Founders Talk – Episode #93
Building the best mountain bikes in the world
Adam Miller, founder and CEO of Revel Bikes
This week Adam is taking the show off the beaten path to speak with Adam Miller, the founder and CEO of Revel Bikes. Yes that’s right, this episode features a founder of a bike brand, not a tech brand.
Adam Miller’s journey to create Revel Bikes is paved with many ups and many downs, a failed partnership, super scrappy weeks and months traveling the world to find the best manufacturing partners, the latest innovations in suspension tech and modern geometry to hit the mountain biking scene, a strong team that’s been with him every step of the way (many of which are as close as family), and truly some of the best premium bikes available on the market today.
BTW, Adam (host) is an owner of a Revel bike — he has a T1000 colorway Rascal that he’s ridden on downhill trails, all-day epics, and everything in-between. If you enjoy this episode, please us know in the comments.
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Notes & Links
Click here to listen along while you enjoy the transcript. 🎧
Adam Miller, welcome to Founders Talk. Hey, in the pre-call, in the emails and whatnot, I’ve mentioned I’m a big Revel fan. I own a Revel Rascal, I love it… And I’ve been waiting for the time to get you on the show, because I’m such a fan. You’re finally here, so… Welcome!
I’m honored to be here. This is fantastic.
This is a different show than I think you’d typically be on. You’d be on like the Worldwide Cyclery podcast, or their YouTube channel, or some other mountain bike-specific content creator’s podcast, YouTube channel, Instagram, TikTok, whatever… Because our focus here at change log is definitely on software developers, software engineering and the direction of businesses in that space. So this may be a semi-departure, but I hope not, because I think there’s a lot of inspiration behind the road I think you’ve been on, and the road I think you’ll share, to build this bike brand.
But when you share your story - Revel, of course, is where you’re at now. But that’s not where you began. When you tell your story, do you go all the way back to eBay? Where do you begin to sort of share your curiosity for entrepreneurship, business and bikes? Like, how did that intersection come together for you?
Yeah, I mean, I’m happy to start from the very beginning… I’ve done several other podcasts, but very much focused on the bicycle world, and more about bikes, and not about the business side of things… So I’m really glad to be here and talk more with a bit of a business focus. I sometimes joke that bikes and business are two separate things. A lot of people go ride their mountain bike to escape business… And I decided to kind of combine them in my career. I have a huge passion for bicycles, of course, but also for business. So it’s been really fun to kind of combine both of those and see how they play together. I usually go ride my bike after a stressful day of work, and sometimes that’s funny, because I just spent ten hours working on that exact product that I’m out riding for fun. So it’s always kind of a fun paradox of sorts, but…
Your fun and your business sort of intertwine… And that can be challenging, I’m sure.
It can, but it can also be really fun. We’re actually packing up today to go on about a 10-day dealer tour, kind of sales tour, although we don’t really call it that… You know, go to some demo events between Colorado and Utah and Idaho and Washington… And those 10-day sales trips feel a whole lot more like vacation than work a whole lot of the time, so I feel pretty lucky when I get to do this.
Oh, man… Yeah. I told you behind the scenes in the email to you, I was like, “You’re living my dream, man. You really are.” Because you’ve done such a great job building this brand; obviously you will share the hard road you’ve been on, but now you’re on a different side of that road, so it’s maybe a bit more challenging, in some ways, obviously, because business is always challenging… But you’re on the flip side, you’re on the less stressful side; maybe a different stress, maybe is probably how you frame it. But yeah.
Different stress, but a lot of fun. I mean, I wear flip-flops and T-shirts to work. It’s pretty relaxed. On our sales trips we get a whole lot of bike riding, and going out for fun, dinners and all sorts of activities… But usually when we’re driving, we all take turns sitting on our laptop and getting work calls done. We don’t usually show that. We’re a company that sells high-end bicycles, we sell fun; we sell people’s passions, and so we generally show and share the fun, passion, smile, riding bikes, cracking a beer at the end of a bike ride, all this fun stuff… And we don’t show all the work that goes into creating this business too, so it’s fun to talk about that a bit.
Yeah. Well, how did you get here? Do you go all the way back to eBay? I know that’s a fun story, but how do you share how you got into the bike business?
Yeah, I’ll kind of share, and then ask any questions for things I forgot. So I’m 30 years old now; I started in the bike industry when I was I think 9 or 10 years old. I definitely didn’t think it was going to be my full career, and here we are now, about 20 years later.
[08:10] As a kid, I was a pretty kind of nerdy, geeky kid. I got really into a few different hobbies. I was into woodworking, that was my main thing for a while, and then bicycles kind of came next. And I started eBay business when I was about 10 years old, and I’d buy these bikes on eBay and then pull them all apart and sell all the parts separately on eBay. And it started off slow, but when I was 11, 12, 13 years old, it was really cruising, and I kind of ran that through high school.
I started working at a bike shop when I was 14, and so I kind of had the bike shop experience, and then ran this eBay business on the side, and then I did the whole mowed lawns and painted decks and all that stuff so I could scrape together as much money as possible to buy my own bicycles, just to feed my hobby.
But the eBay business was a fantastic learning experience. I got a PayPal account when I was 11 years old, and my parents found out about that a few months later, and they were pretty horrified, because 20 years ago the concept of sending money over the internet was not nearly as common as it is now. But I actually did pretty well with that eBay business. It bought me all my bikes, it bought me my first car, those sorts of things.
And then it really just kind of snowballed from there. I work in a fantastic bike shop. I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, and worked in a bike shop up there. The two owners of that bike shop then started their own bicycle brand, where they were manufacturing small runs of bikes in Taiwan, and that kind of really sparked it for me. I sort of thought “Wow, I could kind of go to the next level. You can just have an idea and then go have this product made…” And so I kind of owe everything to those guys. Jamie and Bill up in Alaska who taught me that you could just come up with a concept and make it, and create a brand, and sell a product.
So kind of long story short, I went to undergraduate in Colorado Springs, Colorado, I decided to start a business there. And that was my first bicycle brand, it was called Borealis Fat Bikes, and we were the first company to introduce a carbon fiber fat bike. So it’s bikes with big, wide tires made for riding on snow or sand. And I had no idea what I was doing. I decided to start it my junior year of college in my dorm room. I thought it was going to be a hobby. But I went on Alibaba and reached out to all these manufacturers, and then I flew to China for three weeks and visited all these factories, and completely had no clue what I was doing.
But the factories in China rolled out the red carpet and I kind of learned everything from those experiences. I thought that business was going to be a complete hobby. We were going to sell 50 bikes in the first year; that was what we budgeted for. We launched the brand, I put my personal cell phone number on the press release…
[laughs] Oh, my gosh…
…and within like – yeah, horrible idea. I still get calls 10 years later… [laughs] But I thought it was gonna be small, and we were gonna run it out of my college house, and within a couple hours of that press release going out on one website we had sold more than the 50 bikes we budgeted for the whole year. So I pretty suddenly realized I had a business.
That’s interesting. The humble beginnings is surprising, because selling out is one thing, but like put your personal phone number on the press releases is like… These are things you generally don’t do whenever – because you just don’t think that, right? You’re thinking “We’re gonna sell 50 bikes”, but you probably sold a lot more than that, of course.
The interesting thing there is that there was a timeframe when the fat bike phase really took off, and I think that was the sweet spot, right? Growing up in Anchorage, I’m sure that there was fat bikes there, because you’ve got lots of snow, I’m sure… And then Colorado Springs - I’m sure you’ve got fat bikes there, because snow… Right?
[12:02] Yeah. All of a sudden, in about 2010, fat bikes became pretty popular in Alaska. Maybe 2007-2008. But in the rest of the country they weren’t that popular. They were just made for riding on snow; they were these heavy, awkward, clunky bikes. But living in Alaska, I saw how fun they were and how popular they were getting in the rest of the United States, and a lot of the rest of the world wasn’t really there yet.
And Alaska is always like 20 years behind the times. It’s never ahead of the curve on anything, so I kind of saw this as an opportunity, because Alaska was ahead of the curve and had figured out this niche within a niche of the mountain bike world, and I figured “Let’s take that idea and make a high-end lightweight, more mainstream (if that’s even the right word) bike.” All the bikes out there were about 30 or 35 pounds, and we came out with a bike that was 22 pounds, which is, way, way lighter and –
Substantially different, yeah. Poppier, you could jump with it, you could bounce with it… Those tires alone are the suspension, right? Because it’s a hardtail.
Exactly. You run like four PSI. They’re just big balloon tires. And they’re funny, weird-looking bikes, but they’re an absolute blast. And I guess they’re more of a blast than I expected they would have been, because I thought we were gonna sell 50 bikes… And really, within a couple hours we had sold, I don’t know, 75 or 100 units. And I was sitting there in my college house, there was – it was all messy from a party the night before, and I started getting all these phone calls; I didn’t even know the press release had gone out yet, and I got all these phone calls from people saying, “Oh, I’ll buy one.” And we’d said in the press release we’re taking pre-orders with a 50% deposit. We had a basic website and basic credit card processing, but I had to type everything in manually over the phone to take people’s money.
The phone was ringing, and I was typing in credit card numbers, and I’d hang up, and I’d have two messages, people that wanted to buy this stuff, and I was just losing my mind. And then I got a call from BikeCountry.com. BikeCountry.com is one of the largest retailers of any, of out-door products in general, and they said “Hey, we want to buy-” I think they said 75 bikes. And I said “Hold on a second, let me get back to my desk” and I put the phone on Mute and I just got up and like jumped up and down… That was a few hundred-thousand-dollar order and I didn’t have a desk. I was in my college house. I didn’t have an office, or anything like that. And I decided to put the phone on mute for a second to kind of have a –
Enjoy the moment.
Yeah, enjoy the moment. And then from there it just took off, and a huge learning experience. It was really great.
So humble beginnings… This was supposed to be a hobby. It was obviously not a hobby, because you sold way more the first day… Where did you go from there? How did it legitimize Borealis? What did it do to your college career? Did you stop going to college? Did you quit? Where did you go from there?
So I very quickly realized this was a business and not a hobby. We’d started the business with – I put $10,000 in, I had a 50% business partner; he also put $10,000 in. I borrowed about half that from my wonderful parents, so I felt very lucky to be able to do that. And then that first day we launched, I realized that $20,000 of seed money wasn’t going to quite do the trick.
