The story behind QWIC

With our QWIC e-bikes, we do not only provide you with a sustainable, healthy, and fashionable alternative to your commute, but you can also use our e-bikes to cover longer distances. Go on fun rides through nature and cities alike to see the world around you. Every day, we work together in a multinational team and for us it’s a way to bring the world to you. For we think that by getting to know the world through travel you will get to know yourself! No wonder that our story starts with an adventurous bike ride from Beirut to Beijing which inspired our founders, Taco Anema and Michiel Hartman to start the QWIC journey, which, as it turns out, wasn’t that quick at all. 😉 We sat down with our CEO, Taco Anema, to tell us all about the story of QWIC.

How did QWIC come to life?

It all started out in 2004 with five friends who longed for an adventure and decided they wanted to broaden their horizons. So that’s what they did: they left everything behind in the Netherlands, packed their mountain bikes and embarked upon a bike ride from Beirut to Beijing. Along the way they encountered, much to their amazement, a surprisingly high number of e-bikes and e-scooters on Chinese roads. This seemed like a new thing. Even though the oldest patents for electric bicycles date back to the late 19th century, at the time there was barely a market for these products in Europe because the public hadn’t been introduced to them yet. However, in China they were already abundant. Kind of odd-looking, mostly 20-inch wheels and heavy — but: fast! Especially for a group of mountain bikers that kept being left behind by these comfortable vehicles it was quite a fascinating (and sometimes slightly frustrating) sight. Seven months and thousands of kilometres later, Michiel Hartman and Taco Anema had a vision. They met up in an Amsterdam bar to discuss the details of their idea: to bring e-mobility to the Netherlands, help reduce CO2 emissions and urban air pollution by enhancing sustainability and lead the way to a healthy and fit lifestyle. In short: QWIC was born.

What did the first months and years at QWIC look like?

Hartmobile B.V. was founded in 2006 in Rotterdam. Taco had a large old warehouse available where he lived to protect it from squatters: the ideal place to start a company. Though, it wasn’t always easy. In our interview, Taco recalls: “We started out in the very attic of the building, which was great storage-wise, but we didn’t have any heating, and, in the winter, we would sit there in our coats, typing with our gloves on. Really laughable [hilarious] looking back on it now”. Like with any newly founded company you start out completely from scratch. And most of the time you must take multiple aspects into account that you have no idea of. “We didn’t know how to ship it, build it, finance it, or sell it, nor did we have any idea about supply chain and logistics. In short: we had a lot of unknowns.”

There were numerous surprises and challenges to be faced: “The first container with test batches we had shipped arrived at the house I lived in at the time in Rotterdam. And just like that, the truck driver said ‘Okay, here is your stuff, you can unload the truck in 10 minutes’. This took us completely by surprise and we were overwhelmed because we hadn’t thought about that part: how do you unload a truck with your bare hands in 10 minutes? That was impossible. Finally, we agreed that I would rent a forklift and the driver was nice enough to give us more time and return to pick up his truck later that evening.”

What’s the most valuable lesson your journey has since taught you?

“It’s difficult to say because there were so many of them. But when you start out from nothing there is a lot that you learn during the process. For instance, in the beginning it was very hard to sell the bikes. At the time, nobody was interested in e-bikes at all, dealers and other people would tell us that we could never have success with this idea. The market, so it seemed, just wasn’t there. But we pushed through. We had a small van where we put all our bikes and every day we would go out and try to sell them which really was hard. We heard “no” all the time. But then I did a bit of the Heineken trick which is to say: I asked for e-bikes. When Heineken introduced his beer to the US, he did it by asking for Heineken beer all the time. He would go to all these famous places and ask if they served Heineken. When they said they had never heard of it, he would respond: “oh but you should! It’s this great beer from Europe, you should have it!” So, I did a bit of the same. I would place our bike in the store and then ask the owner about it just for them to tell me that they had no idea about this bike. That’s when I would usually say: “Right, it’s my bike. Could I leave it here to be sold?”.

However, we still heard a lot of “no’s” until gradually, they started to turn into a “yes”. In the first year we found 27 dealers, that meant 27 “yes’s” and about 9000 “no’s”. But you learn to just keep going. If you really believe in something, then just don’t give up on that because eventually, people will start to believe in it, too”.

How does it feel to see a QWIC e-bike out in public?
As we grow bigger, you see more and more QWIC-bikes crowding the roads. How does it feel to know that you and all your colleagues are behind each of these vehicles? 

“It’s an amazing experience to see the products out there that you contributed to. And getting to hear people talking about it and using it is a great motivator that really energizes me personally. But I do believe that now, that we are growing quite fast, apart from seeing our bikes in public, it’s also fascinating to see how many people are involved in creating this and how much effort is needed to create every single bike. That, to me, is quite extraordinary!”