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“Sustainability & Environmental Awareness” With Douglas Brown & Claudia Wasko

Sustainability & Environmental Awareness: We are motivated by the desire to develop products that help conserve natural resources. For us, that means thinking ahead, focusing firmly on the future of generations to come, and consistently pursuing sustainability as a company.Cities in the 21st century are facing major challenges: The world population is growing, resources are […]

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Sustainability & Environmental Awareness: We are motivated by the desire to develop products that help conserve natural resources. For us, that means thinking ahead, focusing firmly on the future of generations to come, and consistently pursuing sustainability as a company.

Cities in the 21st century are facing major challenges: The world population is growing, resources are dwindling, the climate is changing. Solutions are needed. Electromobility can make a significant contribution to sustainable urban development and an urban environment worth living in.

Example: Pedal-assist eBikes in particular offer great opportunities. They help to conserve resources and reduce emissions.

Asa part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Claudia Wasko.

With over ten years of experience in working with e-bikes, Claudia has built global teams that are highly energized, engaged and passionate about their contributions to the e-bike world. She combines her deep passion for sports and the outdoors with a passion for business, building great teams, brands and organizations.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

In2009 Bosch was deliberating to enter the electric bicycle (eBike) market and I had been approached by our management board to perform a business field analysis as a basis for decision making. After our board’s approval I built up the global sales, marketing and service organization for Bosch eBike Systems, headquartered in Germany. In 2014 we decided to expand to North America and I was happy enough to be nominated to relocate to wonderful SoCal, start from scratch and build up the Bosch eBike Systems organization for the US and Canadian market.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

You are challenging my long-term memory quite a bit since I have been with Bosch for almost 30 years ☺

The management board has been and is still heavily involved in the activities of Bosch eBike Systems, which used to be just a tiny business unit in its beginning. Before we presented our first functional samples to our target customers back in 2009, the chair of the board himself wanted to experience a run-through of the official test-ride event, just one day prior to the customer event — a dress rehearsal if you will. As it was winter in Germany and we were confronted with snow and ice cold temperature the practical test was supposed to take place in an underground parking.

The chair got on a Bosch equipped eBike (development sample) and the bike drove off without being asked (no pedal stroke applied, no button pushed).

A nightmare…

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Before I became involved in the eBike business I had spent the majority of my career in the automotive industry which follows different rules and business practices than the outdoor industry.

I remember my first visit with a major global bike brand in 2009. I was accompanied by several colleagues from our corporate marketing and communication department. Our dress code was 100% “Business Formal Attire” whereas our customer showed up far beyond casual.

I guess the learning is that you need to be flexible, let go accustomed habits, especially if you enter new territories. And you need to instruct corporate departments accordingly…

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

When I had been asked by the board of management to perform the business field analysis I still had another job — I was leading the sales department for “automotive sensors”, but I thought I could handle both assignments. At this time I already had a mentor and he warned me that this eBike project would become so demanding and overwhelming that there wouldn’t be a way to juggle the two balls in the air. But I wanted to make it happen, I wanted to be successful in both roles.

I live by the motto: “I am in it to Win It!” Born in Germany, my strong work ethic has taught me that you can accomplish what you set out to do and overcome any adversity, come hell or high water if you are courageous, disciplined, and willing to put in the work. When you live for a strong purpose, then hard isn’t an option — it’s a necessity.

Thank god, the management board approved the market entry into the eBike world and I could officially transition to my new and only position.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I already mentioned “a mentor”. He watched me carefully and observed that I got overwhelmed with my 2 roles and sacrificed both private life and sleep to execute my both roles. He motivated me to get a private coach who helped me to navigate, to get a clear view of what is important, to focus the (limited) available resources in the most efficient way and still taking care of myself.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” — Winston Churchill

Like any entrepreneur worth their salt, it is important to understand that failure is part of the process. One learned from mistakes, and the greatest lesson is that there is always another day to fight on.

It is just important to learn from your failures and project your lessons learnt to the future.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

Our product roadmap includes system variants for numerous eBike applications. Our brand partners integrating our system make bikes for all types of riders — from cargo to cruisers — and thus introduce many non-riders to the ingeniousness of eBikes.

While an eBike benefits the rider by improving one’s health and reducing stress levels, the benefits to society are perhaps even greater: Using an eBike creates substantially less carbon output than an average car. A study from the Worldwatch Institute found that shifting from a car to a bike for short trips (about 5miles a day), for 2,000 miles a year total, can reduce the average American’s carbon footprint by 5%. Riding an eBike instead of driving a car also helps reduce the amount of GHG and air pollutants like nitrous oxide and particulate matter released into the atmosphere.