But I started all this because I wanted to make a bike. I didn’t start it because I wanted to make a business. So I think, looking back on it, I really wish I thought much more about creating a business, rather than just a bike in the very beginning. But I learned all that eventually, and I’m still learning that.
So we pretty quickly had to go raise more money. My business partner was quite a bit older than me, he was successful, he had retired at a young age… I was very lucky to have him as a business partner. I was kind of the bike guy, he was the business guy. He put in quite a bit of money to help us fund inventory, and things like that. But we bootstrapped everything. I mean, we rented a basement of a bike shop for $250 a month so we could have a location to ship inventory to. A few months later we realized that wasn’t gonna work and we went and got our own facility. But we only spent money on inventory, everything else we did ourselves. And so because of that, I got my hands in everything. I was working on the computer all day, and then I’d go to college classes, and then at night come over, I’d paid a bunch of my roommates and stuff to help me build wheels, because all the fat bike wheels at the time we had to build by hand. So we’d sit there, me and some friends, we’d pay them like 10 bucks a wheel or 15 bucks a wheel to sit there and build these things.
[16:22] And I did finish college on time, I took quite a few classes pass fail there at the end; some professors were pretty lenient, which I’m very thankful for… My college thesis was very much related to my business. It had to do with Facebook marketing. Now it’s completely outdated, but it was about 46 pages of me saying the same thing over and over again, because I just didn’t put a whole lot of effort into it.
And luckily, I got a passing grade on that, but it was a close one there at the end.
That’s a long thesis, 46 pages.
All part of that liberal arts education. Colorado College was a fantastic place to go… But yeah, at the end I was a bit more focused on my business than classes. My senior year we had – so we launched in 2013, and my senior year of college… So we did like a million dollars in sales in the first four months; the next year we did a bit over $5 million. I had 17 employees. And we had distribution – I don’t know, in over 20 countries. But I was traveling all over - to China, to Taiwan, for the manufacturing side of things, to Europe for the selling side of things… And it was like this whirlwind of a senior year of college. And I told myself that I’m going to have a senior year and I’m going to do all the fun stuff, and go out to all the parties, and have as much fun as possible. That’s been kind of a focus of mine, trying to balance fun and work. I don’t think I slept a whole lot that year, because I was trying to pack it all in, but it was just an incredible experience to be able to travel all over the world, and sell these bikes, and get articles written in German, and Norwegian, and Swedish magazines… There’s pictures of me and my bikes in all these magazines all over the world. And it’s a lot of these niche magazines, but I was just – and I’m still, like 10 years later, I’m like “How did this happen?” I was like this bike nerd selling stuff on eBay, and just trying to make some bikes, and now we’re – it’s just really neat to see where it’s all gone.
So you go from paying roommates to build wheels, fat bike wheels in your dorm room… You go from a million dollars in your first few months of sales, $5 million the next year, 17 employees… How did you rationalize transitioning from this “should have been a hobby, was gonna be a hobby” to a business? I know you had a business partner that was more the business side and you were more the bike side, but how you had to manage some of the business, because it was two partners and employees, right?
So two equity partners and several employees over time. How did you transition to learn these things? Do you just have a lot of scars on your knuckles, you’ve got bloody knuckles? How did you pick those up and learn the business?
It was the most fun I’ve ever had. I’ve always done okay at school, and at college and stuff, but I like learning things that are really practical, maybe not things that aren’t so practical… So being in college and taking some classes that I didn’t necessarily love every second of, but then having this business that I could – you know, you get out what you put in. If you figure something out, if you create a good product, you immediately see that feedback… So I just loved it. So I tried to learn as much as possible. And there’s no better way to learn business than to be in it, and be visiting manufacturers and distributors and dealers, and placing orders, and creating products, and hiring contractors and designers and engineers, and warehousing… Within a matter of months I feel like I earned an MBA equivalent in the bike world… But I just read books, and watched YouTube videos… I was watching YouTube videos for how to create 3D models in SolidWorks so I could design a rim. And then videos on how a profit and loss sheet is supposed to work. And thanks to the internet, you can kind of learn everything.
[20:10] So that was kind of my crash course in business, and I think I’m definitely still in my business crash course right now, but hopefully with a few more years of experience under my belt.
It never ends. It never ends. That’s the good thing about business too, it’s always an adventure. Some people want to fast-forward to the end. The journey is a part of it. That’s the whole thing, is the journey. The acquisition, the sale, the IPO… I mean, those were fun moments, of course, those are great things. But it’s the journey that really is the fun part. The people you get to work with, the things you get to do with them, the lives you get to change, the people you get to inspire… That’s why I said before this call, sharing your story on the show to me is super-awesome, because you’re gonna inspire the next Adam Miller. You know what I mean? Like, somebody out there is going to look back to this podcast and be like, “Dang… He sold parts on eBay, learned how bikes work, built Borealis, built Revel, built wide cycles… I could do that, too.”
Anybody could. I think having a healthy dose of naivety is sometimes fairly good for starting a business. I think today, if someone said, “Would you go start a bike business?” I’d probably say “Absolutely not.” It’s a lot of work. But kind of not knowing what to expect and just diving in was fantastic. And like you said, it’s about the journey. I mean, I have some moments I remember… I was 21 years old with Borealis and we had a few trade shows in Vegas, and we didn’t have enough employees to run the business and go to the trade shows, so paid friends, college roommates, things like that, to come help out. And, you know, a week in Las Vegas as a 21 year old with a successful business, and getting magazine articles written about your business… There were some pretty fun times with all those experiences. We’d go to Germany for trade shows and events, and China… And the Chinese business culture is – that makes college partying sometimes look pretty mellow with some of those things…
I absolutely love traveling, and so to have this business that gave me the excuse to travel all over, whether it was Vegas, or China, or other places in Colorado - it was just like sensory overload of all these incredible experiences and people I got to meet along the way.
So you sold Borealis, though…
And it wasn’t very long after you started that you sold it. It was - what, four years? That seems like a short run. What happened? What changed?
Yup, that was my not-so-fun learning lesson in the business world. I had a 50% partner that I brought on, and after about a year and a half of publicly operating business, we realized we were not getting along. And I did not have enough money to buy him out, so he bought me out. That’s the very abbreviated version. And we can certainly go into more of it, but… It was a lesson in kind of personalities and people, and it sounds so cliché to say “People matter, that’s the most important thing”, and that’s a lesson I really, really learned… And something that I think I’ve applied well going forward. Making sure you work with people, especially partners, that are like-minded, care about the same things. I learned that lesson the hard way. I paid my first lawyer when I was 21 years old on a credit card, because I didn’t have enough money to put him on retainer. Our business was making a lot of money for the size that it was, but I didn’t take any money out of it. All that money was getting reinvested right back in. So I was bootstrapping, to say the least.
At one point early on in the business - it was a Tuesday, payroll was on Friday, and we had like $11,000 in the bank account, and payroll was like 22,000. I forget what the exact numbers were. We didn’t have enough money in the bank accounts to make payroll. So it was a Tuesday, and I listed my car for sale, my Subaru WRX; it was my favorite little fast car. And I sold it on Wednesday, and I took 500 bucks out so I could pay my personal rent and buy groceries, and put the other money in the bank account and made payroll. A month later I was able to buy myself a truck, so it all worked out.
[24:21] But yeah, it was only – businesses was doing well, but we didn’t take any money out of the company, and so hiring a lawyer on a credit card certainly was a challenging moment. And then we had about nine months of legal issues. And business partnership breakups happen all the time. That’s something I’ve learned since I went through that experience. But mine was a pretty – it was a pretty, pretty rough one. So I learned a lot.
Do you still think about those moments? Do you still like sort of shutter, you got PTSD from these moments? Is there a lot of things you’ve done inside of Revel in terms of the business, partnerships you’ve forged, that have obviously been changed and rectified because of that?
Yeah, yeah. I still think about it a lot. I think I had such a hard time – because I did end up selling the business to my partner, and I got a chunk of money, enough to buy a house and have a couple hundred grand to start my next business… But it was really not – it was pennies on the dollar, maybe dimes on the dollar, compared to what the business was actually worth.
So it was a really tough time, because I had started this business, I brought him on as a partner, we didn’t see eye to eye, and he did have a lot more experience than I did. We had made our business agreement, our shareholder agreement and stuff on Rocketlawyer.com, I got the $15, two-week trial on Rocketlawyer.com and that’s where we made our legal documents.
So, looking back on it, it’s pretty simple to say, “Wow, this, this, this and this all happened. Of course something wasn’t gonna work out how you expected.” But in the moment I thought it was gonna be a hobby, I thought it was going to be small, and we didn’t plan ahead for all those what if scenarios. And for a couple years it was pretty challenging for me after that, because I kind of had my baby kind of taken away from me, in a sense. And I got paid out, so I didn’t quite allow myself to realize how much it affected me, and how difficult it really was to kind of transition out of that. I mean, at age 22…
22? 23? That’s my math, at least. 23-ish…
23, yeah. I signed these documents. My car was owned by the business, and until we signed the documents I didn’t know that our deal was gonna go through. It was super up in the air. So we finally signed, and I handed over the keys, and I actually asked the lawyer on the other side to give me a ride home, because that was my final – I was like, I’ve either gotta walk home or whatever…
And then the next day, I moved from Colorado Springs to Denver, and then all of a sudden I didn’t go to work the next day. It was a very strange feeling. That doesn’t usually happen at that age, so it was kind of my quarter life crisis of sorts. And it was actually pretty neat, without getting into all the details. I ended up – seven of my employees at Borealis ended up working for me at Revel bikes several years later. So it was a pretty neat experience years later to have these people that I had hired at my first company - all of them moved to a different town, a lot of them took pay cuts as we were getting started… It was really neat to kind of have that family back together. We were a really close-knit group of work, co-workers and friends, and decided to work together again on the next project. It was very cool.
So we’re at a bit of a transition I would say from the Borealis story to the beginnings of Why Cycles and Revel. And this is the area where I’m unclear, because I only know what you’ve told me, and I only know what I’ve learned as a fan of your bike brand, and obviously an owner of your Revel Rascal, which is the best mid travel bike ever. So I love it.
[laughs] I love hearing that.
But you sold in 2015, dramatic story… But then the beginning of Why and Revel is 2014. There’s an overlap there. What am I missing? Is that the real dates? How does that work out?
