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“I never want a bike to be a secondary vehicle in a consumer’s life”

Ex-recumbent World Champion and CEO of VROEGH Design Bob Vroegh speaks to Zag about where his passion for design stems from, the importance of intrinsic motivation and how the agency model delivers maximum impact.

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What really drives people to launch new mobility businesses? In a new series, Zag takes an in-depth look at the backstories of Founders to understand the origins of their inspiration. 

Bob Vroegh was only 15-years-old when he began designing bikes. 

The CEO of VROEGH Design grew up in a remote part of The Netherlands meaning he had to cycle 40 kilometres a day to get to high school. 

“At a young age I discovered that my bike was not only a more reliable mode of transport than public options, but also that cycling such long distances daily inadvertently became a training regimen that fueled my competitive drive,” he explains. “And that’s when I got interested in designing and building recumbent bikes.” 

“The great thing about competitive recumbent cycling is that you are completely free to design and ride whatever kind of bike you like, making it incredibly enjoyable for an aspiring engineer. So I was racing on the one hand and doing engineering and design activities on the other.”

When Vroegh was 16-years-old, he took a trip to Hungary where he cycled more than 300 kilometres a day with all his luggage. “I was quite obsessive,” he says. “I did these crazy competitions and crazy distances. One year I rode over 25,000 kilometres.” 

At 18 he became World Champion in recumbent cycling. 

Today, he runs a one-stop agency designing everything from e-scooters, e-bikes and e-cargo bikes, to sharing and delivery vehicles, and other light electric vehicles.

Zag Daily: Why did you switch careers from recumbent racing to running your own agency?  

BV: “So I was racing on recumbents from the age of 14 to 19. There are different types of competitions and I became World Champion in two of them. Having won these I lost my sense of competition so I then switched to track cycling. But although I was training six days a week, I didn’t do that for enough time to get to the top level and I missed using my brain for intellectual challenges, so I decided to quit the sport altogether and become an engineer and designer instead.” 

Zag Daily: We understand VROEGH Design started in 2014. What was the gap you spotted in the new mobility industry? 

BV: “Yeah, I saw that the new mobility industry was booming, but the number of design agencies solely focusing on this area was limited, particularly given that their offered services were not adequately meeting the changing demand. The agency route worked better for me, instead of working for brands as an individual, because my hours and expertise can have way more impact when they are applied to several brands and their market share, rather than one brand with a limited market share. Therefore, the agency model for me is a model to maximise the impact of the hours and expertise of the VROEGH Design team.” 

Zag Daily: Why do you care so much about new mobility? 

BV: “I think 10 years ago my answer would have been that I always get extremely happy and positive-minded when I cycle. And I’m not the only one, a lot of people when they step on the bike, it releases their stress, it releases their problems of the day. But now it has grown to an answer where I realised that from the moment we are born, we start moving stuff around, kilos, tonnes of stuff. I’m like 80 kilos and my car is 2,000 kilos, this ratio between our body weight and a vehicle’s weight doesn’t make sense to me at all. It is inefficient and uses a lot of energy, which affects our environment. This has to change. That’s my answer now.”

Zag Daily: Can you explain how you like to work with clients and the different stages of development? 

BV: “Sure, but to be clear, we are not just a design agency. When a client starts working with us, we have the people, experience and network to help them with strategy and research, design, engineering and production assistance. But it really depends on the client and their goals where we step in. Some clients don’t have an in-house R&D team, and rely fully on our service for the listed activities. Other clients have their own designers and engineers but lack the workforce or expertise to help the company to develop strategies or products market segments that are new to them. We help leading companies in Europe, Asia and the States with a multi-year strategy to define when to launch, which product will become successful within a certain demographic or target group, and then start developing products, so we’re extremely involved.”

“We are also involved when a product is on the market to keep improving it. And for several clients we take ownership in a way of a venture. This works by us taking shares in the company to reduce the development cost. It is an attractive option for some clients because we then have skin in the game and are incentivised to deliver a good product.”

Zag Daily: Can you give some examples that show the impact of your work? 

BV: “We have been working with a Canadian bike brand, that mostly sells in the US, which knocked on our door to get help by implementing some improvements. But when we saw the bike, we thought it was quite dated and did not meet our West-Europe expectations of a bike, this motivated us even more to help this brand to build a winning vehicle. Researching  their market taught us so much about the US market, the benchmark products and the customers expectations. For instance, whereas here in The Netherlands, riders want a smooth gear transition, Americans want much more torque in the motor which feels like a kick in the arse. They also want things like double battery packets and very thick tyres. Anyway the work we did pushed that brand, and their product offering, at least 10 years ahead in their market.”

Zag Daily: VROEGH only hires people with intrinsic motivation. Can you share what this means? 

BV: “I believe that you cannot pay someone to have a passion, and that work executed with passion is of best quality. If someone doesn’t like to sketch and you give him two weeks and a lot of money, at the end of the two weeks, the sketch will still not be as beautiful as one done by someone who loves to sketch. And that’s how we allocate tasks internally or externally with freelancers. We find people who are passionate about one specific job, leaving us with a dream team of specialists as a freelance layer all over the world. Try to compete with someone who is having fun.” 

Zag Daily: Finally, what do you think it is that motivates you? 

BV: “For me, I believe it’s a matter of personality type, along with the joy I find in optimisation and addressing complex problems. Using these traits to enhance the mobility industry through my clients is truly rewarding and enjoyable. I call it a drive but it feels like a positive obsession, and it just keeps me awake. I don’t accept second place for the industry, my company or myself, and this drives me to improve everything we do until we are the best and further than that. I never want a bike to be a secondary vehicle in a consumer’s life, or any other light electric vehicle for that matter. It should be the premium, first choice vehicle.”