the expectations from the business plan from the Munich Business Plan Competition come true for you?

­­Johannes: With over 40 customers and almost 100 models on the market, we are more than satisfied. Nevertheless, ironically, we are moving back in the direction of the idea when we first entered the competition. We don't want to build bikes, but we have noticed what is actually completely clear: in the end, it is always the customer who decides, or in our case – the biker. So we address the end customer directly. For us, the drive system is a means to an end, to enable people to enjoy athletic e-biking. We call this class of bikes Energy Bikes and here we are the market leader. If we can explain the benefits and coolness of Energy Bikes to every potential bike buyer, we believe that in a few years, one in three buyers of electrically assisted bikes will choose an Energy Bike. That is our medium-term goal.

Photos: Andreas Jacob

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