So it’s slightly off. I officially sold January 1st of 2015, I sold my ownership in Borealis. And then really, officially Why Cycles and Revel Bikes - I incorporated them in 2016. I started working on them in 2015.
So January 1st, 2015, I didn’t go to work the next day, all that fun stuff… And for about a week, I was thinking “There’s no way I’m ever making bikes again. There’s no way I’m going to work in the bike industry. I want to ride bikes for fun and not mix all this negative work stuff with it.” And that feeling lasted for less than a week. I think a few days later I kind of thought “Alright, I’m going to do this again, and I’m going to do this right, and I’m going to make something I’m really proud of, and kind of take everything I learned from Borealis and do the absolute best I can.” So I kind of got fired up then. But I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew bikes were my favorite thing, and I wanted to make the best bikes. That’s about all I knew.
So that was early 2015… I spent a few months kind of figuring things out and doing the early 20s lost soul sort of a thing, I packed up my truck and drove from Colorado up to Alaska, I actually moved back in with my parents… And they were just fantastic. I went fishing almost every day, I went biking almost every day, I kind of got obsessed with making smoked salmon… That was like this weird hobby I got into, to go back to my Alaskan roots, or something…
It was mid-summer of 2015, I had spent like three weeks sitting in my parents’ backyard, making smoked salmon, and it was really phenomenal smoked salmon. I was really proud of it. But after about three weeks of doing that, I thought “What am I doing with myself? Let’s get back to work.”
[33:44] So I packed up my truck and I had a neat opportunity with a kind of mentor/friend in Utah, a guy by the name of Jason, who’d started several composite manufacturing companies and some bicycle industry companies, and he said, “Hey, the next business you start, come on down to Utah and I’ll give you a hand.” And so I packed up, and with my dog, and drove down to Ogden, Utah and bought a house there, and figured, “Alright, here’s where I’m going to start my business.”
I’d been kind of working on these designs in my head for these titanium bikes, and I knew I was gonna make carbon full suspension bikes, but that’s really about it. So I was in Utah, and that’s where I decided, “Let’s let’s start making a few different bikes and see what happens.”
Carbon fiber really is the switch there. I mean, we can get into bike tech a little bit, but it’s sort of your differentiator, right? When I compare Revel to the brands out there, I compare you to Specialized, I compare to Yeti, I think you’re probably most similar to Yeti; maybe even chasing their tail and beating them in many ways… We could talk a bit about the Switch Infinity if you want, and why the CBF platform doesn’t require that, and maybe you went over it… Which is anti business side, it’s more the tech side of it, but I’m curious about those things as well. But this idea to go full-carbon, so not aluminum… But that’s Why Cycles. Why Cycles is what - titanium bikes, primarily?
Which is – I’ve never ridden one of those. I have like zero experience and zero feedback on that kind of bike and how it feels different than aluminum, or even carbon. But it’s a different switch to go from aluminum as your frame platform, to carbon, which is super-stiff, compliant… All these, buzzwords/real words in the bike world, when you investigate as a rider what you should own and buy… But take us on that journey. So you went to Utah, carbon fiber… What’s the next step?
Yeah, so I knew my ultimate goal was to – it was maybe selfish, but my ultimate goal was “Hey, I want to make the bikes that I want to ride.” I’d made these fat bikes, fat bikes were great, but they weren’t the bike I wanted to ride every day. I was a total bike nerd, and that meant I wanted to ride everything from handmade titanium, gravel bikes, to the ultimate goals, full-suspension, carbon fiber mountain bikes; that’s kind of the pinnacle of engineering, it’s sort of the most popular style of bike within the overall high-end bicycle industry… And that’s what I liked to ride. I was lucky enough to be able to ride bikes all around Colorado and Utah, go to Moab on the weekends and riding in the desert…
A good carbon full-suspension mountain bike is the pinnacle, so I knew in my head that’s what I wanted to create. And I knew I wanted to make the best one, and I didn’t really know what that meant. So I decided “Before I start doing that, I’m gonna make the other bikes I want to ride, which is handmade titanium bikes.” They’re really kind of artistic, super, super-niche. I mean, a small segment of the industry. I found a manufacturer in China that was a mom-and-pop shop, there was about 18 employees there… And I met with them in 2015 when I went over there kind of just to do a tour of old contacts and new contacts in China and Taiwan as I was between my businesses… And I’m at this factory and the bikes were just absolutely gorgeous. And I thought “Alright, I’m going to design some bikes and work with them.”
We built out a whole test lab for ISO certification and testing, and really kind of took this higher level carbon engineering oversight to design these titanium bikes. It was totally my inner bike geek coming out. I was like “I’m just gonna make these bikes that I want, and we’ll sell some, and it’ll be a super-small brand, but it’ll kind of be my way to get my foot back in the door as I’m working on the ideas and the development for the carbon full-suspension bikes.”
We launched the brand, and it was me and – and it was small, and it was supposed to be small. We launched with three models. I found a couple buddies in Utah that I could pay 100 bucks a bike to build them and pack them out, to help me ship them out the door… But it was me with a couple of contract workers for about a year and a half. And it was really fun, because I got to kind of do my own thing and really think through everything… The design of the bikes, my absolute favorite part, and then creating a website, and a brand. I called it Why cycles. It’s a weird name. The idea was not that that brand was ever going to be big. It’s handmade, beautifully crafted titanium bikes that I designed, and then we partnered with this incredible manufacturer to make. They have lifetime warranties… Just super-comfortable, nice, well-made, high-end titanium bikes. And it was an absolute blast.
[38:29] And then at the same time I started getting more detailed about the carbon bikes I wanted to make, and I decided to call it Revel Bikes. I had that name written down for some other naming exercise a few years ago, I always kind of liked it, and so I bought the domain name Revel and started thinking about it. I knew it was going to be carbon full-suspension bikes made for riding in Moab, and all these other kind of iconic mountain bike destinations… But I didn’t want to just make a bike just like our competitors, just like Specialized, or Trek, or Yeti, or Ibis, or Santa Cruz, or Pivot. And so the real secret sauce of any full-suspension mountain bike is the suspension platform; the way the rear wheel moves up and down over rocks.
So really, there’s about four main suspension systems out there in the market; three or four of them have patents on them still, and there’s several other small, small variations out there… But there’s Horst-link, there’s DW, there’s VPP… These different sorts of patents and designs that different engineers have come up with to optimize how the rear wheel moves up and down. Basically, you want your bike to be as smooth and comfortable as possible, just like a car or a motorcycle or anything. Suspension is the secret sauce of all that; it’s how your bike goes around corners, it’s how it goes over bumps and rocks and roots. The difference with a bicycle compared to a car or a motorcycle is that efficiency really matters. You don’t have a motor putting out this power. You have a human who’s pedaling and rotating and putting power down inconsistently on pedals. So if you have a suspension system that’s really smooth and comfortable when you’re going in a straight line, but then you start pedaling and it bobs up and down, you’re losing a bunch of efficiency. So with bicycles it has to be really, really fine-tuned to optimize that human power efficiency, and the comfort when you’re going fast over different terrain.
And all these different companies that come up with their secret suspension system that’s the best of the best, then it’s the best because of all these reasons. But I didn’t want to just go license one of these other patents that all these other companies use, because that’s kind of boring, and then it’s just kind of a copycat system.
Yeah. It’s also ran.
You’re just essentially doing what they’ve done… The same, but different.
Yup. And I wanted to create something that was a little different; maybe not drastically different. There’s a lot of things about a lot of bikes that are very similar, but some little minor details really make some big, big differences. I actually went to a trade show in Vegas, InterBike, one year… A friend of mine who had helped me with some graphic design with the business early on said “Hey, you’ve gotta go ride one of these Canfield bikes.” And I kind of thought “No way. That’s a small brand.” They made these really like big, chunky aluminum bikes, maybe for like Red Bull Rampage, and jumping off like 30 foot cliffs, and all this crazy stuff, and I’d never really thought of that brand as something that I was attracted to, or thought there was something special about. Two brothers started it, small company very, very niche… But this guy said, “Go ride one of these bikes” and so I said, “Okay, fine.” We were at a trade show, we were there to test ride bikes, and so I jumped on one… And within 100 yards in the parking lot, I thought, “Holy cow, this is something really special.”
This guy, Chris Canfield had designed the suspension platform for their bikes, which were mainly made for going downhill, and going really fast downhill… And kind of - I don’t want to say on accident, but maybe it wasn’t quite as talked about, the suspension platform he came up with was the most efficient pedaling platform as well. So it was incredible going downhill; when you grab a rear brake, it doesn’t affect the suspension. So the suspension still moves up and down, it keeps that tire on the ground, it keeps traction… And that’s how these bikes were winning downhill races. They were in World Cup downhill races, which especially in Europe is a massive sport. It’s like watching football in the US. World Cup Downhill is a big deal.
[42:14] Totally. RedBull TV is on our TV all the time around here, Adam. We’re UCI, world cup, watching it all the time. Aaron Gwin, all the people.
I mean, my kid, my son is six and he’s a future rider. I’m training him young.
But we know the riders like they’re sports.
Which - it is a sport, like football or baseball; traditional American sport type things is what I mean by that.
Exactly, yeah. Well, we’ll have to get your son on one of our bikes when he’s ready for it. But yeah, I mean, World Cup Downhill - there’s fantasy leagues, like fantasy football. It’s a big deal. In the US it’s a bit smaller relatively, compared to compared to Europe… But it’s growing like crazy, so the amount of technology that goes into creating these bikes for World Cup Downhill races is huge. It’s like an F1 team on a much smaller scale. All these little, tiny details that can help squeeze a quarter second out of a corner, or over a technical section, make a big difference.
So Chris Canfield designed this system that optimized all that. I mean, these bikes go downhill so well. The suspension feels bottomless. Everything is just incredible for going downhill. But I got on the bike and thought “This thing goes uphill better than any other system, too.” And I kind of come from a racer background, I tried to be a professional racer, I wasn’t quite fast enough for that, and so I gave up on those dreams, which was the best thing I did, because now I get to ride bikes for fun and not racing which made it a whole lot better.
Not for glory, yes…
…which at least for me is a whole lot better…
Yeah… A lot of pressure on the glory stance, you know…
Yeah, it becomes a job instead of a fun hobby, for a lot of people… And I saw myself going on that path. Bikes are fun.
