An electric revolution that started in Wellington: FTN Motion

We chat with co-founders of FTN Motion to reflect on their history, their time in a Creative HQ Incubator, where they are and what’s next.

Founders Kendall Bristow, Saskia Thornton and Luke Sinclair pose with Streetdogs

Clean, green New Zealand – it’s in our DNA.

Kiwis are passionate about the environment and demand is rising for clean transport solutions. Wellington runs New Zealand’s original regular electric ferry schedule, was part of the world’s first electric flight across the open ocean, and now is the home of the electric street bike business, FTN Motion.

New Zealand’s electric revolution

Electricity-powered transport is rising across Aotearoa for a myriad of reasons. Pain at the fuel pump due to rising petrol prices, a desire to reduce CO2 emissions and a need to create new solutions for commuting challenges to name but a few.

Electric cars have risen in popularity in New Zealand in recent years. Ask any Aucklander and they’ll tell you that sitting in traffic for hours each week is both frustrating and tiring. Petrol-powered cars are also responsible for a decent chunk of the average Kiwi’s emissions. New Zealanders are looking for safe, clean and quick ways to get across town – reducing emissions and commute times.

Friends Luke Sinclair and Kendall Bristow were based in Auckland when they began toying with the idea of creating electricity powered street bikes. Not e-bikes, not quad-bikes but beautifully designed, smart and locally manufactured street bikes.

Engineers by trade, the pair began tinkering in their garages with the idea of strapping electric power onto pushbikes, before eventually playing with the idea of converting a classic moped to run entirely on electricity. But the idea stayed in the garage until the pair moved to Wellington in early 2020.

Lockdown? Time to build a prototype

The announcement was made by the Prime Minister late one March afternoon that the whole of Aotearoa would be heading into one of the most stringent forms of lockdown the world had seen. Kiwis could only leave their houses for food, medical care, or to spread – er, stretch their legs.

Like many Kiwis, Luke and Kendall took the 24-hour window before lockdown hit to head out and snap up as many supplies, tools and materials as they could get their hands on. The duo saw the lockdown-induced downtime as a prime opportunity to focus on actually building a real, working electric street bike prototype.

“It was forced time off from the day job, so we were presented with a real opportunity to get creative and crack into building out some early prototype designs for the bike,” says Kendall. “At that time we still didn’t really know what we wanted to do with the idea. We just knew that lockdown was a great opportunity to work on the project.”

By the time Aotearoa had exited that first lockdown the pair had a functional electricity-powered moped. It wasn’t finished by any means. But it had demonstrated potential. The duo just needed to find out what they could do with it next.

Post lockdown? Time to socialise

When Aotearoa exited its strict lockdowns and Kiwis were once again able to connect with friends and family, Luke and Kendall started talking to their friends about their exciting lockdown project. Still unsure of any real plans to build on the prototype, the duo were told by a friend that they should look into Creative HQ.

“The terms incubator, accelerator, startups were all foreign concepts to us. We were engineers, not entrepreneurs,” says Kendall. “But once we looked into it, we figured out pretty quickly that it sounded exactly like the kind of programme we needed to see where this bike prototype could go.”

Once Kendall heard about Creative HQ and looked into the kinds of programmes on offer, he and Luke quickly set about pulling together an application to enter the 2020 Creative HQ Incubator. Turns out, they heard about the programme in the nick of time – and had just 24 hours to create and submit an application.

They attended an interview and were accepted into the programme.

Electrifying time in the Creative HQ Incubator

The Creative HQ Incubator kicked off in early 2020. The pair were given a year to work in the Incubator and make the most of it. At the same time, Kendall and Luke were still working in their day jobs and pursuing their electric street bike dream on the side.

“When we got accepted into the Creative HQ Incubator programme, we were lucky that we could drop down our working hours from five days a week to four. Not everyone is in a position to stop what they’re already doing to pursue a startup vision, so we were fortunate to be in a position to do so,” says Kendall.

Eventually, the co-founders took a leap of faith and dropped their work hours down to one day a week. A few months later, they quit their jobs altogether to go full-time down the FTN Motion path.

The programme equipped the FTN Motion co-founders with the information, skills and connections they needed to understand the startup and innovation world.

