Nick blogs about Vulpine’s story from the inside. The trials and tribulations of setting up a cycling company from scratch.
It all started with a Raleigh Grifter.
There are seminal moments in every child’s life that change the direction of their live’s forever. This wasn’t it.
Sure, I learnt to ride on that bike, but it wasn’t an epiphany, just a kid, learning to ride a bike, with huge leather armchair seat and back. Lounging. No spark, just fun.
The epiphany, when it did come, was 7 years later. Aged 13 I watched Stephen Roche climb up Luz Ardiden in the 1987 Tour de France. Roche collapsed, as he closed the gap on Delgado through the fog. And I was in love. Little skinny people, like me, doing superhuman feats with their bodies, unlike me. I was weak and mewling. A whining swot. I saw cycling as my chance to get sporty. And it was.
For years I was obsessed by road racing and time trials. I was ok, fast enough to be counted into the clique, but not national class. All I wanted to do was win the Tour de France. Its all I fantasised about, driving my Mum crazy. All I read was Winning Magazine instead of my textbooks. And I didn’t care. Cycling was my life, and it always would be.
I went to university to do a sports science degree, just so I could get better at cycling, and if my pro career didn’t work out, I could be a GB coach (long before lottery money and riders who owned a GB jersey each). Living independently meant I trained constantly, and became fitter than ever, a set of cheekbones with quads. But the crashes, training, etc, whatever, built up and my back pretty much collapsed. No more cycling. Ever. One doctor told me I’d be in a wheelchair from now on.
To cut a very long, mildly unpleasant story short, I wasn’t having that, and I fought myself back to a point where I could ride a bike again. But I could now look back and realise that my obsession with racing left no room for FUN. I wasn’t enjoying the training, it was just me trying really hard for an unattainable goal. So I started cycling for enjoyment, the way it should be. With a new outlook on life and cycling, every ride was a bonus. Every ride was the best ride, and I wanted to make the most of it. MTB, rides with my wife for lazy, boozy picnics, commuting, track, anything, everything. I drank in cycling anew.
This became my philosophy on cycling. Its ALL good. Every ride, whether it was half a mile to the shops for bacon, or 200km miles through The Alps. No type of bike or cycling was any more worthy than the next. It was up to me, and up to you, how you enjoyed cycling. As long as it didn’t cock it up for anyone else.
Meanwhile I was obsessed by clothing. I was a collector and I obsessed about each outfit, the fit, the temperature range, all of it. My cycling apparel range just about eclipsed my real-world wardrobe. And so it went…cycling….clothes…career ladder…cycling.
All this is relevant because it created Vulpine. Bear with me.
I ended up in film production, overseeing companies that make those posh car commercials that always get shot on twisty mountain roads, and bizarre music videos. I was riding to work every day, but arriving soaked with sweat, either in full racing gear, or ‘normal’ fashion. I’d have to carry a backpack full of spare clothes, and if there was no shower, I’d have to run to the gym to get changed…or risk all-day paranoia….
Why couldn’t I wear the same clothes all day, using technical fabrics that breathed and dried fast, without odours, but were smart enough for meetings and socialising? Thus Vulpine the embryo was created.
I’d always wanted to run my own business. I had so much enthusiasm, but all my efforts and insane hours were to the greater benefit of the owners. I love working hard, but to what aim? Could I really do this for another 30 years?
This is where my wife, Emmalou, stepped in. She wanted me to be happy. She was prepared for us to gamble everything, the house, savings, years of insane hours and doubt, for the chance to make something special. For me to carve my own path and to prove the faith in my ability that she’d had in me since I’d met her as a teenager. So I left my executive producer role in December 2009 and went about creating A Company.
After getting a much-longed for treat, a puppy: my office dog, trail companion and lap warmer, Lily, I began work.
I did lots and lots of thinking and research. I had an extremely clear idea of what I wanted to make, I’d been thinking about it for years. The designs just needed putting to paper. Almost everything you see in our range today, was, in some form, put together before I’d even started Vulpine.
The ethos was easy, as I felt that my best chance of success was to do something I totally and utterly believed in. That way I could pour in my passion, and that would overcome the dark moments, doubt and fear. So A Company’s ethos was mine. Everyone is included, no snobbery, just quality. I wanted to make things I was proud of. That I didn’t have to bullsh*t about.