Yeah, bikes are fun. That is interesting. So you’re talking about the CBF platform, which is the Canfield Balanced Formula, is that right?
Okay. And this was developed by the Canfield brothers; you rode the bike, 100 yards later “This goes uphill.” You talked about why downhill is so important, but also the uphill, because if you want to build a carbon fiber mainstream, high-end, full-suspension bike, you’ve got to do both. Because enduro requires you to drive up, or pedal up, and enjoy the ride down. So you’ve got to have a good pedal platform.
Exactly. Yeah, it’s about going uphill and downhill. And if you take the average rider who’s gonna go out for an hour-long ride after work, 45 minutes usually going uphill and about 15 minutes of going downhill. So you want that uphill part to be as fun as possible to make the downhill, you know that’s where everyone hoots and hollers and gets a big ol’ smile on their face…
But you want the uphill to be as quick as possible, and I like an efficient pedaling bike. It’s fun to go fast uphill, too. So yeah, the CBF-patented system… All these patented systems have three-letter acronyms. That’s kind of something everyone makes fun of in the bike world; someone’s going to come up with a four-letter acronym, or something… But CBF was kind of a new system, that had only been used on these Canfield bikes. It’s separate than – there’s really mainly three or four suspension platforms that were used on the other 40 or 50 main brands out there. So I thought, “Okay, one, it’s just the best, and two, this is exactly what I needed to make the bikes I want to make, differently.”
So I figured if I could take that suspension system and build a high-end carbon fiber, semi-modern, more mainstream style bike, I thought “That’s a pretty good selling proposition right there.” So I went on a ride at Bootleg Canyon on that bike, by the end I absolutely loved it… I went and talked to Chris Canfield and I said, “Hey, can I license the suspension patent from you?” and he said, “Yeah, sure.” And I said, “Okay, how does that work?”
“I don’t know…”
And he said, “I don’t know, you tell me.” [laughs] And immediately, I was like, “This is gonna work out great.”
Yeah. That’s hilarious.
[45:54] “I can work with this.” Because some of these other patented systems - I talked to the patent owners and it’s a very clear process - here’s how many dollars it costs to license it, here’s how many dollars per frame, here’s the timeline, here’s the process, here’s the legal agreements, all this stuff… And Chris was like, “I don’t know, you tell me” so I thought – we just chatted together, we worked it out, and we’ve become great friends since then. We’ve biked all over the place, he sleeps in his van on my driveway whenever he comes through town here… And so working with him has just been incredible. He’s a suspension genius. I don’t know how he figured out how to create bicycle suspension like this… But moving these pivot points and these rotation points on the product around – if you move them by half a millimeter, it has a fairly drastic effect on how that bike rides… And he just gets it. So I feel super-lucky to have met him and create our bikes around that suspension platform.
Yeah, I heard him – so thankfully… I mentioned Worldwide Cyclery a couple of times now, just in passing, but I want to talk to you at some point about keys to distribution. I think they may have been one of them for you. But I saw Chris talk about the CBF platform on their YouTube channel. And he talked about the center curvature, the anti-squat, all these different things that sort of go into this. You almost glaze over at some point, but also smile, because you’re like, “This guy knows so much, and whatever he’s done his magic, and everything he’s saying is like pure gold” because he’s talking, like you’re saying, “Move it half a millimeter this way, you’ve got the sweet spot here, this is golden arch, this and that…” And so he talked primarily in this video about how he came to the Rails CBF version of the CBF platform… Which I think is, if I understand it correctly, there’s a patent within the Canfield Balanced Formula patent that they can sort of like hanging out in. So there’s variations to this platform. But their version and your version is not exactly the same, but it’s in the same sort of like spec, so to speak; there’s variations, if I’m describing this well enough… But Rails is I’m sure different than Rascals, but it’s still a CBF platform, it’s still a CBF suspension platform.
Yeah. So the CBF patent, and really any patent of this sort kind of gives you a range, and there’s certain things within that range that fall under the patent, and then things would fall outside of the patent. Anyone can go and google patents and look it up if you really want to get into all the techie details… But yeah, it’s really more of a concept of using the center of curvature and this little area that’s about 50 millimeters over the top of a chain ring as your kind of focus point instead of a virtual pivot point, like some other brands, or some other systems would use. So it’s a different way of thinking about how to design the suspension that really takes the chain ring and the center of curvature into effect. And by doing that, you have a range within that center of curvature, and there’s a few different ways to accomplish that range… But yeah, our bikes, even our different models - and now we have four different models of full-suspension bikes - it’s all very tweaked and fine-tuned within that patented range to optimize it. And that’s where the kind of secret sauce and the real magic comes in.
Someone could go out there and lay out a bike that fits into the CBF platform, and it might not ride incredibly well when you start mixing in 29-inch wheels compared to 27.5, and even different tire sizes, and even different chain ring sizes, and then geometries with different reaches and seat tube angles… It’s a whole pie, and the suspension platform is one piece of it, but you have to factor in all these other things of what the bike is going to do to optimize that suspension design, even within that suspension patent. And that’s where Chris Canfield, kind of working with us to say, “Hey, here’s what we want. How do we accomplish it?” I mean, the guy’s a complete magician.
So let’s take the Rail, for example, which I believe was the first bike you released as the Revel brand. Is that correct?
Yeah, we released the Rail and the Rascal on the same day.
[49:50] Okay, so I didn’t know that then. Actually, I did, but I didn’t think about that. So you’ve got - for the listeners sake, we’re kind of getting into bike tech, which this is primarily – this is outer edge of Founders Talk, I would definitely say that. So we’re in like a different area of tech, but this is what I think is the most interesting thing about bikes. One, they’re super-enjoyable, but then the bike tech to me is just super-fascinating. I just love geeking out. It’s kind of like my analog, like digital – so we’re in this digital space where we build software, and we build tech companies, and we’re entrepreneurs, and all this fun stuff… But then at the same time, on my lunch, or my mornings, or my weekends with my son, I want to go ride. I want to ride the best bikes out there, and I just get naturally into the bike tech. And I think this is, for me, one of the deciding factors, which is why you’re on this show… Because I was going to – I had mentioned before, I own a Specialize, I have the Stumpjumper… It’s 145 in the back 150 In the front; now I push it to 160, because I like to go a little further… But this doesn’t matter. I tweaked the pie a little bit on my side of things.
And then I was in the market for – that was an aluminum bike, and it was a lower-end bike. So I bought the bike for two grand, and took it all apart eventually and rebuilt it myself with all custom components, because I wanted higher-end stuff, I learned more about the bike… And since I tore it down to nothing, just the frame itself, put everything back on, all new components, all that good stuff. So I learned, probably like you did back in your eBay days, how to take a bike apart, what was involved with putting it back together… And I learned what I wanted from a bike.
And as I was on that journey, I was like, “What’s my next bike? I want a carbon fiber bike, I want carbon fiber rims”, or maybe in my case fusion fiber rims… We’ll talk about that in a bit.
But I was like, “What’s the next bike for me?” And Yeti really is an amazing bike brand, and I’ve heard so much about it. You go out to any bike park or any place and you see cool people riding these blue, or reddy, or different-colored bikes, and they’re just amazing-looking bikes. And I was like, “That’s my next bike. I’m gonna build that from the frame up” etc. But then I was also a big fan of Worldwide Cyclery on YouTube, paid attention, learned a lot about how to build bikes from them, and Liam, and others from their team… So a lot of what I know is because of their taste, really. And thankfully, they’ve put out all that taste in a YouTube channel, and I learned from that taste. They’ve got all these years of wisdom of riding bikes; I’m newer to the industry… So I’ll learn from their taste, their curation, basically. And I guess in 2019 they found you. This was years after you got the CBF platform, built up the Rail and the Rascal… And this was like – that’s when I learned about essentially Revel, and the Rascal and the Rail. And I really was torn for a long time between the Rail and the Rascal.
And just super-quickly, the main difference is longer travel, smaller wheels, bigger wheels, smaller travel. That’s the difference between the Rail and the Rascal for the listeners’ sake.
And these are two different products you have. And so long story short, I was like, “You know what? I like stories.” And this kind of leads me back into more your story than just geeking out about bike tech and all these fun things… It’s the power story. Yeti is great, they’ve been on World Cup podiums, they’ve done amazing things, and sure, they’re a super-popular bike, very expensive… Yours is also very expensive… That’s just the nature of the business. But I liked your story. I like scrappy, I like ambitious, I like people… And Revel and you and others from the team - I was just like, “This is a super-cool bike brand. I need to own a Revel.” So I didn’t buy the Yeti, I bought the Rascal instead. So that’s my long story short… Which really comes back to your story, which is the power of story.
You talked about that transition from Borealis to Revel, and the scrappy days early on – or actually Why Cycles early on… And I wonder how much you paid attention to these articles out there about you; your actual Adam Miller story. Because you kind of began again, humble. You began early on as a hobby humble, then you begin again, maybe with some PTSD and some rough rows for that breakup for the business… But you kind of begin again, re-humbled. But you got a great name in the business, and I think Chris, when he saw you and he’s like, “Hey, do you want to license this thing and what are you gonna do with it?”, he was like, “Wow, Adam Miller is gonna build a bike on my platform.”
Take us, after I geeked out quite a bit about my journey to Revel, but more of the story of you and Revel.
Yeah. And I love hearing those stories and hearing people who – kind of why they got to the point of buying one of our bikes, because it’s always fascinating to me. I think now for the industry, for a lot of people - you know, people kind of say “Mountain bikes are the new golf.” It’s becoming so popular as a hobby… And half of the fun of mountain bikes or of any bike is the tech side; it’s like what you did - pulling your bike apart and geeking out and figuring out how the parts work, and put it back together, and buying custom… You know, a new fork, or new wheels, or whatever it might be. Half the fun is the product, too. So it’s kind of neat, it’s both. It’s a hobby on a lot of levels.
Yeah, so back in 2015 I started working on this stuff, 2016 I incorporated, I was living in Utah still… I didn’t really like Utah. I didn’t find a good – it just didn’t jive with me. I had lived in Colorado for quite a while, so in 2016, I started thinking, “Hey, my business is basically me and one other person” that – I hired another person actually. The first guy I ever hired at my first company, Borealis, he started working for me at the time Why Cycles, in 2016, and that was really cool. Greg, he’s a great guy.
