Tuesday
Dec242013

Some additional context around our Kickstarter-style dojo pre-order

We rushed to launch the dojo pre-order yesterday and naturally let it loose with a few errors and omissions, which we've since fixed. Thanks to all of you who pointed out things we screwed up or left out. If you see anymore, drop us a note or use the comments here on the blog. Dave blogged about how it's a little different this time around, in that we're bringing the dojo to market only if we have enough pre-orders to signal real demand for it, and - more importantly - alleviate some of the risk required to greenlight the contract manufacturing of 100+ frames. I want to talk a little more about that, and give you all some insight into our decision-making.

First, we fully recognize that pre-orders, and in particular pre-orders requiring a certain volume in order to materialize (a la Kickstarter) can contribute to the perception that November is a bush league outfit. After all, if we were large and successful, couldn't we just stroke a check for a few hundred frames or talk some bank or other source of financing into doing it for us? We realize that what I call conspicuous expenditures are no small part of how brands are built in this industry. Sponsor a pro team or 2, fly journalists to France for new product launch junkett, build a wind tunnel adjacent to your corporate cafeteria, buy the biggest Interbike booth and splashiest Bicycling Magazine ad - all of this tells consumers that you're on solid financial footing and leads them to believe that a) your products are of unrivaled quality, and b) you'll be here for the long haul in the event that (a) didn't quite pan out the way you'd been led to believe. 

Like a lot of companies in this industry, we are not big. And because we're not big, trying to operate in the same way as brands 10, 50 or 100 times our size puts us at a competitive disadvantage. As Dave pointed out in his blog about Frameconomics, contract manufacturing of carbon frames in the Far East is an inhospitable environment. From small companies like us, most suppliers ask for 100% up front, and then deliver products 3 or so months later. Frames take longer to produce than rims in part because it's a more complex manufacturing process spread across a range of sizes. More time means our capital is tied up longer. And because frames come in so many sizes, there's also the greater risk of having sizes you can't sell, and quickly running out of the sizes you can. Add to all this the fact that a frame is a highly considered purchase in a category where switching costs are high, compared to a wheel which has become almost an impluse purchase where switching costs are only as high as switching brake pads. This means that the frame business is hard - not just for us, but for other brands as well. Blue Bicycles out of Georgia had a strong reputation and great products and couldnt make it work. Van Dessel narrowly avoided the same fate. Additionally many of the direct brands that hit the market within the past few years, following a similar model as ours, have disappeared or gone dark. Cruz Bicycles never made it, Pedal Force hasn't shown signs of life for a year, Boyd Cycling have perservered in the wheel business but actually began in the frame business. The bike business isn't easy, and we've amassed enough evidence to conclude that trying to run it in a way that makes us look big and formidable could easily make us extinct and invisible. That's not good for us, and if you like our products it's just as bad for you. 

We might do it differently if we were small trying to be big. But the reality is that we like being small. We don't want to add overhead and see our mission evolve from filling a value-oriented spot in the market to selling as much stuff as we can. Dave and I personally want to stay connected to the product and our customers (respectively), not find ourselves separated from both through layers of management and function. We're small and we're owning it, not apologizing for it. If that means we lose some credibilty among customers who prefer big brands, well then we were probably never going to grow into their expectations anyway. 

That's why the dojo is dependent on our customers' appetite for owning it, rather than ours for offering it. We'd love to have it out there because it aligns with our mission, but we aren't willing to go the way of Blue and other brands if the demand is thin. So if you want the bike, go ahead and pre-order. It certainly wouldn't hurt if you told others about it as well, if only to help ensure that the bike you want actually comes to market. If we don't make our target of 100 frames or bikes, everyone gets a full refund ASAP and we stay in business to fight another day.

Monday
Dec232013

dojo we or dojon't we?

The dojo pre-order is LIVE! and will be so until either we've sold 100 frames, or 1/17/14, whichever comes first.  Click here, and price and configure to your heart's content.

