The Bikey App – Cowboy, VanMoof and Tech Philanthropy

Alex Hackett

Group Director of Digital

VanMoof was once hailed as the “Tesla of e-bikes” – now it’s entered bankruptcy protection and stores are closed all across Europe. Having raised $128m of funding only two years ago, questions will no doubt have to be asked: how did the Dutch cycling superpower go from market leader to busted flush in a matter of months?

This story however is not about VanMoof’s woes, but about its competitor’s extraordinary act of generosity. Cowboy Bikes are another e-bike brand based just across the border in Belgium. Of similar construction and design to VanMoof, most would struggle to tell the two bike makers’ work apart on the road – Cowboy is however David to VanMoof’s Goliath, and the two have been battling it out in the marketplace for many years now.

When news of VanMoof’s demise hit social media, Cowboy’s team instantly capitalised, but not in the way you’d expect.

Their tech team worked around the clock to produce Bikey – an app for VanMoof riders that allowed them to store their bike’s unique login key natively on their phone, without relying on VanMoof’s servers. Because VanMoof’s bikes require an app to start, this effectively saved thousands of bikes from becoming unusable overnight. Put simply, Cowboy made a FREE app that helped their defeated competitor’s product stay viable for longer.

Why on earth did they do this?

The cynical would say that this level of goodwill will most likely result in these customers’ next purchases being a Cowboy bike, there are however easier ways they could have achieved this. A simple discount code for current VanMoof riders would have done much the same thing, and would likely have increased Cowboy sales with more immediacy. By keeping these bikes on the road, Cowboy are actually decreasing the likelihood of a quick sale. Cowboy aren’t even getting valuable data from these users – their website states all information will be kept on the user’s phone, with nothing transferred to ANY server (although they most likely will be able to message these phantom customers in the future via the app… lets see…).

One thing that’s inarguable is that their actions have helped shore-up confidence in the wider e-vehicle market; customers across the sector needed reassurance that these kinds of bikes will continue working regardless of what happens to their manufacturer. For this, Cowboy have helped all manufacturers, while positioning themselves as the heir-apparent to the VanMoof customer base.

Ultimately, truly altruistic or not it’s an excellent bit of marketing for Cowboy and objectively The Right Thing To Do. Cowboy have no doubt gone the extra mile here – this must have been a serious technical challenge and one which will have cost them dearly in development time and server space.

The team at Cowboy deserve full praise for their quick thinking and sector leadership. Time will tell if all this hard work will result in Cowboy riding off into the sunset having lassoed in the VanMoof herd… 🤠

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PLMR’s crisis communications experience is second to none, and includes pre-emptive and reactive work across traditional and social media channels. We work with a range of organisations to offer critical communication support when they are faced with difficult and challenging scenarios.