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Brent ThomasToday’s interview features Brent Thomas, entrepreneur and passionate cyclist from San Francisco.

His company BikeWrappers.com sells unique bike reflectors that are a lot brighter than common products. The reason Brent came up on my radar was because he is running a Jimdo online store.

So let’s ask him a couple of questions about his business and the experience he had using Jimdo.

Hi Brent! Thanks for taking the time. What’s your story?

Well…it is an idea that I’ve actually had stored in my head for a while. To give you a quick bit of my backstory, my background has mainly revolved around sales and business development roles, with a little dabbling of entrepreneurship thrown in between. Before BikeWrappers, I most recently did business development for an internet marketing company, and previously started eLifeList.com (a social networking site based on your ‘bucket list’) with my college roommate back in 2006.

How did you come up with the idea of BikeWrappers?

Onto the biking part of my story, I actually biked across the country back in ’07 from North Carolina, which is how I actually ended up out in San Francisco. So needless to say I am a big cyclist whether it be commuting, road, or mountain biking. The idea of BikeWrappers resulted from being hit by a few cars on my bike, not being seen in general on my bike, and really designed in my head during late night long runs while training to run 30 miles for my 30th birthday with a friend… At a certain point I decided to take the plunge while I was still young (at least in my head) and haven’t looked back since.

bicycle equipped with bikewrappers

So the actual product, BikeWrappers, is a set of reflective, removable, and reversible wraps that fit on the three main tubes of your bike frame so you can be seen at night. So think of them like reflective clothing, but for your bicycle. Those long, late-night runs inspired the initial concept and after A LOT of terrible-looking prototypes made from my even more terrible sewing skills, eventually came to something that resembles the product that I sell now. There is no tape or adhesive that you permanently put on your bike: rather it goes on with Velcro which also allows you to easily swap them out between bikes.

There really isn’t anything like it on the market, since it is something I developed from scratch but incorporates elements of other products out there. There are no batteries needed, like bike lights, it is visible to car head lights from about a ¼ mile away from every angle, and it also allows you to accessorize and personalize your bike when you reverse it during the day.

Regarding the company, I initially started off selling the product only online. Since then I am now in retail shops and working my way into other countries as well. Fortunately AND unfortunately, all of this is done by just me…for now.

I can see on your website that BikeWrappers has been featured in huge media outlets like CNN and The Washington Post Magazine. That’s like a dream for any small business owner. How did this come about?

logoYep, I have gotten some great press and was very fortunate to be featured by both of those publications. Both of those stories can be attributed to the old fashioned cold call pitch, though I think that the product itself won the folks over rather than my poor pitching skills…

[A little comment from Robert: Isn’t that amazing? He got on CNN without knowing anyone there. I had to ask Brent again how difficult it was and he added:
Ha, yeah it sounds easy but takes a lot of phone calls and digging around to find the right contact and get them to listen… 
That’s pretty encouraging, isn’t it? With a great product and a bit of hustling you can really make it into big media.]

As mentioned before you are using Jimdo as your e-commerce platform. What made you choose Jimdo and what other online store platforms did you look at?

bikewrappers-website

You know, I actually started off using a different store platform, which I quickly moved away from. I honestly didn’t spend too much time at first comparing the sites out there and went with one that seemed like it had everything I needed and looked good.

It was a flash-based website builder that just didn’t cut it once I was up and running. The load times were terrible, there were no inventory management abilities, HTML integration was nearly non-existent, and they really didn’t have any SEO optimization…

Looking back, I was pretty dumb for making a big decision like that with the little research I did, but I wanted to have at least something up quickly and fix it from there. So I learned my lesson quickly and started looking for an alternative immediately. But that experience also gave me a much better idea of what I was actually looking for.

I am a small outfit so didn’t have the money to pay a professional developer to make a full e-commerce platform for me. That was a big consideration when looking for a site on which I could make my own very professional looking site on a budget. I looked at some of the other big website builders out there like ShopifyWeeblyYola, and Wix.

Tell me about your experience with Jimdo — what do you like about it, what should be improved?

I chose Jimdo for a number of reasons and have been VERY pleased with them. Some of the main reasons I decided to go with them were the simplicity (even a tech idiot like myself could easily use their tools), ability to manage inventory, ability to easily integrate elements (i.e. widgets, videos, etc.) into my site, the great customer service (a real human gets back to me very quickly whenever I have a question), site load times, analytics, built in SEO optimization, and several other reasons.

Since I initially started using them they have come out with some additional products that make me like them even more, like converting your site automatically to a mobile-friendly version. I’m not quite sure there is anything that I need that should be improved now, but if I had to say something it would probably be a bit more flexibility in the design.

I can see that you also offer an iPhone app. How did you come up with that?

iphone-app-bikewrappersYep, I do have a very simple App available for the iPhone. Basically it turns your iPhone into a bike light with either a blinking red or white light… I am creating a brand around cycling safety and figured there was no better way to add a little more visibility while on your bike than turning something everyone carries with them anyway into a tool to help being seen.

The app also has a bike safety guide in it and a calculator that you can use to figure out how many calories you just burned while you were biking. Like I said before, I am a tech idiot so had no idea how to actually make something like this even though it seemed like a very simple idea. So I hired someone with those skills to take my idea and actually make it a reality.

I actually now have a line of reflective dog products as well (DogWrappers.com) that I launched once I got BikeWrappers going.

Finally, do you have tips for small business owners that are just starting out with a new online store?

I would say at first you need to be very clear about what you want/need out of your online store. I went with a service at first that visually looked good, but didn’t have the tools on the back end that I really needed. I learned that lesson quickly and was able to switch gears fairly painlessly since it was very early in the process.

The beauty of having a site/store like this is that you have the ability to very quickly and easily change things so that you can try all kinds of components, looks, and tools and see what actually sticks. Talk to other folks who actually use the service that you are thinking about and ask them how they like it as an actual user. Nothing beats first hand testimonials from people you trust. That is what worked for me and now I am running a business in an industry that I truly enjoy, AND the fact that I sell a product that makes people safer makes my work even more rewarding.

Thank you Brent for this truly inspiring story! And all you bicycle owners out there, please make sure you have a safe ride and check out BikeWrappers.com

If you have any further questions for Brent please leave a comment!

 

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