Friday, 8 June 2012

The Story Of A Bike Entrepreneur

What makes an Entrepreneur?

This is a question I get asked a lot and to be honest I don't have an answer but possibly my experience may shed some light on this conundrum.

In my case I had worked in the printing industry for 22 years where I had earned a very comfortable living but I had hated the job from the first moment I started it pretty much from leaving school. In that time I had always looked at people who owned there own business as different to me, I always thought it must be nice to not having someone telling you what to do but you decide what and when you are going to do things,your in control. There is something underlying in that statement in the fact that there was always something in me that didn't like being told what to do.
This is where I spent my Days and sometimes nights on shifts

Does this make an entrepreneur, NO as there are millions of people who hate being told what to do but will always carry on with there day to day grind of the day job but I am sure that being in control of your own destiny is one of the very small factors.

The moment it all changed for me was literally a moment of clarity where I realised that I had worked in a job I dreaded going into every day for 22 years and I had at least another 26 years left to go. I thought to myself why do I keep moaning about this situation but I never actually try and do anything about it. I sat in my living room pondering how I could get out of this vicious circle. I thought long and hard about a career change but with 2 young children and a huge mortgage I cant afford to get back on the bottom rung of the ladder and start on low wages again. Over a period of about 3-4 days it suddenly dawned on me that it was neigh on impossible to start a new career and be on similar wages that I had took 22 years to attain. So it was while out on my bike riding down a country lane on my own that I decided enough was enough and it was time to change the direction of my life. If doing this meant starting on low wages again then why do that and still work for someone else, if I am going to do this then I am going to be my own boss, I am going to start my own company !!

I choose to keep this decision a secret from my wife and family for the time being because the next big decision was what was my new company going to do, make or specialise in. This was a very simple decision to me, if I am going to do this then it seems obvious that you want it to be something you enjoy and are passionate about. So I asked myself what would be my dream job, the very opposite of printing, something I would look forward to everyday and enjoy. So bold as brass in December 2009 I announced to my unsuspecting wife that I was going to start my own bike brand, I mean how hard can it be I said. I actually did say that, it was said from a blinding confidence that I could do it and a total naivety of the journey that lay ahead. 

So what were the obstacles to me fulfilling this dream.

  1. No experience in the industry.
  2. No business experience
  3. No money or savings to start the company.
  4. Putting my family at risk with a loss of income.
My wife was very understanding, she knew how much I hated my job and had confidence in me that I could do it. She just made me make one promise that I would not borrow any money against the house or put losing the house at risk in any way.
So after 4 months of intensive research Onix Bikes Ltd was formed in April 2010 and this journey began. 
I borrowed some money from my parents and from my Mother and Father in law. It was a miniscule amount of money in the context of what I was trying to do. Knowing what I know now id say I was £80,000 short of what I needed minimum to do it properly.
This meant I had to do everything myself so I could make that money last as long as possible to keep the dream alive. I had to become bike designer,web designer,accountant,sales assistant,marketing manager & managing director overnight. I left my printing job so I could plough everything I had into this project, working every hour was not an option but a necessity.
Slowly through the next 14 months the journey went on a downward spiral as it became harder and harder to keep it alive. No one would take me seriously, No one would give me an account, No one would reply to my emails or ring me back. The industry didnt want to let me in, its as simple as that I am afraid. Did I get disheartened by this NO it just made me more determined and show these people that with or without them I was going to make Onix a success. 
During this time our financial situation was terrible, I remember one month where I didn't have enough money in the account to buy food for the family, I kept this information away from my wife as I didn't want her to worry. I just raided the garage and sold everything I could on ebay to get the money together to get us through that month. There were no holidays, no take a ways or nights out, literally we just tried to treat the kids as much as we could with days out.
In that moment it never occurred to me that this was ridiculous and just go back into the printing industry and start to live life again. There was always this undying belief that this was going to work out, that all the sacrifice was going to be worth it in the end.
Maybe there is the answer to the entrepreneur question there in that they will never give in and take the easy option, they will never stop believing in there quest even when everyone is telling them that your crazy and chasing an impossible dream.
I write this from a perspective of hindsight, at the time it was just the way it was, you accepted it was tough but you just got on with it and it became normal. It never felt like a quest or chasing a dream it was just part of my new day to day working life.

Turning Points 
One of the first turning points was that after the bank wouldn't give me any money I didn't have enough money to stock my 2011 framesets. So I had got a great product to market but couldn't stock it, this was one of the many points where I came to a complete cul de sac. I managed through a lot of passionate pleading to convince one of the smaller wholesalers in my product and he paid for and stocked the frames for me. He would make some money out of this deal as you would expect but it got the Onix train back on the tracks and we were off again.

The Onix Azzuro was the first Model in the Onix Range and is still available today with a 25% discount offer at the moment

Id say that to be an entrepreneur you do have to have some luck mixed in with all the hard work. Others have told me that you make your own luck, I am still not sure which is true but my big piece of luck was getting involved with David Harmon of Eurosport fame. Now I did stalk David during the 2010 Tour De France with about 10-15 daily tweets to which I didn't get much of a response but he did start following me and therein became aware of my struggle that I was very honest about on the Onix twitter feed. So did I make that piece of luck happen??

It was after tweeting about a disastrous meeting at Cycling Weekly where they basically told me to go away and not to bother them again that David got in touch and said he had been following my story and thought he could help. That point at Cycling Weekly was the rock bottom of the Onix Journey, it was a real eye opener but I learnt from it rather than giving up. From that phone call from David the curve has been an upward one with a stratospheric rise in the past 6 months.
Once David rode the 2011 bikes and realised how good they were we had test bikes going off to most media outlets and we had Dan Patten racing the bikes in Belgium. Through David I met Ken Jones from Bioracer who has become a big supporter of the brand and help to me also. The key to this is though, if they didn't believe in the product then they wouldn't have got involved in the first place. Your product has to be top notch and you have to do things in a different way if you are going to be a success and stand out from the crowd.

Looking Back
So back in 2009 if someone had told me that we would have one of the brightest upcoming British Bike Brands in the UK, Have a former world champion testing and endorsing the bikes with his signature, have teams regularly asking about the possibility of riding our products ,would I have believed you... Well back then YES because I thought how hard can it be. If you asked me in January 2011 I would have thought twice as the years had hardened me to exactly how hard this was to achieve.
I used to watch and admire Rob Hayles from the sidelines as a fan and now I work with him and consider him a good friend.. Crazy!!

Right now I am still not personally earning much from the business at all, there are still no holidays. Although the business is now firmly on the up every penny has to be ploughed back into it to continue its success going forward.

So what makes an entrepreneur?

  1. To want to be in control of your own destiny
  2. Total belief in what you are doing and that it will be a success.
  3. Be a risk taker.
  4. Not mind working endless hours for no monetary return for years to reach your goal. 
  5. There will be far more downs than ups so you have to be able to find a way around obstacles and never lose focus of where your trying to get to.
  6. Ability to recognise an opportunity and then maximise that opportunity..
When I started the Onix journey I never thought I was any of these things listed above and I still don't, it was just what had to be done and they are pointed out to you by other people afterwards.

All I can say is that it has been an incredibly tough journey for me and I have put my family through a lot with a lack of financial security.If I had started with a larger budget it would have been a lot easier but that in itself would not have secured its success but to wake up every day with enthusiasm to go to work, to live and breathe every moment of every day and essentially do what you always dreamed of is worth more than any money and is the reason I did it.

Who knows where this journey will end.


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