Geero Founder Thomas Rath
Mobile cross-border commuter
Tens of thousands of kilometers through Vietnam and China on a medieval-looking motorcycle, surfing for months in Hawaii, backpacking through Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia and India, building a skate resort in the Philippines - Geero founder Thomas Rath doesn't shy away either privately or professionally from experiences and therefore opportunities to learn. At the age of 12, he discovered his love for skateboarding and pursued it at an international competitive level for years. A time in which Thomas learned to create and fulfil his dreams and visions.
“There’s no such thing as no way” mentality
At 18, he started his first business with savings from summer jobs and hit the nerve of the times: pocket bikes from China were becoming a hype, and Thomas was the first in Austria to be able to meet the enormous demand. To do this, he had to import an entire container from Asia, as the purchase was regulated with a minimum purchase of 200 pocket bikes. Nevertheless, the mini motorcycles sold out within two weeks through pure word of mouth. The design and construction of model airplanes followed, and with it the independent sales of them on the e-commerce platform E-Bay, which was just emerging at the time. In addition to other business ideas, further training and trips were on the permanent program.
At the age of 24, Thomas finally made the career move to Asia and successfully built up his engineering office in Shanghai for ten years using the trial and error principle. In 2011 he joined forces with his brother Michael and established other companies in the micromobility sector. In 2016, the brotherly duo revolutionised the electric bike industry with their Geero e-bikes.
A lot has been dared and a lot has been achieved, but what makes Thomas Rath tick and think? You'll read that in the interview!
You have already done and tried many things in your life. What drives you?
Thomas Rath: I just always followed my heart. I found areas that fascinated me and I pursued them. I love projects that can be completely different. The Geero e-bike is just one example. It starts with an idea, you visualise it in your head, then you work on it for two years or more, and step by step the product emerges and you can touch and feel it more and more. At some point, you sit on it and drive it. Then you see a lot of people on the street using it. This is such an indescribable feeling - because you created this, from start to finish. And the fact that other people not only benefit from it, but also enjoy it, is a multiplier on top of that.
So creating and building projects or something is a wonderful, fulfilling process for me and that's what drives me.
What was your fascination with developing electric bikes?
Thomas: For me it's primarily about the process, i.e. the path from the idea to the goal. I could have developed another product in the field of micromobility instead of the e-bike. I see enormous potential in micromobility for the coming mobility transition and will certainly continue to work in this area for quite some time. But I don't enjoy working on projects alone. I enjoy having like-minded people around me and getting things done together. Like now with the Geero team, where I am surrounded by so many interesting people. With whom I can work well and walk this path together, who enrich me and where I can learn something from each and every one of them. This entire process is the most beautiful thing for me.
You have travelled a lot. How have your many stays abroad influenced you?
Thomas: You have to find out for yourself what you want in life. My goal has always been that I want to be a happy person. And for me, that simply includes a certain appreciation for people and things. When I travelled, I never travelled as a tourist but lived with the locals everywhere and was often integrated into local families. Ate with them, spent time with them and everything. I was exposed to different cultures, religions, political and social attitudes. It made me question a lot of things: How does this all fit in with how I grew up? With the attitudes, norms and values that I have been taught? That made me rethink and it took me a long time to understand it all. We all wear individually coloured glasses called “culture”, “politics”, “religion” and the like, with which we create expectations and social patterns, even tensions. But in the end, it doesn't matter where someone comes from, what they believe in and all those things. It's about the people themselves. Whether they have a good heart and treat others well.
What were the most important inputs that you took away for yourself?
Thomas: In Asia, for example, I lived very simply for two years. I'm also a simple person, I don't need much. That was outside of Shanghai, in the industrial area, and I just followed the others there. That means I deliberately had no hot water and no heating for two years (you don't have that there anyway). In winter it is five degrees there and the buildings are not insulated, it is draughty. But that's just how people live there. That was one of the most interesting experiences ever. We are used to it differently in Central Europe - we have heating, often even underfloor heating, we have bathtubs with warm water and so on. But that's nothing special for us here, it's just a matter of course. We have all this comfort and many people are still very unhappy. When you live in a place where you don't have all these amenities, and then you come home, you see how well we have it here. This also requires appreciation for simple things that also make you happy.
You lived and worked in Shanghai for over ten years. How did it come about producing the Geero e-bike as locally as possible in Styria? So to act regionally instead of internationally?
