Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Howdy! My name is Michael Spencer Gillis and I am the founder and CEO of Pedal Electric. I started the company two years ago, in Q4 of 2019, right before the world changed as we know it.
The mission at Pedal Electric is to be a sustainably built brand in the Electric Transit space that inspires a conscious community of adventure enthusiasts and daily commuters. We were founded and built with an emphatic focus on quality and aesthetics that embraces and respects nature as a playground of appreciation. PEDAL bikes are meant to last and live through the wear and tear of daily use on any terrain. We entered the electric bike market in a way unlike any others have curated before and as a result, we’ve experienced a great deal of success with a bright future ahead.
Our AWD model is our premier adventure cruiser that has garnered the most attention. A unique creation offering the best attributes in the market, the AWD is an all-inclusive product with all the bells and whistles. Our dual motor model provides riders with incredible top speeds, longevity/range, and comfort/style. No matter the model, our goal is to continue to support our rapid expansion through serving our proud and growing community of riders who appreciate the necessity of reducing their carbon footprint and self-expression.
It’s a vital focus at Pedal Electric to value our supporters, fans, and customers. Without our community, we simply would have no reason to take a step further in innovation, creativity, and curation. Our world is constantly shifting and facing unknown parallels which is why we are thrilled to contribute a sustainable alternative to daily transportation.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Throughout my post-college career, I have worked a vast assortment of jobs. From management consulting for Fortune 200 companies to selling licensed music to corporate brands, I developed a knack for strategic thinking and discovered the thrill of sales.
Entrepreneurship has always been a passion and life goal of mine. Never due to a desire of becoming rich, but rather to provide me with financial and other freedoms. One lesson my father always instilled in me was, “money cannot buy you happiness, but it can provide you with freedom”. I always valued that immensely and while I knew I would need to work hard in any position, I also knew it wasn’t possible to achieve my idea of true freedom working for someone else.
You’ll get knocked down every month, every week if not every day, but if you stay nimble, you’ll adapt and become comfortable with frequently facing adversity.
Beyond the independent freedom I was hoping to achieve, I knew I wanted to be a part of the cultural shift that was happening in our world regarding climate change. By taking action and implementing subtle changes in day-to-day life, I realized we could all do our part in the collective effort to reduce our carbon footprint. It started with a purely self-reflection on how I can play a larger role myself, but quickly shifted to the bigger picture of how communities and countries can play an integral part in enacting change.
I’ve traveled around the world extensively and what I’ve come to realize is that some of the most beautiful cities I've visited also happen to be the most progressive when it comes to sustainability. A major difference between the United States and European countries is the urban commute where one's daily commute involves taking the metro or riding a bike. While that is largely due to the proximity of one's destination, it got me thinking - what if we could commute in a similar way to further destinations?
For years I saw electric vehicles being promoted and marketed by various companies, but it wasn’t until the surge of Tesla’s success that it became apparent that the EV industry was the future of transportation. Electric bikes started to make some noise on the California coast, so I put my consultant cap on and thought through the MECP (Market economics and competitive position). The market was a simple green light, EV is the future - It’s a cost-effective, sustainable means of transport.
Regarding competition, there were a handful of heavy hitters with decent products, but overall I concluded it was an unsaturated market with great potential for improvement. As I’ll highlight later in the article, I took the idea and ran with it.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The design revolved around a very minimalist approach. I didn’t want a loud bike that stood out with flashy colors and an exposed battery pack. I stuck to the basic principles of what a customer was looking for. A reliable motor that can handle all terrains - A strong battery that will provide the distance and a comfortable seat with a stylish and light frame that can carry two with ease. Over time these parts have and will increasingly become better and more efficient, but from the beginning, those are the main components I thought to be the most desirable.
If you don't fail, you won’t learn. If you don't learn, how can you evolve and grow?
Describe the process of launching the business.
The barrier to entry was an incredibly bumpy road. I saved up a decent amount of cash thanks to the bonus structure at my previous job working as a Licensing Manager at the Swedish start-up company Epidemic Sound. Perhaps they didn’t anticipate an employee being able to sell as much as I did, or I was simply fortunate that the clients that answered ended up hearing me out and gave me the time of day. Either way, it taught me that persistence pays off.
After creating a very modest business plan, I decided to go all in. I ordered roughly 25 bikes, put them in a storage facility (I didn’t have a garage in my small Venice beach apartment at the time), and began to sell them through guerilla marketing, one by one, building them on the porch in my modest beach shack. Luckily, I had the support from family, friends, and random customers to take a leap of faith on my product and after the first few shipments, I was able to make adjustments and product updates to order 2x to 5x.
After seeing success running every facet of the business myself, I thought - If I can offer a superior product, with elevated style and brand identity, I can make this company a success. It was at this time that my partner and well-deserved co-founder, Steven Melendez, entered the picture. While I had always had the vision, I didn’t have the faintest clue on how to digitally create.
Steven on the other hand is a wizard with a lens and works harder than anyone I know. He started doing consulting work for PEDAL when I first started, but after I raised some outside capital and presented a viable future, I brought him on as a partner. Fast forward to February 2021 and PEDAL Electric was ready for its official launch. We ironed out all the creases, created an amazing team with an evolved product offering, and were ready to introduce ourselves to the world.
