I Started A Side Hustle By Creating A Bicycle Accessory For Myself

Nathan Thomson
Founder, To Go Cycles
$500
revenue/mo
1
Founders
0
Employees
To Go Cycles
from Port Moody, BC, Canada
started April 2021
$500
revenue/mo
1
Founders
0
Employees
1K
followers
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I Started A Side Hustle By Creating A Bicycle Accessory For Myself

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Nathan Thomson and I am the owner of To Go Cycles. We are a bicycle accessories company founded in British Columbia, Canada. With the recent explosion of microbreweries, I designed a product to help riders combine biking and brew.

Our flagship product is a bicycle saddle bag, designed to carry a 4-pack of beer (16oz/473mL cans). When not used to carry drinks, the bag acts as a normal, large saddle bag. With functionality in mind, we chose our materials to be durable and stylish.

Our customers are people who enjoy both cycling and a cold pint or those who want a unique gift for the cyclist in their life.

Although the company has just launched, we have already started building a community of supporters who have helped us grow immensely. In our first 3 months, we have already sold our bags across Canada and the United States.

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What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

The product that started To Go Cycles was the Bicycle 4-Pack Saddle Bag. When I was using my bike to get to and from breweries, I was disappointed that I could not take my favorite pints home with me. I searched online for a saddle bag that would be able to support the weight and have the size needed to fit 4 tall cans, but I was unable to find a workable solution. Thus, the idea for the saddle bag was born.

I created a prototype and began testing. I had no experience in designing a product, running a business, or e-commerce. I combed through countless online resources, trying to take in any information I could. I decided to take the leap and start the business after finally sharing the idea with a few supportive friends. Each day was and continues to be a learning process.

The saddle bag is designed to perfectly hold 4 x 16oz / 473ml (tall) cans keeping them cool and protected. The saddle bag attaches under a bicycle seat and around the seat post, keeping it out of the way of riders peddling.

The biggest lesson I learned from starting a business is that the first step is the hardest one, but once you decide to start, you are already 90% there.

I was hesitant to share my product with the public and was nervous about the products’ launch. Within the first day, I was receiving direct messages from people I had never met before offering their support and excitement about the saddle bag. I worked on the business part-time on weekends and outside normal business hours.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

The initial design of the Bicycle 4-Pack Saddle Bag was created using cardboard, tape, and scissors on the kitchen floor. In the end, it looked like a bad elementary school science project. I held the final creation up proudly before realizing it looked nothing like I had imagined.

From there I redesigned and reworked the prototype, spending hours measuring, cutting, test fitting, and remaking. After finalizing a design, I looked into materials. I knew the bag had to be durable enough to withstand the weight and size of the intended contents. I spoke with over 30 manufacturers until I was able to find one that could produce the product with the intended specifications.

Finding a manufacturer was challenging as many were unable to offer the materials or design I wanted at an affordable cost. I did not want to sacrifice quality to cut costs and make a product I was not proud of.

I found that treating people with respect is always the best way to go. At the end of the day, a happy customer is the best customer. People take notice when you go above and beyond for them.

To find the right manufacturer, I spoke with over 30 different companies both locally and overseas. I found manufacturers online through google searches, bike forums, and websites like Alibaba. As most communications were done online, it was hard to get across our intended design specifications. Although this part of the process was challenging we were able to find a manufacturer who was the right fit and able to provide what we were looking for!

Once the first manufactured prototype arrived, I put hundreds of kilometers on my bike, testing the product to make sure it would hold up over time. I also asked friends for their input on design and specifications. In the end, much of the product today has changed when compared with the first creation I put together on my kitchen floor.

One issue we noticed right from the start was the weight of the intended contents. We wanted to make sure that when the bag was filled with beverages it did not feel too heavy while riding the bike. We changed the angle of the bag and strap positions to bring the bag tighter to the seat, preventing the swaying of the bag and improving the riding feel.

I loved the versatility the bag offered and decided to bring it to the public in 2021. The materials were chosen to provide durability without sacrificing a minimalist design. Made with a canvas exterior, nylon interior, and PU Super Fiber leather straps, The 4-Pack Saddle Bag is well insulated and securely attached to your bicycle.

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Describe the process of launching the business.

