Delfast founder and CEO Daniel Tonkopi talks e-bikes in Ukraine and managing remotely throughout a navy invasion.
When Daniel Tonkopi based Delfast in Kyiv, Ukraine, in 2014, he had no intention of constructing and promoting electrical bikes. He additionally by no means anticipated that his firm can be caught up in a warfare with Russia or that his bikes would turn into navy autos. However at 43, Tonkopi, a local of Almaty, Kazakhstan, now finds himself dwelling in Los Angeles, operating an e-bike firm and remotely managing dozens of staff dwelling in a warfare zone. In Could, Tonkopi made headlines when he shared photographs on Fb of Ukrainian fighters utilizing Delfast bikes to hold anti-tank weapons to the entrance, demonstrating one more use case for electrified two-wheelers.
“Our bikes are nonetheless working regardless of damages,” he advised me on a video name earlier this month.
Tonkopi moved to Ukraine from Kazakhstan in 2009. He’d been working for KazMunayGas, the state-owned oil and gasoline firm, as a venture supervisor constructing gasoline stations when he determined to go to Kyiv to attempt his hand as an entrepreneur. The vogue on the time was to construct clones of profitable U.S. tech corporations, so Tonkopi made a model of Yelp for Jap Europe. It was, by his personal admission, a flop, as had been a number of makes an attempt that got here after. “I turned an professional in all of the attainable errors and the best way to not make a startup,” he says.
Delfast started as a one-hour supply firm. (The identify is brief for “we ship quick.”) Tonkopi needed to make use of e-bikes for the service as a result of they had been low cost, fast, zero-emissions and didn’t require couriers to pedal for hours on finish. When he couldn’t discover bikes with lengthy sufficient battery life to work all day, he determined to attempt constructing his personal. His Frankenstein creations turned heads. “We heard a variety of asks from random individuals. ‘Hey, are you promoting these bikes?’” he says. So, in 2017, Delfast launched a crowdfunding marketing campaign, raised $165,000 and offered 44 e-bikes.
Over the following three years, Delfast functioned each as a courier firm and a web based e-bike store. In 2020, a number of days after Covid lockdowns started, Tonkopi offered the supply enterprise to a direct-to-consumer meat vendor in Ukraine. Delfast now sells a single e-bike mannequin, the High 3.0, through its web site and a small community of impartial bike outlets. It has a high pace of fifty miles per hour, a spread of as much as 200 miles and a sticker worth of $6,999. Final yr, Delfast offered about 200 items, principally to clients within the US. To date this yr, says Tonkopi, gross sales are operating at triple that tempo.
Final fall, after realizing that 80% of the corporate’s clients had been within the US, Delfast opened an workplace in Whittier, California, exterior Los Angeles, the place Tonkopi and some others work. The remaining 30 staff are nonetheless in Ukraine. Tonkopi spoke with Bloomberg about e-bikes as weapons, managing a startup by warfare, and the Delfast product pipeline. The dialog has been edited for readability and size. You have acquired 30 or so individuals in Ukraine. How have you ever managed that workforce for the reason that warfare started? Ranging from February twenty fourth, these had been robust weeks, particularly the primary week, after we didn’t know what was taking place and what to do. We had some monetary reserves, sufficient for 3 months of wage for all our personnel, so we advised all people, ‘You don’t have to fret, you’ll have your wage it doesn’t matter what, at the very least for 3 months.’
And we supplied a few of them with help to relocate. We discovered some homes and residences in safer locations. For instance, one lady used to reside in Kherson, a metropolis absolutely occupied by Russia. At one level, Russian police or navy forces got here to her home. They requested her to point out them her smartphone, her laptop computer and so forth. They discovered anti-Russian messages and memes in her cellphone. In order that they deleted all the knowledge in her cellphone and stated, ‘Okay, now your smartphone can have a brand new life. And you’ll come to our police station tomorrow at 11 a.m. And you’ll have new life as nicely.’ That was actually scary. She didn’t wish to have any type of new life with Russia. So certainly one of our gross sales supervisor helped to search out her a automobile in Kherson and to flee. She left to Odessa that night time. Odessa is beneath assault as nicely. There isn’t a secure place in Ukraine, but it surely’s comparatively safer. Are individuals now capable of do their jobs? Sure. That was the primary weeks. Individuals are nonetheless sitting in bomb shelters. They reside of their residences or homes however once they hear air-raid sirens, they’ve to enter bomb shelters. It’s fixed bombing. Each Monday begins with a Zoom name with everybody, we ask them how they’re, if they’re secure, what’s occurring, after which we transfer on to our typical enterprise points.
What’s loopy is that throughout the warfare, our engineers have developed a completely new product. They had been uninterested in sitting within the basement and uninterested in being afraid, they usually needed to maneuver their power and inspiration into one thing new. And so they created a brand new mannequin for the US market, which we’re going to unveil at first of August. Do you may have a reputation for it? We do, however it’s nonetheless into account. It has a smaller battery and decrease pace than our High bike. We’ll do our greatest to make it reasonably priced so extra individuals will be capable to use it. How did a few of your e-bikes wind up within the warfare? When the warfare started, we determined that we’re going to assist the individuals of Ukraine and we’re going to donate 5% of all our gross sales income as an organization. And we’ve donated three e-bikes — two of our High 3.0 bikes to Ukrainian navy forces and one prototype to the volunteer division. They’re utilizing this prototype for his or her medical employees. Three bikes are what we had in our services at first of the warfare. We ship elements and semi-assembled bikes from China to California. And now we have our inventory right here in Los Angeles. We’ve simply an R&D heart in Ukraine. We did not have many spare elements in Kyiv.
The navy adjusted them. They made a further rear trunk for holding rocket launchers. They are saying it really works nicely. In accordance with their suggestions, our bike is maneuverable, it’s quiet and it can’t be noticed by warmth sensors. To allow them to come to a place, do no matter they should do, after which instantly depart with out being noticed. They’ve a troublesome state of affairs. Russian troops are attacking our military. It’s sizzling. It’s actually sizzling. Our Ukrainian troopers, generally they arrive again wounded and with some damages on their automobiles and autos. Our bikes are nonetheless working regardless of damages. It operates nicely within the hottest situations. And you might be additionally fundraising now? Sure, a few yr in the past, at first of 2021, we did an fairness crowdfunding spherical at fundable.com. Individuals from Ukraine believed in our firm. 300 of them invested. The common verify was about $10,000. So we raised $3.4 million. That helped us to create our R&D heart in Ukraine, to maneuver our headquarters to California and to create a inventory of bikes. We invested lots into our provide chain, into logistics, and we decreased our lead time from 4 months, one yr in the past, to 2 weeks as we speak.
Then we launched a Sequence A enterprise spherical at first of this yr. We paused on the finish of February, however now I’m again at it. The purpose for the spherical is $20 million. We’ve obtained $2 million and proper now I’m in negotiation for one more $5 million. We’ve a product, now we have a product plan, now we have a platform, now we have proprietary applied sciences, now we have gross sales, and we’re rising, even with out exterior funding. We’d like funding to make the expansion quicker. We’re rising at 3x. We wish to develop 20x. I’m constructing a multibillion-dollar firm right here.