Sustainable Bamboo Bikes and their Social Impact

8 min read
11 Jun 2024

Interview with
Maximilian Schay,
Founder and CEO at MyBoo

Maximilian Schay grew up in a village of 700 people near the North Sea, and his entrepreneurial journey – which led him to building a school in Ghana, thanks to bamboo bikes – started early. “Even when I was in kindergarten, I wanted to sell things,” he says. At around twelve, he started selling football magazines, posters and stickers on eBay, and he’d earn up to €400 per month through his sales. By the time he finished school, he had made over €50,000. “If I had been born ten or fifteen years later, and had had access to TikTok and Instagram earlier, I’d have been more successful at a younger age,” he says. “There weren’t many entrepreneurial role models around me. My family is open-minded, my dad works for a group of companies that he treats as his own, and my mother is a social worker. Running a business was something we discussed and something I enjoyed thinking about, but role models? No. There was the Internet. That was it.”

He arrived in Kiel when he was twenty to start his studies in business administration at the University of Kiel. “It was always my plan to found a company, and I had come to university looking for ideas,” he says. During his studies, he met Jonas Stolzke, who also had the dream to start his own business. After another friend sent them a picture of a bamboo bike he had seen in Ghana, the two became cofounders of MyBoo. “Before that, we didn’t have any experiences with bikes, bamboo or West African countries,” he says. “But we saw this picture and understood that this could be a great product since it combines different things: a sustainable material locally sourced in Ghana and an environmentally friendly means of transportation that will become increasingly important in the near future.”

Together with their partner in Ghana, the Yonso Project, they took the idea forward, even if their business plan wasn’t exactly ambitious. “We bootstrapped a lot. And we found a local business angel, a third-generation entrepreneur, who decided to support us from the beginning, too. He gave us €30,000 for the first one and a half years. All we had to do was to find out if the bamboo bikes were a good product.” The company grew step by step after that, but not without any challenges.

Maximilian Schay — Photo by Jan Konitzki

Founders should have the same vision. You can have different solutions, different ways of thinking, but you have to respect each other and have the long-term goal in mind.

For the first three years, they weren’t sure that MyBoo was going to take off, since not only were they a new brand on the bicycle market but also had a novel material for the frame. “In the beginning, we weren’t even sure we would be able to sell the bikes, because after developing them, we needed to test them in German labs to see if they would pass EU regulation,” he says. The bikes were tested in Germany by the renowned testing institute EFBE Prüftechnik GmbH according to the applicable EN standard. “After that, it took maybe three more years for the sales to be good enough for us to make a living out of it.” Their goal hadn’t been building a two-person company; they wanted to build something big, but they weren’t sure they would be able to achieve that with the product they had. “The first years were quite hard,” he says, “but we never considered stopping. We remained optimistic and just carried on.”.

There was great enthusiasm about building a bicycle from bamboo in Ghana. In fact, the material turned out to be a great choice for building bicycles. Bamboo is one of the most sustainable materials for bike frames, durable and shock-absorbing like steel, and as light as aluminium. Additionally, bamboo grows fast (up to 91 centimetres within a 24-hour period) making it a prolific renewable material that absorbs carbon dioxide while growing. It is ecologically sustainable, and it supports the local development of the communities that harvest and dry the bamboo before assembling the frames and shipping them to Kiel. “From the very beginning, we were able to set a cycle in motion in Ghana from which the entire region benefits,” says Maximilian. The Yonso Project, their local partner in Ghana, works to sponsor student scholarships, administer microloans, improve local schools and pursue other innovative projects to provide families and individuals in rural Ghana the means to gain their economic freedom. Through the sale of bamboo bicycles and in partnership with the Yonso Project, MyBoo finances and runs a school in Ghana. More than 500 children now go to school there. It has also created more than thirty-five fairly paid jobs in the West African country. 

“We’ve been working together for eleven years now, and it took a few years to learn how to work together,” he says. “We come from different cultures and have different ways of approaching things. But also, this was our first job. We didn’t have any experience before starting MyBoo; we had to learn everything as we went along with it. We’re still learning how to run a company – it changes all the time.” 

We grew a lot and made many mistakes, big and small ones. But we learned a lot from that.