In reflections of the past two years, adaptation has been the biggest strength for PEDAL in its effort to face unique obstacles and hardships that otherwise were not there. Additionally, it has served as a reminder to not seek immediate success but to plan. While the global pandemic has stopped, dissolved, or maybe even accelerated your small business, it’s been a learning experience for all regarding adversity. At the end of the day, no matter what’s happening around you, obstacles are inevitable; it’s how you deal with those challenges that matter.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Retention and initial interest are the fun part - It’s almost a game of strategy to see what works and what doesn’t. At the core, I’d like to credit our network of incredibly talented creatives and strategists that help shape and expose our brand. While the first step in creating a business is to offer a solid product or service that can compete with or outperform one’s competition, the identity of your brand is what will scale your audience and drive revenue.
Creativity, style, and personality are the three characteristics that ultimately will define your identity, which is an imperative facet of a brand that MUST stay consistent over time. Too many brands try and do too much, and eventually, their content becomes a mess of jumbled regurgitation.
Beyond having the creative flow and desirable aesthetic, how do you get that in the eyes of your target demographic or any demographic for that matter? Three words: Digital Ad Strategy. Luckily our head of digital marketing strategy, Nathan Yick is nothing short of a weapon in the field. Whether you onboard an agency, an internal team, or both, it helps immensely when gauging and shaping your audience and retention rates. In today's world, there are many metrics you can reflect on to boost your sales.
As with everything though, this all comes with a price. How much do you allocate a month to advertising? What will be the conversion rate based on previous months and historical data? That’s what I meant by a game of strategy! You’re constantly coming up with ways to attract new customers while being cognizant of how much you can afford. Once you find certain drivers that have proved successful, you look to repeat similar patterns with slight modifications which is exactly what PEDAL has done.
Retention is easy! Treat your customers how you’d like to be treated. Our product is at a higher price point and our community deserves to be helped and taken care of if something goes wrong. That is why customer service plays such a big role at Pedal Electric. We saw a flaw in the market when it came to a lack of customer satisfaction and support, so that is a pillar of constant development we strive for.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The future is looking quite bright at Pedal Electric. We are still a young and tenacious company, eager to learn and grow our building reputation in the EV market. We’re scaling quite fast, and it’s been incredibly rewarding to see our culture hold to its core as we continue to onboard more team members to the PEDAL family. Our culture is the foundation of our company and we look forward to both the successes and failures ahead!
We are very lucky to come out of this past year profitably. Despite all the roadblocks experienced, we were always able to put our heads together and find a solution. The initial investment wasn’t enough to scale at the rate of demand. After a series of loans to inventory, parts, and manage operations we knew it was time to seek outside investment. After months of forecasting, projection, and pitching the future of PEDAL, the team secured funding through angel investment. We are ecstatic for the year ahead. We will be looking to expand all departments, product offerings, innovation, partnerships, and activations.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Absolutely! I believe the biggest takeaway from my journey thus far has been exercising the ability to “roll with the punches''. You’ll get knocked down every month, every week if not every day, but if you stay nimble, you’ll adapt and become comfortable with frequently facing adversity. I’m sure everyone’s heard this, but I believe it’s an incredibly important skill and attribute for achieving success - learn how to fail! Many people are afraid of the concept of failure, which inherently makes sense, but what many don’t understand is that failure does not necessarily mean losing.
Getting comfortable with failure is a big part of the puzzle. If you don't fail, you won’t learn. If you don't learn, how can you evolve and grow? Without going too far down the rabbit hole, I’ll conclude by saying that becoming comfortable with failing has been incredibly advantageous for PEDAL. All you can do is try your best. At the end of the day, if you give it your all, no matter the result, you should be proud of yourself and your team.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I wish I had some tangible recommendations, such as a few best reads or podcasts, but I honestly don’t. Regarding other resources, I have fortunately been able to tap into my network of friends and family - A few who have started their businesses and provided PEDAL with great advice, connections, and most importantly, confidence.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who are just getting started?
Starting a business is one of the most rigorous, fun, and emotional ventures one can set out on. My biggest piece of advice to any aspiring entrepreneur as an individual is to keep your head up, no matter what obstacles are thrown your way. Expect that you will have to work harder than you ever have before because, at the end of the day, no one is going to want you to succeed more than yourself. You need to be your biggest fan, critic, and friend.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to invest in your team. Those you surround yourself with will make or break you, in business and life!
Also, as I briefly mentioned above, make sure to PLAN. Yes, your plan will evolve and change over time, but make sure you are working toward a future. Immediate success is a milestone in the grand scheme. Always seek to plan for the future, no matter how good the present is!
What platforms do you use for your business?
The team at Pedal Electric utilizes an array of different platforms. This includes Shopify, Gorgias, Asana, Slack, Klaviyo, as well as an endless amount of creative applications. These are all platforms you will learn to implement as you grow. Nothing happens overnight, but many, if not all of these hold vital importance to the everyday functionality of your business!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes - we are eager to open our doors and expand our HeadQuarters in Venice Beach, CA! From customer service reps to graphic designers, we’re looking for any applications in hopes of onboarding an ever-evolving fleet of hard-working cats looking for a challenge.
Where can we go to learn more?
We are proud to tease the exciting year ahead, filled with new partnerships of like-minded brands/companies and adventurers.
Outside of our affiliations and project features, you can visit us at our website and on all social platforms as @pedal.electric. You can find me @m.spencergillis on Instagram.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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