And so in 2016 I thought “Alright, before this business grows - because I think it’s going to grow - I want to move to a place and establish the business in a place where I want to be.” And I’d always wanted to go to a small Colorado mountain town, and I did this ski race with a friend of mine, we did Grand Traverse. It’s a ski race from Crested Butte to Aspen, and it’s overnight, and it’s like 12 hours, and you bring all your food, and it’s all freezing cold and dark and all this stuff… And it’s a really cool, fascinating, magical experience. And I’m not very good at ski racing, but it was just a neat thing to do.
So you finish in Aspen in the morning, and so then we had to drive from Aspen back to Crested Butte, and so we drove to this little town called Carbondale and stopped for coffee on the way. And as we were driving through this little town called Carbondale, I thought “You know what - that’s where I’m going to put my business.” So I got back to Utah and basically did the whole move myself. I sold my house; I lived in my warehouse that I was renting for Why Cycles and Revel at the time in Utah for a couple of months. I took 12 trips with my Sprinter van and trailer to Carbondale, Colorado. I found a small place to rent here, I lived in my van for about two months up on Prince Creek Road. They used to have free camping up there back in the day, five whole years ago…
Back in the day…
[laughs] Yeah… I feel like I’ve aged a little bit since then. I was able to find a house to buy here in Carbondale, and so then it was me and two employees. We were getting things started, the development of Revel was underway. I had hired a couple of contractors, designers, engineers to help me out. I was going to China a bunch to work with our manufacturer, and I was getting things set up in Carbondale.
But I was really cautious of bringing on investors and partners and borrowing money and all that stuff, because I’d had a tough experience with my first business. So I decided to really wait as long as I could at each step of the way before raising more money. So I kind of put my whole chunk of change that I’d gotten from my previous business in, I bought a house that I could get a home equity line of credit, because that’s kind of the cheapest way to borrow working capital at a small scale; you can get 80% of your home value… That first house I bought here in Carbondale.
I had I think the first five Revel employees all lived with me at that house, including a couple people living in their vans out back, and then coming in to use the showers and washer and dryer and stuff like that. But we did that to split the mortgage, basically, and save money. Everybody took a pay cut from their previous job to come work at Why and Revel, because they believed in what we were trying to do. And it was, really, really cool, the passion that we had, and still have, on a different scale now… It’s super-inspiring.
So we were living together, I was traveling to China… We were just trying to save every dollar. My plan was we don’t try to skimp on anything to do with the product. Every single dollar we have goes into creating the best product; everything else – you know, for the most part, all of us were in our 20s, and who cares. We can use recycled chairs that we found at the dumpster for our offices, and cardboard boxes instead of trash cans. I mean, literally –
Super-scrappy. I have a few pretty vivid memories of going to China – I took out seven different credit cards early on to get the $100,000 airline mile bonus thing, so I could use those miles to travel to China to visit our manufacturers. And then I have one memory, I went to one of our factories that is located a few hours outside of Beijing; it gets pretty cold in the winter there, and I went in January once, and I didn’t want to pay for hotel, because even the hotels cost money, and I was used to camping in the dirt for bike races. I’m pretty flexible with that sort of a thing. So I stayed in the factory dorm rooms, and the heat was out. They told me that ahead of time, and said “You’re crazy. You can stay in the dorm rooms, but just stay in a hotel.” And I said “No, I’ll stay in the dorms.”
So I brought my sleeping bag there, and it was like zero degrees Fahrenheit at night, and there was no heat. So I was in there, sleeping on this couch in my sleeping bag, and I had a few moments where I was just thinking “What have I gotten myself into? …shivering over here across the world in China.”
But now I look back on all that and it’s an absolute blast. So then we – you know, we were selling the Why Cycles products, the titanium bikes were going quite well… That was a good way to kind of,– basically, every dollar we made off that went right into the development of the Revel products. That was a good way I could kind of wait longer before bringing on other investment partners.
So we were selling the Why Cycles products, developing more of those, that was going really well… We were getting ready to launch Revel in 2018. We actually thought we were gonna launch in 2018, we ran into some hiccups as we gotten to mass production, and so we kept on kind of delaying and delaying… And 2018 was a pretty tough year, because we were tight on money, and so every sale of the Why Cycles bike - we used that to help fund all the development of this other stuff, and I kept on thinking we were about ready to launch the brand. We had ramped up on inventory, started bringing stuff in… And then we had some delays, and we really – I’m really proud of our whole team for holding strong and saying “We’re waiting until we know these bikes are dialed and amazing before we publicly launch them.”
So we publicly launched the brand on March 1st of 2019. And that was with both the Rail and the Rascal. And we went to a trade show in Sedona, we rented an Airbnb with like two rooms, and we had 10 of us there, so I was sleeping on the floor… When it comes to like scrappy stories, I have tons of them.
I’m loving it. You’ve gone through a lot to build this, Adam.
Oh, it’s fun. I mean, it’s really fun at the end of the day. And we knew we were making bikes that we wanted; that was a huge motivating factor. So Sedona Bike Fest, that’s where we decided to launch the brand. We’d sent one bike out to PinkBike, which is the biggest online media house for bikes. They get millions of page views a day… And I was so, so nervous. I mean, I didn’t sleep well for months leading up to this launch, because I had put everything into it. Basically, if this launch of the products – I was maybe kind of pessimistic, but if it didn’t go well, I was gonna have to go to law school, or go hide out under a bridge somewhere, or something. I was like, “Man, what do I do? Because I’ve gotta make bikes. I’m spoiled. I’ve owned my own business, I’ve been my own boss, I get to wear flip-flops to work, I get to make bikes… I cannot do anything else. This is the ultimate dream; this needs to work out.”
And so March one we’re setting up at the tradeshow, getting everything ready to show these bikes off publicly the next day in Arizona, where people can come and try them out. There’s a bunch of members of magazines, a bunch of bike shop owners, all these people there, and they’re going to get see the bikes in-person.
So PinkBike posted their first review of the Revel Rail the day before, and we’re setting up, and I got – someone pinged me on my phone and said, “Hey, the review is live.” And those reviews have the power to make or break a company. If it’s a good review, you’re golden; if it’s a bad review, pack up and go home, because customers aren’t gonna buy your products.
[01:02:13.21] So I saw this on my phone and I kind of went and found this tree in the corner and set under this tree, kind of all curled up, and I was shaking, I was so nervous… And I started reading this review. And it was phenomenal. It was the best review I’ve ever read on PinkBike for a bike. I mean, they’re kind of notorious for being really harsh, and really good critics, and really honest reviews of products. And this review was basically like, “Hey, this bike is absolutely amazing, and this small, small team out of a small town in Colorado created this bicycle that is on par with all these big brands.” And as I was reading this article, it was like this relief came over me, and excitement… And that was the ticket. I mean, things just took off from there, and it was very reminiscent of my first company, although this time I actually had an office, and we had a team, and we had inventory systems, and we had a website that worked, and we had credit card processing, and we had a business phone number that wasn’t my personal cell phone number… So we kind of had all these things in place.
And the next day at the trade show - it’s kind of funny, at 9am the doors open and everyone runs up to these different booths to grab a bicycle to try out. And everyone has their – they want to try a Yeti, or a Pivot, or whatever other brand… And all these people literally sprint to go get in lines, so they can get their first choice of a bike. And so the first morning, Friday at 9am, a couple people had seen the PinkBike article, and they ran up to ride our bikes, but we still had 15 bikes sitting there… Everyone was super-happy, the feedback was phenomenal, we were all just buzzing.
The next day, Saturday at 9am we had a line of 30 people at 9:01, and all the bikes gone. The next day was the same thing. Word got out. We took bets as a company that night on when we’d sell the first bike, and we all thought it’d be by Monday or Tuesday, and it happened like 30 minutes after. Like Friday morning. It’s actually gone in Australia. Australia was the first person to buy a bike from us.
And then it just took off, and it was the greatest, greatest thing ever.
Can I read a line from the first impressions from that PinkBike article?
This is further down in the article, first impressions… It says “A lot of times a good-looking bike doesn’t translate into a good ride. But with the Rail, this is not the case. The bike’s performance both up and down is simply incredible. A lot of people are launching bike brands, and it’s refreshing to see one where the founders (this is Adam) did their homework and got it right. Well done.”
So that had to be incredible. I mean, to be down the road you’ve been down… So that’s why I think listeners kind of paying attention every word here; we’ve gone through a lot of detail. There’s so much detail to cover in Adam’s story, from bike tech to his story of scrappy, and all the things he’s been through. This Borealis break-up and what that did to him personally… But I think it really set you up to do things the right way. You got into the bike business because, one, you’re passionate about it, but two because you wanted to build something that you would actually ride yourself, which is why I bought a Revel bike. Because if I want to buy from someone, I want to buy from someone who builds a bike they want to ride themselves. And that kind of review from PinkBike, -you’re right, it’s phenomenal.
And to be in Sedona, this is Bike Fest, it’s like THE place; one of the places you want to launch if you’re gonna launch something somewhere, right? This is a good spot. And to kind of go in humble and thinking, “Okay, not so much” and the next day 30, and the next day more, and then get your first sale… I can only imagine what those days were like for you guys.
It was such a buzz. I mean, there’s not quite words to describe it. For me it was like eight years of business; if I include all the eBay stuff, 15 years or something of wanting to make bikes, and make bike stuff, and get people excited on the products that we’re making. And I’d been to China at that time maybe 20 times - now it’s more like 27, although nothing for the last few years - to work with our partners to manufacture this bike. And I knew I liked it, but I was hoping everybody else would, too. And so yeah, those few days at Sedona Fest launching the brand were just unbelievable.
[01:06:19.20] And then, it’s the kind of thing where we got back and there was no rest, and there hasn’t been since then. I mean, especially those days, it’s like “Hey, we’re getting bikes out the door” and then we’re all staying late; we had a whole lot of pizza parties at night to assemble bikes in our facility in Colorado, and ship them out… We were getting international distributors wanting to sell the bikes… It was just everything I could have hoped for and a whole lot more.
And I made some similar mistakes that I did with my first company; we sold out right away, we didn’t have enough inventory in stock… I was almost – I think I was too scrappy in a lot of senses in terms of having enough people at the company, having enough help. We were using QuickBooks for like $15 a month; that wasn’t cutting it from an inventory control standpoint. So we pretty quickly got right into defense mode, to sort of figure all that stuff out. I brought on financing, I brought on some more equity partners, some friends, my best friend from high school, from Alaska, was our first investor. Actually, before we even launched the brand he put in a chunk of money, and that helped us fund our first round of inventory.
