What startups can learn from the rise and fall of an ebike superstar

1 min read

Since launching in 2009, VanMoof, known for its sleek, high-tech city bikes, developed an almost cult-like following — from the streets of Amsterdam to New York. 

Today, what was once the world’s most-funded ebike startup is bankrupt, leaving riders angry, loyal followers depressed, and the industry wondering — what’s next? 

Pretty much everyone and their dog has an opinion on the matter. But we wanted to hear from those closest to the action and perhaps the most affected in the long term: ebike startups. 

The VanMoof story deserved a better ending,” says Tanguy Goretti, founder of Belgian ebike company Cowboy, perhaps VanMoof’s closest competitor. “They helped change the face of the industry, the world’s perception of ebikes, and had a truly positive impact on cities.”  

What went wrong?

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Startups and industry experts from far and wide opened up to TNW to share their thoughts. There were a few golden threads that emerged through all the responses, namely: VanMoof grew too quickly, its bikes relied too heavily on high-tech customised parts, and its after-sales service model was unmanageable. Given the current economic climate, it was doomed to fail, chimed some of the respondents.    

Bastian Dietz of the Cycling Innovation Accelerator says he saw it coming. “Once VanMoof’s 2021 figures were published, it was very clear that their business model wasn’t going to last.” VanMoof suffered a loss of almost €80mn in 2021, €78mn in 2022, and has never made a profit.

“Their burn rate was off the charts because they tried to do everything themselves,” says industry expert Augustin Friedel, in reference to VanMoof’s end-to-end business model which sought to design, manufacture, sell, and service its expensive ebikes in-house. “They bit off more than they could chew,” he adds. 

VanMoof founders Taco and Ties Carlier test drive their ebikes