By Mushira Sabry
A white car stops at the intersection by the SuperJet bus station in Heliopolis “What are you selling?” he asks, as he points at the workstation on the brightly decorated yellow bicycle cart. Tupperware containers brimming with berries compote, nuts neatly organized next to jars of Nutella, rainbow sprinkles, squeeze bottles of caramel sauce, stacks of round plastic containers, plastic spoons, and a buffet size stainless steel dish serving steaming, puréed, sweet potatoes all crowd the bicycle’s square basket. One of the team, dressed in an apron, plastic gloves, and a smile approaches the open window “Hi, we serve sweet potatoes with different toppings. You can park over there and try.”
Like many before them, they join the lively queue waiting in line to be served their orders, while the mastermind couple behind the By Bike project, Ahmed El-Sherbiny, 26 and Noha Nowia 25, or Majo and Bubbles, as their friends like to call them, are dressed warmly in jumpers and jeans, and are happily facing a video camera while an anchor interviews them.
The By Bike project has become a social media sensation over the past months. The Community Times invited one half of this entrepreneurship for a coffee, a chat, and maybe a little dessert.
Necessity is the Mother of Invention
El-Sherbiny explained that the idea behind By Bike did not appear out of thin air. Flashback to a few weeks before New Years Eve, he and his fiancé, who have been a couple since college, were contemplating their plans for the holiday season. But it had been a bad year for El-Sherbiny. As a partner in an online travel agency that specializes in outbound trips, he has been losing profit, as interest in travel abroad declined due to the attacks happening across Europe and beyond. In an effort to offset this loss, he considered investing in another project, but found himself short on money to invest. More importantly, he was getting married in September. He proposed one of two options to Noha, travel to El-Gouna for New Years Eve, or start By Bike.
On a chilly New Years Day, while everyone was recovering from their night of celebrations, the couple and their friends bought their first sack of sweet potatoes, and pedaled over to their first venue to sell their product. El-Sherbiny explained that he had done thorough research to identify a business model that would be profitable and would work for himself, his fiancé (who is employed) and the market. “I had initially wanted to think about it as a second source of income, but I also wanted it to be fun. So I realized that since food is a major industry in Egypt, I wanted to utilize it and make my product stand out. And that’s when I decided to start a mobile selling point, providing food and more.” El-Sherbiny identified that Egyptians enjoy eating hot sweet potatoes in chilly weather, but what would make him different? “My idea is to provide a safer, cleaner, and fun way to eat sweet potatoes. I considered the full consumption cycle, from the ordering of the food, to the organization of the workstation (where the purée is prepared), to hygiene, and to the cleanliness of the surroundings.” He explained that traditional street sellers offer roasted sweet potatoes cooked on wood, and serve them on newspapers; a very dangerous and certainly unappetizing combination.
“To make our sweet potatoes competitive, we decided to have them puréed, offer several toppings to accentuate the flavor, and sell them in sealed plastic containers.”
The response? Absolute success.
“We had people coming to visit us from all over Cairo. There was even one family who came from Alexandria for a day trip, and scheduled us as one of their stops.” When we asked El-Sherbiny about how many people has he served so far, he simply directed us to his Instagram account; with more than three thousand followers, in just three months, clearly he has made an impact.
The Truth Behind the Rumor
When asked what made By Bike popular, El-Sherbiny exclaimed “Emotional appeal! When I had first announced the project, everyone was very supportive because they thought that we needed the money to be able to pay for our wedding. I cannot tell you the impact it had on my in-laws! As much as I tried to reverse this belief, it was actually working for us, as we received more customers from different age groups and all areas in Cairo.” El-Sherbiny has not limited his venue to Heliopolis alone; he is now making stops in Maadi, New Cairo and corporate headquarter offices. El-Sherbiny assured that he doesn’t aim to compete with nearby restaurants, in fact, his presence brings the latter more customers. “Whenever we decide on a new location to sell, we make sure that we announce it on our website and social media accounts, with an emphasis on the nearby landmarks.” The result is that all customers will indeed visit the adjacent restaurants while they wait for their order to be prepared.
By Bike and Beyond
Success has changed the couple’s objectives. El-Sherbiny explained that he wouldn’t be using the money for their wedding anymore; he now wants to reinvest it back into By Bike.
“By Bike has transformed into something bigger than us. Thousands have reached out on our website asking about our idea, and wanting to do the same. We strongly encouraged them to do so, to the extent that we would actually engineer the bikes for them.” He added that By Bike unlocked the hidden entrepreneurs in the youth, as they realized that setting up their own project is much simpler than they imagined. He explained that some of his followers want to sell art, books, and even sushi!
“I actually designed six bikes so far; all selling different products. I was even approached by an entrepreneur who wants to use the By Bike model in Beirut.”
He emphasized that all of us can be entrepreneurs, even if we insist that we are too busy, too tired, and too worried of the paper work and red tape– we won’t lose out if we just try.
When we asked him what edible delight he will be selling when sweet potatoes are no longer in season, his smile spread across his face, “I can’t tell you” he responded as he picked up his keys, buzzing mobile phone and sunglasses, “You’ll have to wait and see.” And we are certain that we will not be the only ones impatiently waiting for By Bike to come to our neighborhood.