Electric transportation is on the rise, a fact Ben Schein, founder of Ovo Electric Bikes, knows all too well.
“Electric bike popularity has been exploding over the past four to five years – accelerated heavily by the pandemic,” Ben said when we sat down to talk to him. The benefits are broken down into three things: health, cost, and fun!
It’s this combination of factors that led Ben to start his own business, giving him the opportunity to bring the wonderful world of electric bikes to the masses. We sat down with him to discuss his journey, the scalability potential behind his website builder of choice, Shopify, and the ingenious reason he settled on the name “Ovo” for his store.
Ovo Electric Bikes is an e-commerce store specializing in electric bikes for riders over 40. I started the company in 2021 but I didn’t start selling bikes until 2022, after spending about a year researching, sourcing products, and building our website.
Purchasing an electric bike can be incredibly intimidating for first-time buyers. Between technical terminology and the dozens of features listed, prospective customers often don’t know how to weed through the lingo to understand what bike is best for their specific needs.
Most bike retailers and brands focus on the potential adventures and thrilling capabilities of the bikes they sell, showing their bikes being ridden by professional athletes and writing descriptions that can only be understood if you know a lot about bikes.
From what I could tell, that wasn’t representative of most of the customers buying an electric bike for the first time. It neglected the anxieties and hurdles first-timers go through when purchasing a bike, so I felt there was an opportunity to make the first-time buying experience approachable and hospitable. As a result, Ovo focuses on translating nuanced, technical terminology and capabilities into accessible language anyone can understand, enabling everyone to come away not just excited, but confident in the purchase they’ve made.
I’m a long-time technology, e-commerce, and activities enthusiast – I love everything from iPads to playing tennis, to DIY home improvement projects – and I particularly love experimenting to see how these things can come together. I’ve been fortunate to have several really interesting jobs during my career, but like most people who change jobs, it’s been anything but a straight line.
I’m an avid learner — I’m constantly getting involved with new projects because doing is how I learn, and there’s no more valuable life skill than constant learning.
My first career out of college was working in television production for National Geographic; it was incredibly interesting and one of the most fun jobs I’ve ever had, but my passion for watching television was greater than creating it, so I wound up switching careers pretty early on to work in e-commerce. I found the space fascinating. It was especially interesting to be in e-commerce during the wide adoption of mobile devices and the shift to people buying primarily on their smartphones rather than desktops & laptops.
I took a few tangents from e-commerce along the way, but I ultimately decided to launch my own business because I realized my deep understanding of e-commerce best practices and “foundation skills” gave me a higher chance of being successful out of the gate.
Hence, Ovo Electric Bikes was born. All credit for the business name goes to my wife here. I was playing around with several different names and she suggested “ovo” because it looked like a bicycle. This left the door open for a lot of creative ways to use the name and logo as we scaled the brand.
Prior to launching Ovo, I didn’t work in the bike industry but was into biking recreationally as a hobby. There are too many wonderful blogs out there that do more justice to the topic of the benefits of electric bikes, but as I said, I really think it distils down to three things: health, cost and fun.
Electric bikes are a great way for people to get mobile, which is beneficial for a variety of reasons. On the cost side, e-bikes are a great solution for a variety of activities – including commuting – where costs can be substantially higher than the entry cost of a decent electric bike. And finally, it’s fun! I believe it’s always good to invest in your happiness, and there are few people I’ve met who have gotten on an electric bike and not enjoyed the experience.
When I was starting out in 2021, the biggest practical challenges were time and startup funds. I didn’t have a massive budget to start my business, so I was looking to be super efficient in how I spent every dollar.
There are a lot of small costs that add up when starting a business — even one that’s only online —so it was a real chess game to figure out how to be both effective and efficient with startup costs. Shopify was a huge resource for this — their platform is incredibly robust, mature and cost-effective for a variety of things.
It wasn’t just money I was short on, though. Mainly, it was time. Finding, testing, setting up, and merchandising products takes way more time than people realize. There were a lot of late nights uploading images and writing product descriptions.
Luckily, I’ve been fortunate to work for several marquee brands across multiple industries and stages during my career, so I was able to see how those brands handled both building and maintaining their brands across a variety of platforms and channels. This also allowed me to make invaluable connections with people who have been critical mentors and sounding boards in launching Ovo.
But you don’t always automatically have those connections that are going to make your business a success. When I was first finding suppliers, I did a lot of good, old-fashioned cold emailing! Once I figured out the type of bikes I wanted to sell, I wrote down quality and assurance standards that I felt were fair and reasonable for first-time electric bike customers. Then, I did a ton of research finding bikes – and more importantly manufacturers – that met those standards, before reaching out using contact information from their websites.
Reaching out was definitely intimidating at first, but then you realize all companies exist because they want to sell their products, so they’re always much more welcoming than you think they will be. There were definitely some no thank yous and no replies, but I heard back from almost all of the manufacturers I reached out to!
And communication is a big part of the job. In any kind of commercial business, you’ve got to enjoy talking to people or it’s really hard to enjoy what you do. Specifically though, when a new customer reaches out with questions or concerns they have, helping them translate their confusion into confidence about their purchase is the best part.
Talking to people is the best part of my day-to-day work!
I once had a customer reach out to me who wanted to buy an electric bike for her husband for his birthday, which was under two weeks away. On top of that, she had never bought any kind of bike before and was even less familiar with electric bikes. She was truly starting at zero.
She came in thinking she would have to spend many thousands of dollars to get a bike that would work for her husband, but after several conversations over a couple-day period, we not only found the right bike for her, but it came in well under her budget, too. Plus, we were able to get the bike to her in time for the big birthday! The day after her husband’s birthday, that customer even took the time to send me an email saying how thrilled her husband was with the gift. That was a really awesome, feel-good moment.
