For nine years, Dave Weiner rode the same red Schwinn to his job on the west side of Manhattan. Over those nine years, he climbed through the ranks of Cole Systems Associates, a software consulting firm, and his responsibilities steadily increased as the company grew. When it was purchased in 2012, he was rewarded for his dedication by being named CEO of the 285-person North American branch.
Which is why so many people were shocked earlier this year when Weiner quit the gig at age 34. But this is what happens when you have a childhood dream that just won't die.
Now the newly minted entrepreneur is the owner and CEO of Priority Bicycles, a startup that he founded with recreational riders in mind. Weiner set his beloved Schwinn aside and designed a brand new bike--a maintenance-free model with nearly impenetrable tires--hoping it would appeal to the casual rider. And it did: Since its launch in July, Priority has pulled in over half a million dollars in sales and has caught the attention of some of the biggest names in the biking industry.
"A lot of people thought I was insane," Weiner says. "Some of them came out and said it, and others--you could see that look in their eye." What those people didn't know was that Weiner had been quietly preparing for this for years.
Planting The Seed
Feeling a rush of inspiration while working as a software consultant a few years back, Weiner sat down one day and wrote out the business plan for a still-conceptual cycling company. He kept the blueprints private--he knew how fortunate he was to have a well-paying job during a rough economic time, and he wasn't about to mess with that.
The idea for a bike business originated when Weiner was a kid growing up in the San Francisco suburb of Clayton. He worked as a mechanic in two different bike shops, adjusting gears and fixing flats for fellow riders. Eventually, he came to love the work, and a zest for biking evolved into a dream of owning his own shop.
It was a vision that kept creeping back into Weiner's head even after he moved to Manhattan to work in software. As a bicycle commuter, he was in tune with the types of issues that often plague the casual rider: faulty chains, flat tires--not to mention the ease with which a locked bicycle can be quickly dismantled by a thief. "Bikes have really evolved on the upper end," he says, "but there haven't been many advancements for the recreational rider." In this, Weiner saw an opportunity.
The tipping point came back in January. Weeks of flying to California and Europe for work had taken their toll. Fed up with missing out on milestone moments for his 1-year-old son, Jake, Weiner stepped down. "I loved my job," he says. "But I just sort of snapped."
Weiner didn't waste any time. Suddenly unemployed, he hit the streets for some guerrilla research on his next venture. He rode around Manhattan snapping photos of bikes that had been modified in any way, noting the types and the likely costs of the customizations. Weiner figured if he could build these features right into the bike, it would appeal to cost-conscious riders just looking to get from point A to point B.
An Innovative Design
To create a focus for Priority, he invented a handful of personas that he envisioned as the company's typical customers: the college student going to class, the urban dweller riding to yoga or the market, the nine-to-fiver looking for some weekend exercise. All too often, Weiner says, these people pull their bikes out of storage only to find out that something's broken. "Priority's goal," he says, "is to make sure that doesn't happen."
As any bike rider will tell you, the four parts that cause the most headaches are the gears, brakes, tires, and chain. Weiner designed his bikes with a simple three-speed hub gear that doesn't require any moving external parts. The brakes trigger when the rider pedals backward and are thus cable-free, and the tires, which feel more like hard plastic than rubber, are nearly impenetrable during regular riding. All of this drastically cuts down the likelihood that the bike will ever need repair.
Priority's calling card, though, is its chainless design. Other companies created chain-free bikes long before Weiner began designing his, but they were almost exclusively high-end models marketed to competitive riders. Weiner found a supplier willing to work with him on a more cost-efficient version for bicycles that would take less of a beating.
Most city riders remove their quick-releases--which allow the tires and seat to be pulled from the frame with one flick of a lever--in favor of bolts, a modification that runs about $50 when performed after the initial sale. Weiner decided to apply this feature to all his bikes during manufacturing. He also tacked on a water bottle cage and a kickstand--accessories that nearly all riders add, but for which retailers tend to charge extra.
In deciding how to launch his product, Weiner spoke with fellow entrepreneurs, many of whom had success on Kickstarter. He read a book on the topic, then picked their brains about what had made their campaigns successful: a professionally made video, responsiveness, and a working prototype to show to the masses.
Priority's Kickstarter campaign, which launched in July, set a goal of $30,000. It hit that goal within hours of launching. By the end of its 30-day run, Priority had amassed $556,286, with each user who donated $350 receiving a bike from the first shipment.
Weiner credits Priority's fast success to the bike's user-friendly design. Even with the Kickstarter campaign over, orders are still coming in steadily at the bike's $399 full price. "It's an entrepreneur's dream come true," Weiner says in his new office, a few floors down from his former employer. His red Schwinn sits in the back of a cramped room filled with sleek, new Priority models. "I mean, you always think you have a good idea--but does the world think you have a good idea?"
Story by Kevin J. Ryan