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How to Start a Bike Component Company (despite a Pandemic)

  • by Noel Dolotallas

"If I only knew then what I know now"

I don't know how many times I've said this aloud to people who congratulate me on our progress and ascent. Half the time I say it in jest, the other half, well, let's just say body language speaks volumes.

While I have no regrets about taking the headlong plunge into entrepreneurship, the spectre of doubt often times threatened to sully my vision (still does). Luckily I live in a zany household of eternal optimists led by my wife Amy who's energy and zeal is outshone only by her impossibly white teeth. And of course my boys who perk me up or, as they said as babies "we're like batteries and charge daddy up." 

Before this journey began I felt confident in my abilities to launch a brand despite a Pandemic, propped up by extensive experience growing a tech company in early stage growth. "How hard could this be compared to tech/software?" I asked myself. I mean, c'mon... after all I helped grow a tiny six-person company into an international powerhouse, now with offices in 13 countries around the world right raking in millions each year right? Right!?!

Well it turns out it's hard. Very, very hard.

Despite being a passionate bike nerd for 30 years, I'm a complete neophyte when it comes to the business-side of the industry with lots to learn. Scarier still: I don't yet know how much I don't know.

Luckily my experience has so far served me well. Having walked through the steps of a startup to early stage to mature company in my previous life has prepared me well. Being a startup means you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable with constant change. Agile isn't just a buzzword, it's a necessity. So far along this journey I've had to wear many hats, which, if you pick up any book about entrepreneurship, you'll learn is unavoidable. The trick is to know which hat to wear and when. And when to put it down altogether.

Here's a quick take of those 'hats' 

  1. Market research
    1. Survey design
    2. Primary research (face to face, depth-interviews, intercepts)
    3. Secondary research (forums, white papers, articles, blog posts, YouTube videos)
    4. Data analysis
    5. Business intelligence / CI
  2. Corporate 
    1. Patent law and associated tasks (prior art search, patent drafting, drawing, nomenclature and taxonomy, filings)
    2. Corporate law (Agreements eg. NDA's, Ambassadors, licensing, product testing, incorporation)
    3. Business licenses
    4. Taxation
    5. Financial management / accounting
    6. Brand Strategy (mission, vision, purpose, brand elements, positioning, competitive strategy)
  3. Operations
    1. Supply chain management (vendor sourcing, negotiations)
    2. Inventory
    3. Shipping and handling agents
    4. Customs
    5. Order fulfilment 
    6. Product assembly, QC/QA
  4. Product Development
    1. Vision statements
    2. Use cases
    3. Product requirements
    4. Prototyping
    5. Design iteration
    6. Testing
    7. Material studies and testing
  5. Product Management
    1. Market requirements
    2. Persona development
    3. Pricing
    4. Beta testing
    5. Distribution strategy
    6. Product roadmapping
  6. Marketing
    1. Digital marketing (SEO, SEM - paid and earned)
    2. Social media (Instagram, Facebook)
    3. Event marketing (tradeshows, sponsorships)
    4. Website design and development
    5. Word of Mouth marketing (brand ambassadors, influencers)
  7. Public Relations (media/press engagement)
    1. Product Marketing
      1. Positioning statements
      2. Demand generation
      3. Content creation and editing
      4. Video storyboarding, editing
      5. Email marketing
      6. Graphic design (logo design, packaging design, tradeshow booth design, collaterals)
      7. Blog writing
    2. Sales
      1. Direct to consumer (D2C) planning/strategy
      2. B2B planning (channel support)
      3. Collaterals
    3. Business Development
    4. Customer Success management

    While this list may seem exhaustive, trust me, it's just a tip of the iceberg. And these are just the 'big' things. Each day holds a plethora of fires, tasks, and distractions (the fridge is just steps away) that can put your day off course.

    Thankfully, I have the less sexy yet so enjoyable tasks that offer a healthy reprieve when I'm stuck, things like:

    1. Delivery driver (customers drops, local suppliers)
    2. Amateur (I repeat total amateur) photographer
    3. Jack of all trades, solutions-finder

    That's a sh!t ton of work for a 2 person family-owned business.

    As one of my former colleagues used to say "do your best, outsource the rest." And while that was certainly a privilege I once had, as a self-funded small business startup you have to do a lot on your own. Having perfunctory knowledge and rolling up your sleeves to learn the basics can save you thousands.

    Key tips for those dreaming of starting a bike-related brand:

    1. Listen to the critics and keep an open mind. I know it may hurt sometimes but that level of honesty is what will help you sharpen your pencil.
    2. Know when to move on. I get that this is your baby but trust your gut if you sense trouble. In the tech world we often refer to 'pivoting' meaning a phoenix may arise from the dead ashes of a troubled product/concept/idea. New and better doors may open in fact!
    3. Recognize risks early. There are several types of risks ie financial, production, liability, etc. Create a staged plan and, with each successful breach, get more invested. If you sense trouble refer to point 2 above.
    4. Seek out coaches, mentors, advisors - those that have walked the path before you. Don't be shy to ask for help. I was stunned to receive a call from Ian Ritz, owner of Chromag, re: a garment. This led to a few calls and emails where he offered invaluable info to point me in the right direction. I'm am also blessed to have my old CEO and friend Milton Carrasco from Transoft Solutions as a go-to when I have questions.
    5. Know your market well. Cycling is multi-faceted featuring several disciplines and sub-categories. Certain segments will be price sensitive, others not. Aesthetics and design may appeal to some, not to others, etc. What may work for one faction may not for another. Like I used to tell my staff "not everyone likes Hawaiian pizza."
    6. Decide how you want to compete. Competition NEVER stays still so decide how you want to compete before you start. From the outset I decided Aenomaly would only develop new-to-the-world product innovations. This is our blue-ocean strategy to avoid the pure competition that is the bike industry.
    7. Pace yourself! Know that this journey will mean working 7 days a week with hours eclipsing your average 9-5. Take lots of breaks and don't feel guilty about it. Remember: this is a marathon not a sprint.

    With that said, if you ever have questions or want to chat about getting started down your own path, feel free to reach out. I absolutely LOVE talking bikes, invention, startups, business strategy etc and would be more than happy to help where I can.

    Hands-down the most rewarding part of this journey has been the surprising number of creative inventors that have reached out to talk about their own inventions and journeys. I have mad respect for these guys (you if you're reading or thinking of reaching out!) and I'd like to share some of their stories in an upcoming blog. They are the movers and shakers, dreamers and doer's. Stay tuned!

    Dream on guys. The world needs you!


    Noel Dolotallas


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