Why charging stations instead of battery swapping network?
I am not a huge fan of battery swapping networks. There is just so much money needed for them to even start. In addition, battery tech is ever developing, and we don’t want to spend money making a bunch of extra batteries now, just for them to be obsolete in a few years. New bike models that we build in the future will have to take these old batteries into consideration, and we will be stuck in this backward compatibility trap. It will be exponentially more difficult to build anything new. Just look at what happened with Internet Explorer.
Charging stations are different. While it is harder to find them at home, high-voltage power lines are already ubiquitous such as in industrial buildings, shopping malls, or apartment complexes. We can install rectifiers at these locations to convert the current from AC to DC for people to charge their bikes. Keep in mind that to fast charge a bike requires a couple orders of magnitude less power than doing that on a car. The bike and the charger will talk to each other to negotiate a charging rate. This way, newer bikes with different charging capabilities can still charge at existing stations. And we just need a software protocol layer for the negotiation, as opposed to a hardware lock-in as in the case of battery swapping networks.
Building out charging stations is more of a logistic and business development problem than a technical one. We expect that Dat Bike will own and operate some locations while partnering with other people for the rest. If the Covid situation gets better, we will build a couple pilot locations within this year. We are thinking of placing them along the HCMC - Vung Tau and HCMC - Da Lat routes since they are the two most popular destinations for long bike trips.
What is Dat Bike's moat?
There is a lot of software involved in all the things we set out to build above. We believe that Dat Bike needs to be a software-powered company. Everything that we do has to be very efficient, and software can help greatly with that. We have seen more and more inefficiencies everyday that could be solved by software. People still use physical warranty cards for their bikes. Engineering teams or OEM partners still share technical drawings with each other via emails, using filenames for versioning. Service centers still work in silos, so if you do maintenance at different locations each time, they will not know what has been worked on previously on your bike. Supply chain people still depend on quarterly sales reports from dealerships to predict demand. And I could go on and on.
We are not advocating for building every piece of software ourselves. In software, sometimes you have to build things from scratch, and sometimes it can just be a bunch of SaaS products bundled together via some integration scripts. This is totally dependent on what problems we are solving or what we consider to be our core competency.
A good example of software-powered would be the omni-channel lead tracking system we built recently. Now every person who ever makes contact with Dat Bike, whether it is through Facebook messages, our website, or the HCMC store, will be tracked in our system. The system can match profiles to identify the same person and build a marketing funnel. It also allows everyone at Dat Bike to see the current stage of this funnel, which means that we can achieve a higher level of transparency and can make decisions in a more data-driven way. This also significantly reduces the workload of our sales and marketing teams, since reports and dashboards are now updated live and automatically, with no room for human errors.
Powered by software also doesn’t mean just using software or building software. Since we started Dat Bike 2.5 years ago, people have always asked us about our secret sauce, what would help us fight against potential competitors. Everyone in software understands that unless you are working on classified and patented research, there is no single secret sauce to help you win. It’s the sheer amount of incremental improvements a company makes over the course of its existence to get things more and more close to perfection that make copying hard. In addition, the longer a product is out on the market, the more data it collects to put back to the feedback loop to improve itself. Google is a great example of this. People can’t copy Google not because they can’t come up with good search algorithms, but because of the amount of search data it already has.
So what makes the software way interesting is that literally everything that you work on, big or small, adds into strengthening your position. And because of data, the moat also gets bigger as days go by. Many people, especially people who work deep in manufacturing, don’t get this. I think this could be because the daily problems they solve often involve making exact copies of things, instead of improving them. This is why we want to build a culture where everyone at Dat Bike thinks like a software person, gets frustrated by repeated work that doesn’t add to our long term success, and is always on the lookout for better improvements in the way we do things. It is what we really mean by powered by software.