Dustin McBride | Social Entrepreneur, Philanthropist and Athlete
Dustin McBride is an entrepreneur, philanthropist and athlete working to turn Africa around one bike at a time. he co-found Zambikes – social business project in Zambia. Since then, the project has produced almost 10,000 bikes as well as ambulance trailers, known as Zamcarts or Zambulances. Dustin’s passion for creating innovative transportation solutions for developing countries has been the backbone for Zambikes growth since its inception.
The Idea | In 2004 my partner Vaughn and I went on a Missions trip for 5 weeks in Zambia. We wanted to do something sustainable – create business, create jobs but also give back to the community. It was a lot of prayer and just using our minds. Vaughn said, “God reminded me of when I was riding a bicycle and it was just complete crap. You wouldn’t even sell it at a garage sale for $10. Let’s look at the bike industry and do some research.”
An Affordable but Quality Bike | We came up with a business plan for an entrepreneurship class in our third year of Uni. But could we actually bring an affordable quality bike into the Zambian market? That was our main aim right from the start -community development and providing a product relevant to the community, as well as building a viable business.
Business Plan | We raised about $75,000 in less than three months, enough to buy a container of bikes and start a company called Zambikes in Moussaka in 2007. We partnered with 2 Zambians from the start. So the four of us own the company together.
Raising the Money | Raising the $75,000 was basically a hybrid between a proper scheme where people were investing, and just kind of donating, or buying into an agreement. We talked to anyone that would listen to us, from family members to friends of family and we started a non-profit in the States to raise the initial capital.
Our Goal and Vision | Was to build this enterprise and to have it running on its own. So when you’re donating into this cause, you’re not just buying a bike. You’re buying into a sustainable enterprise that will continue to produce bikes in the community, and to employ people in Zambia. In 2009 a donor who was part of an investment group set up a line of credit for us so we were able to start moving a lot more bikes into Zambia.
Assembling the Bikes | We bring parts from Asia into Zambia and do full assembly there with about 20 mechanics. The frames are bamboo.
Our Favourite Product – Ambulance Trailers | We started building and manufacturing the ambulance trailers, the Zam-Carts or the Zam-bulance, in 2008-2009. We’ve produced almost 1,000.
Impact on Communities in Zambia and in Eastern Africa | You can’t get from your home to the clinic. It’s pretty simple. Most people, 8 or 9 months pregnant, or very sick, either don’t go to the clinic at all, or they’re on an ox cart or in a wheelbarrow or if they’re lucky, on a bicycle on one of those little carriers at the back.
Ministry of Health Partnering with NGOs | They saw that need and started coming to us. They said, “You guys hit this one out of the park. Let’s get these into as many villages and to as many rural clinics as possible.” We started rolling out in the hundreds, about 1,110. We’re sending some to Congo this year.
Zambulances in the Future | There are over 5,000 rural clinics. Some are staffed and only a few have ambulances, which are Land Cruisers, and can take over 10 hours to reach someone, if at all, as the roads can be so bad. Also you have to phone or walk to the clinic for an ambulance. In certain areas therefore they need multiple Zambulances, some based at the clinics and some in the villages. A minimum of 5,000 is the goal.
Simple Need | So the need was pretty simple when you hear those stories and when you look into the eyes of this woman who lost her baby because she couldn’t get to the clinic because there was no transportation.
Saving Lives | According to “Trans-Aid”, a UK-based organization which did research on 50 Zambulances a few years ago, we saved an average of one life a week per ambulance. That’s about 150,000 lives a year!
Cool Bamboo Bikes | A beautiful, aesthetic bike! We average 8-10 frames a week and it takes 30-40 man-hours to build each frame. So it’s a great employment opportunity. We’ve got distributors in Asia, Europe, the UK and the States. The bamboo frames are definitely made for the first-world high-end, or mid-range to high-end market, being light and smooth and with a bit of shock-absorption.
Unique Frames, Different Bikes | You can trick it out as a fixie, or 29’ers because that’s been big in South Africa recently. Also mountain bikes, beach cruisers, even a couple of tandem bikes.
Cost Per Bike | We can give you a great deal if you come to Zambia! Shipping’s a bit expensive. If you’re buying in bulk, as low as $40, but to most places in the world from here, close to $450-500 retail. That’s still pretty cheap for a custom frame.
Getting Social Enterprises Off the Ground Financially | The American side of the partnership has been important. All Zambian salaries and expenses in Zambia have been paid and sustainable since 2009, although at times we’ve had to delay salaries and make sacrifices. But the Zambian management team has pulled through. Grants and fund-raising were very important in the start-up phase.
Community Development | We’ve had smaller margins and dividends are focused on community development and training our employees. Also a lot of education sponsorships. 7 or 8 of our employees are in computer class right now.