So I kind of quickly was in defense mode, raising money, figuring out how to have a real business. We moved to two different facilities that first year, a third facility the next year… Now we’re in our fourth facility, then we added on another building, so it’s all kind of one facility here, but…
All still in Carbondale?
All still in Carbondale, but we’re bursting at the seams here; we’re looking for a bigger warehouse. We’re setting up a facility in Taiwan right now, to have an international distribution center in kind of the central bike manufacturing location in the world. We have 25 employees now here in Carbondale, three people in Taiwan, and it’s just – I mean, it’s been taking off like crazy. We’ve introduced several new models in the last few years… The supply chain stuff - we could talk for all sorts of time about all that.
I was gonna say, it’s a great time to launch a bike brand. 2019… Amazing year. 2020. Everybody has those challenges, and I’m not saying they don’t matter, but like - yeah, the bike industry in particular… Like, I think I saw somebody who’s like “I ordered my Santa Cruz…” and I’m like, one, why’d you buy a Santa Cruz? Then two, he’s like “Yeah, it’ll be here next year.” I’m like, “Um, that’s a shame, because like that’s like next year.” You know what I mean? [laughs]
Yeah, people got really used to waiting a long time for bikes.
So I listened to the podcast you did with Jeff and his team at Worldwide, and one thing in particular I took away from that call was their question about innovation in bikes. They’re pessimistic on bike tech, but your response was not exactly bike tech, it was manufacturing efficiencies, it was supply chain efficiencies… Which I think in a lot of ways the whole entire world had to sort of grow up quickly on how we move things around the world and distribute products to people make them happy and do what we do, and do what we love. But in particular, I think bikes and the bike brand industry had to really grow up, because we never really had those problems. It was pretty easy to get things from Taiwan to the US, and move things around; getting carbon fiber, to manufacture it was pretty easy… It was a pretty free-flowing system.
And then we hit a bunch of bottlenecks, which you’ve experienced personally… And I don’t know that this contributes to it, but I wanted to… And I’ll tell you more about wanted to. I wanted to buy a Rail 29er, but the wait was two months, and I want to ride this summer, so I paused my order. I’ve got wheels still yet, so don’t worry… But I paused my Rail 29 order, because I couldn’t wait until late August, because I wanted it in the summertime, and I’m not going to be doing something later this August where I want to ride that bike… Because I live in Houston. It’s mainly trails, not hills; we’ve got Spider Mountain, I go to Colorado, we go over to Angel Fire, and different places, and that’s where I take a longer travel bike. But the bike won’t be here before then.
The long story short is I imagine you’ve had to go down these roads of like “How do we get things to make bikes and make people happy?” Like, I built this thing, 2019 we launched, everybody loves it, everybody wants it” and then 2020. So I was lucky enough to order my bike, I believe, November or December of 2019. My Rascal.
Great timing. [laughs]
It was perfect timing. And then I got it in January, and I don’t think I had time to build it, because we just had my youngest son, Mike - he was born in 2020…
Yeah, I almost said like 2010. Like, that’s not right. It was December 10th, 2020. And so it was like a unique timeframe for all of us to – no, December 10th 2019. Come on, Adam, you got me all messed up here on my years, and stuff.
There we go.
Long story short, I couldn’t build my bike right away. I ordered it, I got the frame… It’s sitting there and it’s like just staring at me… I couldn’t build it until around February, March, when I finally had some time. But let’s go back to you. Pandemic, supply chain issues, manufacturing issues… What exactly happened in the bike world to kind of cause a slowdown?
[01:14:13.28] Yeah, you got a bike at the right time. I’m glad that worked out. Similar to my answer with Jeff - you know, it’s probably just a sign of the times, or sign of what we’re dealing with, as so much of our focus is on supply chain, and less so on the fun stuff, on the bikes. And luckily, we have a ton of products in the works, and we have a fantastic team of engineers here… And so we have some really, really neat stuff coming down the pipeline. But we’ve put so much effort into this supply chain thing, and I feel like every almost hates that word now. We’ve been hearing it way too much recently.
Before the pandemic most people didn’t know what supply chain was, because who cares? All the stuff got here, and Amazon was two-day shipping, faster if you live in a city… We live in the mountains and we could still get stuff in two days. It’s amazing. So we were very lucky with our timing. We launched in 2019, we had a whole year of kind of normal stuff before the pandemic hit… And in the bike world, that meant we could order either our frames that we designed and have manufactured, and we could get those in about 45 or 60 days; if it was 70 days, we were upset. we had to have a hard talk with our manufacturer that they took too long. Sometimes it was 90 days, and that was a big deal. Oh my God, a 30-day delay - that’s a big problem.
All the other parts - you know, derailleurs, tires, wheels, all that stuff, those were all 30 to 60 day lead times. So we could say, “Oh, demand’s creeping up. Let’s order some more stuff, and in a month or two we’ll have it here, and life’s good.”
A very flexible process.
Super-flexible. But at the time, it didn’t seem flexible. It was just normal. That’s just how it was. And so, perspective really is everything. And the bike industry is also pretty small, and it’s pretty new. Mountain bikes weren’t invented that long ago. We’re not like the tech industry. We’re not even like the golf industry, or the ski industry. We’re small. And so a lot of brands just aren’t that sophisticated, because we didn’t need to be. Even a lot of these – a lot of our competitors who have been in business for 30 or 40 years, they didn’t need to have all these crazy systems in place, because it was a small industry, and pretty stable manufacturing.
So of course, the lockdown happened, I had been in China very recently before that, at our manufacturer, and looking back, I probably should have been there. I came back and definitely got pretty sick right away, and that made me realize COVID was a very real thing… I was hit pretty hard by it. I had COVID…
Early on, yeah. And I was able to get a test, which at a time it was crazy… That was in early March 2020, when everybody –
A lot of fear. Yeah, wow.
It was a lot of fear. No one quite knew what was going to happen. You know, a few days into me having COVID we shut the office down, and everything was locked down, everyone was working from home… And our sales plummeted. I mean, everything tanked. We had hundreds of thousands of dollars of sales on open orders - dealers had put these orders in, they were going to get delivered in the next few weeks… And even at that time, when our business was much more stable that it was previously - but we rely on those open orders to sort of plan how the next few weeks were going to look. And everything got cancelled within a matter of a couple of days. I mean, we went from hundreds of thousands of dollars planned on coming in to nothing. And our business was good, but we were still – we were only a year old. Or a year old publicly for Revel at that point. We didn’t have tons of extra cash in the bank, and things like that. We were staying in hotels in China at that point, not sleeping in the dorm rooms, but we weren’t staying at nice hotels. [laughter]
So I had COVID, I was in bed… I mean, I could barely walk for a few days, I was so sick. And we came up with two different financial plans basically that in the next two weeks if this happens, we’re going to lay off 10 people, if this happens, we’re going to lay off 7 people… And that was horrible. It was a horrible, horrible, horrible experience to think about that. The business was so well, everyone loved these bikes… And then this pandemic thing happened and we were gonna be in trouble.
[01:18:11.17] Luckily, I think I was so sick I couldn’t think about all that stuff, and about a week later, as I was getting healthier, a couple orders started trickling back, the next few days a few more orders trickled in, and we never had to take any action as far as laying anybody off or anything like that. Orders trickled in…
People realized that “Hey, you can still ride bikes, you can still go outside during the pandemic” and so fairly quickly, it turned into “Okay, we’re gonna be just fine.”
…a mad rush.
Yeah, a lot of people wanted to buy bikes, so I guessed that one totally wrong early on. And so 2020 was just a great year. And I felt very lucky. A lot of other businesses were affected by COVID, and it lasted a lot longer than a few weeks, like it did for us. So I felt incredibly fortunate, and because of that, I wanted to really do a good job and take advantage of our good situation as a business with really high demand.
And so 2020 was pretty great, until about fall 2020, and all the inventory we had or the inventory that was being made started to – we got that stuff out the door, and lead times started creeping up. They went from 30 or 60 days to 90 days. I remember when derailleurs and stuff - those lead times went to like 120 days, and we all freaked out and thought, “Oh my God, how are we going to run our business with four month lead times for these parts? That’s just wild.” And in the course of the next year, and even now, a lot of those lead times are between 500 and 700 days to get parts, which is just crazy. We’re placing orders out through 2025 for certain parts right now…
So kind of zooming out, we had to figure out how to run a business and make a plan, and figure out what we were going to sell and order all this stuff… I mean, order products that haven’t even been designed yet, in some cases. We had to grow up really, really, really quick, and so I think as a business we grew up by 10 years in the course of a year or two.
Yeah. And you’ve launched two different new products in this pandemic, right? You’ve got the Rover… I think that was an independent one, right? Or was it?
Okay, I’m trying to keep my memory straight. And then obviously, your Ranger, which is the shortest travel, more of a XC bike, cross-country bike.
And these were both launched in the pandemic. How did that happen? Like, how does launching new products happen? Did you already have an inventory, or what?
Yeah, we couldn’t go to our manufacturers. So before the pandemic, as we were making stuff, I’d just fly over there, and we’d maybe fly over with one of our engineers or whatever, and just sit there and work with the factory. It’s a collaborative effort to make this stuff. And we couldn’t do that with the pandemic. So we got on a bunch of WeChat phone calls, Skype phone calls, and did video talks to go through all this stuff… It was way, way slower, and it was frustrating. And for all the stresses that we had here in the US with the pandemic and shutdowns, in Vietnam and China and Taiwan it was way worse. And it’s still way, way worse. I mean, maybe worse isn’t the right word, depending on how you feel about everything, but way more strict, I should say.
There weren’t bars opening up, there weren’t – there were strict… Everything. A lot of factories shut down completely, or they shut down, but they kept working, so people were sleeping in these factories. Stuff that here we might think is awful. For a lot of those places, people were happy to still even be able to work, so that they can have money. It’s just different cultures, and I admire our factory’s kind of perseverance through these crazy, very strict government things and protocols. These factories kept on working and kept on producing products, at an of course much slower rate, but they dealt with a lot of adversity; a lot more than we did here in the US, for the most part.
