Johan Erlandsson founded Velove, the Swedish manufacturer of the Armadillo electric cargo bike, in 2011. A year later he co-founded Pling Transport, a delivery company that utilizes Velove's bikes. As CEO of one company and co-founder of the other, Erlandsson could probably afford to take Fridays off, delegating work to underlings. Instead, on Fridays he hops onto one of his bikes, delivering packages for Pling like all of the other deliverypeople.
"Most Fridays, from early morning until lunch, I am out delivering for Pling," writes Erlandsson. "A typical day on the 'A' round, that I usually do (6:30am-1pm), includes bread, pastry, post, lunch and flower deliveries, sometimes also exams for the university and other mixed deliveries. Deliveries previously done by van, now performed by Pling."
Erlandsson getting an early start
Setting up both companies was smart; Pling, in addition to being a profitable business in its own right, serves as the testing ground to continually improve the Armadillo.
"The very first Armadillo electric cargo bike prototype was used by Pling, as well as prototype 2, 3 and pre-series bikes. This generated invaluable experiences in the development of the Armadillo," says Erlandsson, who clocked a lot of hours on the bike himself.
"For each iteration, we implemented the learnings we made from each previous step. This is a major reason to why we today get the fantastic feedback we get from testriders and customers. This strategy of constantly learning from real life is continued, now not only with Pling but also with all our other customers."
As one example, Erlandsson witnessed firsthand the problems that arise from bikes breaking down during tight delivery schedules. This causes "extreme stress for the courier, the dispatcher, the customer and the [manager] that has to talk to the customer," he writes. "Bikes broke down and that just gave everyone a shitty day."
The solutions arrived at after experiencing these mini-disasters: More robust design of components, a rigorous maintenance schedule undertaken by skilled mechanics, taking steps to ensure the availability of spare parts. And to ease the inevitability of a common break-down issue, one-bolt wheel release was added all around. "This took away the most common reason for stress--a flat tyre. With one bolt wheel release, the courier could just always bring a spare wheel and solve the situation her- or himself in just a minute."
One bolt wheel removal
One bolt wheel removal
"We could collect info only by talking to customers, but that first hand experience is for me still very valuable. Every time I am out delivering I learn something new or remember some earlier issue or opportunity.
"The hands on experience is also very valuable when I talk to customers, we understand each other to the fullest. Sometimes customer representatives have ideas about the Armadillo without having ridden it themselves, in these situations it is also great to be able to explain in detail what it is really like."
If only all CEOs spent as much time going hands-on with their products. Take clamshell packaging, for instance: If a CEO spent 6:30am-1pm every Friday opening clamshells, would we still be dealing with them?