Daniel Tonkopi: CEO & Founder of Delfast Bikes – Ep. 88

About Daniel Tonkopi & Delfast Bikes:

Daniel Tonkopi is a Ukrainian serial entrepreneur who has forged his own, eco-friendly and thoroughly unique path through life.

Daniel Tonkopi has traveled extensively in his career, and now he has a business that is based in both Los Angeles and Kyiv, Ukraine. A series of business ideas led him to founding his current company, Delfast Bikes.

But this isn’t your ordinary ebike. Delfast has the guinness world record for longest distance traveled on a single charge, with a range of 200+ miles. The bike also has a max speed of 50mph, making it by far and away the most powerful in its class. In light of the current situation, they’re also donating 5% of all sales to support Ukraine.

Daniel has such an inspiring story of triumphing over failure and staying true to your roots. 

Full Unedited Audio Conversation:

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2:00 – “I don’t like to compete. So if I go to the market and I see hundreds of competitors, I don’t know what to do. I have no idea how to struggle, how to fight with them…I want to come here and just do what I like, just to enjoy my business…I will start business in the less busiest area…to create something unique and beautiful without the competition.”

3:47 – “I was in Kyiv, Ukraine, and I thought, ‘okay, probably there is no fast delivery’…You can order pizza and you will receive it within one hour but there is no one-hour delivery for smartphones. If you order a laptop, you have to wait for one day or two days. So I decided to make a delivery for ordering smartphones with the speed of pizza delivery. And there were no such deliveries, not even in Ukraine, but in the US as well…and after one month we became operationally profitable, and we became number one – the fastest delivery in Ukraine.”

7:52 – [On the origins of Delfast] “That was a continuation of our delivery story. I am a big fan of Eco and this is electric vehicle. We stand for zero emission and clean air and clean energy…So we are about to disrupt this delivery industry, right? To disrupt the industry, we should use disruptive technologies.”

8:42 – “When I deliver on a motorcycle, I have to pay up to 40% out of the cost for gas and I pollute air. And I have to pay for repair, for maintenance, for oil and everything. So it’s complicated. Cars are also stuck in traffic and I have to pay for gas and they also pollute air. [Common pedal] Bicycles could be good for one-hour delivery…but couriers are getting tired. So that all small parts of the puzzle. And my biggest idea was I want to use electric bicycles. My father was a professor of ecology and I became a like second generation environmentalist. So that was my initial idea. Let’s use electric transportation. And not electric car, but electric bike.”

11:23 – “We realize that all of available e-bikes have small range, less than 30 miles on a single charge, and that’s true 99.9% for e-bikes on the market…So we realized that all the e-bikes are not good for commercial use…they’re good for fun, for riding, for commuting, but not for hardcore users like couriers, like delivery services, postal companies, rental companies, police, etc., etc.. So we started to develop e-bikes for our couriers to make the long range and the low cost of maintenance, the high off road capabilities – just to solve our own problem. And step-by-step we created the e-bike which made 370 kilometres on a single charge, with 220 miles on single charge without using pedals.”

19:19 – (Ross) [On using an electric bike] “I immediately realized this is something awesome that everybody needs to have. And we live in California, and basically in L.A., everything is cars…But I spent many years in Europe…where there are dedicated bike lanes with their own traffic so bikes can go everywhere – and it’s normal in Europe to commute with a bike, in the U.S. that is not the case. But you quickly realize that…there’s a lot more that you can do on a bike in general than most Americans believe…You need to get some stuff from the grocery store. Do you need to take your car to get a backpack full of groceries? And when you realize how fun it is and you’re getting some exercise, and you’re getting some fresh air, you’re getting out in nature. It really is a win, win, win, win, win.”

22:17 – “You don’t have to look for parking. You don’t pollute air. You don’t spend gas and don’t make emissions with your car. I’m really for ecological using, not in terms of only clean air, but in terms of ecological consumption.”

22:51 – (Ross) “I have the feeling that electricity is not what we need to worry about. And let me give you an example. A few weeks ago, it was said that for one brief moment, all of California’s energy needs were met, for an hour or a couple of minutes, 100% of California’s total energy demand was met by renewable resources for the first time ever in the history. And you get the sense that energy, especially in the form of electricity, is something that we will have lots of. Stuff we may not have so much of: gas, fossil fuels, water, other irreplaceable minerals, but I have the feeling that that electricity will be abundant.”

27:05 – “My home town, Almaty…It’s a beautiful city. I grew up there and it’s surrounded by mountains, high mountains, with snow, with peaks. And they surround the city from three sides. So, in fact, there is no wind because of this mountains in the city and all their pollution, all the CO2 it stays over the city…If you go up to the mountains, you can see the black lens above the city and you cannot even see the buildings because of this polluted air. It’s a catastrophe. It’s an ecological disaster in Almaty. And my heart is broken because of that. And from a very early age, I wanted to make the air in Almaty cleaner. So…I said, ‘okay, electric vehicles could be a solution to make the air cleaner.’ And not only in Almaty, but in all big cities: Los Angeles, Beijing, Paris. So that’s how I became an environmentalist.”

34:08 – “I made all the possible mistakes which start-up entrepreneurs could ever make…I was the only one – but usually you have to have a team. I was building a product instead testing the demand, I was investing in the wrong way. I was invested into marketing before I received a sustainable business model, for example. So I made all the possible mistakes and after a couple of years I sold this project – was loss, but still I sold it and that gave me some strength to go forward to launch next start-up. Then I launched next and the next. So I established maybe 15 unsuccessful projects.”

40:33 – [How to know when a start-up has failed] “I made the rule for myself of three months. When I have an idea, and I’m writing all my crazy or brilliant ideas into my Google notes…If I didn’t implement this idea after three months, I just abandon it. Because today, right now, at this moment, this idea could be good. But after half a year, others will implement it. The world is changing really quickly…Then I have another three months from the first step to first dollar…After half a year I have to find an answer, ‘Is this idea going to bring in money or no?’ If no, then okay, let’s just skip it and go to the next idea or the next option.”

45:56 – [On the influence of Ben Horowitz’s book ‘The Thing about Hard Things’] “Ben says…’you have to beat your most popular competitor at least ten times.’..So this is what I did…I had high competition with the delivery companies…They deliver 24 hours/one day, I will deliver it one hour….When we created the ebike, it was ten times better than all other competitors. They had 20 miles, we created 220 miles of recharge. If you create 10x better product, then you might have a chance on the market.”

53:03 – [On how to make your first dollar in a six-month time-frame] “You just go to your potential customers and ask them if they are ready to buy it or not. This is what I did with my delivery service when I just have an idea, just a PowerPoint presentation. I went to online stores in Kyiv and ask them, ‘Hey guys, you have your one-day delivery. Would you buy a one-hour delivery from me if I create it?’ And after they finished laughing, they said ‘Yes, of course we would’…Just go and ask your potential customers if they would pay for it or not.”

57:30 – “After I received this feedback, I could start making development – first prototype. You have to go to customers before you start. This is what I’ve learned from my dozens of unsuccessful start-ups.”

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