The freedom of a bike, photo licensed from iStock

The freedom of a bike, photo licensed from iStock

Reporter with Silicon Hills News

377527v1-max-250x250The website of Austin startup Spokefly lists a variety of bicycles its members may borrow.

For example, Lee has posted a picture of his large commuter bike, Brittany has a medium road bike and Shawn has a medium cruiser listed.

Nate McGuire and Dan DeFelippi founded and launched this peer-to-peer bike share in October. The business lets bike owners rent their bikes to others.

“If you have an extra bike and want to make some money off it, you can list it with us,” DeFelippi said. “If you want a more convenient way to get around you can become a member.”

Bike owners make money based on the frequency their bike is ridden. Renters browse the site, find a bike near them, use a code to unlock the bike, and ride. Membership levels start at $14.99 a month for five monthly rides, two hour time limit and one day pass included. The highest rate is $79.99 a month for unlimited rides of premium road and mountain bikes.

Spokefly currently targets the urban population downtown and University of Texas students.

“The downtown worker is not necessarily replacing their commute [with Spokefly], but it’s good for not having to move your car or pay for parking,” McGuire said. “Downtown workers are very particular about how and when they will use [Spokefly.]”

Kelly Hannifin, a web designer working in downtown, rents a bike from Spokefly about once per week.

“We ride to happy hour and have a great time,” Hannifin said. “I love that the bikes are super close to where I live and downtown. They’re not just any old bikes. They are people’s nice bikes that they really take care of.”

She primarily rents a Spokefly bike for social reasons but that may change.

“In the summer when the weather is nice, I’ll use it for transportation more then,” she said.

Spokefly’s original targeted downtown workers, but quickly expanded to include University of Texas students.

377526v1-max-450x450“We’re getting more bikes at UT and it looks like students will adopt pretty quickly,” McGuire said. “We’re looking at [Austin Community College], [St. Edward’s University], and others around town. UT was easier because I’m familiar with it.”

McGuire graduated from UT in 2008 with degrees in finance and communication studies. After working at Apple Inc. and Ernst & Young, he realized he wanted to build businesses instead.

McGuire started working on the project last summer after his car was totaled. He spent about a month using other transportation, then looked at a bike rack and got an idea.

“I thought, ‘I’m just going to take a bike home,’ but there was no way I could actually do that.”

So McGuire created a way. He put together a rough prototype, and then approached DeFelippi about working together.

“It just worked out,” McGuire said. “He has a lot more technical experience than me. What you see now is a product of him and I working together.”

The pair met the year before at Capital Factory, an incubator that helps people become entrepreneurs and network with other talents.

“Our skills complement each other pretty well,” DeFelippi said. “He’s business with some development experience. I’m development with some business experience.”

This two-man team is part of the most recent incubator class at Capital Factory. While they have lots of ideas for expansion, their current focus is on a mobile site, set to launch by South By Southwest.

“It’s going to have a new features,” DeFelippi said. “A lot of them are user requests like adding more detailed descriptions of the bikes and brands, allowing users to take photos of the bikes to check security and allowing users to interact with bike owners.”

While both founders say their biggest challenge is getting users, as is typical with startups, the pair keeps close contact with current users.

“One or the other of both of us has met all users,” DeFelippi said. “We email every user when they sign up so they can talk to us. We might take them out to lunch. We want to know how we can improve their experience.”

Besides immediate growth with a mobile platform, Spokefly hopes to expand to other cities in time. McGuire listed several cities in the running with San Francisco topping the list.

“Austin is our initial test city, because we live here,” DeFelippi said. “But the long term plan is to grow across the US. We’re looking at bike-friendly reasonable environments, but still trying to figure it out.”