In general, eBikes provide an ideal solution for individual transportation, especially during the corona crisis but also in the post-corona era

John Burke, president of the bike manufacturer Trek, summarized the value of eBikes in a brilliant way: “They are a cheap date for any government interested in solving America’s three big challenges: obesity, traffic congestion, and climate change.”

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Worldwide, our distinctive corporate culture is a common bond. We live by our values and strive for continuous improvement.

We appreciate and encourage diversity (gender and ethnical) for the enrichment it brings, and see it as essential for our success. Diversity management is an integral part of the Bosch personnel policy.

Diversity is not a program to promote minorities. Instead, diversity is an attitude or a way of thinking. It describes how we operate and therefore diversity among the workforce has a great impact. In an ideal case, similarities and differences are used for the benefit of the company, and of each individual in it.

The most critical development within the success of Bosch eBike Systems in North America, however, has been the eBike team itself. At first glance, this is a diverse group of individuals — diverse in terms of age, industry experience, ethnic background and gender — but this team has established a culture of collaboration, urgency and ownership to navigate major transitions including a sustainability-focused office relocation, a service partner change including the establishment of an in-house service and warranty team, and the transition to a digital organization with their first roll-out of connected devices.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We will soon introduce a new eBike system generation merging the physical and digital experience. 100% connectivity will enable not only customization but also provide numerous digital features to our end consumers — e. g. in the area of fitness, navigation and activity tracking (turn-by-turn indication, auto-range and weather information), anti-theft and safety (“find my eBike” and lock features) or service (setting up service appointments and warranty extension).

Overall — the new eBike system generation will add further comfort and safety to cyclists — and make them smile.

Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

Unfortunately, women are significantly underrepresented in the field of technology. The tech industry still has a long way to go toward equity and equality in the workplace and there is a significant gender gap in the technology sector. Although the number of women in the tech world has been growing, progress still needs to be made.

Women still have a much larger barrier at being hired for technical entry level positions. This “broken rung” in the career ladder already puts women at a disadvantage, which leads tech companies into a cycle of hiring employees with the same gender and race. The tech industry must put more emphasis on hiring and promoting women at the entry and managerial levels. As unconscious bias is known for being one of the biggest threats to diversity in the workplace “unconscious bias training programs” for evaluators could be an important approach. Setting a goal for getting more women into first-level management, requiring diverse slates for hiring and promotions and putting more women in line for the step up to manager are further measures which can help to fix the broken rung issue.

Women-only tech groups, like the FBomb Breakfast Group, are popping up all over the country. They’re acting as an important way for women in tech to meet, network, discuss the challenges and triumphs of their work and lift each other up.

Parental leave is becoming an area of great importance for tech companies that are going above-and-beyond to ensure that new mothers are also able to continue their career pursuits.

Another important way to address the gender gap in tech and to inspire more girls to pursue careers in tech are female role models to look up to. We need highly accomplished women who are paving the way and demonstrating that it can be done.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

The perceptions of women in the workplace is a huge issue. For example, merely knowing the gender of a programmer considerably affects perceptions of work quality and success. While everyone is subject to failings and mistakes in the workplace, when women in high places fail in the public eye, it’s perceived as a harder fall — viewed as a reason why women shouldn’t lead.

Another problem is the payment — women aren’t paid the same as their male peers. Women are awarded far less equity, as well. In addition, mothers take an additional pay hit.

By making a concerted effort to increase women in this industry, we will begin to see a change. That change will accelerate as even more women become empowered through these careers, normalizing the idea of women in tech and earning them increased economic power.

Tangible measures include on-site care centers, paid parental leave, making hiring and promoting women a priority, equal retention and promotion rates among men and women globally.

What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?

See what’s holding you back by looking at yourself through the eyes of other people: Write down casual remarks that people make about you (compliments, criticisms, and so on) and watch people’s reactions. Eventually, you’ll see a pattern emerge.

Reach out for help — e. g. build a team of a few people (friends, colleagues, and others who know you well and won’t hesitate to tell you the truth). Ask them to tell you where you should improve and/or consult a coach.

Use platforms as ForbesCouncil and take advantage of a strong community of support, of senior leaders in various industries and major metropolitan areas. These connections can be very valuable as you can tap into a think tank of vetted collaborators, partners, and problem solvers.

These kind of forums are an excellent opportunity to learn, share, and expand your knowledge. They give you diverse perspectives of the what, why, and when of this shifting industry.

In addition, have a clear and tangible goal which you would like to achieve within a certain time frame, e. g. the next 5 years — visualize it and conjure up images of your goal!

Maybe, it is also time to change your position — consider to join another business division within your company or even a subsidiary in a foreign country to broaden you expertise and intercultural competence.

Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?

I always have been energized by building diverse, compiling outstanding teams that are engaged and passionate about their contributions to the business. This is only possible by creating an appreciative culture in which everyone can engage as they are. Another important piece of the hiring strategy is to identify culture warriors and hire for those attributes and to give cultural warriors yes/no authority in hiring.

