The Value of "Big Data" In an Electric Bike Company
As a startup company developing a product, raising capital, and launching a business in San Francisco, it’s impossible to be oblivious to the big trends and themes that seem to dominate the conversation around starting and investing in new companies. “Hot” categories abound – ‘mobile’, ‘social’, ‘software as a service’, ‘quantified self’, etc. Inevitably, one of the perennial favorites is ‘Big Data’ – the (very valid) idea that vastly greater amounts of data about our behaviors is available than ever before.
As a primarily hardware entrepreneur, I admit to at times feeling a bit resentful of the enthusiasm over Big Data. Where’s the relevance to a bicycle company? Sure, with Faraday’s embedded electronics, we could capture information about our riders’ behaviors, routes, etc., but to what end? This all feels interesting but secondary to Faraday’s primary objective of providing cleaner, more efficient, more enjoyable transportation options to cyclists and non-cyclists around the world. Moreover, what’s the value of an enormous database? Data in and of itself is an asset, but it needs to be applied to some greater problem in order to be of value.
That’s why I was intrigued by this interview with Max Levchin in GigaOM, in which Max expands on the idea of “friction” – the notion that there exist “inefficiencies in many of our daily tasks” and underutilized resources that could be put to better use (in his case, via the application of data). Max cites Uber and AirBnB, among others, as examples of companies that utilize data to better deploy those “slack resources.” For me, this puts the value of data in context, and here, finally, I find a bond with Big Data – we share a common goal. While still not a data play, Faraday is very much driven by this same opportunity to reduce friction. Nearly every adult in the US owns a bicycle. A full 6% of the US population buys a new bicycle every year. Yet, fewer than 0.5% of Americans commute to work regularly by bike. To me, in urban areas particularly, this is the epitome of friction – an inefficiency that costs us as individuals, and as a society, immeasurably in money, time, lost health benefits, added stress, and environmental degradation – on a daily basis.
The number of Americans commuting and using bicycles for transportation is rising rapidly, and Faraday is adding to those numbers. We know that for every bicycle we sell, that will be one fewer “slack resource” – one less bike sitting in the garage, and instead one more happy, sweat-free cyclist riding down a new bike lane with a smile on their face. Data is still cool – don’t worry, we’ll come up with a great app soon to join the party. In the meantime, though, it’s good to know we’re all headed the same direction.