Sean Mulryan backs O’Sullivan to make e-bike company Modmo a two-wheeled triumph
It seemed rather fitting that Jack O’Sullivan, founder of e-bike manufacturer and designer Modmo, based his Irish team at WeWork’s premises on Dublin’s North Wall Quay. Its last investor built the building.
he 25-year-old Dubliner, who built Modmo from the Vietnamese city of Ho Chi Minh, has just raised 5 million euros from property development titan Sean Mulryan, the boss of Ballymore Group. This brings the total funding raised by the e-bike company, which only started in March 2020, to €8.7 million.
O’Sullivan’s chance to impress Mulryan came through one of his early enthusiastic investors. When the two first met, the property developer liked what he saw.
“Fifteen minutes into the meeting with Sean, he was clearly impressed with the product,” he says. “We went into the meeting looking to raise maybe €2m in January. However, Sean said, ‘Well, what would you do with €5m today?’
“With Ballymore, they also plan very far ahead, and one of the things he mentioned at that meeting was, ‘We are planning for 80,000 bicycle parking spaces in our buildings over the next few years. Let’s fill them with Modmo bikes instead of someone else.
O’Sullivan says the deal’s conclusion was impressive.
“The decision-making process was somewhat instantaneous,” he says. “It was clear that when he made his decision he had the team behind him to get it done quickly… He wanted it done before Christmas.”
The money couldn’t have come at a better time for O’Sullivan’s Modmo and his team of 46 workers, spread across the globe from Ireland to Vietnam.
The e-bike market is booming. Modmo currently ships to eight European countries, with Germany accounting for 85% of sales, and plans to expand into North America. In March, it will open its first dealership in Vancouver, Canada.
As demand grows, O’Sullivan admits Modmo has struggled to keep up at times.
“We pretty much stopped selling our bike at some point last year,” he says. “We had so many delays and we didn’t want to disappoint our customers.
“After that first let’s say 1,000 bikes that we pre-sold in 2020, we stopped sales and focused on producing them and keeping customers informed.
“Sales will not be our biggest problem. The call I took right there, they wanted to order 2,000 bikes.
O’Sullivan says the biggest challenge Modmo will face will be supply chain constraints, which will wreak havoc on the global economy. This means Modmo is now ordering the stock it needs a year in advance, using some of its raised funding.
The founder also hopes to expand his core European markets, expand his factory in Vietnam and build a 30-person team in Dublin focused on sales and R&D. Modmo also plans to bolster its technology and address other “micro-mobility” needs, potentially including electric scooters and cargo bikes.
It’s not just the fast pace of cycling that Dubliner O’Sullivan has long been passionate about – the business world also has a special place in his heart.
Watching his parents develop a business that ran for over 30 years clearly inspired him, but an obsession with downhill mountain biking meant a 15-year-old O’Sullivan was always looking to make his own money.
“I was just selling everything to buy better bikes,” he says. “The bike parts market wasn’t that big, so I started importing second-hand iPhones from the UK and selling them.
“At one point, I was making over €15,000 in a month. »
After selling iPhones, O’Sullivan started his first bike company – Vital Fixies. The company focused on importing and selling fixie bicycles, which are fixed-gear and standard for track racing.
O’Sullivan found a supplier in China and ordered a container with the help of his brother and father, who invested the start-up capital. Finally the shipment arrived and he started selling.
“I learned a lot about the complete management cycle of a business.”
After a brief stint in college to study business, he dropped out early to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams. The inspiration for Modmo came quickly. While working on Dublin City’s Vital Fixies business, O’Sullivan noticed that cycling here had its fair share of pain.
“I decided we needed to create a bike that could solve three problems: sweat, theft and utilities. [being able to carry goods].”
O’Sullivan took a trip to China when he was 19, looking for inspiration for his idea for a bicycle.
Over time, a friend recommended me to go to Vietnam. With a 3D rendering and a proof-of-concept bike sample, he agreed with a factory in the country that they would manufacture the product if he could raise $10,000.
O’Sullivan advertised pre-sales of the Saigon Modmo bike online for a €99 deposit, and within months he had the funds.
In March 2020, Modmo was born.
The company has received over 1,000 pre-orders for its flagship Saigon. As well as covering up to 200 km on a single charge, the e-bike comes with Bluetooth and GPS tracking. A second less expensive version, the Saigon S, was also developed.
“We were totally blown away,” says O’Sullivan. “Looking back, it was the perfect time – for day – to start a bike business.”
O’Sullivan set about building his team in Vietnam. Due to Covid restrictions, he based a group of around 30 staff in a villa overlooking the Saigon River in Ho Chi Minh City, complete with a pool, table tennis, ducks, chickens and a dog. .
With the presales, Modmo had to get into building and shipping bikes. When the team started, it never took more than 60 days to get the parts they needed. However, as the bikes continued to sell out, parts delivery times swelled – and delays began to stretch to six months.
“If a bolt is missing, you can’t ship anything,” O’Sullivan says. “Right now we’re going to have to wait five weeks to get a slot on a ship to deliver more bikes.”
Last February, Modmo began shipping its first installment of bikes. Soon after, he also raised his first seed investment of €1 million.
Delivering those first bikes was a special, but also a nervous moment for O’Sullivan. He says he had “prepared for the worst” – but was happy with the response.
Looking to the future, O’Sullivan has big visions for Modmo. He hopes to “revive sales” in March, as the company made more bikes last week than in the previous year. He acknowledges that some customers have been disappointed with wait times.
All going well, O’Sullivan – who hopes to one day take Modmo to the IPO – has an ambitious goal of making and selling 12,000 bikes this year and hitting a revenue target of between 20 and 30 million euros.
Along with O’Sullivan’s hopes for Modmo, his love of business has made this trip – stretching around the world and now involving one of Ireland’s business titans – more of a hobby than a challenge. Despite a few bumps in the road when funding was tight and supply chains strained, O’Sullivan is enjoying the ride.
“There were many times during Vital Fixies and Modmo where there was almost no money in the bank, and some people were considering closing the business. But, if you keep going, you can keep going.
“You only fail when you give up.”
Last name: Jack O’Sullivan
Position: Founder and CEO of Modmo
Education: Clonkeen College and briefly studied business at Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology
Previous experience: Creation of Vital Flexies
Lives: Dublin/Ho Chi Minh City or “wherever the business needs me”
Favorite hobby: Mountain bike