Kiwi electric motorbike maker going global

UBCO electric motorbike in snow in Oregon, USA

UBCO is on a speedy path to international success since launching its all-terrain electric motorbike just two years ago. NZTE is along for the ride.

Bay of Plenty-based electric motorbike maker UBCO is gearing up for international expansion, thanks to new investment from the United States.

UBCO designs and manufactures the UBCO 2x2, an electric motorbike that can survive one of the toughest environments in the world – New Zealand farms - and last year added an on-road model to its portfolio.

The UBCO 2x2 is silent, with portable power and no emissions – making them attractive to farm and tourism operators, and city slickers.

The award-winning company’s first shipment of electric motorbikes to the United States arrived in 2017 and are already running out the door, kicking off a push into its second export market.

UBCO’s electric motorbikes are sold in New Zealand and Australia, and last year Ubco confirmed a deal with US partners who will fund and manage a dedicated US operation, Ubco Bikes US.

“We’re a New Zealand company, and we’re a small company, and to get direct US investment at our age and stage is very unusual,” says Timothy Allan, UBCO’s Chief Executive.

NZTE has worked with UBCO since the company first sought angel investment as a start-up in 2015, helping it pitch to potential investors and research which overseas markets would be the best to start exporting.

“NZTE has always supported us at each capital step. They’ve been a continuous thread in our investment programme,” Allan says.

Daryl and Anthony designed the prototype and took it to Fieldays in 2014 where it caught the attention of judges in the Innovation Awards.

They won the Locus Research award, and with the help of the product development and innovation company led by Allan, the UBCO brand was born and the company launched in 2015 with Allan as the Chief Executive.

The company received early and second stage funding from local angel investors before attracting investment from the US.

The bikes core components are made overseas and assembled in China, from there they are shipped to their destination market.

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One of the biggest challenges UBCO has is funding its expansion, and having enough electric motorbikes made to satisfy customer demand.

In order to attract investment, UBCO needed to demonstrate its potential in offshore markets. 

UBCO had fulfilled orders in New Zealand and Australia, and had a pipeline of new orders on its books to show potential investors in the US.

“Getting offshore becomes vital for a New Zealand company. You need to be able to demonstrate potential in order to attract investment,” says Chief Executive Timothy Allan.

Then it is a matter of telling your story.

“The number one thing people can do is to present a compelling story backed up by resolved design, engineering and marketing."

“If you do that, then the kind of people who are attracted to that proposition are the kind of people that you want to be doing work with.”

UBCO’s website attracted the interest of father and son tech investors Bob and Ethan Ralston in December 2016, who contacted the company and within days Allan was on a flight to Oregon.

“If the door opens you’ve got to take the chances,” he says of getting on a plane a few days before Christmas.

“You’ve got to go there. We went there pretty quickly, and presented to a group of investors during an ice storm. We shipped Bob a bike. That group of investors ended up being the cornerstone investors for the US company.”

It took almost six months of negotiations to confirm the structure of an investment deal with the US investors.

The deal included an order for a container of 2x2’s, giving UBCO certainty over inventory. UBCO was able to enter full-scale production to get the container ready for the US.

The company aims to sell between 500 and 600 electric motorbikes in the US by June this year, and expects the number of sales to increase exponentially thereafter.

“The first off-road 2x2’s were designed to seed the market and to get the sales conversation started. The new 2018 model takes it to the next level” says Allan.

 

The country that brought us marshmallow frosting and smoky barbequed ribs can be a culture shock for many hitting the ground in the US for the first time.

“Honestly, if you think you can navigate the American culture at the same time as trying to learn about their business practice, you’re nuts, you can’t do it,” says UBCO Chief Executive Timothy Allan.

Each of the 50 states has their own set of customs and compliance rules around doing business, and a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work.

The US is New Zealand’s third-largest trading partner, and its population of 326 million people (US Census Bureau) means the potential market is massive for Kiwi companies. 

UBCO has leaned on its American partners, who have managed the company’s launch in the US – something Allan is very grateful for, having previously worked in the US.

 Allan sits on the board of UBCO’s US company, and Bob Ralston sits on the board of the New Zealand company. This means Ralston can sign off documentation on behalf of the New Zealand parent company, saving time and streamlining the process.

“New Zealanders just get things done, so we have an expectation it will be that straightforward – but it’s more bureaucratic there and you need to know the processes,” Allan says.

“We can support the US from New Zealand but they lead the conversation in sales, marketing and compliance.”

 

Timothy Allan, Ethan and Robert Ralston at Portland Auto Show

Timothy Allan, Ethan Ralston and Robert Ralston at the Portland Auto Show


NZTE's cultural tips for the US market

Doing business in the United States is not hugely different from other Western countries, but there are a few things to bear in mind.

  • This is not the place for modesty – sell yourself hard and provide proven results wherever possible.
  • Be prepared for breakfast meetings – working days are longer than you may be used to.
  • Americans often feel uncomfortable with silence – perfect your small-talking skills and go armed with conversation-starters.
  • Here, more than anywhere else, ‘time is money’, so get to the point quickly and speak directly.

