New bike brands are popping up like springtime tulips, with small builders creating unique bikes for discerning buyers. But it takes a lot more than just a good idea to launch a successful company.
Tim Kruger is an industry veteran who spent years designing bikes for Salsa Cycles. When it came time to pursue something new, Kruger followed his passion for building bikes and bicycle advocacy and launched his own brand, Advocate Cycles.
GearJunkie sat down with Kruger for his thoughts (and lessons learned) for anyone looking to launch a bike brand, or to get insight on what it takes.
1) Before You Design The Bikes…
Funding, supply chain logistics, market position, competitors… these are all the realities of business in the bike world. Kruger built his business plan alongside designing his bikes. He also shaped his vision for a company that would do something different. “I believe in the mission, but the big question was whether we could actually make a business out of it,” he said.
2) Design Comes Next
Great bike design is an obvious component to any successful bike brand. “Being able to develop compelling product is part of the deal,” Krueger said. He suggests, however, if design is your top passion you may want to make bikes for someone else, and let the business-minded person run the business.
3) Where Is Your Soul?
Successful companies can make more than profits, and Advocate Cycles is founded to give back. Designated a “special benefits corporation” in Minnesota where it’s based, the brand by law must put a percentage of its profits back into the cycling industry for advocacy efforts.
4) Stand Out From Competition
Krueger is not going for the lowest price or the lightest race bikes, but his brand stands out due to the advocacy angle. “We are going to make some awesome bikes, but we actually want our riders to choose us because of who we are first,” he said. “We want them to associate with what we are doing, and join us as supporters first, and customers second.”
5) Try Something Different
The oldest rule in the business handbook — think outside the box — is still relevant. Advocate is the first bike company to design itself around the special benefits corporation idea. Krueger didn’t set out to redesign the bike, but he did set out to redesign how bike companies are run. Although this business model has been successful for other companies, it’s still new to the cycling world.
“It is extremely rare for a bike brand to have a mission other than just making bikes and profit,” he said. “I want the people that associate with us to be advocates in all forms, not just customers.”
–Connect with Advocate at the company’s site. The brand’s first model, the Hayduke mountain bike, goes on sale this month for $750 (frameset), a percentage of that heading back into the trails and community where you ride.