I believe in strengths-based leadership, creating a cohesive team, which is passionate about the product they are selling, which have a broad network in the specific industry and which loves or is even addicted to be involved in the product related sport (in my case riding both acoustic and electric bikes).

Furthermore, I think it is paramount to set personal and professional goals as a team.

In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?

1) eBikes have succeeded largely by targeting cycling newcomers and outdoor enthusiasts over core traditional cyclists. In order to further grow understanding and adoption of eBikes as a viable transport and recreational tool we aim to reach people who aren’t considering themselves cyclists or former cyclists.

Examples:

  • Increasing product awareness in non-endemic (non-bicycling) media and thus reaching outside the bike industry — reaching cycling newcomers/non-cyclists through mainstream media channels (e. g: Tech & Lifestyle as Clean Technica)
  • Partnerships with eBike share operators to introduce many non-riders to the ingeniousness of eBikes (BCycle)

2) Telling human stories about eBikes electrifying lives: Bosch has changed countless lives with its eBike technology, and boasts an active and passionate user base filled with inspiring stories. We share these stories on a macro media scale and aim for real, dynamic user stories to be heightened and amplified.

Examples:

  • Focal segment “adventure”: Aligning ourselves with outdoor enthusiasts and their families bridges the gap between “cyclists” and recreational riders (the bike-curious) and outdoor enthusiasts such as Nick Troutman and his wife Emily Jackson.

3) Promoting a healthy lifestyle: With many studies touting the health benefits of eBikes and their contribution to an active lifestyle, we introduce eBikes to the world of holistic living. We work with brand ambassadors that exemplify wellness to prove that eBikes “aren’t cheating” — in fact, they’re helping hundreds of thousands of people stay healthy.

Example:

4) Events outside the bike industry, e. g. Sponsorship for Corporate Campus eBike Events such as Toward Route Zero

Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?

No matter if the focus is on B2B or B2C, the best three strategies to ensure great user experiences and customer service is through 1) empathy and listening which, in turn, helps you 2) build the best possible products and services with the end user constantly in focus and 3) make top-notch service and experience a fixture of your business culture for all employees to live by.

In practice, this looks like the following:

1) Create a product or service that solves consumer’s problems or fills a need better than the rest.

2) Set up feedback loops and opportunities to gather real-world intel so you can learn from and improve processes, products and services which is then a win for all involved.

3) No matter what an employee’s role is within the organization, they all have an opportunity to delight the people they do business with through a laundry list of touchpoints. When you, your product, your services, your processes are easy to work with, it improves the success of the business overall.

As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?

Bosch eBike Systems:

We offer perfectly synchronized systems, fascinating products, and services for our customers. Through deeper integration of hardware and digital solutions we continuously develop new solutions in cycling which have a positive impact on health, the environment and society.

Building on Bosch’s unique know-how, we set the standard in riding enjoyment, comfort and safety. Connected to a digital ecosystem of manufacturers, dealers, and development partners, we bring new business models to life. This is how we make our customers and partners strong — because their success is our success!

One of our core values is “The customer in focus” — we place our customers at the center of everything we do. Driven by our business model B2B2C we understand the needs of our end customers, trading partners and manufacturers. We inspire with our products and services and help our business partners become even more successful.

Examples:

1) Customer traffic: By continuously introducing new software updates for existing products, continuous product innovations and compatible product upgrades we contribute to increase customer traffic at our customers’ (bike manufacturers’) dealer network.

2) Best-in-class Service: our network of over 2,490 dealers in North America have been directly certified in the field by our Bosch Technical Experts to provide the best customer experience. We offer onsite-training (on the shop floor), Dealer Training Tour clinics and online certification training. Thus, we educate and empower our customers’ (bike manufacturers’) dealer network.

3) Spare parts availability

With a strong focus on compatibility and a multi annual spare parts availability we ensure a high level of customer satisfaction.

Further strategic focal points and values:

Focusing on customers: Through constant dialogue and early involvement in our development process we understand our customers’ requirements. We tailor our products to them, and we create innovative business models. We regularly measure our customers’ satisfaction (all layers of our business model — end consumers, bike dealers and bike manufacturers) based on our CEI (Customer Experience Index) survey, a continuous closed loop process with customer interaction which measures overall customer experience and perception of Bosch.

Innovation and outstanding quality: Our creativity is the basis for new technological solutions that translate into best-selling products. We are innovation leaders. We deliver products that offer the best quality and reliability. In this way, we meet our customers’ wishes and expectations.

Global presence: We are an international company. While constantly extending our global presence, we strengthen local responsibility and support our customers in their expansion activities.

