This Founder's Effort to Find an Alternative to a Second Car Led Her to Build an E-Bike Business
FattE-Bikes' CEO Victoria Brunner Shares Her Founding Story and Passion for Justice
Devin: What do you see as your superpower?
Victoria: I would say my superpower is my—this is very superman of me—my sense of justice. Since I was 15 or 16, I told myself I was going to be in Greenpeace and I was going to be an eco-warrior. So I think since a young age, I’ve known that whatever I did with my life, it had to have a sense of purpose and that it was going to make change in the world.
“My husband and I had gone down to a one-car household, and we were looking for a different form of transportation other than having to purchase a second car,” says Victoria Brunner, CEO of FattE-Bikes. “So we looked at all the options, including public transportation, Lyft, you name it. I stumbled across electric bikes, and I said, ‘Hey, have you seen these?’”
That 2017 conversation led to success and impact they scarcely could have imagined at that moment.
“I realized quickly that what a lot of the bikes are coming from overseas in Asia, and the quality control was just not there,” She says. “So, from the get-go, we knew that we wanted to build a higher quality electric bike but still have it be sold at an accessible price. That’s why we made the decision to start building them here, which is not easy to do, but it’s probably smarter and better to do it that way.”
The couple began production at a small scale right in their garage. “We were driving around an old clunky van to people’s houses so they could demo the bike,” Victoria says. “Then we kind of transitioned to a small space in a solar company’s building, and we had set up a mechanic stand with weights so it wouldn’t tip over when you put the heavy electric bike on it.”
“Since then, we’ve kind of graduated to a much bigger facility with full stands,” she says with a smile. “We have the power lifts, electric power lifts—up and down. Nothing’s tipping over anymore; I’m happy to say. I’m pretty sure OSHA will be happy about that, too.”
Today, the company has ten employees and has sold 3,000 e-bikes, reaching $4 million in revenue.
Victoria sees strength in what others might have said was a weakness. She was not a cyclist. “As a consumer, as a commuter, as a woman, I’m looking for comfort when I’m getting to work or running errands or taking my kids to school,” she says. “I’m going to look at things very differently than, say, somebody who’s been cycling their whole life.”
Putting it succinctly, she says, “I’m looking for a vehicle that’s going to replace my car.”
“FattE-Bikes, that stands for fat tire electric bike,” Victoria explains. “The fat tires are actually what allows year-round riding. We didn’t want to design a bike that replaces your car, but then that you have to hang up 4 or 5 months of the year.”
Victoria’s desire for impact goes beyond the environment, she says:
A couple of the fleet sales that we've done I'm most proud of are two low-income residents. The kind of e-bike libraries, whether they're being sent to a community that's like a tiny home community in Denver or now we just recently sold and are sending 30 bikes out to the city of LA for their pilot program, their low-income pilot program in Compton and Watts area that they'll be providing low-income residents with electric bikes to use.
She is also looking to employ improving technology to extract data from bicycles to track health statistics and carbon emission reductions.
FattE-Bikes raised over $250,000 via investment crowdfunding in 2022.
Victoria’s success is driven by her superpower, her sense of justice.
How to Develop a Sense of Justice As a Superpower
“I think my sense of justice keeps pushing me through, even when I want to cry and I want to throw my hands up and give up,” Victoria says. “It’s what keeps driving me to keep going.”
Her sense of justice drives her forward and creates success and impact. She shared a striking example of deploying her passion early in her career:
I've had multiple social enterprises, all with a mission-driven background.
After I graduated from college, I picked up my three-year-old toddler and move down to Mexico to build wastewater systems. These were these gardens that were naturally cleaning out wastewater to prevent the coral reefs from getting polluted.
People thought I was nuts because I was a single mom with a kid. I had just graduated from college. And here I go traipsing off to Mexico to run this nonprofit that I knew nothing about and I didn't know how to run a business. I was in my 20s, my mid-20s, so that was a little frightening. But I believed so much in what I was doing that I made that leap.
It was a great experience for three years while I was in Mexico.
Developing something as fundamental as Victoria’s sense of justice can be challenging. We explored that together, and she had some observations that may help you think about it.
Thinking as a parent, she says, can help. “Having kids and seeing where the world is and what they’re going to have to deal with or already are dealing with. If you look at the younger generation and you already see how much more activists they have become, then it should be easy to find that sense of ‘I need to do more.’”
She had a second, profound observation. Take action.
“If you do something and you’re active in something that you believe in, you won’t give up hope,” she says. “Because if you don’t do anything, it’s easy to become hopeless. But if you feel like you’re taking action, then I feel like it continues to drive you and feeds that hope, even if it feels like a hopeless battle we’re up against.”
She adds that taking a little action gives you a starting point that “you can build upon and take even greater action from there.”