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Dat Bike- From Shark Tank to Vietnam’s first indigenous electric motorbike

How Dat Bike founder Son Nguyen is taking the high road to sustainable growth

There is nothing new about e-bikes / electric motorbikes.

In fact, the idea to install a DC motor to the rear wheel hub of a bike was first patented in the US at the end of the 19th century by Ogden Bolton Jnr. But, whilst innovation has continued ever since, conditions were never right for the idea to scale with competition from both traditional bikes & larger vehicles like cars.

Until now.

Now the world has caught up & Deloitte is predicting that, by 2023, 40 million electric motorbikes will be sold globally each year. Unsurprisingly Southeast Asia is a hotspot for adoption with over 80% of the region’s households owning a 2-wheeler vehicle. Even less surprisingly for anyone familiar with the busy streets of cities like Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam is at the epicenter of this e-bike revolution.

However, despite being one of the largest motorbike markets in the world, the adoption of electric vehicles has been slow in Southeast Asia since traditionally they are seen as an inferior option to gasoline bikes being weak and low-ranged, delivering only half the performance of a typical gas bike. This is the gap that Dat Bike is addressing.

Dat Bike’s competitive advantage has been its performance against gasoline bikes. Dat Bike’s first line product — Weaver (2019) offered three times the performance (5kW versus 1.5kW) and two times the range (100 km versus 50 km) of most electric motorbikes at the same price point. In November 2021, Dat Bike launched its second model, Weaver 200 (2021) which is double the range (200 km) and more powerful (6kW) compared to the Weaver.

..but why does Dat Bike founder Son Nguyen believe he & his company are well-positioned to get ahead of the pack in Vietnam, Southeast Asia & beyond?

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The Strategy

The public has been cheering on Dat Bike since it was nothing but a twinkle in its founder’s eye. Son Nguyen revealed his environmentally friendly concept to the world on Shark Tank Vietnam in what became the country’s most-viewed episode. At that point, he didn’t even have a final product — just a prototype & a conviction that the country & the region needed to challenge its addiction not to bikes, but to gasoline.

But it wasn’t the prototype that set Son Nguyen apart in an increasingly competitive electric motorbike category. It was his strategy.

Where giants like Honda & Toyota sought to seize share by bringing down the cost of the bike, Son Nguyen sought to earn share by solving the biggest, most stubborn problem in the category — the Price to Performance Ratio’.

The ‘Price to Performance Ratio’ has dogged the electric motorbike category for many years. Being environmentally friendly was too much of a compromise — slower & less convenient. Son Nguyen was convinced that the solution did not lie in cutting corners on style or build quality. Desirability remained key to building a loyal customer base. He was determined that Dat Bike would not think like an automotive company, but instead like a tech company. It was the more open, more collaborative & more iterative approach he learned working as a software engineer in Silicon Valley that he sought to apply to his new venture.

The Execution

There is no perfect product, you just have to keep iterating, releasing new features, bug fixes really fast & to work closely with customers to improve the product

This ‘always in beta’ mindset has instilled a very positive restlessness in Son Nguyen. Never accepting that he might have achieved ‘Product/Market Fit’ but rather relentlessly seeking new ways to improve the product in line with what he hears from customers.

The launch of the second Dat Bike vehicle, the Weaver 200, is evidence of this approach. Designed to go further, faster & on a quicker charge, the Weaver 200 was imagined, designed & crafted with the needs of everyday Vietnamese in mind.

The Team

Son Nguyen is an introspective leader. Deliberate & searching in the questions he asks himself in order to build a business that will achieve its goals, fulfill its purpose & stand the test of time. A business that caters to the needs of his country — its people & its environment. This introspection can be clearly seen in his approach to senior hires.

He describes founders as being on a spectrum. Some look to identify the gaps in their knowledge & then quickly plug those gaps with experienced people. Others, like himself, feel the need to learn more about each area they don’t understand — to constantly recalibrate their own knowledge to ensure the hires they make are perfectly suited to achieve his ambitions for Dat Bike.

To build a convention-defying company, Son Nguyen had to nurture a team that was not just along for the ride. They had to be equally committed to his vision & his values. He did this by ensuring that Dat Bike employees are treated as people. He truly believes in demonstrating a duty of care & offers 3 free meals a day, social security, insurance & meaningful equity compensation. He has built a community, not just a workforce. A community of individuals he invites to ‘Become giants in the world’.

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Son Nguyen’s determination to electrify Vietnam’s bikes — & subsequently to expand the business across the region — is in great part driven by an acute awareness of the looming environmental threat.

In 2021 the IPCC’s sixth assessment report made clear that Southeast Asia would be one of the earliest regions to feel the impact of global warming. Rising sea levels in particular would threaten Vietnam itself with 70% of the population living in coastal areas.

In Southeast Asia, where bikes are woven into the very fabric of society, solving the problem of the ‘Price/Performance Ratio’ is more than a smart strategic focus. It is an engineering solution to a problem that threatens the future of the 670 million within the region’s borders & many more millions beyond.

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