As a founder, Maximilian is happy he didn’t start a business on his own. “Jonas and I help each other a lot,” he says. “When you have two founders, you have two ways of handling the same situations and the same problems.” Most importantly, there’s always someone by your side, which reduces the stress a lot, even if it doesn’t make it easier to have a good work-life balance. “I’m working way too much because I love it, but also because I feel a lot of responsibility for the company,” he says. “If in the end we are not successful, I don’t want to think that I could have done more at the time. That said, I started playing golf again – even if I do keep my phone on me.” As the company grows and more responsibility is shared, the smoother the transition to a balanced work-life scenario will be. MyBoo now numbers 130 team members in Germany plus the team in Ghana, and Maximilian says that his and Jonas’ roles as founders and CEOs evolved a lot in the past decade. “At the beginning, we were very hands-on; we did everything on our own. Now we have a team. And we had to learn that our employees, especially the ones that were with us since the beginning, also struggle to understand that their roles are changing.” They had to make hard decisions – and had to learn that avoiding making the hard decisions has negative consequences. “Especially when it came to our team. We said we’re a family and wanted to take everyone with us, but I had to learn that if someone doesn’t really want to be part of our family, we have to let them go. We grew a lot and made many mistakes, big and small ones. But we learned a lot from that.”

Maximilian Schay — Photo by Jan Konitzki

Still, he wouldn’t give too much advice to his younger self. For Maximilian, it’s important for a founder to think naïvely at the beginning without worrying too much about the future. “Otherwise you’re never going to start,” he says. “All the mistakes we made, they were good for us. We’re still here. They taught us something.” However, he would advise his younger self to focus on building company culture from the start, making sure that managers are role models, and that there is consistency between speech and actions. Additionally, the company’s values should include the team instead of being a top-down decision. “Implement ideas from your team. The writing on the wall is not that important. We have our core values, mission, vision, etc. for everyone to see. But at the end of the day, you can’t say something and do something different. Rules are rules and everyone should follow them. And we’ve learned that it’s better to choose a team member based on their culture-fit than to hope they will adjust to it later – that’s the main thing I would say to twenty-year-old Maximilian. But the rest is fine. Make mistakes, make naïve decisions. That’s okay.”

Not only were they different people when they founded MyBoo over a decade ago but the city was also a lot less developed than it is today. “When we started, there wasn’t a real ecosystem for a startup to thrive,” he says. “In fact, I’d say that the average German person didn’t even know what a startup was.” Gradually, more people found out what a startup was, and the hype began. “Back then, it was cool to have a startup, but there were no coworking spaces, and it was hard to meet other founders. But that made us start developing the ecosystem for ourselves.” On the other side of the hardship was the fact that, since there weren’t a lot of successful startups around, it was easier for MyBoo to make themselves known, whether to other customers in the region, to the press, or to local politicians. “Kiel has always been a very supportive city. It’s a cooperative place: people work together, help each other and really support each other.” While larger startup ecosystems like Berlin or Hamburg might induce a competitive spirit, Maximilian says that Kiel is all about collaboration and exchange. “It’s the main reason we stayed here; I wasn’t planning to spend the rest of my life in Kiel. On top of that, yes, we love the sea and nature, but ultimately, it’s a wholesome environment for founding a company.”

[Flash Q & A]

What’s your favorite book?
I normally only read on my holidays, but right now, I’m reading Managing Performing Living by Fredmund Malik. 

What’s your favorite podcast?
I listen to the Doppelgänger Tech Talk twice a week. Plus The Pioneer Briefing and Hotel Matze.

What’s your favorite place for creative thinking?
My bed. It’s not a very cool answer, but it’s an honest answer!

‍[City Recommendations]

Favorite restaurant:
Haveli. The owner is a friend, and the food is incredible.

Favourite coffee shop:

One thing a newcomer should buy before they arrive:
Weatherproof clothes. You have to be prepared for bad weather.

Local food recommendations:
Fischbrötchen. I like it with Backfisch [fried fish]. 

Favorite thing about the Kiel Region?
To be close to the sea, to the beach. I’m living close to the canal, surrounded by water. That’s what makes Kiel special.

Favorite thing to do on the weekend?
I enjoy going to Tiessenkai, a small harbor. You sit in the sun, have a coffee, eat a fish sandwich and enjoy the sea.