It will be available in both lovely color...

And black and white...Have a look at the geometry...

Now, we've never done things like other companies would, and we're not about to start now.  That part where I said we'd keep the pre-order open through 100 orders, or 1/17, that comes with a catch: if we don't get 100 orders, the dojo is a nojo.  As we explained previously, our pricing doesn't support the kind of risk that it would entail to speculatively bring over a big order and hope and pray that they sold and that we'd picked right on the sizing.  So we're all in this thing together, which is a great thing, but if it turns out that it's not a great thing, it's nothing. 

Once we get to 100, we will give a couple days' notice for anyone else waiting until the last minute. If we don't get to 100, naturally we refund everyone 100%. 

We will show a daily tracker of how many orders we have.  Since these things are part of human nature, we expect everyone to procrastinate to the very end.  But, since we're fully willing to give away the top end, we will shut the sucker down at 100, and the sooner that happens, the sooner they arrive.  If I didn't always want to punch people who use phrases like "win-win situation" in the phace, I'd call that a win-win situation. 

You've got questions?  We've got answers.

Tuesday
Dec172013

Because, And and Because: The Food Truck Phenomenon

One of the greatest brand challenges we face is how to separate expectations of product quality from price. We are less expensive than other brands not because our rims and frames cost less to manufacture than the ones ridden in the ProTour (they probably cost us more since our volume is so much lower), but because we sell direct. This means when you buy wheels from us, you're not paying a cut to the shop or online retailer and a distributor, in addition to the manufacturing brand. We also spend less on overhead, marketing and R&D than bigger companies, but again because our volume is so low I expect as a percentage of sales all of our expenses are in line with bigger brands. 

Still, when people see that our wheels cost $1400 while similar wheels from Zipp, Enve, Bontrager or HED cost $2800, the first explanation for the delta that comes to mind is that because ours are less expensive they must therefore be cheaper, or of lesser quality. For some, that rationale (however inaccurate) is a primary selling proposition. We hear this all the time: "You should check out November - they're a good option BECAUSE they're less expensive."

As more transparency creeps into the marketplace and more direct brands grow to prominence, we're starting to see the perspective of our products evolve. For our customers who understand the expense of multi-tiered distribution (and can rationally accept that it drives up product cost, but not product quality), the elevator pitch of our brand starts to look like, "Oh, November? They make nice stuff AND they're less expensive."

We like the direction this evolution is going, but it's still not quite right. Why? Because food trucks.

While I like a kimchi taco as much as the next guy, my greatest appreciation of food trucks is the customer experience and expectation shift they engender. When you hand over $8 at the truck, the person handing you the lamb meatball sub isn't some clerk or order taker or customer service agent. She is the CEO and/or the Chief Product Officer. It's her name on the truck, and the output of her very hands between the bun. This is profound, because when the manufacturer is in direct contact with the end consumer, quality is as high as it can be. The person running the truck is doing so because she is passionate about the product. Its quality is how she defines herself professionally, and often personally. If your meatball is cold on the inside, you will walk right straight back to the truck and tell her - the CEO and/or Chief Product Officer. Knowing this, and being so acutely aware of how any sort of product dissatisfaction can result in the loss of business as well as create a sense of personal disappointment, food truck owners take extra measure to ensure the product exceeds expectations. 

In the bike business, as you add layers of distribution, you are distancing the product maker further and further from the product user. If someone building wheels in a factory in Indiana or Taiwan doesn't adequately destress them or goes too light on NDS tension, that wheel is ultimately going to disappoint the guy who buys it at the LBS, who saw it stocked via the distributor, who received it from the shipping department at the warehouse where the guy underbuilt it. The buyer takes it back to the shop, where the mechanic realizes it's easier to finish the wheelbuilder's job himself (with varying degrees of competence depending on the mechanic) than to gripe to the distributor or the brand. The builder never knows quality suffers (I'm sure he expects it when he takes shortcuts) because the feedback loop is broken. Brands work hard to avoid situations like this through QA processes, but the reality is that the direct feedback from customer to brand creates a proactive incentive for the brand to make the product as good as possible, not as good as necessary. And if you think about it, the guy who buys the wheels isn't the brand's customer. Neither is the shop in many cases. The brand's customer is very often the distributor, who isn't customer facing at all.

