Last year, I regaled MNN readers with tales of an Israeli inventor’s cardboard bike that could be built with $9 of materials and sold for $20 to $60. The idea was to jump-start Third World mobility with practically free bicycles. Did it sound too good to be true? You bet, but it was an ultra-cool concept.
As an altruistic idea, the cardboard bike was unassailable, but now that Cardboard Technologies (CT) is getting ready to actually launch the thing, we’re seeing complications. In a recent conference call with inventor Izhar Gafni and company CEO Nimrod Elmish, the concept of the $20 to $60 bike seemed to have pedaled off into the sunset.
CT has launched a crowdfunding Indiegogo campaign aimed at raising $2 million to build the factories needed to churn out the bikes for a waiting world. At presstime it had raised only $34,730, possibly because the value proposition asks a lot of contributors. They’re supposed to pay $95 for a bike that will, according to Elmish during the conference call, actually be delivered around March 2015. That’s a lot of delayed gratification.
Actually, when the Indiegogo site was first put up in late June, the bike was priced at $290, but CT reduced it dramatically after only 24 units had been scarfed up by July 1.
The whole pricing thing got confusing. CT was claiming a “price drop” to $95 when it had already told the world that the bike would retail for $20 to $60. “We never said the price would be $20,” Elmish said. A press release said the new price for the Cardboard Bike is $95 plus $40 shipping, or $135, but the Indiegogo site cut that to $95 including shipping. The delivery date also appears to have been moved up to March 2014. Help! I’m at sea here. (Did I mention that our conference call started with Elmish nowhere to be found? Must be Israeli time.)
The Cardboard Bike is still a cool thing, though I'd have to actually ride one to have a sense if it's ready for duty on the world's roads. Inventor Gafni was inspired by a cardboard boat, but everyone told him the bike would never work. I’m reminded of Kate Campbell’s song about a man who built a cement boat that “most folks said” would “never float.” But it did! Actually, lots of folks have made concrete boats.
Crowdfunding is a good way to go for the cardboard bike, but it’s probably not a good idea to keep changing the offer. I’m presuming that the early adopters who agreed to pay $290 will get a price adjustment.
CT has ideals. According to Gafni, “We want to build the bikes in our own factory, not make them in China. That’s why it will take us some time to start manufacturing. It could take less time [in China], but we prefer to do it the right way.”
Elmish said that CT has actually turned down some equity investment, because the money would have come with strings attached — the investors “prioritized financial values over social values,” CT said. “We’re not a return-on-investment company,” according to Elmish.
CT (that's the team above) does have a lead investor in the form of Jeff Schwartz, the former CEO and president of Timberland. He argues that CT represents “a unique opportunity for Moral Capitalism in action — environmental innovation that delivers a superior product that is good for consumers and good for society.”
Schwartz, Elmish said, “has a significant role in our company. He sees the same vision we see.”
The vision thing is great, but so far it isn’t funding cardboard bikes. Gafni and Elmish may have to adjust their dream a bit. After all, they’ve already adjusted the price.
Here's Gafni talking on video about how he came to develop a cardboard bike:
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