Creating a Successful Business Takes Passion and Vision

by Martin Lieberman, Staples

Like so many businesses, Boston-based Fortified Bicycle began as a way to satisfy a need. Tivan Amour and Slava Menn are two young serial entrepreneurs and MIT engineers who were tired of seeing bike riders hurt and bicycles stolen. They came up with an idea for an anti-theft bike light — just the first of what they hope will be a long line of products that make owning a bike easier and safer for urban riders.

Fortified Bicycle is an example of what can happen when smart people apply their passion for a greater good. We spoke with Tivan (pictured here, left) to learn more about that, and how the right philosophy results in game-changing products.

Tell us a little about Fortified Bicycle. Where does your passion for this type of business come from?

In the summer of 2011, our friend had his bike light stolen. Then, riding home that night, he was hit by a car. He didn’t get too hurt, but his experience got us thinking about ways to make urban biking safer. We launched the world’s first anti-theft bike light, the Defender, in 2012, and since then we’ve learned that bike lights aren’t the only thing that fail urban riders. More than 80 percent of urban cyclists have gear that fails them, and 51 percent of bikes are stolen in the city. Fifty-one percent! If I told you that 51 percent of cars in the city were stolen, you might never leave your home. Urban biking is facing an epidemic, as most bike brands are only making modest aesthetic improvements to old designs rather than asking urban riders, “What’s the ideal solution for you?”

We want to fundamentally shift the way people think about commuting in the city. Commuting by bike should be easier and safer than commuting by car. With the right urban bicycling products, Fortified can be a catalyst of this change.

With such an important mission, there must be challenges.

The biggest challenge for a hardware start-up is staying on schedule for new products when much of the process is a creative one. To keep the chains moving, we’ve developed a pretty efficient system of checks and balances — one that allows us to learn what urban bike commuters need while also allowing our engineers and industrial designers to dream big.

What is your favorite marketing channel?

Facebook has been our preferred channel for connecting with fans, customers and biking enthusiasts. Not only has it helped our sales, it’s allowed us to interact with customers and pick their brains for valuable feedback on new products.

What role does Staples play in helping Fortified Bicycle succeed?

Staples has actually been a huge help to us, mainly because of how quickly they can supply us with custom marketing materials. Last year we needed to print flyers for a conference (admittedly at the last minute), and Staples was the only store that allowed us to easily design the materials on the Web, and then submit the order for printing at the nearest location. The whole process took about two hours from start to finish.

Have you ever been surprised to find an item at Staples that you never knew we offered?

Yes. AppleTV. When I’m not working, I use it to binge on “Game of Thrones” episodes.

What is one tool or service that you can’t run your business without?

Shopify, which we use to sell our products online.

Is there someone specific who has influenced you and your business?

Our advisor, Chris Zane, who owns Zane’s Cycles, one of the largest bike dealers in New England. Chris has shared his incredible wisdom and the knowledge he’s gained from over 20 years in the bike industry. We wouldn’t have known where to start without him.

If you could go back in time to the day you decided to start Fortified Bicycle, what would you tell yourself?

There will be highs and lows, and your best bet is to stay as level headed as possible regardless of the situation. Don’t succumb to the emotional roller coaster of running a start-up.

What’s the best thing about owning your own business?

Our team comes into the office every day ready to solve problems we’ve never faced before. This optimistic philosophy is the hallmark of an entrepreneurial team, and in my opinion it’s the only way that game-changing products come to life.

How does Fortified Bicycle make more happen?

Planning as a team is the best way to make things move faster. When everyone is held accountable to carry their own weight (and then some), magic happens.

Ten years from now, where do you see your business?

We want to fundamentally shift the way people think about commuting in the city. In 10 years commuting by bike should be easier and safer than commuting by car. With the right urban bicycling products, Fortified can be a catalyst of this change.

Do you have a great small business success story? Let us know in the comments section below, and we might feature you in a future article!

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