So we launched the Rover, a gravel bike, the Ranger a little bit before that as a short-travel bike, and our Rail 29 was kind of more recent, but kind of in the pandemic, depending on which government–
Depending upon your perspective, yeah. [laughter] It’s not really post-pandemic, it’s more like endemic now, or what is it like? It’s whatever is post-pandemic. It’s still out there around the world, but now it’s just the way of life.
[01:22:13.01] The way of life, yeah.
I don’t know what the transitional word is there for that, but I feel like it’s still pandemic, but it’s like this transitional period between craziness, lockdown uncertainty, to awareness, understanding and treatment, possible treatment… And there’s a lot less people dying of it. There’s still a lot of negative cases out there; we’ve had friends that have passed away as part of COVID…
Sorry to hear.
…and a lot of tragedy, and I’m not diminishing that by any means… But we’re definitely in this phase where it’s more awareness and more knowledge about how to treat it than it was before. Before it was a lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt we were going through.
It’s a way of life now. It’s just something we’re all accepting now… And you’re exactly right, there’s all sorts of horrible tragedy that came from it, and now it’s sort of seen as normal, so we don’t want to diminish that… But what I find really interesting, and what we are still learning a lot about navigating is that every government in every country is very different. And we’re 25 people here in a small town in Colorado, but that’s very different – you know, we manufacture in multiple different countries, raw material comes from even more countries, that then goes to our manufacturers, and then we sell in a lot of different countries. Especially in Asia, they’re still very, very strict; especially in China. Vietnam just opened up more recently, Taiwan is getting better, it’s a three-day quarantine for certain places instead of 14… China’s still at a 28-day quarantine, so we can’t go visit our manufacturers there. So launching these products has taken an incredible amount of, let’s say patience, for one, but just trying to learn how to communicate and try to be empathetic and keep in mind that these are our partners, we’re all on the same team, we all want to get these products out there, and sometimes these crazy health challenges or political challenges are just gonna get in the way.
And similarly with selling products. And now Europe is much more normal, but in 2020 or in early 21 certain distributors would say, “Oh, we can’t take those bikes, because we can’t even leave our houses to go to the office to unload the shipping container” or whatever it might be. And then two weeks later things were opened up again… And it’s just a rollercoaster of everything. So if it weren’t for the pandemic, I think we would have launched about four new models, and had much faster delivery dates. So on one hand, we were very lucky demand was super-high, but the supply chain for the whole world and for all products is bad, but for the bike industry, it was really, really, really bad, because I think the systems just weren’t in place.
So how are things now then? So now that we’re June 2022, a couple years past all this… Things have to be leveling out to some degree. Is it still 90, 100, 500-day out for derailleurs and certain parts? What’s the status of the supply chain in the bike world?
It’s similar to COVID, where it’s still there, and we’re just learning trying to deal with it, I’d say. It’s still really bad. Certain factories we’re seeing some improvements. Back in November, December we thought everything would be better by January or February, and shipping costs would come down, and lead times would be more consistent… And here we are in June and it’s probably gotten a little worse since even last fall, Q3, Q4 of 2021. I think it is going to get better in Q3, Q4, but every time I’ve said “I think it’s gonna get better”, I’ve been totally wrong, so…
[laughs] Just say it’s gonna get worse… That way it gets better.
Yeah, there you go. It’s gonna get way worse. Now we’ll be surprised.
“This is just a hobby! No one will like this thing.”
[laughs] You’re onto something. Yeah. I haven’t figured either of those things out.
Yeah, “No one will like this suspension platform. We’re just a small boutique brand.”
[laughs] You’re exactly right.
Not true, not true.
I’m going to start questioning everything.
I haven’t told you this yet, but a small prediction behind the scenes, for me at least, is I think – and maybe this isn’t even what you’re trying to do; my perspective might be different than yours, because I’m not as steeped in the bike industry as you are… But I think that the bikes should be able to go toe to toe, if not better than the Yeti brand bicycles, like the SB150, the SB130… I think the Rail, the Rascal, they compete very well with those. Yeah, I just think that – my prediction for Revel would be as big or bigger than Yeti. And you’re the unknown, amazing brand in bikes, and I think you’re going to be just as big, or better.
[01:26:30.10] I’m honored to hear that. I mean, the fact that even a couple of years ago we were being spoken about in the same sentence as Yeti and Santa Cruz and Specialized - I was blown away. And now it’s just - we’re on the same level as those brands, and I’m honored because there’s a lot of them. Yeti, and all these companies make fantastic bikes, and the fact that we’re up there with them is really great. And we have a lot of neat, really neat products in the works, and some pretty unique manufacturing techniques, and some different materials, and some stuff that - not all of it is going to pan out, some of it is going to pan out… And my goal is to be the best mountain bike brand out there. That doesn’t necessarily mean the biggest, but…
…I want to be the best, and I think we’re on the right track to get there. I truly believe our team is has the ability to make some pretty cool stuff and keep on doing it.
Well, it seems so. Everybody I speak to at Revel, they’re all passionate about your business and your brand and what you’re doing… I’ve never met anybody unhappy, by any means. I’m curious… So you made it through the pandemic without laying anybody off, right? Is that true?
We actually hired a bunch more people. [laughs]
You hired a bunch more people… And I think the known unknown thing is the bike world blew up in terms of a good thing during the pandemic. Everybody was like, “If all I can do is go outside, I might as well ride a bike.” And so bikes were sold out everywhere, and all these different things… And so now I feel like the industry got hot as a result of the pandemic, but now the love for those – like, that was one thing I could see… We’re in the tech business; you saw the Zoom stock go way up, and you saw Tesla’s stock go way up. And the stock market, in some ways, is a factor of how well the business is going etc. A lot of tech stocks, even Bitcoin went to $60,000 per Bitcoin - all these things blew up during the pandemic and went up, and then they sort of came back down in norms again. You see Square trading at lower than $100. For example Tesla I think is like $600 or maybe $800 bucks per share, in comparison to where they were… But I think the fire that was stoked for the bike world is still there, the passion is still there. Can you speak to maybe the blessing in disguise, I suppose, for the bike world? It was already on track to be popular, but the pandemic sort of stoked it, and it seems like the desire and passion for bikes hasn’t changed as a result of going back to normal.
Totally. The pandemic stoked it like crazy. The way I see it, and it seems to be kind of an agreed-upon mentality, is the pandemic really, really stoked especially the lower-end market. So maybe bikes under $2,000. You know, $500 bikes at Costco and stuff especially were just flying off the shelves, because people didn’t want to take subways in New York City, they wanted to peddle their bike.
So a lot of people bought bikes for transportation, or to go pedal around in the park with their families, because they couldn’t go to the movie theater. All that stuff’s great. There was certainly higher demand as well for the high-end, super-enthusiast crowd that we play in, but a lot of that was growing already; that’s relatively small. But what we’ve seen is a lot of people got into biking that maybe they bought a $1,500 mountain bike at REI to try it out during the pandemic, and then maybe not everybody is sticking with it… Certainly, certainly not everybody’s sticking with it, but a lot of people got bit. Just like you bought a $2,000 aluminum bike and then a year or two later you said “I like this, I’m going to get a Revel.” We’re seeing a lot of that.
So I think at the higher end of the market there’s a little bit of a lag time of that growth level. And it’s going to take a few years to shake out, because a lot of brands and retailers probably over-ordered too much inventory, because they purely looked at these growth rates that were 60% or 80% or 200%, and no one should quite expect that to continue as bars and movie theaters and airlines and international travel opened back up.
[01:30:20.27] So those growth rates I don’t believe are going to continue. But I think – I don’t know the exact stat, but let’s just say it was something like there’s 20 million new users in the mountain bike space. Well, even if 10% of them decide to stick with the sport and get bit by the bug, like what happened to so many of us - that’s a big bump up and more users. So I have a lot of optimism for the future.
I think biking is probably one of the best forms of exercise, honestly. I enjoy my kettlebell workouts, but I do those so I can bike better, and not so I can kettlebell better. [laughs] Like, the reason I kettlebell is to be in shape, but it’s so I could be in shape to shred.
Totally. I kind of joke – like, I hate exercise. I do not like exercise, I don’t exercise, but I ride my bike, a lot. And so it’s fun, and it happens to be exercise, which is a very, very lucky combination.
Can we rewind a little bit back to maybe Jeff Cayley, and Worldwide, and distribution?
I have an assumption. I think they played a good role in it, because that’s how I learned about the Revel brand, and the Rascal, and how I told over “Should I go Rail, long travel, should I go short travel?” And honestly, my trails are around here are more – I bought the bike I thought I’d ride more around here… Which, I’ve taken it to a downhill park, over to Spider Mountain in Burnet. It performed amazingly. So great job there. But talk to me about the distribution aspects. So when you launched, obviously – you have a known name, it’s a new bike brand, but how did you go from being unknown to being known?
That PinkBike article was huge. That really spread the word literally on day one. And then we actually – again, I’m pretty bad at predictions, I’m starting to find out… We thought we were going to be mostly direct-to-consumer, online sales. We built our website for like $300, so it wasn’t very good… So maybe that had something to do with it. But I thought we were gonna be mainly online sales, we wanted to partner with 5 or 10 kind of key retailers to have some bikes in some showrooms across the country… And again, I couldn’t have really been more wrong. We launched and we got a ton of demand. And some was direct-to-consumer, but a lot of it was bike shops. We really spoke to kind of that enthusiast, high-end bike shop market, so shops that were carrying maybe Santa Cruz or Specialized or Yeti, or some of our competitors… At the time I didn’t even think they were competitors. I thought we were much, much smaller. A lot of those shops said “This is a perfect brand for us. We want to take you on.” So within a matter of weeks we brought on a lot more retailers.
I think now we have 121 bike shops in the United States that sell our bikes, and then like 38 in different countries, as well as some distributors. I think we have about 17 distributors in 17 different countries. But the Worldwide Cyclery guys - it’s a fantastic, amazing, best of the best online and brick and mortar retailer. I think they have three or four locations now across the country, and they do a ton of online business. And I got a call - one of the better calls I’ve ever gotten is a few days after we launched we’re back in Carbondale at the office, and I got a call from Jeff Cayley, who is the founder of Worldwide. He started the business when he was 20 years old, or 19, or something, and just created the best bike retailer in the world, I’d say. And he called me and said, “I saw your bikes, they look great. Can we sell them?” It was another one of those things where I don’t know if I actually did put the phone on mute or I just waited till I hung up, but I was jumping up and down when that phone call ended, of “Oh my God, Jeff Cayley called me, and Worldwide wants to sell our bikes. This is the best thing we could hope for!”
