Ognyan is an Industrial Engineer from Bulgaria, who is aiming to transform the way people transport in cities and has built a vehicle with the style and comfort of a bicycle in half its size. The startup began in 2016 and they have gone through lots of different prototypes. They’ve recently launched in IndieGogo looking to validate the business.
Hi Ognyan! What's your background, and what are you currently working on?
I’m Ognyan, 32, Industrial Designer, Engineer and Entrepreneur from Sofia, Bulgaria.
I believe that in the 21st century you don’t need a two-ton machine to transport a single passenger in the city. Small, personal vehicles are cheap, fun and super versatile. They can turn tedious commuting into an adventure!
Precisely for this reason, we decided to build the best micro-vehicle out there. In short - Narcine gives you the style & comfort of a large scooter in half the size of a bicycle. You can ride and store it practically anywhere.
I’m the founder and CEO of the company. I’m preparing a crowd-funding campaign at the moment (B2C sales) as well as developing a scooter-sharing business model.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I’m an engineer and industrial designer. I graduated my master degree in Milano, Italy - having worked on projects for Audi and Lamborghini.
Since then, I’ve lived and worked in Sofia and observed this city’s life in all its aspects. I saw how much time I lose daily in commuting and how frustrating this could be - my strongest motivator to start working on a better solution.
We started Narcine as a project for the spare time, just a couple of friends and me.
We had many ideas, little time and no money - so we built two super-low fidelity prototypes just to check the dimensions and viability. Over time I got obsessed with the idea of building and improving the prototypes until the final model was ready in 2019.
How did you build Narcine?
The project began in 2016. We did some typical rookie startup mistakes by not analyzing the market, competitors and customer problems first. “Make it cool, and they will come” - was our philosophy at the time.
The first model was made literally made out of cardboard, we used it just to check size and proportions. Thanks to a great partner-company in Plovdiv we then we manufactured a real, working prototype from sheet aluminum. The feeling of actually riding your creation for the first time is indescribable! This model was three-wheeled with tiny wheels and a rough seat. We spent more than two years of improving it, testing with customers and following their feedback. In the middle of 2018, we abandoned the three-wheel configuration, for a simpler and more reliable two wheels. Already we had a few early customers and growing fan-base.
Concerning pricing - our product is slightly different from competitors’ (maybe even resegmenting this market). We know that there are cheaper models out there but we think it won’t be the deciding factor for the people who praise the value of Narcine.
Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?
We’re only just getting starting to get traction. We have a few early adopters - from our experience, especially with this type of hardware product, live demos work best. People like to touch, feel and get to test the scooter and we get to have invaluable feedback from them and to enjoy seeing their reaction when riding for the first time.
We’ve organized more than ten test-drive events and taken part in quite a few startup competitions and exhibitions in the field of technology and innovations:
- Two editions of Webit festival.
- Bucharest Technology week
- CESA (Central European Startup Awards)
What are your goals for the future?
We’re preparing an Indiegogo campaign which will launch in April. We’re planning to sell at least 100 units through the campaign and create our sales/marketing network in Europe.
We’re also actively looking for investors to come on board and help us develop a scooter-sharing network. This business model has proven to be extremely profitable and has also delivered great value to customers, providing them with a viable alternative for urban commuting.
We want to expand our portfolio with different models, customization options and finding new partners and retailers.
A personal goal I have is to educate people in Bulgaria about the benefits that personal mobility provides to city life - I’m not talking only about scooters. Bicycles and even plain walking can have a huge impact on city life.
What were the biggest challenges you faced and the obstacles you overcame?
The biggest challenge is trying to transition from a hobby project to a profitable business. Everyone who has experienced this inevitably has been at the point of trying to balance his daily job with the evermore time-consuming startup. To me, it feels like trying to juggle while climbing stairs - you have to concentrate really hard for really long stretches of time to make this work.
Especially, when talking about a hardware startup the challenges can be tremendous - just the number of areas in which the founders should have expertise is imposing: Industrial Design, Engineering, Manufacturing, Marketing, Finance, Business administration, Law and Shipping are just some of those. (in our case we could add - physics and vehicle handling/design)
Of course, when it comes to challenges it all comes to how committed and how well connected you are. Big thanks to all the people that helped us with the project :)
Which are your greatest disadvantages? What were your worst mistakes?
Our larger mistake - not starting with the customer in mind. Every startup should start with a precise idea of who their customer is and what value they bring to them (what problem they solve).
Another rookie mistake - trying to build a product the satisfies everyone. Feedback is great, but not every feedback should prompt you to change your idea or start adding features. Building Minimum Viable Product is key here - the minimal subset of features that is sufficient to solve the customer’s problem.
Sticking with the three-wheel configuration was the most time-consuming mistake we made. It’s more expensive, not as nice to drive and we were not even sure why we came up with it in the first place.
Always, make a specification sheet, before trying to make hardware product and stick to it - no unnecessary features.
If you had the chance to do things differently, what would you do?
I would learn to plan better - planning is the key, as well as connecting with people that can help you out (and that believe in what you do). Nobody can succeed in a complex project on his own.
What are some sources for learning you would recommend for entrepreneurs who are just starting?
I want to recommend two sites:
- Specifically for hardware startups - Bolt’s Blog: They provide very detailed information about the troubles and difficulties of building hardware startups as well as relevant advice on how to deal with those.
- In general: Paul Grahams’ blog (Y-combinator’s founder): Paul Graham has provided on his blog detailed articles about every aspect of building a startup - from the administrative issues: creating a team, working on the idea, customer development, etc. to the more technical ones, such as how to organize your time and work more efficiently.