Openness, trust and fairness: We communicate important company matters in a timely and open fashion. This is the best foundation for a relationship built on trust. We deal fairly with our business partners, and view this fairness as a cornerstone of our corporate success.

Reliability, credibility, legality: We promise only what we can deliver, accept agreements as binding, and respect and observe the law in all our business transactions.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.

1) Product:

Our strategic imperative is “Invented for life.” We want our products to fascinate as well as to improve quality of life. We also strive to use synergy effects and benefit from existing Bosch technologies in our development processes.

Example: Bosch eBike Systems

We developed a modular, standardized and scalable portfolio based on Bosch’s core competencies — the right product line for every application, from city to suburban, from tours to mountain.

Bosch has been the inventor of Li-Ion technology and has a production volume of more than 32 million of power tools per year. This competence helped us during the battery development. During the development of our drive units Bosch eBike Systems also took advantage of Bosch Automotive Technology representing an annual manufacturing volume of more than 80 million electrical drives and related technologies such as start-stop and power-steering.

2) Sustainability & Environmental Awareness:

We are motivated by the desire to develop products that help conserve natural resources. For us, that means thinking ahead, focusing firmly on the future of generations to come, and consistently pursuing sustainability as a company.

Cities in the 21st century are facing major challenges: The world population is growing, resources are dwindling, the climate is changing. Solutions are needed. Electromobility can make a significant contribution to sustainable urban development and an urban environment worth living in.

Example: Pedal-assist eBikes in particular offer great opportunities. They help to conserve resources and reduce emissions.

3) Business Model (CANVAS)

Follow the concept of a lean startup journey, constantly integrate customer feedback and iterative design to ensure a product portfolio with high UX& user centricity. The business model Canvas has allowed us to create a very visual overview of our idea’s hypotheses which summarizes how value can be created for both our company as well as our customers. Canvas has stimulated us to think about all essential elements of our business and how they are and can be connected — key partners, key activities, key resources, value propositions, customer relationships, channels, customer segments, cost structure and revenue streams. Start with the user, prototype and iterate, fail early and learn fast!

Example: Our development cooperation with Cannondale which helped us to find a business model that worked. To get there, our assumptions, which we had identified, needed to be tested. This happened through the feedback in the development phase with Cannondale. So, the hypotheses summarized in the Business Model Canvas represented the MVP (minimum viable product). The MVP requires minimum time, money and effort and is therefore relatively easy to quickly develop and to use as a tool to gather feedback. In case this feedback indicates that the hypotheses are incorrect, they should either be revised or pivoted to new hypotheses.

4) Digital Business

Create an IoT ecosystem!

Example: At Bosch eBike Systems we have 2 missions (#1 is our core product business, #2 is providing digital services) and one overall vision: We are an IoT enabled Bike company.

We needed to onboard digital talent, we are constantly in the process of digitalizing existing ecosystems (e. g. lifetime digital bike experience, B2C user subscriptions, B2B2C offers) and building cross-divisional innovation platforms

5) 3rd party co-operations and partnerships

Focus on your core competencies, keep focus and establish co-operations in areas outside your expertise.

Example: Bosch did not have any access to bike dealers, our logistic infrastructure has been developed to ship high delivery volumes to a limited quantity of customers, but not to provide single spare parts to thousands of bike dealers. Our market entry strategy includes the cooperation with a service partner, a company which is very well connected within the bike industry and is experienced to serve the needs of the bike retailer network.

Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Of course, I am biased by my position and driven by the passion to proliferate eBikes, the biggest adoption of green transportation of the decade — in a nutshell they offer a low cost, energy efficient, emission-free and sustainable mode of transportation which also has physical and health benefits.

Amongst the important drivers for accelerated growth are:

  • Bike infrastructure: Cyclists need safe, convenient, and accessible places to ride. We need a transportation system that provides the necessary and safe infrastructure for people to travel anywhere they need to go by bike and eBike.
  • Subsidies and eBike incentive programs as overall e-bike adoption in the United States remains limited due in part to high purchase cost, e. g. partial purchase subsidy from government or utilities, vendor funded discount (discount from the e-bike store), employer sponsor programs (where the employer gives an e-bike, perhaps as a bonus or part of their pay) and government sponsored loans.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Mark Zuckerberg.

I am very inspired by personalities who successfully started a business from scratch (or in his case from a college dormitory room), as a start-up (as I did twice in my life), expand it successfully and rapidly and are still driven by “giving back.”

Back in 2015 Mark had donated 99 percent of his Facebook shares to the cause of human advancement that represented roughly $45 billion at Facebook’s valuation, making it one of the largest pledges in history. The money was supposed to pursue its mission by funding non-profit organizations, making private investments and participating in policy debates, in each case with the goal of generating positive impact in areas of great need. The two goals which had been focused were “Advancing human potential” and “Promoting equality.”

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