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A2B Ferber electric bicycle was a hit with everyone who rode it. TD Ameritrade Park is home of College World Series.
A2B Ferber electric bicycle was a hit with everyone who rode it. TD Ameritrade Park is home of College World Series.

The Clarity of 'Bootstrapping'

The advantage of 'bootstrapping' your own startup is that you get to call all the shots. The big drawback is, you also get to accept all the risks, and with that realization comes a clarity of vision that just doesn't come when you're spending or imagining you're spending OPM: other people's money.

It's really easy to spend other people's money.. at least in your mind. It's like fantasizing over what you'd do if you won the lottery.

Except that when you haven't won the lottery or pocketed a 'lotta' other folks money, you start to think much more clearly. That's the stage I am right now with launching ePEDALER. For months we've been hoping that some investor in a syndicate we've approached would see how brilliant our idea is and leap at the opportunity to throw their hard-earned money at us.

The consultant said that in all the investments they've recommended, none have ever not been funded. Usually, they don't get even halfway through the list of 250 to 300 investors who review a proposal and either ask for more details or pass on it. Well, that halfway point came and went weeks ago and now we appear to be on track as the first proposal to make it through the entire list without so much as a nibble. That's pretty humbling, but it is also an opportunity to retain full control of the business.

As the list of potential investors dwindled, I started thinking about how I could bootstrap the idea with our own limited family resources. Clearly, starting with a full-blown rental system on Aruba is out of the question. Well over a year ago, I was encouraged by someone working for Richard Branson's Ten Island Challenge to consider starting the business on Aruba. So, I spent months developing a network of local business and government officials on the Island via LinkedIn, as well as studying the island from Google Earth satellite images. I familiarized myself with the cruise industry there and learned how many people arrived each tourist season - November through March - on the island off the coast of Venezuela. 1.4 million to be fairly precise: 1/3 by cruise ship, 2/3 by air. I plotted the ebb and flow of this traffic and developed a business model that took into account the low tides of potential business each summer.

Together with EV World's Tech Editor in St. Petersburg, Florida, we developed a pretty innovative business model that for $300,000 would get us off and e-pedaling.

Except, the $300K never materialized and likely won't, at least not at this juncture. While I am confident in the model, in all honesty, it does need to be validated. I have to take the risk. I have to work out all the details, the glaringly obvious and the shadowy minutia. I have to build this baby from scratch on a shoestring, a very, very short shoestring.

Why'd it take so long to come to this realization? Because it's just not as exciting as envisioning an international operation on an exotic Caribbean island catering to cruise ship clientele. I was still spending phantom OPM - other people's money. Now, I am going to have to spend mine and that changes things.

With the realization, finally, that I need to make this happen by investing my money - and time - I am shooting for a 3-month trial in my hometown starting with a handful of e-bikes hopefully acquired on generous terms from a willing U.S. supplier. I am wrangling for the temporary use of a small building in which to store the bikes overnight. My soft launch target is early April, 2015, hopefully getting things running reasonably smoothly by the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder weekend when 30,000-plus people show up to listen to the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett and his sidekick, Charlie Munger. That event would take place just a few blocks from where I'd like to have the bikes ready to rent.

Then, come the second or so week in June, three or four times that number show up for ten days of the NCAA College World Series, again almost within spitting distance of where I hope to have ePEDALER running smoothly.

By the end of June, I should know if the idea is going to work or not. I am confident that it will based on positive rider feedback I've gotten from people trying out the Haibike Xduro I had earlier in the summer, courtesy of Currie, and then the A2B Ferber this fall… pictured above with me. Virtually everyone who rode them came away surprised and delighted, and asking where they could buy one; the best reaction of all.

So, now that it's my money on the line, I have a much clearer roadmap laid out and am taking the necessary steps locally to prepare the ground work for success. Of course, there's risk in all this: there always is, but the chances of being successful are better when I can manage the effort from here instead of some remote island or faraway key at the very tip of the country.

Posted By: Bill Moore [20-Nov-2014]