Recently the level of interest in Vulpine, from the press, cycling industry, wider media and cyclists themselves has been incredible. But we feel the drumming of fingers on keyboards with impatience, so its time to fill you in as best as we can.
What is Vulpine?
Vulpine is a British cycling apparel startup. Our garments can be worn anywhere (except a plutonium decommissioning silo) by men and women. We are taking performance fabrics and technical processes, and have turned them into understated modern designs. They’ll be available via this website and a smaller number of independent cycling retailers.
So enough of the hype, when are you launching?
March ’12, latest. Promise promise promise. *Gulp* But we’re not hyping! Its just taken a long time. Longer than I’d have liked!
Can we see your stuff?
Not yet. We’re still perfecting it. It is being tested and improved. Industry bods should start to see it early in 2012.
Can I help you test it?
Sorry, we’ve had the testing all taken care of and its under wraps. Secret squirrel!
What HAVE you been doing all this time?!
Ahhh, let me begin…
The Story So Far:
Vulpine has been my life for the last two years. An obsession for far longer. It has grown from one bloke, his wife and their dog; to a bloke, his wife, their dog, a number of cycling experts and some new friends. Small, but thankfully not too small.
I left film production at the end of 2009. I was desperate to create a cycling company from scratch. Cycling has been my life since I was a kid, and I’d had this idea kicking about ever more vigorously in my head.
With my wife’s support and all our savings, I got stuck in. First thing we did was get a dog, a Parsons’ Jack Russell called Lily. This was a vital part of the process. *Cough*
Lily. Vulpine muse, aid to relaxation and foot warmer.
Next, perhaps a slightly more important part of the Vulpine progression, I started learning. A lot. An awful lot. I’d been researching for years, but now I plunged in and talked to hundreds of cyclists about what they wanted and needed.
Thinking back, I was extraordinarily ignorant about many processes. I had been running businesses for owners for a long time, and had a broad range of knowledge. But I was naive and yearned to get the big picture. I was looking at a slide, in monochrome.
So I immersed myself in business start-up resources. I met lots of business people and cyclists (often both). Anyone I could. And I asked the how it all works. Small businesses. Startups. Cycling industry. Manufacturing. Web design. Everything. Its amazing how many people were willing to give their time and help. Thank you so much.
I started a spreadsheet. It became a behemoth. A huge multi-faceted 3D Chess Game. It frightened the life out of me. On paper Vulpine looked so difficult to achieve, and many people told me it was nigh on impossible. But slowly I started to see clearly through a morass of estimated costs, timings, taxes, wages and bills.
Startup spreadsheets. Like playing 3D chess with Spock. *TREKKIES CLICK TO PLAY*
We were designing. (We still are. And I hope always will be.) That’s the really fun part. All these ideas in my head turned into something that worked. We were ruthless, and discarded what wasn’t perfect and made more improvements. What works stays. What doesn’t goes. Simple, but a wrench if you’ve designed some innovation that feels like too much of a gimmick.
After a 6 months I had a business plan and I knew how I could make it happen. But we were running out of money. I’d sold bikes, we’d used all our savings and the credit cards were maxing out. A classic entrepreneurs tale. We needed to buy fabric, to make a large enough number of garments to be taken seriously, and use the best factories. How?
Vulpine needed investment. Problem is, the economy was down the tubes. Almost everyone I spoke to said we’d never succeed. It was impossible. Nobody was putting money into startups. Give up.
But that’s the weirdest thing I’ve found about being an entrepreneur. You have to listen and take advice, be open-minded and learn. But at some point you have to be utterly bloody-minded and convinced you can succeed, in the face of all advice.
You do it anyway, even if everyone tells you not to. A strange balance of pragmatic and psychotic.
I looked for investment for a year. It was a gruelling test of whether I could ignore rejection and keep going. Everyone said come back once you’ve launched. But I can’t launch!…Etc.
The lowest point was April 2011. I’d just turned down masses of investment from an extraordinarily dodgy consortium who offered it to me on a plate after a 20 minute meeting. That was easy to reject, because it stank. But at the same time, things were getting really hard. But Emmalou had enough faith in me and we agreed to use the last source of cash that we had, and I ploughed on. Motivating stuff!
But I was really feeling the pressure. I hadn’t told her that I had committed so much to this now, I just couldn’t bring myself to ever drop it. I was tip-toeing the sane side of obsession.
Then suddenly it all happened at once. It was weird. Like Vulpine suddenly hit critical mass and everyone could feel it’s heat.
Amongst other things Vulpine had a place on a huge TV show (which we eventually had to turn down). We were approached to be taken over by one of the world’s biggest brands (an extremely surreal experience). And I met some really lovely genuine guys who were cyclists and wanted to be part of it. I could pick and choose who was involved in Vulpine! Unbelievable. I went with the cyclists of course!
Finding that money was the hardest and most satisfying thing I have ever done…So far. It is a book in itself, to describe the difficulties, pitfalls and what can be done to help small businesses. Maybe that is why so many entrepreneurs end up investing in small businesses: Empathy.
So that was this Summer. Finally we could actually stop planning and researching and make it real.
The reason we haven’t already launched is exclusively down to manufacturing. We are making beautiful, but fairly priced performance clothing from scratch. But it is very difficult to work with the best people when you’re just starting. You have no proof that you’re worth the extra effort, because you’re ordering in much smaller quantities than the big guys. So you wait in line. And that queue takes a long time to walk, if you want the best quality. Even the fabric is so specialist it takes months to be prepared, tested, dyed, tested, etc. We are being so demanding of quality and making so many improvements, that we’ve missed production slots.
But that is why we won’t show you anything or be launching for months. Because we want to start the way we mean to carry on.
We are aware that all Vulpine is at the moment is a name and a blog. We’ll definitely show you more as soon as we can.
In the meantime, and hopefully for a long time to come, I’ll be blogging about stuff that I’m passionate about, and inviting in more smashing guest bloggers. The blog is getting an awesome redesign and you’ll see that within the next few weeks.
Thank you for all the support, help and interest so far. Thank you to all the people who have devoted their time to help, especially my infinitely patient wife, who has risked so much so I could be happy, and who has to travel to work each day to support us while I mess about with stuff that I love. x
The Bumpy Road Ahead, AKA Another Facile Visual Analogy
If you recognise any of the problems I’ve brushed over, such as starting a new business, please do contact me via Twitter on @aslongasicycle or the contacts page if I can help or you’d simply like to know you’re not alone. I’ve achieved very little, but the lessons are fresh in my mind!