Exceptional enterprise: Manta5
Cycling the mountain and forest trails of New Zealand is a popular pastime for many, but a new invention by company Manta5 embarks on unusual terrain, with a hydrofoil electric bike that planes across water. The invention has captured global attention, and with an initial New Zealand release in April, the company has a seismic year ahead. We spoke to CEO, Greg Johnston, about the Manta5 bike and his approach to planning…
Can you tell us a little bit about Manta5 and how the company began?
Manta5 is a product development and commercialisation company, set up by Guy Howard-Willis, the founder of online stores Torpedo7 and 1-day. Guy had this vision for replicating the cycling experience on the water and worked with bike designer Roland Alonzo to bring his dream to reality. For two and a half years they worked in secret on prototypes, with only those two and their wives knowing about it! Once they’d developed a promising prototype, Manta5 was formed to develop the concept into a commercially viable product.
As CEO, how have you worked with Guy Howard-Willis to build on his original vision?
I joined Manta5 three years ago after working for Guy and his son Luke on a number of start-up business ventures. When I came on board, there were only three staff and my main role was very much to see out Guy's vision. I worked closely with him to grow the organisation from a small product development team with limited commercial expectations, to a well-rounded team with experience not only in design and development, but production engineering, supply chain, sales and marketing. As a self-proclaimed dreamer, Guy is always years ahead of us, seeing Manta5 as a global watersports icon and an Olympic sport - my role is more about laying the foundations and scaling the business.
Can you describe the Manta5 hydrofoil bike for us?
It’s effectively an electric bike above the water, and a hydrofoil plane below. Below the water, it has carbon fibre hydrofoils and an injection-moulded propeller that gives you thrust forward and lift, very much like an aircraft. Above the water, you've got pedals, a seat and handlebars which makes it look and feel very much like a bike. The pedals drive the underwater propeller, and the rider is assisted by a custom waterproof e-bike motor and battery.
Who are the type of people that are purchasing the bike?
We've had an overwhelming amount of interest from all over the world. After winning gold in the 2017 Best Awards NZ, one of our videos went viral on Facebook, with 250 million views worldwide. There were over a million people visiting our website, and tens of thousands of people expressing interest to buy. We’ve found that customers are typically male ‘early adopters’ of technology - someone who has the toys, potentially has a bach, and enjoys the outdoors. That said, we’ve also had a lot of interest from the uber-wealthy, as well as a few really high-profile people.
With the product going to market soon, what is your approach for planning ahead?
All of our planning has been focused around trying to exceed customer expectations at every touch point they have with us, which proves difficult when we’ve had such overwhelming global demand. With potential buyers in so many different places, we’ve taken quite a disciplined approach to presales, by creating regional zoning based on demand and staggered our presale launches accordingly. This allows us to establish the right business functions in each of these regions as we scale.
How do you plan to reduce the chance of the unexpected?
We’re doing our best to foresee the unexpected across the business but like any start-up, scaling internationally at a fast pace means facing countless challenges. I think it’s more about having a great team with experience to foresee these challenges and the smarts to overcome them. With the help of our board, I’ve also handpicked an advisory committee who bring a wealth of knowledge in international marketing, finance, product development, and scaling companies in our key markets. We also work closely with organisations like Callaghan Innovation, NZTE, and Export NZ to get support and learn from NZ business leaders who have been before us.
The Manta5 team was named in the 2018 Fast 50 Hamilton regional celebrations as a Rising Star One to Watch. What did you take from being part of the Fast 50 programme?
One thing that has always really stood out to me is how supportive the New Zealand business community is and the Deloitte Fast 50 programme has reinforced this even more. Everyone that I met and spoke with during the programme was willing to help, share their story and make introductions. It was such a valuable experience to further extend our networks and engage with inspiring NZ business leaders, to make sure we continue learning from their successes and failures.
Finally, riding the bike looks like a lot of fun! How much have you been able to try it out?
I've ridden it a lot actually, especially when we were in the early prototype stages. I love mountain and road biking, but it’s very different from that. You feel like you are almost flying across the water with a very different vantage point, so it’s a pretty surreal experience. It’s a cool challenge, and a pretty intuitive feeling once you get the hang of it!
Jen Scouler works in the Deloitte clients & marketing team across digital content and social media. She also works closely with Deloitte Private.