By Elijah Mojares and Miguel Laperal on October 3, 2016
Business theorist Alex Osterwalder said 'don't ask kids, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Instead ask them, "What problems do you want to solve?"' The goal is to start a movement, engage communities, and create sustainable impact. For a group of students from UP Diliman, that movement is called UP Bike Share.
It all started with a question. How can we make our stay in UP Diliman more meaningful, engaging and fun? When Migi Laperal, a Civil Engineering student, stumbled upon some online articles back in 2014 about biking revolutions around the world, he was hooked. Forgoing sleep that night, he stayed up and read all he could find on the concept called bike sharing that was taking over the streets. And there you have it—Metro Manila traffic was the problem that we were going to solve. We had our idea.
UP Bike Share would work by having a pool of registered riders share a pool of bikes. There will be more riders than bikes. When we have the technology, you can reserve a bike for your next class and see where the bikes are on a mobile app. The bikes should be connected to the internet for you to see this. At the same time, the locks will have a special locking mechanism allowing it to be secured at any pole, post, or rack. No need for any expensive smart racks. One can then unlock the bikes using a special ID or even your smart phone.
It became more than just an idea after a group of friends agreed to commit to it. Now, UP Bike Share wasn't just a good idea that we were going to pursue for a couple of months then retire because school or other priorities were going to get in the way. We were in. Over the next eight months following Migi's discovery, there were dozens of cold calls made, emails sent and consultations set with experts and investors. This had its highs and lows, small successes and utter failures. We rebooted and plunked down P30,000 to actually buy bikes ourselves and get them fixed.
Two years later and 40+ members later, we are in the process of becoming a recognized organization by the university. From Molecular Biology and Biotechnology and Architecture to Business Administration and Multimedia Studies, UP Bike Share has a very diverse group of founding members and we're still growing. In all honesty, we thought that UP Bike Share would be a temporary name. It was too bland. "UP Bike Share Name Pending" is still the name of our Facebook group actually. We were hoping to call it something cool and modern like EcoMotiv or Sulong gulong or something silly but we're glad that UP Bike Share stuck.
Naturally, there have been ups and downs to starting your own organization. It's difficult to pinpoint one major difficulty. UP Bike Share is so much more complex than a bike rental. There are so many nuances, from tech to operations and optimization, to rider management and customer relationships to dealing with government and other stakeholders. All these have their own hurdles and it's the specialties that each member brings in that helps us overcome this.
At the same time, the team being composed of mostly students was very naive in terms of the timeline of developing a product. The state of UP Bike Share now is what we imagined ourselves to be after 6 weeks when we were conceptualizing it. We did not realize that research and development could take so much more given that we are not just developing software or an app.
Our naivety is also a blessing though. We were stupid enough to believe that something like this could work; stupid enough to believe we could do something about traffic. We took the risk of soliciting and putting out 73 bikes and 300 riders on the streets of UP, and trust that they, and other road users, would be safe with what they learn from our bike safety seminars.
That said, our biggest achievement is that we overcome our stupidity every day. We just show up every day and get more riders, keep them safe and happy, maintain and fix bikes, and most importantly, change the mindset of people to make them see the viability of using a bike to get to destinations quicker, cheaper and safer. It is not the awards that we receive in various competitions or the P15 million DOST grant we received, but the ability to spread our advocacy and serve our fellow students is where we find success.
The best thing about being part of UP Bike Share is you become one of the driving forces towards a change in urban mobility. At its core, UP Bike Share is spreading an advocacy for people to start biking and minimizing the use of cars. On the other hand, the worst thing about UP Bike Share is that it’s added a workload that is definitely outside one’s academic responsibilities as a student but, if you really believe in what UP Bike Share stands for, you won’t even consider it as work and have fun executing our plans. If there was one thing we could change, however, it would be our our current "office", which is basically a string of benches along the Math walk and CS Amphitheatre.
Seriously though, we hope UP Bike Share to be able to serve more of our fellow students and apply prototypes of the technology in the bike sharing system to make it more reliable. Hopefully, we can start building the foundations for partnerships outside UP Diliman to expand the bike sharing system.
If you were to give a piece of advice to self-starters like yourselves, what would you tell them?
Elmo: Find the right team who believes in your idea. The right team will help you bring your idea to reality. At the same time, never be discouraged by failure. When something fails, analyze why it failed and come up with solutions. It is through this process that we learn and improve our service or product. Never get stuck in the ideation stage and just do it.
Migi: Invest in your own idea, and be stupid enough to believe in it.