Thomas: For me, it's just about this appreciation. There are some things you are not aware of in advance, then you travel to other countries, have your experiences and collect many different impressions. And that changes your perspective. For example, I am a person who enjoys being in nature. When I lived in China, they weren't as strict with environmental protection measures as they are today. When I was there I never saw clouds, blue sky or sun. Just smog. That was incredible. And then you come back to Austria and see how beautiful we have it here. Then you develop this appreciation for all of that.
Interpersonal relationships are also incredibly important to me. I have had my circles of friends, great people, in every country where I have lived. But I was losing more and more of my family and close friends. And that's something that makes you start to appreciate your comfort zone "home" again. Asia was an experience, no question, but I couldn't imagine that I would live there forever. It was clear to me: I really wanted to go home to Europe again. So I started planning everything for my return. So that I can live and work in Austria.
So is home a place for you?
Thomas: My home is where I have my comfort zone. And for me, that is my family. I still travel a lot. I have my projects here and there, in the Philippines for example. But my main place of life is in Austria. I most likely want to grow old here. That's why I built my current business in Styria, where my family lives. So for me, home has less to do with a specific place and more to do with people who are very important to me in my life.
Do you find inspiration for your projects here?
Thomas: For inspiration, I have to get out of my comfort zone again. And I absolutely need the variety. I believe that if you grow up in one place and are always there and see the same things as everyone else every day - meet the same people, get the same input, experience the same things - then you will think the same as everyone else. And then, for example, when you start a company, it will come from an idea like hundreds of thousands of other people have. But when you go out into the world, into other countries, you see completely new things. You come back and look at everything with different eyes. This also affects your ideas. Because when these familiar and new experiences and perspectives flow into one another, inspiration arises for me.
You founded and developed Geero together with your brother. What did your parents imagine for you professionally?
Thomas: We were really lucky that our parents always supported us as children. They made sure that we got a good education and gave us a lot of time and love. But my siblings and I had to work everything out ourselves. That was a very important life lesson. Our parents never told us what we should become, it was up to us to decide. You have always trusted us. For example, when I started my first business at the age of 18 and wanted to import my first container of pocket bikes from Asia, I went to my dad and told him about it. He just said: Do it! And in this project back then there were endless risk factors. What I didn't know and what I could have done wrong. But I just dared. Imagine if my dad had said: Are you crazy, this is way too risky! My whole life would have been different.
Speaking of risk: If something doesn't work out the way you imagine, or a business idea turns out to be a failure - how do you deal with it?
Thomas: I've made enough mistakes in life. Luckily, I am grateful for every single one of them. Because that allowed me to grow. There are well-known quotes that basically say: Don't look back, just go on. I have this attitude too. When something happens, whether professionally or privately, I process it and the first thing I think is: What can I learn from all this? What are the lessons I can take away with me? I do that and take with me positive memories of what happened. I focus on the now and the future. If you live in the past, you can't move forward.
In 2022, Geero won, among other things, the prize for courage at the Kleine Zeitung's Primus Awards. What does courage mean to you personally?
Thomas: I have my values and visions of what I want to do in life. If I'm confronted with challenges that scare me, but it still fits into my concept, I can't say no. Then I have to do that. And that takes courage, in both small and large ways. As much as I'm afraid of certain things. But when you face your fears and overcome them, they disappear. You basically throw yourself in at the deep end, so you develop further. And it is very important to me that I constantly develop myself.
Keyword further development. You are still working on your Geero e-bikes. What does quality mean to you?
Thomas: I find it sad how important mass consumption is in our society today. We live in a time in which the industry brings short-lived products onto the market and uses its marketing to suggest to people that they can and, above all, should constantly buy feelings of happiness with them. For example, you only need to look at washing machines. Many break down on average after three or four years and can no longer be repaired because spare parts are no longer available. With our knowledge, such as engineering, we could build washing machines that theoretically last 100 years. What is really correct and at the same time sustainable is buying quality. So products that are designed to last or business concepts that are designed for the long term. And the quality of a product is reflected, among other things, in the fact that you can still service it even after ten years because you can still get the spare parts for it. For example, we can still repair the first generation of our Geero e-bikes. By buying quality, you can really make a difference.
Finally, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
Thomas: I would generally say to a young person: have your dreams and dream big. Divide your dreams into smaller units to keep them achievable and don't listen to others. Believe in yourself and do it! If you put yourself into it because you want it with all your heart, then you can make anything happen. And it's like a pattern, you memorise it. This runs through your life.
Do you also see this as your life motto?
Thomas: My motto in life is that I am in this world to experience and learn as much as possible. There are so many things I still want to see, and so many experiences I still want to have. It's probably not all going to work out, but I want to make the most of my life.
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