At the outset of this venture, my primary concern was that there wouldn't be any uptake on a new and upstart brand. There have been a lot of brands that came up out of nowhere, of which the majority are more or less stillborn. Some of them make it - not too long ago there was no such thing as Cervelo, for example. It's hard to sell bikes or wheels with no brand credibility, or an unattractive brand. Strong guys might win some races on brands at which your average consumer would reflexively turn his nose up, but your average consumer is still turning his nose up at those bikes. Simply winning races doesn't do it - although it doesn't hurt.
But my big fear was that we were going to wind up in the category of Sca------, and Se---, and a lot of others. I could make a lot of guesses at why it appears that we haven't (and I will, shortly), but first to discuss THAT it seems like we haven't.
First, while we may not have come out of the gate smelling like Sc--ta---, and S---e, I certainly can't say that people are responding to us as though we changed the paradigm of performance or technology. If someone were to say we have, I'd correct them. We have not. And, if anything else, in one dimension, we've stretched the limit of credibility by even having a brand. It takes some amount of brass ones to attach a brand onto something that someone else produces with zero amount of input (other than the credibility of buying it) from the entity which will eventually brand it. Nonetheless, it makes a lot more sense to have a brand than not to - if nothing else you need a name for your web site, right? So here we are, claiming to have advanced the ball zero amount along the leading edge, and justifying the having of a brand pretty much purely for the purposes of identification in the mast basic sense of the concept.
Being in that position, you might expect people to reflexively turn their noses up at our bikes. They might well be doing so, but neither of us has heard, directly or indirectly, anything along those lines. Quite the opposite, in fact. We spent at day at the well run and very festive Tacchino Cross Race, and several people who've had ZERO brand impression prior to walking up to the bikes today had very favorable things to say about the bikes and wheels. Obviously, in writing this, and every other thing we've done, we're trying to leave you with a good impression of our products - why bother otherwise? Yet some of the strongest positives we heard all day were from people who've never read a word we wrote? What does that say to us and about us?
First, maybe we should write less and display more. A picture is worth a thousand words, and "show and tell" works better than two dimensional images. It's hard to get to too many events to show the stuff to all of the people we'd like to reach, but this is an avenue on which we definitely place a premium. Come see us on Saturday at the Vint Hill CX race next weekend if you are out that way, or come on Sunday's GamJams team ride, which leaves from the Whole Foods in Friendship Heights at 930. See for yourself. Even better, go for a spin and feel for yourself. The bikes and wheels look great and ride better.
Second, the whole thing about "looking good," I think, has a lot of components. Our gear has a very plainly stated purposefulness to its aesthetic. To me, it says "utility" and "quality." You can't hide much behind clear coat. The tube joins on nearly all bikes constructed like ours are painted black - not ours. If you look up by the brake bridge, you'll see a very neatly done transition wrap layer. If it wasn't going to be on display under clear coat, it wouldn't need to look this good. At first glance, you might (or might not - I've just read Blink so I'm prone to overthinking first impressions at the moment) think that it looks odd, since you don't normally see this transition. But if you look at it for a second, you'll think "man, that is REALLY neatly done."
We also think we've hit a chord with our "bike flavored bike" thing. I think people are sick of acronyms and shapes that make no sense. The other side of that coin might be "inelegance," but I don't think so. But the frame looks like it's going to do what it's supposed to do, and tells you so.
We keep coming back to the concept of transparency, but we're convinced that the transparency with which we've done this whole thing (and not just the clear coat on our frames) lets you know what we're about. Remember when Anheuser-Busch and Miller (and maybe Coors, I can't remember) came out with "microbrewery" brands? It's easy to overstate the whole "passion" angle - and I wouldn't necessarily use "passionate" to describe the motivation that got either Mike or me into this. I mean, in a way we're passionate, but the genesis of the whole thing was "somebody's got to call BS on the way this bike thing's going down, and I think it's up to us" as opposed to some abstract thought that kept us awake at night. Selling enough stuff to not lose our shirts keeps us up at night, figuring out what to sell and how to do it is pretty straightforward.
I know Mike has some thoughts about retailing and its processes, so I'm going to cut myself short here (your eyes are probably rolling into the back of your head by now, anyway). But I'm glad that our intuitions about how to avoid saddling ourselves with the albatross of creating a bike that people wouldn't feel at least neeutral or better about associating themselves with weren't misplaced.