 

 

 

After getting traction in the US and Australia, UBCO is now considering Ireland as well as expanding its operations in the Bay of Plenty. 

Looking to Europe
 

Tim Allan pitches to farmers at Ireland's National Ploughing Champs


UBCO is looking at expanding into Europe next year, tapping into the region’s potential for its all-terrain electric motorbikes.

The UBCO 2x2 is already sold in New Zealand and Australia, and the first shipment to the US arrived in July 2017 and the latest shipment of the 2018 Model arrived in December 2017. Europe would be its third export market.

UBCO Chief Executive Timothy Allan says the company would like to partner with investors in Europe, just as it has done in the US where its partners are funding and managing Ubco’s launch.

“We’re looking to emulate a similar type of setup, and if we can get it co-funded by somebody else as well that would be even better,” Allan says.

He travelled to Ireland’s Ploughing Championships last year, where UBCO and other companies exhibited as part of NZTE’s New Zealand pavilion.

The UBCO 2x2 attracted attention, and Allan was asked to do five media interviews the first morning at the pavilion.

He says UBCO would like to headquarter any future European business in Ireland, because it is a technology centre, English speaking, and the culture is similar to that of New Zealand.

“Ireland is a sensible base to springboard from and to have a base in. If we are able to emulate what we’ve done in the states that would be attractive,” he says.

Scaling up
 

All ready to go! Bikes wait for dispatch at UBCO's Bay of Plenty factory.


UBCO plans to become one of the Bay of Plenty region’s big employers, as its export business scales up.

The electric motorbike maker got a head-start in the region, being incubated at Tauranga’s Newnham Park Innovation Centre.

UBCO Chief Executive Timothy Allan says the region is a great place to be based, being close to the Port of Tauranga and part of a strong export community.

“There’s no reason to think we can’t grow the workforce here substantially, and we’re certainly not ruling out manufacturing in the future - you just have to have access to a different level of capital,” Allan says.

With the company’s expansion in Australia and the US, he anticipates UBCO’s staff team will double to 50 next year.

Being part of the local community is important to UBCO, and it welcomes student groups in for tours, as well as giving demonstrations of its bikes at local schools.

UBCO designs and manufactures on-and-off road electric motorbikes that can survive one of the toughest environments in the world – New Zealand farms.

The Bay of Plenty-based company aims to reach $1 billion in turnover in 10 years, together with its US business.

The company was co-founded by Antony Clyde and Daryl Neal, who designed the prototype and took it to Fieldays in 2014 where it caught the attention of judges in the Innovation Awards.

They won the Locus Research award, and with the help of Product Development & Innovation company led by Timothy Allan, the UBCO brand was born and the company launched in 2015 with Tim as the Chief Executive.

The company received early and second stage funding from local angel investors before attracting investment from the United States.

The UBCO 2x2’s core components are made in 42 different factories overseas and assembled in China, from there they are shipped to their destination market.

UBCO has won a number of awards, including awards for design and regional business success.

Born global

Taking an idea from the back of a garage to the world in three years sounds like a dream run.

For UBCO, it didn’t come down to luck but intentionally starting out as a global company.

The bike’s inventors won an Innovation Award at Fieldays in 2014, giving them 120 hours of expertise from Locus Research – Timothy Allan’s product development and innovation consulting company. 

When Allan took the electric motorbike’s inventors under his wing, he focused on building an international brand and finding a name that could be internationally registerable.

“Those hours were put into building a brand, design and marketing, and finding an internationally registerable brand,” he says.

UBCO’s name, logo and brand colour scheme were born before the company was formed.

The company’s logo is the same shape as the bike’s side profile, and a black and white colour scheme was chosen because no other big international brands were using it.

Allan and the bike’s inventors, Anthony Clyde and Daryl Neal, co-founded the UBCO company in 2015 – the rest is history. 

UBCO’s next step will be to trademark the shape of the bike with an international patent, just like Coca Cola Amatil protected the shape of its bottle.

 
Māori business

UBCO is part of the Māori technology coalition T3W, which recognises the huge growth potential of Māori-owned technology, and aims to promote investment in the sector.

One of UBCO’s co-founders is Māori, and the company has Māori board members.

UBCO’s Chief Executive Timothy Allan visited San Francisco, Chicago and New York with other members of T3W in 2016, as part of a programme to accelerate Māori companies push into the United States.

Allan says the T3W network provides a lot of support for the company, and people are willing to share their expertise to help each other. NZTE’s Māori business team has also worked alongside T3W with UBCO.

“The trips we’ve done into markets with those groups have all been interesting and helped build a picture of what we’re doing in those offshore,” Allan says.

For last year’s US trip, the technology companies were accompanied by leading Māori investors who have assets across a range of sectors, and were looking to learn more about global tech opportunities for New Zealand businesses. 

“We have been supported by the Māori ecosystem from the outset, it’s definitely in the DNA of the company.”

What is T3W?

“Getting offshore becomes vital for a New Zealand company. You need to be able to demonstrate potential in order to attract investment.”

Timothy Allan, Ubco