A tribe called cyclists
Before letting Ariel Constaninof speak about his venture over a cup of coffee, some background might prove to be useful: the Romanian capital city of Bucharest is not a bike friendly city. Period. The municipality just denounced all the bicycle lanes as unsafe, after spending millions of euros on painting some sidewalks yellow. The public transportation and taxi drivers oftenharass cyclists, and in the suburbs stray dogs are a common incentive for speed. This is where Ariel comes on stage, in 2010.
“I had just received a bike from my grandfather when I realised that I could only take it for a spin in parks because of the traffic. I decided to organise a Bike Walk. We started it online, a few people showed up for the first edition, but after a few more meetings there were hundreds. For a year I took care of this Bike Walk, until it became a brand and the authorities and the media could not ignore the phenomenon anymore.” Three years later, the bicycles gained their deserved place in traffic, even if the fight is far from over and is sometimes taken literally.
Hate something, change something!
The idea of a bike courier service was another instinctive reaction to the status quo. It also started in 2010 with what Ariel could handle best: a website, coded by himself during a couple of nights; and a passionate team: he and his father. “After the website was online I started prospecting, looking for shopsinterested in what I have to offer. My inbox got stuck with only two responses, one from a clothing and t-shirts company, and the other from a beauty shop. These two clients were demanding, from the start, full-day deliveries. It was just me and my dad and it was actually pretty fun, we both woke up very early every morning.”
Currently Tribul (The Tribe) employs six constant messengers during the summer season and can mobilise up to 15 people for special emergencies. Ariel is handling the calls, the books and the contracts, the couriers are zigzagging across the city delivering mainly gifts. “We delivered jars of grapes for an event, the opening of a photo studio which is called Grape Studio. It was fun. I was also involved in a campaign against violence – we had to deliver bouquets of flowers that were concealing baseball bats. OK, these were awareness campaigns, but usually we deliver gifts, not so much documents or official papers. When you buy a gift for someone you want it delivered immediately. The options are limited: an old-school delivery company takes 24-48 hours to deliver a package, so people use cabs for quick deliveries. I can say that we are the fastest and we have the best price around.”
Tribul charges 4 euros for a 30-90 minutes delivery regardless of the distance and during this summer season they have reached a peak of 660 deliveries per month. Is that enough? “Honestly, at first I worked for free. Now the venture is on the verge of becoming sustainable. Most of the money goes to couriers, and I think that’s the most important thing.”
An unlikely party
Initially Tribul was aiming to employ students searching for part-time jobs. Age quickly became irrelevant for their team, but the passion for cycling and good communication skills remained mandatory. The messengers do not wear uniforms; they ride their own bikes and have very different backgrounds. “I always have to be careful about the people I choose to take part in Tribul, because they represent us directly. Recently a 45-year-old man came to work for us. Note that he has a family, a baby to raise. He was fired last year from his previous job where he worked as a driver delivering bread. When I met him I realised instantly that he is a strong player”. He did confirm Ariel’s trust: in April he delivered 250 orders of the total 660.
When I was speaking to Ariel he was on his way to meet another candidate, an ex advertising Art Director in his 40s who wanted to become a courier. That’s Ariel superpower: bringing together the most unexpected communities. ”It’s the only thing that keeps the flame alive. I don’t know exactly who this community is made of, or how it congregated. In the last two years we gathered fans around Tribul, people who want to become messengers, people who support our project.” In order to keep this energy Tribul functions as an NGOand 10% of their earnings are returned as donations to the biking community: they support Cicloteque, a bike-sharing service initiated by another association Mai Mult Verde (More Green Association).
Going uphill while having fun
Ariel ConstantinofThis spring, Ariel decided to share his experience and to empower others to start similar initiatives. He didn’t hesitate too much, as always, he went directly into action: writing a book about Tribul – cartea asta se va vinde ca pâinea caldă (this book will sell like hotcakes). It was the first fully crowd-funded book in Romania, raising the announced printing costs in the first 24 hours and almost doubling it by the end of the campaign.
“Let’s say the book is a combination ofmy daily life within the ‘tribe’ and my enthusiasm for personal development. Whenever I had an unusual client, I went home late at night and wrote about it. It’s a simple combo. I’m not giving any piece of advice in my book. If you look closely at Tribul, you’ll see that there’s much room left for management.”
That’s another great thing about Ariel: although he has instinctive inspired reaction, business and social wise, he is not getting ahead of himself. He’s not planning aggressive expansions to other cities or assuming the fast-delivery niche. Instead he’s planning on having fun, keep riding his bike and leaving stereotypes behind. In their free time, the Tribul team members enjoy insanely long biking trips in order to raise awareness or simply in order to prove them possible. “The longest journey we took was from Bucharest to the sea side. It became a tradition for us. I want to take this route for a third time this summer. There are approximately 330 kilometres to cover in 21 to 22 hours of bike riding, from 5 AM to 1 AM. All without sleep, just some pit-stops in order to refuel our energy. It’s mega fun and rewarding!”