Aspiration and Inspiration | People come in almost every day from the community asking, “Can I get a job?” We’ve had to filter that and try to pour into people who are really passionate and excited and driven to break that cycle of poverty. The mind-set is easier to break in some people than in others. And sometimes you just have the people that don’t cut it, and definitely the people who do see that opportunity and want more of it. We had one guy who was laying bricks and wanted to be on the marketing team. Two years later he’s the sales manager, running all our large accounts.
Cutting Your Losses | You have to cut some losses and not worry about it and not let it bring you down at the end of the day. Because it can.
From a First-World Country to an African Environment | There were some challenges, but we were still young, excited for new adventures and new relationships and we tried to learn as fast as possible. And being in a new culture, a new country…we were sleeping on the floor, sharing a towel, no mosquito net, working 12-14 hour days. We realized we needed to take care of ourselves a little bit or burn out. So we try to have fun, a life outside work.
Patience | I don’t think I realized how patient you become living here for so long. It definitely can test you and distress you like no other. It can take a week to change the battery in your car. There are so many little things that turn into big things in Zambia.
I’ve changed from being time-oriented to task-oriented in my career, and it’s been kind of fun.
Partnerships | Fortunately, with Zambikes they’ve been great. But I’ve learned the hard way that you really need to know who you’re getting into business with. It’s knowing your strengths and weaknesses and knowing their strengths and weaknesses. And cross-culturally it’s a whole new ball-game. You build up a trust with other people’s trust, if that makes sense. Have good references and really dig into the background before you jump in or sign anything. You really have to be careful in all partnerships.
Lessons Learned, and Advice | The philosophy of one of my professors was, “Ready, Shoot, Aim!” It made sense to me because I think you can aim a long time and never hit anything. But if you shoot and then re-aim and shoot again, you get closer and closer to the right place. That doesn’t disregard planning and vision-casting and all these things. But you gotta get out of the boat and try to walk on water.
Smart Versus Wise | My dad said that someone who is smart learns from their own mistakes and someone who is wise learns from other people’s mistakes. I think I’ve been more smart than wise over the last few years!
People To Look Up To | It’s pivotal to have people that you look up to and can learn from, whether it’s books, podcasts, teachings, whether it’s on the spiritual side or on the business side.
Write Down Your Goals | It’s a huge thing that’s helped me over the years. I do it on an annual basis. I’ll have spiritual goals and physical goals and career goals and even relational goals at times. And it’s important to surround yourself with people that are smarter than you are.
Quiet Morning Time | I take 30 minutes to an hour in the morning and just be quiet and write my thoughts down, pray, listen.
The Spiritual Side | For both Vaughn and myself, being committed Christians plays a pivotal role. That was the reason we wanted to get into bikes in Zambia. We felt God gave us that vision and idea. I was a soccer player, I love riding bikes but I was not a cycler nor a bike mechanic. I feel that alone is a testimony in that God was opening doors for us, without us being anything special. We don’t hire only Christians. We’re very open in that aspect, but the core leaders of Zambikes are all believers, and it’s the Biblical principles that go throughout the company no matter where we are, so we want to have a Kingdom impact wherever we go.
Looking Back In Hindsight | Starting afresh in Uganda, we’re trying to partner with an existing bike organization. This is something we would have liked to do in the beginning, perhaps with another group similar enough to ours. I think we could maybe have done a better job of partnering. Partnerships can be huge.
Secondly, we didn’t realize the importance of building a great leadership team from the very beginning. Jim Collins in one of my favourite books talks about step one – getting the right people on the bus in the organization and step two, getting them into the right seat.
Lessons Learned From the Guys in Zambia | Most importantly, patience mixed with the communal side of things. Respect for family and community. The way that my colleagues and co-workers do this has been an incredible journey, and for valuing my own family as well. Learning to be where you are. Just turning off your phone and sitting down and talking. And having patience in decision-making. When you don’t come to an answer right away and you sit, sleep on it, I almost always end up making a better decision.
Specific Books and Resources | Good to Great by Jim Collins; books by Richard Branson. And Rich Dad, Poor Dad. And the Bethel Church in Redding in California, where the senior pastor is Bill Johnson, and I got into a leadership class there. So I actually do an off-site leadership course through the church and a leadership development program. There are books that talk about the difference between an entrepreneur and a manager, then an organizer then a visionary, helping you to read people better.
Also I’ve started seeing more social entrepreneurial groups or investors or mentors. So we’re just talking to one in the states called “Pracess” that sounds interesting. They’re getting together and saying, “Let’s learn from each other, let’s network together, let’s put good capital into good enterprises.”
Mohammed Yunus, with the Grameen Bank, is someone I look up to. He spoke out about micro-finance and social business as being a huge solution to developing countries and to poverty.
Useful links |