As many of you know, the Switch Aero System launched on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter on June 3rd, 2013, just over one year ago. It's been a crazy year since then, so we thought we'd take a minute to look back at how we got here. This is the first installment in what will be a two-part series. "Part 1 - The Sprint" covers inception through the end of the Kickstarter campaign. "Part 2 - The Ironman" will pick up at the end of the Kickstarter through the present.
The first inklings of what would become the Switch Aero System were born in the summer of 2012. Stephen had been doing triathlons for a few years and decided to set up his road bike with regular clip-on aero bars and a forward seatpost. The setup was fine whenever he was riding in the aero position, but felt awkward and uncomfortable whenever he sat up to ride on the hoods. "I wish I had a seatpost that would let me switch between the two positions ...."
The first versions of the quick-release aerobars and dual-position seatpost weren't pretty - they were crude, ugly, and heavy. Scott actually raced with an early prototype of the seatpost in a sprint tri, and it literally fell apart when he dismounted at the end of the bike leg, forcing him to stop and pick up the various pieces. But as ugly as they were, they served their purpose - proving that the two seatpost positions were viable and that we could securely attach the aerobars using a quick-release.
We continued to refine the prototypes and eventually ended up with the prototypes below, which worked well and looked pretty good. We decided that we were ready to present the system to the world.
Preparing for Kickstarter
We knew from early on that we wanted to launch the products on Kickstarter. As engineers and tinkerers, I can't tell you the number of times we'd browsed through Kickstarter's thousands of projects, amazed by the collective creativity of the Kickstarter community and secretly wishing we'd thought of each one. Doing our own Kickstarter would be a great way to gauge the market - would people understand the concept, would it catch their interest, and most importantly, would they be willing to fork over their hard-earned cash ... to a company they'd never heard of ... for a product they'd never seen?
What we didn't know was just how much effort goes into putting together a good Kickstarter campaign. We knew we needed a video. We knew we needed pictures. In our original timeline, we had budgeted something like two weeks to assemble the content for the campaign. It ended up taking more like two months. We bought a camera, we learned how to use iMovie, we randomly pressed buttons in Photoshop. It was similar to the computer scene in Zoolander, except with mechanical engineers instead of male models.
As bicycle industry outsiders, we also invested a lot of time contacting people in the bicycle media world and encouraging them to write, blog, post, and tweet about our upcoming project. This proved to be a critical ingredient to the later success of the campaign.
The Kickstarter Campaign Trail
The month of the Kickstarter campaign was one of the busiest and most exciting months of our collective careers. It's amazing how much time and attention we devoted to answering emails, responding to forum posts, contacting media outlets, and writing updates. We essentially put the rest of our lives (and work) on hold for that month. The charts below (courtesy of Kicktraq), show the progress of the campaign over the month.
Before the Kickstarter campaign started, we weren't sure what the aerobars vs. seatposts vs. systems breakdown would be. In the end, the vast majority of backers chose the system, which was a great confirmation that the "One Bike, Two Rides" concept resonated with people.
One thing we didn't expect was how much support we'd receive from international backers. Of the 253 backers who ordered the aerobars and seatposts, 71 were from outside the US, including a surprising 10 from Singapore, a country of only 5.3 million people.
Finally, we have to give a shout-out to everyone who participated in the Kickstarter. That includes our 277 brave backers, our friends and family who helped spread the word, and everyone who blogged, posted, tweeted, and yelled about our project. We've said it before, and we'll say it again - we really could not have accomplished any of this without the amazing support that we receive from all of you, and we are truly grateful. Here's a recap of the publicity that we received during the campaign.
BikeRadar, DCRainmaker, BikeRumor, TriRadar, Gizmag, SolidSmack, Bicycle Retailer, Trijuice,Gear Hungry, ModuoBIke, Urban Velo, Cool Hunting, Gadget Review, Transition Four, Desire This, In Stash, Gear Culture, xtri.com, Aero Geeks, The Gear Caster, Damn Geeky, Tek'd
After all was said and done, we ended up raising almost 2.5x our original funding goal. It was a strong affirmation that people really connected with the products, and it let us proceed forward confidently, knowing that the production tooling costs were already funded. However, as many of you know, the conclusion of the Kickstarter fundraising is just the first leg of a much longer journey. Check out "Part 2 - The Ironman" which covers the nitty-gritty process of turning prototypes and promises into real products.
We'll leave you with the Kickstarter Video (for those of you who haven't seen it).