1. The idea

‘I made the first bike for myself, never with the idea that it would become a company, or even a hobby. I was working as a project manager at Emory University at the time, getting paid to fix problems – my very biggest problem was getting to work. That’s what started my search for an electric bike – I went to a shop and tested one. I fell in love with the way it felt, but I didn’t like the price tag or the way it looked. So I decided to build something myself.’

2. Research

‘I’ve always been a builder and a tinkerer and I’ve been wrenching on bikes my whole life – I actually did a circuit-bending class at college. So, there wasn’t a heck of a lot of research; I did some reading but not technical journals. I just had a pragmatic idea of the three components (battery, motor and controller) and mating them together. I started going to more bike events and met this guy who studied bike building. I was able to leverage some of his knowledge and he trained me up in welding.’

3. The first prototype

‘I was laying down on my bed and I just got inspired by my iPhone. I was like, “I want my bike to be like this: everything that makes it work is integrated into the product itself.” I made my first frame out of steel, and I made it here in my house. I took that around to all the festivals. That was my first crack at it, riding this thing every day and enjoying it. Then friends and co-workers started hitting me up, asking if I could build them a bike. I thought, “Why don’t I make a bike and put it on Craigslist?” It sold the same day. Then I thought, “Why don’t I do that again? This could actually be a business.”’

4. Funding

‘I was still working at Emory and, to me, this was a big investment. But the first run [18 bikes] was not a huge, crazy investment. Around the same time, I was becoming a dad – my wife said to me: “It’s time to liquidate your motorcycles,” so I sold both of them to fund those first builds. I worked on it in the evenings – it’s all I thought about.’

5. Getting the word out

‘‘I took my first bike around to all the festivals – I just wanted to get it in front of people, and just garner their thoughts. The biggest thing was getting plugged in at bike events, like Atlanta Streets Alive, and Atlanta Cycling Festival whose engagement is around 15,000 followers. That’s a high-quality target market – people living close by who are all things Atlanta.’

6. Development

‘The first 18 frames, we had a metal worker build them here, in Atlanta – it was very expensive, though. I was thinking: “How are we going to get this to scale? How can we keep costs in check?” I did my own research and started looking to China. The brakes and batteries came from Japan, so I was used to reaching out to Asian suppliers. I’d find a company that looked good on paper and just cold call them. I found a frame manufacturer in southern China, but it took almost two years of development before we got it right. I ended up sending them one of the steel frames and saying, “Just copy this.”’

7. Testing

‘I solicited feedback from friends that I ride bikes with and who work in the bike industry – people who are smarter than me. We loaded 600lbs on the bikes and rode them; we rode them down huge flights of stairs; we tried to set them on fire. That was part of the fun – getting in front of problems.’

8. Pricing

‘‘I didn’t want to cut corners. We spent a lot developing the frame, we use Panasonic PF battery cells, a really good controller, a motor that’ll work underwater. Everything is purpose built to last a really long time – I didn’t want to sacrifice. Our bikes are $2,200 – that’s a lot of money for a toy, but it’s not a lot of money for transportation. My goal was to keep it under $2,000 but I just couldn’t do it. We have razor-thin margins – you’ll never find us in retail, we’re always going to be a boutique-type sales model.’ 

This article was first published in Courier Issue 37, October/November 2020. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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