It’s not that hard to come up with a momentous innovation requiring massive investment in advanced technology and high-level risk to keep mankind on the self-interested, profligate trajectory we have settled into. Such initiatives are admirable, we need them. However, if we are to survive long enough to reap their rewards there’s a job to do right now. Give me “simple-tech” any day! The application of relatively simple technology to everyday problems associated with real needs (rather than extravagant wants).

I recently flagged the work of the UK business UnifAI who are using artificial intelligence to manage things like water systems and environments around the world far more efficiently. UnifAI are playing a key role in bringing the really important things in life to the top of the list of projects that investors like governments and utility companies are prepared to consider. With simple tech and smart thinking they are, right now, making a bigger contribution to the quality of life than most of the extravagant, complex initiatives I encounter.

Another business that has attracted me for similar reasons is the e-bike company Cowboy.

In fact, to call them an e-bike company is a bit of an insult. They are far more than that.

Cowboy are a rare example of a business that really understands “brand”. 

It’s not about the bike.

As a cyclist myself I have mixed feelings about e-bikes. In one way, to me, it’s not cycling. My wife was recently talking about a friend of hers who has bought one and suggested I might like to join him. My response was if you see me heading for an e-bike shop let’s just cut out a life-stage and call the undertaker. To me an e-bike would be a symbol of surrender. However, I’d be the first to acknowledge that any exercise is better than none, and getting outdoors, even in British weather, is rarely a bad thing. E-bikes are effective in getting us off our butts. However in the case of Cowboy it’s not about the undoubtedly great bikes they are producing

Cowboy have recognised the truth. It’s purpose not product that matters. The pace of life in the digital era is so fast. Product lifecycles have compressed. By the time any product makes it to the shelves in your local high street store it will be obsolete. There will be products representing at least two stages in evolution beyond already in development in factories around the world. 

Products are increasingly transient. To focus your business on them is a mistake that, in the digital age, carries severe consequences. It’s your purpose that matters and products are only the means by which you, at any moment in time, are achieving it.

I love the look of the Cowboy bikes. No bulky battery cases, sporty lines that avoid the mobility-scooter-look. These at least look like bikes. However, the tech that’s built into them is clever and points to the real point of the organisation.

Cowboy are building a real brand, a community of like-minded people pursuing sustainable transport, health and well-being, facilitated by the clever application of simple technology. This is clearly their purpose.

So far they have …

  • … designed a bike that embraces tech with a real purpose.
  • It’s a bike not the ugly, un-sexy ride common to all the city bike-hire set-ups I’ve seen to date. So more people will give it a try.
  • The tech makes bike-hire more efficient, profitable and therefore makes cycling more accessible.
  • They will even advise you on how to set up your bike-hire business if that’s your aim.
  • The bikes have on-board security that reports any tampering and tells you where to find your bike if it goes ride-about.
  • Their app incorporates a route planner and tracker, reports on your performance and acknowledges your achievements, so it encourages use.
  • There’s an app-based, mobile service reporting and booking facility to keep your bike on the road. It even covers the cost of parts.

Their original objective was to bring the bikes to market at under £1,000. So far they have missed this target, but with their new $80million, series C funding, they plan to fix that.

I just love businesses like this and I sincerely hope Cowboy will keep sight of their purpose and continue to build their community. I’m imagining the programmes, tech and products they could add to bring cycling and, more importantly, car-free cities closer. 

I’m sure they are thinking ahead of me, but it is already obvious, with their relatively simple application of tech, Cowboy could make more of a dent in the Co2 issue, far more quickly, than much larger organisations with complex tech and inflated ideas.

Another triumph for simple tech!

Phil Darby
February 1, 2022

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