In our latest Founder Feature, we’re talking with David Watkins, CTO of DASH Rides, a leading e-bike subscription platform that’s on a mission to change the way the world moves for good.
Who are you and what is your story?
I am currently founder and COO of DASH Rides, a leading e-bike subscription platform. By trade, I am a Mechanical Engineer. I’ve always had an interest in mobility innovation, and was previously at Jaguar Land Rover. I led development on the Range Rover Evoque, taking designs from concept to production. Being on the engineering side, it opened my eyes to how the mobility industry was evolving and with the growing focus on sustainability, I saw the potential in e-mobility and took that leap to leave my job.
I went on to do my MBA at Imperial College and that is where the idea for DASH Rides really kicked off. Part of doing an MBA is networking – you get told by all your professors to go and grab coffee with everyone. I had reconnected with my former classmate and my now co-founder, Jamie Milroy. Coming from different spectrums of entrepreneurship, we both believed that mobility was undergoing a major revolution. We saw the growing demand for bikes and the need to achieve a net-zero impact. That’s really where our journey began. E-bikes are the perfect alternative to mass transport, it’s capabilities go beyond traditional bikes, allowing people to travel further with less effort. DASH Rides gives commuters access to top branded e-bikes through leveraging the UK Cycle to Work scheme and working with businesses to help people move around cities.
Can you tell us about your company and what you’re striving to achieve?
At DASH Rides, we are on a mission to change the way the world moves for good. Through the Cycle to Work scheme, DASH Rides is making e-bikes affordable and accessible to all – all for less than the cost of a sandwich a day. By working with businesses across the UK, we provide businesses with the tools they need to be carbon neutral, as well as make a transformative impact on the employees’ health and wellbeing.
How are you measuring your success? What are your metrics?
I’m now an active part of the movement to save our planet. We’re building something of tangible value that has a positive impact on society and helping businesses achieve their sustainability initiatives. Creating something of value is one of the most rewarding things you can do. E-mobility is on the rise and now more than ever, people are searching for alternatives to public transport, businesses are more conscious of their environmental impact and are looking at how they can get people back to work. Our climate-first pledge alone is a huge part of our success, especially as a start-up competing in an age-old industry. When measuring our carbon impact, we’re leaving the world in a better state than we found it.
To delve a little deeper into the metrics, DASH positively impacts the individual by enabling more people to use e-bikes – we’ve been able to provide people with access to e-bikes for as little as 65p per day and every one of our rides is carbon offset by 400%. As well as their contribution to the environment, it’s no secret that keeping active will benefit their health and wellbeing all round.
How many hours of sleep do you get and what is your morning/evening routine?
I try to get 8 hours of sleep every night and for me, that means going to bed between 9-10pm, so I’m up in time to start my morning routine. Almost every day starts with a run and of course, coffee. I usually wake up at around 6 am as I like a head start to get some things ticked off the list before connecting with the outside world. It’s easy to get lost in emails and meetings so having time to get my ducks in a row is really important to me.
What has surprised you in your journey so far?
I never underestimated how challenging it would be to start a business, everyone said I’d be jumping hurdles each day and as someone that’s not afraid to put in the effort, I came into this with my eyes wide open. My background was in a very traditional industry, and, I was accustomed to the way of working in a large multinational company. I’m a generalist that constantly wants to learn and I believe that starting a business enables the maximum learning potential of any role. I’d always worn the hat as an engineer, but since starting DASH Rides, the learning curve has been near exponential – I’d never thought I’d understand so much about marketing!
One of the biggest surprises for me was the mental impact of starting a business. There is greater pressure and higher risk on every action you take and the impact is wider than just you and your immediate team. The highs and the lows are amplified by an order magnitude. Every victory or loss is a direct result of your decision making and some days this can be really tough. Building a business is not a linear activity. Pivoting, changing plans and taking steps backwards is all part of the journey.
What are your goals over the next 1, 3, 6 and 12 months?
In 12 months time, we’re aiming to have thousands of bikes out on subscription. My goal is to do everything required to make this vision a reality. Much like planning in project management, it’s really healthy to have micro and macro goals, but my experience has taught me that plans are only a guide and there’s always going to be intrinsic and extrinsic factors that affect them. So, you need a recognition that it probably won’t go exactly to plan – you need to regularly reassess and have contingencies in place.
In a startup, having goals like this is at an organisational level challenging enough, let alone the personal level. My commitment to DASH Rides means the organisational goals reflect my own. We are rapidly growing the business and I’m expecting this year to be very intense.
Can you tell us who your mentors and heroes are, and what impact they’ve had on you?
I think it’s healthy to have a few different mentors. In a way, I see it like having a personal board of directors that can help you navigate your career and life in general. The diversity of experienced thought enables you to make better decisions. The main name that comes to mind is a university researcher that I met during my undergraduate degree. He supervised me for several projects and pushed me to achieve things I didn’t think I was capable of. When I had decided to leave my career at Jaguar Land Rover, he was someone who encouraged me to seriously consider starting a business.
In terms of heroes, this is harder to answer as naturally, these have changed through time. Currently, I have a huge amount of time and respect for Scott Galloway, Professor of Marketing at NYU. Scott co-hosts a weekly podcast called Pivot that covers business and tech news. He’s a serial entrepreneur and accomplished businessman. His views are all well thought through and although an expert of sorts, and a controversial figure to some, he’s constantly willing to learn. I’ve learned a lot by listening to him.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to budding innovators taking the same journey?
Define assumptions that underpin your business concept and test them as quickly and efficiently as possible. I learnt that from ‘The Lean Startup’ by Eric Ries. I still connect with budding entrepreneurs and startups I worked with during my time at Imperial College to help mentor them and it’s always a book I recommend. Following this philosophy will ensure you avoid spending money and time building something that no one wants. According to Paul Graham of Y-Combinator, the infamous startup accelerator, this is the number one cause of startups failing.
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