“Creative HQ gave us mentors who we’d catch up with weekly and go through what we’re working on. It was a pre-planned programme and ranged from everything to do with startups and business,” says Kendall. “We were taught how to figure out our products, customers, sales and the critical piece of product-market-fit.”

Being accepted into a Creative HQ programme also gives startups a co-working space to base themselves at while they grow their businesses. Luke and Kendall both worked from the Dixon Street Creative HQ hub and attended regular weekly talks from experts in related fields, as well as workshops and events with other startups.

Kendall says that the networking perks of the Incubator were huge for him and Luke.

“We didn’t really know anyone in Wellington, let alone in the startup scene. Creative HQ put us in touch with mentors, investors, other startups and experts – a range of really valuable connections were made to help us along our journey.”

Kendall Bristol
Co-founder, FTN Motion

When the pair entered the programme all they had was a prototype for the bike. When they exited the programme they had built a business plan, a network of connections and even managed to secure some investment.

Creative HQ runs investor evenings and works to help startups to develop their pitches to pitch for investment. Through this process, Kendall and Luke were put in touch with Angel HQ, a Wellington-based investment organisation.

The pair attended a meeting with the Angel HQ team for a night to learn how to pitch, rather than actually pitch for investment. But they ended up catching the eye of Steve Thornton, who liked the look of things at FTN Motion. He introduced the pair to investors and Saskia Thornton, a brand-building and business development expert.

Half a million dollars later

In September 2020 the team went from two to three, with Saskia joining – a half-Kiwi, half-Dutch woman who was naturally a fan of bike culture from her time living in Amsterdam. Luke, Kendall and Saskia were now a trio of co-founders, looking to build the next phase of the FTN Motion business. They secured investment from Angel HQ and set out on a road trip around Aotearoa to find other private investors to get on board.

By November their first capital raise was well and truly underway.

“I was warned that raising capital before Christmas was a terrible call timing-wise, and my wife was definitely starting to get over it after supporting us on just her income for months by this time,” says Kendall. “But we stuck at it and kept working to raise the capital we needed to bring the next phase of FTN Motion to life.”

By the end of March 2021, a full year after the first prototype was built in lockdown, the trio had raised half a million dollars in capital. The trio were able to start paying themselves and managed to hire their first employee, Michelle, in April 2021.

They moved out to a little workshop in Lyall Bay where they could continue building on the electric bike design. There, the team also hired new people and started building a plan to launch and manufacture the first 10 street bikes.

“We quickly outgrew the Lyall Bay workshop – we had a crossfit centre on one side, day-care on the other and a carpentry shop on the other, so it was a bit of chaos there for a while, especially as our team grew,” says Kendall. “Trying to build the bike in the middle of what kind of ended up as our office space just became unsustainable – so we moved on.”

Eventually, the FTN Motion team moved to new premises right in the heart of Wellington city on Haining Street.

Building and selling the first FTN Motion Street Dog electric street bikes

By this time, the lockdown-garage-prototype had evolved into the beautifully designed FTN Motion Street Dog electric street bike. The first 10 had been built and the word was spreading of a new electric transport solution being built right here in Wellington.

Like many startups, the FTN Motion team now had to find early adopters to sell the first electric FTN Motion Street Dog bikes to. They ran a campaign to pre-sell 100 spots to early adopters. The pre-sale slots were $100 each and would secure the buyer one of the first 100 Street Dog bikes to be manufactured.

“The slots were all snapped up within the course of a single weekend following a story in the paper about the Street Dog,” says Saskia. “It was crazy – all weekend my phone was pinging with new adopters signing up and pre-sale slots selling out.”

The team then went back to their original investors for a second capital raise, seeking $700k to fund the manufacturing of the first 100 bikes. This raise was a breeze compared to the first, with $900k total being raised in the space of a month.

The electric future for FTN Motion

Now in August 2022, two years on from the lockdown-garage-prototype origins, FTN Motion:

  • Employ 13 people and work with a wide range of local contractors
  • Have a full office and workshop site to manufacture and assemble the Street Dog here in Wellington
  • Raised $1.4m to date and will be doing another capital raise later this year
  • Are ready to start assembling the first 100 Street Dog electric street bikes

That’s pretty impressive for what just started as a lockdown project after a move to a new city for a pair of engineer friends, and we can’t wait to see what’s next for the FTN Motion team.

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