Developing a Bike Pedal Into a Business
The question, “what if?” is likely the foundation of many new products, software ideas, life-saving pharmaceuticals, as well as the start of ground breaking companies. Seeing something you value and benefit from, but wonder if it could do more or be applied differently and result in a whole new product. Thousands of ideas and companies are developed through a combination process to help expand the benefits of the original design.
Here are some historic combinations of totally unrelated items either intentionally or accidently combined into one producing outstanding products:
- Copper + Zinc = Brass
- A convex glass with a concave glass created Galileo’s telescope
- Motors and carriages made Henry Ford wealthy
- Wheels added to a suitcase created the rolling suitcase
- MP3 players, cameras, and phones created the ubiquitous smart phone
- Rubber bracelets and accelerometers produce a fitness tracker
- Light adhesive added to small paper squares made post-it-notes
This methodology is exactly how our road bike pedal technology was developed. Years ago while roller-blading and cycling around the same time, I found when skating my legs had a different muscular sensation then bike riding. My quads burned when I biked, but not when roller-blading. Oppositely, my calf muscle and adductors burned after roller-blading but not while biking.
Great ideas are often simple concepts taken one step further. The obvious is not always visible thus needing a creative push to blossom. Apple is well known for their mantra of product designing at the intersection of technology and humanities, which they clearly have the creative team to develop at that crossroad.
Nikola Innovation’s focus is at the intersection of comfort and performance. Specifically looking at the human body touch points on the bike starting with pedals. Over 100 parts make up a bike but only 3 points where your body unites with the bike. This is not to suggest we are an Apple comparative business in our first year of operations, however we are comfortable of following a similar mantra. By keeping our focus clear, amazing products will continue to develop keeping you comfortable and improving your cycling experience.
Product development is balance of deliberate thinking with trial and error. Attentive to avoid over-searching for the perfect design or burning cash on a thousand failed prototypes. Fail fast truly is sage advice one should observe if you feel you have a killer idea ripe for market. Learn from the results both good and bad and adjust quickly applying the discoveries. Many a-ha moments happen when you see the wreckage you produced. After the disappointment can come great relief and joy when the light goes on.
I had to understand what looks like simple dynamics of a bike pedal integrating the lateral forces of skating. Amazing the amount research and development occurred for this simple idea. The point here is be prepared for a long journey. Maybe your learning curve is shorter or have the ability to fund additional resources to develop. You’ll know it when you get into it. Good news is sometimes there are unintended benefits that occur in your development. In our case we were designing for speed and power and found we produced a product great for knees and hips. Do not dismiss these as “oh-well” moments but view them as new opportunities.
There are many benefits and risks you will encounter with people. One of our most accomplished employees was a young intern with great vision and drive to learn. Allowing him to try and discover was a tremendous benefit to our business. Occasionally you’ll encounter a person who truly believes they can figure out a solution to your problem and turns out they are really just great sales people and believe they can but fail to deliver. A term our controller uses when he sees this “All flash and no cash”.
Many ways to success and equally many ways to fail. I view our evolution in four phases of evolution. This chart below is one way of bringing your tangible idea to market should be adjusted according to your timeline and resources. I purposely left of date ranges in the timeline since I prolonged the development by only working evenings and weekends moonlighting.
|Phase 1||Phase 2||Phase 3||Phase 4|
|Customer feedback||Branding|| |
|Funding||Customer feedback/ Focus session|| |
Research and Development
|Legal- patent search, company structure…||Funding|| |
|Legal patent, NDA…|| |
Research and Development
|Product Testing|| |
Trial and error
Trial and error
Product design refinement
|Product design refinement||Trial and error|
It’s safe to assume rarely things go according to plan. Back of a napkin math suggests double the amount of time you think you need and double the amount of funds needed. On the product cost of goods sold we came close to our targets, which were well vetted in phase 2 studying the market we were competing in.
- If you need more than a minute to describe your product, it better be really awesome.
- Patents can be a strategy in development as much as protection. When to file, where, and what to claim is worth your focus and attention in the long run.
- Product must sell itself – Steve Jobs obsessed over the style of screws used in his products both visible to the consumer and concealed inside rarely if ever to be seen.
- Do not underestimate your marketing needs. Creating awareness in a worldwide market is a huge undertaking. 22 million hits in a Google search using “bike pedal,” when your goal is to be listed on page 1.
- Things happen. When I am asked how things are going, I struggle to respond since there are so many things happening both tremendously awesome and ominously awful and I don’t know where to start. When engaging an entrepreneur, instead of “How’s it going? Ask something like “What is the biggest challenge you are currently focusing on?”
- Everyone has an opinion and advice with good intentions. It’s your job to figure out which path to choose and don’t look back once you make the move. This does not mean you won’t change course, just don’t regret a move.
- There is value to your gut feeling. Our engineer sometimes states his spider senses are tingling when something feels awry and he is usually right when that happens. When stuck at a crossroad, use what you know and what you sense as the best path to take.
- The Law of Whack-A-Mole. You have an issue that you or your team formulates a sound solution only to discover it caused a new issue. Don’t fret as taking what you learned and adding one or two more steps moving forward usually resolve these.
- Keep moving. Never a day passes without me working or thinking about the idea. I don’t necessarily like the compulsive focus, however I know time is limited and need to move forward before someone else tries to step in. I try not to track hours spent, as that does not necessarily equate to productivity. I look at daily and weekly achievements as a better way to measure milestones.
It is amazing how much I have discovered in this new business and myself in the past few years. Stretching past comfort zones, learning new skills, networking in an entire new market and encouraging others to take the first step toward their passion and ideas. We have plenty of road ahead of us and much to learn moving forward. I hope this provides you with the motivation to try your idea and step beyond your comfort zone.