And they made a few videos, they have a great YouTube presence, and really good reach. And that was another big turning point. They really got the word out, to you and to so many other people. And actually, a few days ago I got back – I was on a trip in Uganda and Africa that Jeff Cayley and I went on with a group of entrepreneurs; it was 18 entrepreneurs on a trip put on by a company called Wayfinders, that do kind of this business training, CEO coaching, leadership stuff in unique, different places around the world. And so that was a super-cool trip. So I have Jeff to thank for telling me to go on that trip.
[01:34:19.22] That’s awesome. What’s left in your story? I know we’ve talked a lot about bike tech, the journey, a little bit of pandemic, supply chain, predictions gone wrong that made you what you are today etc. What else can we cover that really sort of encases your story? There’s so much more we can cover, obviously, but what could we cover in the last, say, few minutes here?
Yeah, I could talk for hours about all the bike tech and all that good stuff. I mean, the major thing on the business standpoint is about seven or eight months ago I brought on – I did kind of a restructuring and I brought on a family office called Next Sparc as my one partner and investor in the business. And that’s been the best thing possible. We talked a lot about kind of being scrappy early on, and first employees all sleeping in the same house, and all this stuff… And so I decided after a few years, “Hey, this brand is gonna take off. We’re doing really well. It’s taken off way more than I expected.” I don’t want to always be playing defense in terms of – for a lot of things, things I didn’t know about. Bringing on financing, always talking to the local banks, and Wells Fargo, and trying to increase the line of credit so we could pay for inventory and all this stuff - I was sick of that. So I said, “Let’s restructure this business.” The initial investors all did very well in the process, and now I have a partner with a ton of business experience, that’s been able to help me a whole lot, help with things like setting up a Taiwan entity, a Taiwan facility to support our international growth, and then help navigate these supply chain issues, bring on plenty of funding to really take advantage…
The way I see it, this brand is growing like crazy. I don’t want anything, whether it’s funding, business processes, people - I don’t want any of that to hold it back. I want to keep this rocketship going. So those guys have been just awesome to work with, and so I feel like now I’m set up really well to grow and scale this business, and I can focus on bikes and business, and less on the financing and all that fun stuff… So that’s been a really good move recently.
You said that the pandemic didn’t happen and you had launched four new products. And you launched two, three – well, I guess if you include the rims, that’s a product too, right? I mean, it is product.
What’s left then? So if you’re positioned for growth - is growth sales, is growth product? Give me a hint into your future. The question I like to really ask on this, to be clear about it, is “What’s unknown? What’s something super-secret or on the horizon that no one knows about, or knows little about, that you can share?” So give us a peek, give us a glimpse.
Well, at the risk of running my mouth and saying something I shouldn’t, we have a couple of neat products in the works, and I’ll say they have to do with different materials and more manufacturing in the United States. So I don’t know when we’re going to be releasing those; we’ve put a lot of effort into the research part, the research and design department, and sort of experimenting with different materials and processes. We launched our line of wheels a few years ago, we have some neat stuff in the works there as well. Those are made in America, made out of the first ever fully recyclable composite material… So that’s a big area of focus, is different types of manufacturing.
So we’ll see what that means, but as a smaller company we’re really trying to remain nimble and creative, and experimental, and sometimes we try to make something and we realize we waste a bunch of time and money, and sometimes we try to make something and realize we’re kind of onto something. So really focusing on that cutting edge development is, I think, how we’re really going to grow our brand.
On kind of the growth side, a lot of it is supply chain and international distribution. Of course, product line expansion, that’s kind of, in my mind, the easy, really fun part. The global distribution… The bike market is big, in Europe and Australia and in certain parts of Asia, and so setting up systems for that is how we’re really going to be able to grow this brand and make it a world-class brand.
[01:38:11.14] Yeah, I have some predictions, to some degree. Maybe you can laugh, in a certain way, or nod your head on what I think you might do… So considering your roots with Borealis - I’m not sure if you would go fat bike… Maybe. Maybe there’s a fat bike in the future. There’s still some sales there to be had. And why not reclaim something you’ve lost, in a way, to sort of maybe get them back? …I don’t know how you’d describe it.
Yeah, I like how you think.
You know, that’s a possibility. I think, obviously, with Why Cycles and titanium you’ve got the hardtail down, but where Revel is missing is I think a good carbon fiber, super-light, phenomenal hardtail would be great, I think, in your line-up. I’d be looking forward to that. And then because I have a six-year-old, who I’m desperately trying to get deeper into – we’ve got him a Nukeproof Hardtail…
…and it’s a phenomenal bike for him. It’s a Cub Scout. I think it’s a 24-inch wheel Cub Scout, if I recall correctly. He loves it. But if Revel had a kid-level, youth-level hardtail, I’d buy it.
I’m actually stoked to hear you say that. It’s an idea we’ve tossed around. We don’t have anything in the works for it right now, because we’re kind of at capacity for development… But as we expand, those are the types of things that are totally in the realm of possibility. Basically, what I want to do is just kind of make the best product we can within each category.
We just came out with a gravel bike, and we made a big point of “We’re not just going to make a gravel bike because it’s a popular segment of the market. We’re going to make it because of the 25 people in this building, I think 15 people ride gravel bikes multiple times a week, because they love them.” We made a titanium gravel bike that got on the cover of Road Bike Action back in 2017. It’s in our DNA, we’re good at it. We like it, we can make something special. We’re not just going to make something because there’s a market share to be had. So kind of how I see the future is - yoy know, a kids’ bike would be awesome.
They’re underserved, honestly.
They’re underserved, and I think we could do a good job. And that’s how we’re going to grow the sport, and that’s how we’re going to get more riders involved for the long-term. And I love mountain biking and I want to share it with people. It’s super-fun, it’s a healthy, good, fun activity. So I think more people should ride bikes. [laughs]
Yeah. There’s room for expansion in the youth section, and there’s room for improvement, because… You know, smaller doesn’t mean – you can ride I guess, maybe at 12-speed on there. There’s different components maybe not translated to those bike frames. I don’t know, I don’t build bikes, I don’t know to that degree. But I know when I bought his bike, I had to buy – it’s a Nukeproof, it’s an amazing bike, but it was challenging to find a bike for him that had knobby tires, and he could shred, and all that good stuff. And had disc brakes, not rim pads, or however you describe that component. Like, that’s just not good enough for him. And he still – his hand isn’t big enough to really do all the derailleur stuff. So even like the components aren’t designed for a small kid’s hand.
[01:41:01.15] There’s just different things that just don’t come into play. So seeing him struggle with trying to shift is a pain point. And he can even barely break, because his hand isn’t big enough. And the brake lever is not adjustable to adjust it in, like a higher-end tram might be, for example. Like, I can adjust my lever; why can’t he adjust his?
The frame may not be need that, but the components that go with it could be served. And that is the future of biking. So if you want to get them in early…
Well, I liked the sound of that. When we’ve tossed around those ideas, because it’s – we like to design stuff that we… You know, you go through all those little details; little details about a brake lever being the right size for someone with a different size hands; as you’re engineering a bike you might not think about that too much, but the end user - that’s gonna be the first thing they notice. So trying to have that all-encompassing picture of what the end user wants is how to make a good product. So yeah, I like the sound of that.
Yeah… It was a small semi-story of more anecdotal feedback, I would say. When we first got the bike, we opened up the box, I put it together… It was shipped – the derailleur hanger was bent, and they didn’t give me a spare… So I’d always say, ship a spare, just in case during shipping it gets bent. And obviously, I couldn’t unbend it; it’s unsafe to ride a bent derailleur hanger. So we had to wait a couple of weeks till the right one got in. So he was super-bummed. He could sit on it, but he couldn’t ride it, so that was a major bummer.
And then two weeks later, when I finally got here and I can put the derailleur hanger on, swap it all out, his hand was, like I said, with the brake lever and the shifter - that was challenging for him. So I was like trying to soften the moment so that he wasn’t discouraged, because he wants to be like dad. Everything I do he thinks is cool, and I love that. So he loves my Revel Rascal he loves – it’s a T1000 color, so there you go, he loves that. We call it the Silver Bullet, based upon Bob Seger, of course, and the Silver Bullet Band.
And he loves it. So I mean, just people who could pay attention to that youth… Because they’re gonna grow up. They’re gonna grow into a larger bike, and they’re gonna keep loving your brand, and I think there’s no brand – Specialized has some good bikes in that area, but even then… Like, he had a Riprock etc. I think there’s some room for improvement there on the youth level of things.
Yeah. We’ll add it to our list. We have big old list of development projects, so it’ll go on there, for sure.
Well, Adam, anything left unsaid, any questions I didn’t ask you, anything we didn’t talk about that you’re like, “You know what, I really wish I can say this one more thing…” Is there one more thing for you?
I don’t think so. I think we’ve covered a lot of it, and talked a lot about the business side of things, too. I would just say, if anybody’s listening and they’re interested, reach out. We’re based in Carbondale, Colorado. It’s about half an hour down the road from Aspen. So if you’re in town, you can come demo a bike here and try them out. I’ll give you a tour of our facility, that hopefully we’re moving into a bigger one at some point soon here, too… But no, at the end of the day, bikes are super-fun. I’m really glad to be able to share a fun product with people… And we’re just getting started, so I think there’s a whole lot more fun to be had.
Revelbikes.com, check it out. Adam Miller, thank you so much for your journey as a founder, as an entrepreneur, and the scrappiness you were willing to put in to build a bike brand I love. I really appreciate that, because I get to go and shred on your bike. That’s my fun, that’s my outlet. When I’m not hanging out with my family, we’re not in the pool and doing our fun thing… You know, even with my kid on the weekends we’re riding. And my youngest, the two-year-old, he loves it, too. He’s got a little bike, and he’ll eventually have a bigger bike, but… You know, we’re a biking family, so I appreciate the journey you’ve gone on to enable my family to enjoy fun times. So thank you.
I appreciate you saying that. I’m really glad you’re enjoying the bikes, and I look forward to getting your whole family on Revels at some point.
Thank you, Adam.
Awesome. Thanks so much.
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