After two years of design and testing I was finally ready to launch HandleStash, my first attempt at starting a business, launching a product, or marketing anything. What could go wrong?
I wrote a wonderful one page marketing plan focused on riding bikes, attending events, and being out in the Colorado cycling community like I always am. In early March I attended a People For Bikes meetup and got to share what I was working on - and people were stoked! What a feeling! A few days later the NBA and NHL canceled their seasons and we collectively realized this new virus wasn't another "only in the news" event.
My marketing plan went straight into the trash and I decided to double down on social media and online marketing. I started posting to Instagram and Facebook and got a few followers! Woohoo! I don't know exactly how to draw a crowd with pictures of a cup holder: I'm sure there are plenty of social media experts who could put together a killer strategy to attract a following, but I'm just a guy with a phone camera and a weird new product. What I did learn is that a dozen Busch beers on my handlebars gets some attention. I shared that picture on Reddit and got all kinds of positive encouraging feedback like "Does it include a DUI, or do you have to pay extra?" and "$38 for a CUPHOLDER? Good luck!" But mostly, people just love to hate on cheap beer. Thanks Reddit, you're always so supportive!
By April, I had my first production run in hand and I had a small workshop for assembly and shipping setup in the basement of my 1906 bungalow. I'm embarrassed to admit, but I didn't have any plan of how to announce the launch. I actually didn't even realize right away that I was ready.
One night in the middle of the global shutdown, I made a post on social media announcing - I have a live store! Almost immediately I got an order: Validation! Thanks Mom! I am incredibly proud that my mother was my very first customer. Two friends on a group text were racing to place an order and be the second customer, but my brother's old college roommate was the dark horse in the race and grabbed the 2nd spot before they could. I had about a dozen orders over the weekend and I COULDN'T BELIEVE IT! Do I actually have a business now?!
The first month of sales were all to friends and family, but then something amazing happened: the second month's customers were almost entirely strangers! I emailed a few blogs and websites and asked them if they wanted to check one out for a review. I got a response from Ty at bicycletowork.com and he said sure! I sent one off to him, and a week later he came back with an absolutely glowing review. Not only that, but he gave HandleStash the top spot in his best bike cup holder blog post! I was so excited! His blog is still one of our best sources of sales, so thanks Ty!
After some initial success I would love to describe how I mastered search engine optimization and Facebook advertising and really started to blow up. To see how that's actually going, search for "bike cup holder" and scroll on down result number 64 on page 6 or 7 to find our lovely little website.
One of the numerous skills I've attempted to learn as a new business owner is video editing; I can suggest with confidence that editing HD video on an ultrabook with free software is not the ideal setup. In fact, it was so hard to make a video I built a new PC just to make a decent attempt. I also discovered Davinci Resolve, a much better free editing program suggested in a video by Seth's Bike Hacks. For the uninitiated, Seth is the indisputable God of YouTube Mountain Biking videos and I highly recommend checking out his (renamed) channel Berm Peak. With a proper PC and actually usable software, I created a short ad video that was well received on Facebook and helped create excitement in time for holiday sales. I can at least say I learned a ton about online marketing, and I might even be able to profit from it next year!
2020 was a real dumpster fire of a year filled with human tragedy and national division, but I'm proud that I was able to use the extra time at home to focus on building this business, and also bring a little humor and fun to the internet. What's on tap for 2021? First of all, I want to see if I can carry a dozen ice cream cones on my bike. What could go wrong?