With the streets emptier than ever and the city air cleaner than its been in decades, now is the best possible time to think about bicycling to work or just for fun
OZB editor Douglas Williams sat down for a [virtual social distancing] chat with COBI co-founder Costel Iftime.
What is COBI, what does it do?
COBI Custom Bicycle is a bicycle manufacturer at the beginning of the road. We are addressing a market segment that has been so far neglected by the European market. It is about the customers who need a casual bike, but who want to make it an accessory. Through the 3D Configurator, cobicustom.ro, and the Virtual Reality application that we have developed, our customers can create a bicycle, exactly as they imagine it, with the bike reflecting their personality. The community that has developed around COBI Custom Bicycle over time is from Bucharest, but with the launch of the 3D configurator we want to serve people from all over Romania.
Who are you, what’s your background, and where did your interest in bikes come from?
I am a young entrepreneur and have been passionate about entrepreneurship since I was 16. I started COBI Custom Bicycle at the age of 19, immediately joined by my current business partner, Elena.
My passion for bicycles began when I was in high school, spurred on by my father. He had a bicycle that he rode literally all his life, and at one point, he told me for several hours all the events he went through in life with his bike. At that moment I realized how important a bicycle can be. I understood that it can be a silent friend, who is with you every single day, both the rainy and the sunny ones. The desire to recondition my father’s bicycle, with which he has had so many adventures, aroused a curiosity in me to learn how to repair bicycles.
Later, I spent 3 months in The Hague, where I fell hopelessly in love with the Dutch lifestyle and cycling. I think that’s when I realized that cycling is a game changer, and it comes with a lot of benefits.
What do you think is the future for bikes, especially here in Buc?
I think that Bucharest is visibly becoming an increasingly friendly environment for cyclists. I think the main factors for this are:
- Impossibility to travel by car inside the city, especially over short distances
- Freedom of movement and the financial freedom that comes with the decision to use a bicycle for a means of transport and give up the car
- Expats that are more and more numerous in Bucharest and that all use bicycles. We noticed among our clients that more and more expats living in Bucharest use a bicycle as a means of transport.
The problem of lack of infrastructure remains. But here I see the problem as a chicken or the egg dilemma. I think that the lack of demands has allowed authorities to be negligent regarding this segment, but with the growth of communities and the changing transportation habits of Bucharest residents, the authorities will no longer be able to ignore this category of citizens and will take steps towards creating infrastructure that the metropolis needs in order to allow the inhabitants to choose an efficient means of transport, but also to offer them the environmental conditions necessary for a healthy life.
Give us an example of how it has worked with COBI ?
I started COBI Bicycle in 2015 only with a desire to contribute to this movement of streamlining life in the metropolis, without any resources. I immediately found two opportunities, financing from ING Bank of 6,000 Euros within a business incubator and the financing of 25,000 euros from a European non-reimbursable fund.
Since 2015, we have had an organic business growth of about 30% per year.
We started by selling reconditioned used bikes and then quickly and easily found a niche market: custom bikes.
This is how we developed COBI to the point where we can afford to have 2 full-time employees and a turnover of approximately 50,000 euros per year. Last year we obtained non-reimbursable European financing of 40,000 euros, with the help of which we made the configurator and the Virtual Reality application, but also the purchase of professional ecological painting.
Although in our particular case, we had to move twice last year, due to a series of unfortunate events, we believe that the bicycle market will continue to grow to the point where we will align with Western countries.
We’ve already taken that direction and I don’t think we’ll stop.