Progress Update: Whike
For the thirteenth in our series of progress updates on University of Exeter students who have started business whist studying at the university I had the pleasure of meeting up with an old friend, Ned Aufenast. Ned is the founder and director of Whike UK, a subsidiary of Whike which is a Dutch company that, with the help of Ned, has designed a sail assisted reclined tricycle that enables it riders to utilise the power of the wind as they cycle.
The story starts with Ned’s A-level project, in which Ned designed his own sail assisted tricycle, prompting him to make contact with the Dutch based Whike company. Impressed by his enthusiasm for the conceptual product, this first contact developed into a long-term business relationship that soon saw Ned become the UK distributer of the first road-legal wind-assited bike in the UK by the age of 18. I would like to add this was all before he started his degree in Mechanical Engineering here at Exeter University.
Once at the University of Exeter Ned continued to grow the Whike brand, exploring the extreme sports, sailing and cycle enthusiast markets and combining this with first class customer service. Indeed, as a business model Whike differs dramatically from 95% of all other businesses that I have encountered during my time as SEiR. Whereas the majority of students I meet look to sell quantity, often at low prices (between £1 – £100), Whikes currently sell at over £2,000 a tricycle for the lower end products right up to £5,000+ for the top of the range models. This gives Ned a very different taste of business life compared to that of other student entrepreneurs, with months at a go passing without a sale before the summer season prompts a dramatic spike in interest. It is a role that therefore requires patients, ensure that marketing is done effectively to maximises the likelihood of these more infrequent sales and additional, more frequent revenue streams are found for the business.
One such additional revenue stream focuses on area that is crucial to business that is based around higher end products – customer service. Obviously in the primary sales stage this goes without saying, but it is the support mechanisms that Ned has put into place to enable Whike’s users to (i) maintenance their tricycles and (ii) form a community around their common interest post-sale that has help push the business forward so rapidly over the last two years. Indeed, it is a product that is so new that ensuring that the “first adopters” of the Whike have flawless experience at all stages of the sales process facilities the further growth of sales. Therefore, I think two key lessons can be learned from Ned’s example and I would be keen to put them to any entrepreneur at the university (i) what is stopping you from creating a business that is created around a higher end or luxury product and (ii) no mater what your business is how can you improve the customer’s experience within the pre & post sale stages.
During his second year studying at the University of Exeter Ned applied for a grant awarded by the Innovation Centre to entrepreneurial students. Pitching for equipment to help enhance Whike’s presence at trade events, as well as his ability to deliver the business critical customer service, he was successful in gaining a Student Start Up Award, provided by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF). Ned, citing the equipment as “vital”, was pleased to confirm that it has certainly made a difference to his business – facilitating him to deliver products and maintenance nationwide via a grant funded trailer for Whikes, as well as making Whikes presences noticeable at trade events thanks to a grant funded gazebo.
However, Ned was also keen to highlight some of the other non-grant related benefits that the Innovation Centre offers to business minded students. Primarily, Ned’s decision to move his “office” from his bedroom to a hot-desk space within the Innovation Centre enabled him to create a better work-life balance, as well as increasing productivity – something that is available for all entrepreneurially minded students, subject to the approval of the Innovation Centre Directors, for reasonable rates.
After a successful second year at the University of Exeter spring 2014 marked an adventure of a lifetime for Ned, one that would rival any University of Exeter students – seriously if you know any other adventure stories like this please let me know as I would love to write about them! The challenge was to ride a Whike across Atacama Desert in Chile, covering 1,500 miles in 23 days. Ned tackled this alongside Dave Cornthwaite and Jamie Fulbrook, the former being well known adventurer and author who has a passion for raising money along the way. Ned recounted the beauty of the scenery, the nightmare of vital equipment getting lost during air transit before being tracked down at the last minute by Air France (good customer service!), the fact there was barely any wind to push the Whikes along and the overall success of the mission. Most amazingly Ned said that each Whike had recorded climbs and descents during the entire journey that equaled climbing Everest three times!
A down to earth student that is a role model for all entrepreneurs currently studying at the University of Exeter, Ned has an extremely bright future ahead of him & I hope that he will remain deeply involved in helping to develop other entrepreneurs at our university for many years to come.
Here at MGR Music Tuition this week I have been working on launching Singing Lessons Sunderland, doubling up on the number of instruments in the city after the launch of a guitar tuition website in the city during 2013, as well as Singing Lessons Glasgow and Guitar Lessons Colchester websites. In the next week we will be continuing to hire new teachers as well as aiming to bring a few more new websites online as I continue to drive towards my ambition of facilitating quality music lessons, for all abilities, across the UK.