A week after the idea for To Go Cycles, my website was live. I watched a YouTube video going through how to host a website and took the plunge. I decided to launch my website on WordPress and integrate eCommerce into the website design.

Once our product was ready to bring to market, the business was launched through social platforms and word of mouth. We were fortunate to have many local supporters who helped get involved and promoted the brand early on. Additionally, through social networking, we were able to build product awareness by collaborating with local breweries, cycling groups, and news outlets.

To Go Cycles has also had large support from its customers. The feedback and reaction from our customers have been positive and I always enjoy receiving photos of people using our product! One cool experience was having a customer offer to do an independent video review of the Bicycle 4-Pack Saddle Bag. The review can be found on YouTube at:

From the beginning, To Go Cycles has been self-financed. I did not want to take on long-term debt or have an outside investment. I wanted to be accountable for the decisions I made for the business.

The biggest lesson I learned from starting a business is that the first step is the hardest one, but once you decide to start, you are already 90% there.

Sure, there will be mistakes and regrets along the way, but it is what you learn from those challenges that help your business grow.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Initially, to attract customers I focused on growing our social media presence. Primarily through Facebook and Instagram we began sharing photos of our product and slowly increased our views per post. I found certain hashtags that allowed our product to gain exposure in the right channels and tried to utilize them in every post.

I found that for our company and product, more specific hashtags generated more exposure when compared with a general one. For example, there are thousands of people who post photos with the hashtag “bike”, however, there are fewer who use the hashtag “biketobeer”. A much more specific hashtag, but also much more targeted towards our product and brand.

Additionally, I sent cold emails to local breweries and cycling groups, asking if they wanted to collaborate. From these emails, I was able to create partnerships with other companies and use those partnerships to run joint giveaways. To Go Cycles was fortunate to partner with outlets that we’re able to help spread the word about our product. I found that the public responded well to collaborations and increased our brand awareness.

I found that treating people with respect is always the best way to go. At the end of the day, a happy customer is the best customer. People take notice when you go above and beyond for them.

Lastly, we ran and continue to run Facebook and Instagram ads. We use targeted ads within North America and to cyclists/beer lovers. We are working to improve our conversion rates through ads.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Today we are continuing to work on our brand awareness and increase our customer base. We constantly work to expand our social media and improve our targeted ads.

Mistakes will happen and there will be days where you are frustrated. Having someone to talk things through with can help with finding a new solution to a problem.

We also hope to be able to collaborate with like-minded individuals and continue to grow our partnerships.

In the future, we look to expand our product line and increase our reach by expanding outside of North America. Today I am the only employee, but I hope to continue to grow the company and be able to take on more staff.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

As I am sure is the case with any new business, I have made many mistakes along the way. I have learned to move on from the ones you cannot fix and reflect on how to avoid the errors in the future. There is no use dwelling on something you have no control over.

Work in = progress. The more time and effort you put in the more your business will grow. It is easy to get distracted, but I found that the commitment pays off in the long run.

Have a vision of where you want to be and make a plan to help you stick to it. Whenever you veer from that vision it is important to keep yourself accountable. I also found that when something is not going well, it is important to have a strong support system in place that you can fall back on. Whether it be a friend, family, or another business owner, it is always good to get an outside opinion.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

The following books and podcasts inspired me when starting my business.

A quote that stuck with me was from Shoe Dog by Phil Knight: “When you see only problems, you’re not seeing clearly”. I liked that quote as in my journey I was often overthinking situations and blinding myself from possible solutions. Each time, I thought back on that quote and reminded myself to step back and look at the bigger picture.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Keep it simple and don’t overthink it. Instead of waiting for the perfect time to start or launch your business, just do it. Once you decide to start, the hardest part is over! Keep costs down where possible, but don’t make sacrifices on your core values or what you offer.

Find a good support system. Mistakes will happen and there will be days where you are frustrated. Having someone to talk things through with can help with finding a new solution to a problem.

Reach out to others and look for people who are willing to give honest opinions. It is easy to get tunnel vision on your business or an idea. It is always helpful to have someone else give you their feedback or advice.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

At the moment we are not looking to hire. However, feel free to touch base with any ideas you may have at [email protected].

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

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Nathan Thomson   Founder of To Go Cycles
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

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