The Build Cycle Podcast #040 – Strider Bikes’ founder Ryan McFarland

What do you do if you have a life changing product, but no one knows they need it?

That’s the problem Strider Bikes founder Ryan McFarland faces. In this episode we talk about how he redesigned the bicycle for kids as young as 2 by throwing conventional designs out the window. The result is a balance bike, and it works perfectly, but it was solving a problem most parents didn’t know they had. And new models catering to different audiences like special needs persons suffered the same problem. Ryan and I discuss their marketing solution, as well as retail challenges, market opportunities, manufacturing and other random things we all deal with as entrepreneurs. Please enjoy this wide ranging interview…

POST GAME ANALYSIS

Strider wasn’t the first balance bike on the market. In fact, the idea is 200 years old, but modern incarnations were more like toys than real bicycles they could ride all over town. Strider took the concept and made a performance alternative with more durable, better handling frames and components.

Ryan invented the Thudbuster suspension seatpost, which gave him the experience of creating a product, patenting it, figuring out production, and even pricing. So when he started Strider, he could move more quickly after proving the concept with his son. From day one, he wanted enough margin to support both distributors and retailers, which was forward thinking considering their first sales strategy was through independent reps selling direct to consumer. Ryan doesn’t mention this in our interview, but one of his first employees started out selling Striders our of his garage using a similar approach as Avon has with their independent sales force.

Startup and entrepreneurship advice from Strider Bikes founder Ryan McFarland

And then, he licensed the logos for motorcycle brands to get KTM, Kawasaki and other branding on their balance bikes, which blew up at moto stores. The skills translate for riding moto, too, so it was a natural fit, and moto customers are used to spending more money.

“That’s a big reason businesses fail, try to sell people something they don’t know they want”

Strider faces this challenge on multiple levels. At the youngest age, many parents aren’t even considering bikes because they assume their kids are too small. At the next level, they may not realized there are options for helping a 6-10 year old learn how to ride if they’re too big for training wheels. Then, they’ve got the special needs market, folks with Downs Syndrome in particular, who have been told they’ll never ride a bike so it’s not even on their radar.

To overcome this, Strider uses their videos and social media to get the product in front of people, but the biggest bang comes from the events they put on (like the Strider World Cup, video above shows the 2017 event recap) that gets a ton of mainstream media coverage. This is how they’re able to reach non-cyclists on a mass scale. For more focused niche groups, like special needs customers, they target bloggers and media that focus on those subjects. The flip side of this is that they also need to educate their retail dealers on the benefits, so those stores push the product over ill-fitting kids bikes with training wheels.

interview with Strider Bikes founder Ryan McFarland tells how he started the company
Ryan’s son Bode on the first prototype in 2007.

Their retail strategy looked at three outlets – bike, moto and toy. The challenge with the last one, at first, was getting the buyer to understand why the product mattered. They started out small, getting mom and pop independent stores to carry them, but have grown into large sporting goods (Dick’s, etc.) and retail (Target, etc.) stores. Getting into these stores isn’t just good for them, it’s good for the industry since it gets more kids hooked on riding at a very young age.

Startup and entrepreneurship advice from Strider Bikes founder Ryan McFarland
Father and son with the latest bike they’ve built together (foreground, with green fenders).

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