What I struggled at was how to make it. And how to finance it. Nobody teaches you how to raise investment. It’s a dark art. I had to learn it from scratch. Same with manufacturing. If I wanted high quality, like good builders or plumbers, they’re always booked up, and don’t even advertise. How could I find them?
For the first nine months I went about solving these problems. In August 2010 I had a business plan. A laughable document, looking back. But I sent to anyone that would listen. Despite reports to the contrary, people are really nice, and happy to help. I got a lot of help on investment, and I learnt to improve my pitch, and this my business. For many months I had meetings and got knocked back. The feedback was universal. “Love the idea. Love the passion. Nobody is funding startups. Sorry.”
In April 2011 I met Philip, an angel investor, now the biggest shareholder after me, and we got on like a house on fire. He wanted to invest. With Philip came other investment offers. I had my money. In the background I was about to be on Dragon’s Den! Luckily me getting my investment meant I didn’t have to appear. Dodged a bullet there…
In July 2011 an extraordinary thing happened. One of the big cheeses of a very very (very) large sportswear company approached me. They wanted to pump major cash into my idea, as they weren’t ‘getting’ cycling. It was a huge confidence booster. But I didn’t want to get sucked straight into a corporation before I’d even started and I turned it down. A very liberating, terrifying moment!
In August 2011 I had enough investment to launch 5 garments and a website. I set to work.
March 13th 2012, 12:04 pm, I turned on vulpine.cc. I’d been bloggng and tweeting about my journey for 18 months, and the orders started flooding in. It was incredible. Validation! People actually want my stuff!
The three years were just insane. I always liken it to holding onto a wild horses’s mane. It was an incredible thrill, but exhausting. I’d have it no other way.
I remember everything, but I can’t really judge time. Sometimes 3 years feels like 10, or months. Launch seems to distant, or like yesterday. Time disappears when you work this hard, and so much happens.
June 2012. Our first Vulpine Cycling Fete. (Returning for 2015!) I wanted a really great fun, inclusive event, made up of new British cycling brands and artists. There was live graffiti, cake, booze and steel frames. To my joy, we were rammed from the doors opening until close. Truly, if you put in the effort, and do something with heart, they will come. They did come!
September 2012 was a total gamechanger for a small company. Peter Walker wrote Levis vs Vulpine in The Guardian. It was so positive about Vulpine, versus Levis, that commenters suggested we’d paid him off! The traffic went crazy and it was the most read on the Guardian site that day. Vulpine.cc went through the roof, and sales tripled overnight, and never went back. One piece of great press can change a company…
May 2013, we were nominated for Best Brand at the LCC Awards, along with Rapha and Specialized. To even be in that company, a year old, blew my mind. But I was determined to try and win, no matter how ridiculous that seemed. We ran a cheeky David vs Goliath social medai campaign, mobilising our new fan base, and we nearly made it. We were so close to Rapha in the end, with Specialized trailing third. An honourable defeat.
November 2013, we get a call from Sir Chris Hoy’s manager…Can you imagine?!
You know what, there are too many highlights, that always puncture the long hours and laborious detail. Every memory is a bright jewel, because I, then WE, made it from nothing. WE MADE THAT! Its so joyous to create something and for people to actually enjoy it too.
Three years on I have 11 staff. I now have a management team, of Ben, Irfan and Polly, helping me run Vulpine. The difference is huge. We’re not a start up anymore, we’re a bonafide business, with growth and demand. We are recognised. We can actually look to expand into foreign markets with confidence.
To grow and grab opportunities every business needs cash. So why did I decide to go for Crowd Funding over private, institutional investment. The reason we have been successful so far….Customers. Passion. Word of mouth. Listening.
With an army of brand advocates who actually own Vulpine, we are infinitely stronger and more dynamic. We can work together to steel the world what a great company and products we have. It’s fun. It’s my way of doing business. Talking to people, listening, including.
I’d love you to be part of our story. Whether its £10 or £100,000, you can make a difference. You love our products and what we represent and we love that you care too. Interested? Visit our Crowdcube page.
It sounds like a lot of fun. Lets see what the next chapters of the story are.