So yes, brands like us that sell direct are less expensive. But we're not good because we are less expensive. Rather, the very business model that makes us less expensive also ensures that we are as close to our customers as possible, creating an environment where the highest possible quality is a prerequisite to success. So as the public perspective of our brand continues to evolve, I hope it moves past "they have good stuff because they're less expensive," and then past "their products are good and they're less expensive," and ultimately settles on "their products are good BECAUSE they are less expensive," where the direct model gets some credit not just for lowering expenses but for making sure our wheels are food truck fresh. 

This philosophy, by the way, is also why we only sell Rail rims to custom wheelbuilders and dealers, and not complete wheels. No matter where you buy our wheels, we want to ensure that the seller remains directly responsible for the creation of the finished product. Quality simply stays as high as possible that way.

 

Wednesday
Dec112013

The New Rail

It's time to introduce our newest wheel, which we've decided to call...  THE ROUBAIX!!!  No, no, no, I'm just pulling your leg.  It's the Rail 34.  Why Rail 34?  Because it's a Rail that's 34mm deep, is why.

We decided to make a 34mm deep Rail because you asked for it.  The Rail 52 has done very well for us and for you since the day we announced it, and it does everything we intended for it to do.  I would say that it's better in cross winds than I'd hoped it would be, and that it handles better than I'd imagined it could.  People have used them to win an armful of races, they've done gran fondos on them, they've taken them on all sorts of surfaces, etc.

Still, people wanted something shallower (which must be why I'm such a hit at parties), so here we are with something shallower.  Why 34?  The 52 is at a magic spot, right where it can be really really fast without getting really heavy, and still be manageable enough to use most-to-perhaps-all of the time.  We wanted to get into territory where the new wheel would be different enough that you wouldn't be splitting hairs between the two.  It's still possible to draw a great shape at 34, one that gives the same magnificent ride that 52s give (a function of width and stiffness), should prove nearly invisible to cross winds, and be quite rapid to boot. 

We also know that people want more from their wheels than to be just a hair gel and a desert topping. They want to race on them and train on them and take them on unpaved roads and get them with disc hubs and race cross on them and all that kind of stuff.  For that mandate, a shallow-ish rim works just a treat.  They're also lighter than 52s.  They're not flyweight wheels, once again we didn't chase every last nanogram out of them, because in this real world where you don't have a team car following you with a brace of spare wheels, leaving a few nanograms in offers far more benefit than detriment.  You don't have to baby them.  They'll be very comparable to Zipps and Enves of similar depths.

You're probably wondering whether we've tunnel tested them, and the answer is that we haven't.  Not yet at least.  With the 52, a huge part of the point was being able to prove that it was as fast as very fast wheels of similar to slightly greater depth.  It is, and if you are looking for a wheel to go fast like that, the 52 is that wheel.  We are sure that the 34 will be fast.  How fast?  Fast enough for us to be able to put it up against some meaninglessly slow wheel and tell you that it will save a bunch of time in an artificial construct (a construct whose artifice doesn't obviate its credibility - it's still the best tool we've got to do the near-impossible task of rating how fast different wheels are).  We're sure we've caught the beat on the critical points of the mandate, and we know they'll be quick. 

Pre-order price will be $1145 with standard hubs, and $1445 with White Industries hubs.  In stock price will be $1285 with standard hubs and $1545 with White Industries (which will match the 2014 Rail 52 pricing). 

We'll be opening up the pre-order shortly after New Years, so ordinarily talking about this now would be jumping the gun, but we're going to be doing the dojo pre-order much sooner than that, and you can order your dojo with 34s. Delivery is planned for mid-April, and our history with delivering per dates is great so far.

