We rushed to launch the dojo pre-order yesterday and naturally let it loose with a few errors and omissions, which we've since fixed. Thanks to all of you who pointed out things we screwed up or left out. If you see anymore, drop us a note or use the comments here on the blog. Dave blogged about how it's a little different this time around, in that we're bringing the dojo to market only if we have enough pre-orders to signal real demand for it, and - more importantly - alleviate some of the risk required to greenlight the contract manufacturing of 100+ frames. I want to talk a little more about that, and give you all some insight into our decision-making.
First, we fully recognize that pre-orders, and in particular pre-orders requiring a certain volume in order to materialize (a la Kickstarter) can contribute to the perception that November is a bush league outfit. After all, if we were large and successful, couldn't we just stroke a check for a few hundred frames or talk some bank or other source of financing into doing it for us? We realize that what I call conspicuous expenditures are no small part of how brands are built in this industry. Sponsor a pro team or 2, fly journalists to France for new product launch junkett, build a wind tunnel adjacent to your corporate cafeteria, buy the biggest Interbike booth and splashiest Bicycling Magazine ad - all of this tells consumers that you're on solid financial footing and leads them to believe that a) your products are of unrivaled quality, and b) you'll be here for the long haul in the event that (a) didn't quite pan out the way you'd been led to believe.
Like a lot of companies in this industry, we are not big. And because we're not big, trying to operate in the same way as brands 10, 50 or 100 times our size puts us at a competitive disadvantage. As Dave pointed out in his blog about Frameconomics, contract manufacturing of carbon frames in the Far East is an inhospitable environment. From small companies like us, most suppliers ask for 100% up front, and then deliver products 3 or so months later. Frames take longer to produce than rims in part because it's a more complex manufacturing process spread across a range of sizes. More time means our capital is tied up longer. And because frames come in so many sizes, there's also the greater risk of having sizes you can't sell, and quickly running out of the sizes you can. Add to all this the fact that a frame is a highly considered purchase in a category where switching costs are high, compared to a wheel which has become almost an impluse purchase where switching costs are only as high as switching brake pads. This means that the frame business is hard - not just for us, but for other brands as well. Blue Bicycles out of Georgia had a strong reputation and great products and couldnt make it work. Van Dessel narrowly avoided the same fate. Additionally many of the direct brands that hit the market within the past few years, following a similar model as ours, have disappeared or gone dark. Cruz Bicycles never made it, Pedal Force hasn't shown signs of life for a year, Boyd Cycling have perservered in the wheel business but actually began in the frame business. The bike business isn't easy, and we've amassed enough evidence to conclude that trying to run it in a way that makes us look big and formidable could easily make us extinct and invisible. That's not good for us, and if you like our products it's just as bad for you.
We might do it differently if we were small trying to be big. But the reality is that we like being small. We don't want to add overhead and see our mission evolve from filling a value-oriented spot in the market to selling as much stuff as we can. Dave and I personally want to stay connected to the product and our customers (respectively), not find ourselves separated from both through layers of management and function. We're small and we're owning it, not apologizing for it. If that means we lose some credibilty among customers who prefer big brands, well then we were probably never going to grow into their expectations anyway.
That's why the dojo is dependent on our customers' appetite for owning it, rather than ours for offering it. We'd love to have it out there because it aligns with our mission, but we aren't willing to go the way of Blue and other brands if the demand is thin. So if you want the bike, go ahead and pre-order. It certainly wouldn't hurt if you told others about it as well, if only to help ensure that the bike you want actually comes to market. If we don't make our target of 100 frames or bikes, everyone gets a full refund ASAP and we stay in business to fight another day.