With a little one at home, my days start early so that I have some time to myself before the day gets going and he gets up. I try to start most mornings with some form of workout, then take the dog for a walk. Afterwards, I make sure I have time to hang out time with my son.
Then, I sit down and work straight til five or six; every day is truly different from the one before, which is one of the things that keeps it so interesting. I can be helping new customers, launching new marketing campaigns, reaching out to new vendors, or researching new bikes.
A big part of my time is also making sure orders are placed and fulfilled quickly and correctly – I typically track every order that comes in from the time it’s placed through delivery to make sure I can be ahead of any unexpected bumps that come up along the way. Once my work day is done, I try to always spend at least an hour with my son before he goes to bed; the best part of my day is unquestionably the pre-bed storytime.
When it comes to maintaining a work-life balance, I have a few “non-negotiables” in my day that I try to stick to every day. This helps me keep that balance in check. For example, I always try and have some time to myself every morning before the rest of the family gets up, or I’ll always save a few minutes to ask my wife how her day went. I make sure I never miss my son’s bedtime routine. Those few things are simple but make sure I always know when – and why – it’s time to unplug from work.
There are a few lessons I’ve learned since embarking on this journey, the first being the importance of using high-quality images. A lot of websites out there still rely on a few, low-quality images to showcase and merchandise their products; that just doesn’t work with today’s consumer. Devices are better (and faster) than ever in rendering images, and you have to lean into that. Paying attention to this also pays huge dividends with Google, which really emphasizes quality and performant imagery in SEO rankings.
Learning about and utilizing paid marketing has been one of my biggest challenges. You can very easily spend a lot of dollars quickly with limited to no results because you’ve set up campaigns wrong or don’t know what, where, or how to include certain information. There are a lot of great resources out there for learning this, but it’s still a bit like the Wild West when you’re first starting out. It can be incredibly time-consuming to learn well.
If I could start all over again, there are a few things I’d do differently, but mainly, in the early days, I’d have focused more on marketing and broader content generation, which would have allowed me to attract and interact with more customers sooner. Instead, I fell into the trap of spending dozens of hours writing the perfect product descriptions, only to rewrite them days later.
For anyone looking to start their own e-commerce site, paying attention to profit margins in e-commerce is really important out of the gate to ensure your business is sustainable and scalable, so you can eventually put your primary energy into growing the business.
Pinning down the biggest lesson I’ve learned in my career is a tough one. I’d split it into two categories. The first is about failure. Expect to fail and learn from those failures. I have failed many many times in my career, but learning from those failures and then using those learnings in my next attempt has been absolutely critical.
The second category is the power of listening. Listening is probably one of the most underrated skills for any role or profession; whether it’s to customers, advisors, or employees, effective and attentive listening is important in not just getting work done, but in building the relationships that allow you to do that work in an enjoyable and productive way.
Going through these ups and downs is worth it, though. My first sale was probably the proudest moment for me and my business. The number of hours that went into starting Ovo Electric Bikes before that first sale came in – and from someone I didn’t know! – meant that I got such an energy and excitement boost. It still gets me excited thinking about it today.
- Looking for help with your marketing strategy? Check out the 8 Best Marketing Channels for Ecommerce Businesses.
- If you want to optimize your website images for SEO check out our article, How to Optimize Images for SEO.
Websites are still the most effective ecommerce channel by far. A good website not only allows you to drive traffic from multiple places but it also has the lowest barrier to entry for prospective customers. And for a large purchase like an electric bike, it’s incredibly important to remove as many barriers and obstacles as possible.
When building a website, I’d advise anyone to be detail orientated, but prioritize things like accessibility and page load times rather than what you think “looks best.” SEO rankings aside for a minute, when starting from nothing, your site should be accessible to everyone from day one, and people care more about your site loading faster than the font you use.
I built my website with Shopify and I chose it for two reasons: its affordability and its app store. It would be impossible for me to scale my business effectively without the cost structure of Shopify and the turnkey enhancements available through their App Store. I’ve been able to add new features and capabilities not just quickly but at reasonable prices for my business within an hour — something that would simply not be possible on virtually any other e-commerce platform out there.
Plus, I believe that Shopify’s payment platform is by far the best in the industry. Without having to do anything on my end, I can accept almost a dozen payment methods. More importantly, it’s both very easy to use and secure for the customer, so they have confidence in the transaction process.
I really feel like I can scale my business successfully with Shopify. Their pricing and product tiers allow you to not only grow your business but also empower you to leverage new and powerful tools at scale like no other platform I’ve worked on.
Of course, Shopify isn’t perfect. Its standard blog tool is limited, particularly in how it handles formatting. They’ve added some new tools for structured data, but blog posts are still relatively inflexible and cumbersome to create. In my opinion, there’s so much short and long-term value in the content that goes into a blog. A lot of customers I talk to read at least one blog post during their shopping journey.
In the future, adding more brands and accessories is top of my mind at the moment. I don’t want to exponentially change what we have but finding brands and products that complement our existing catalogue and fill out the assortment offering is a top priority.
Other than that, I’ll be really focusing on marketing and content generation for our blog to help improve our SEO rankings and Return on Ad Spend (ROAS)!
For anyone else just beginning their business journey, I know it can be super intimidating to start this process, so start small and make a checklist. Focus on picking a single category, or kickstart your research phase, giving yourself the opportunity to process and evolve your thinking based on what you learn and discover. And ask questions. In fact, I’m happy to help, so feel free to reach out with any questions you might have!