Questions?

Friday
Dec062013

dojo Pricing and Build Options

Our 2014 bike is called the dojo. Not the Dojo, or the doJo as we would name it if we wanted $38 million in venture capital. If you would like to give us $38 million, please do so without the expectation of equity.

Yesterday Facebook blew the eff up when we asked it what it thought the price of the dojo would be, fully built with Force22, a Deda Zero cockpit, and our FSW 23 wheels that come with White Industries hubs standard. 100+ comments in a few hours is unsubtle enough even for us to pick up on. That, or you all want to win a free pint glass for guessing correctly. 

Below is what the pricing and options look like. We'll be building these into a configurator in our store over the next couple of days so you can pull on all the drop down menus you like and see how your final product changes. For all of these options, you'll naturally be able to choose stem length, bar width, seatpost setback, tape color, cassette ratio and standard or girlie-tee compact crankset. 

Note also that these are pre-order prices. In-stock prices aren't finalized but will likely be about $400 more for the frameset and somewhere between $600 and $800 more for the complete bike, depending on wheels, gruppo and build kit.

  • Frameset Only: $1045
  • Add a gruppo
    • SRAM Force22: +$868
    • SRAM Red22: +$1719
    • Shimano Ultegra 6800: +$804
    • Shimano Dura Ace 9000: +$1808
    • Shimano Ultegra Di2: +$1219
    • Shimano Dura Ace Di2: +$3183
    • Campagnolo Chorus: +$1319
    • Campagnolo Super Record: +$2420
  • Add a build kit (bars, stem, post, saddle, tires, tubes, bar tape)
    • Deda Zero: +$336
    • FSA SLK: +$491
    • Ritchey WCS alloy: +$363
    • Ritchey Superlogic carbon: +$793
  • Add wheels
    • November FSW 23 with White Industries hubs (your choice of color): +$745
    • November Rail 34 with White Industries hubs (your choice of color): +$1445
    • November Rail 52 with White Industries hubs (your choice of color): +$1445
  • Add professional build
    • +$200

So get out your calculators or set up your spreadsheets to see how much you're in for. Each of these options are just that - options. If you want to get a frameset and gruppo only and build up with your own kit, that's great. Or if you want a frame and wheels you can do that too.

Final artwork

We're close to final artwork. When we have it we'll share it here and also on a product page for the dojo so you can decide which colorway you'd like. The picture of the mockup at the right is very close to the final scheme for our Penguin Colorway, which will only feature the raw matte UD carbon and some white accents. We are also creating an all black version where the white accents you see at right will be replaced by a graphite with subtle contrast to the matte UD carbon. The White Industries hubs on the FSW and Rail wheels are available in 6 non-black colors, if you'd like to add some visual variety that way. 

The all black version will only be available through pre-order. We'll bring some bikes in stock but they will all have the white accents. 

Timing

Once our design agency finishes up with the artwork we're cleared for pre-order takeoff. The exact date of that is ASAFP. The pre-order will very likely run through Christmas so build that into your (or your favorite gift giver's) planning. With that timing, frames are arriving here in April. QA begins right away and we typically begin shipping the first frames within a few days of receiving them. Complete unbuilt bikes will also be ready to go, and built bikes will take some additional days depending on how many there are. 

At a glance builds

Our least expensive option for a complete dojo would be equipped with FSW wheels, a Deda Zero cockpit and Ultegra gruppo for $2930. If SRAM is your thing, Force22 set up the same way is $2993. Upgrade to an Ultegra bike with Rails and you're in for $3670 with Ultegra and $3693 with Force22.

Ultegra Di2 starts at $3345. SRAM Red22 is $3845 and up. Our least expensve Campy bike is with Chorus at $3445. 

Our halo build is built with DuraAce Di2 with Ritchey Superlogic and Rails, and is $6665. Add $200 to any of these prices if we're building it for you.

Questions?

Use the comments please. We're listening.