Put the time into research
The Farsi brothers, Mehdi and Reza, both grew up around cycling and a few years later, while studying at the Arizona State University in Tempe, USA, they got interested in fixed-gear bikes. Despite comprehensive research, they didn’t find a bike that could match their expectations. “What a gap in the market”, was their first thought. As it was nearly impossible to find an attractive bike for an affordable price, they decided to design their first prototype and start a bicycle brand.
These days, State Bicycle Co. based in Tempe, Arizona, sells bikes, clothes, and accessories through their website and over 400 shops. With 50 million USD in annual sales and over 100,000 produced bikes, their brand arguably belongs to the most recognized among those coming from the indie scene.
You don’t need a business background
Unlike the Farsi brothers, Ryan Zagata from New York City has never been a bike enthusiast. Zagata was working in finance in Manhattan until 2008 when he moved over the bridge to Brooklyn. To explore the neighbourhood, Mr Zagata and his wife started cycling regularly. In 2011, they flew to Vietnam for holidays, to witness local people riding upright simple bikes Zagata was always dreaming of but wasn’t able to find anywhere else. “I don’t want to pretend that we invented or we were the first to market that type of bike because we certainly weren’t but it wasn’t in my wheelhouse,” he says in an interview for the Brooklyn-based news The Bridge.
Despite the lack of experience in the beginning, Brooklyn Bicycle Co. owned by Ryan Zagata now sells twelve different bike models in 450 shops across the U.S. with average prices of around $599.
Don’t get discouraged by rejection
Even though the idea of Brooklyn-designed bikes looked attractive, every bike shop rejected the early models due to technical imperfection back in 2011. Instead of being discouraged, Zagata learned from feedback and reinvented the bikes to satisfy the bike shops’ demands. The retailers wanted double-wall instead of single-wall rims. They required more aluminium and less steel that tends to rust. Hand brakes were preferable to the coaster ones. The improved models were eventually accepted in six shops in 2012.
Be prepared for business travels
During the developing process, Zagata underwent many trips to Taiwan and China to find reputable manufacturers with strong quality control who wanted to work with a start-up company. As Brooklyn Bicycle Co. grew, Zagata was able to cooperate with bigger factories offering even better quality on more attractive terms.
Also, the Farsi brothers from State Bicycle Co. had a quite similar experience. Even though they were able to design the frames to their specifications, they needed to find the suppliers of 3rd-party components to pick from. The process of searching took over a year and a half. The entire period was covered by never-ending sampling, factory visits, and meetings. Most of the parts currently used on the State bikes come from Taiwan and China but certain components are made in Thailand, Vietnam, and the United States.
Set your goals
President of Brooklyn Bicycle Co. Ryan Zagata recommends writing down the expectations before the start to everyone willing to launch a bicycle business. Without that, you might end up having no comparison later, which might result in a state of frustration and sadness. In one moment, he thought that the company was not growing fast but the original plans in his notebook proved the company’s revenue was double the rate that he had ever projected.
Distinguish your brand
When Zagata was about to launch the company, his wife Thea, who’s a publicist, told him there were thousands of bike companies and a new one faced the hard task of bringing something revolutionary. It took them lots of effort to formulate a product that was well-designed, attractive and had a story to tell. In the beginning, it helped to be mentioned in magazines like GQ, Vanity Fair, Maxim, and other national news outlets. Because of a few contacts in Hollywood, some of their bikes were featured in movies including The Intern where Anne Hathaway’s character pedals her Brooklyn Bicycle across the office. A collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art led to a custom-painted bicycle sold exclusively in the museum’s shop.
— Brooklyn Bicycle Co. (@BrooklynBikeCo) October 22, 2015
Mehdi and Reza Farsi from State Bicycle Co. also found collaborations useful and so they hooked up with cultural icons such as the Wu-Tang Clan and The Simpsons to create custom models and thus reach and attract new riders to the brand by addressing the fans of the abovementioned big names, which was a good strategy towards people who haven’t yet formed a relationship to cycling. They also invested in high-quality product photography to attract customers buying online or surfing through social media.
All of these are just examples of what useful brand marketing might look like. Without connections, you’d probably not reach Hollywood stars, worldwide-selling magazines or hip-hop legends first-hand, yet any collaboration would work the same way, even on a smaller scale, though. Our bike-brand founders recommend creating wonderful photos, an amazing social media presence, and launching an ambassador programme. In the beginning, it can be a local musician, artist or a fashion designer you can supply with your bikes. The collaboration should help both parts of the contract. While the ambassador gets their bike ready to ride anytime they need, you can slowly unfold a story about someone famous using your product.
It’s never too late
One would say that founding an e-bike oriented brand in 2020 might be too late, yet the EMotorad company based in Pune, India, has proved the opposite. Four friends from the studies, Rajib Gangopadhyay, Kunal Gupta, Aditya Oza, and Sumedh Battewar, decided to launch an EV start-up that aims to manufacture premium-quality electric cycles at affordable prices while utilizing local sourcing and manufacturing capacities. Before the launch, they explored the market to find the presence of many competitors offering e-bikes for prices most average buyers could hardly afford.
Their first product was a full-suspension bike called EMX that can reach the speed of 28 km/h and has a travel radius of 45 km on a single charge. This year, they added two new models to satisfy people riding in rough terrain or riders that need a foldable bike. Even though their bikes have no exceptional feature nor extraordinary design, the attractive price and the broad Indian market helped EMotorad to record considerable sales numbers. The secret of the brand success, in this case, was not a revolutionary engineering nor an original bike invention but a reliable product for a price palatable to many.
Some time ago, one of the EMotorad founders announced to have over 2,000 e-bikes on Indian roads and an Indian market revenue exceeding $1 million in less than six months. He also believes their brand will grow rapidly as the Indian EV market has yet not reached its full potential. According to ResearchAndMarkets.com, the electric bicycle market in India is estimated to reach the value of 20 billion U.S. dollars by 2024, increasing by 42.95 per cent between 2020 and 2024.
Nobody said it’s easy for your start-up bike brand to get through the global market competition but at least it’s inspiring to read about people who made it their way.