Paul Brodie quickly learns that entrepreneurship has two sides, both good and bad. He reflects on the launch of Brodie Bikes and provides insight which will be valuable for would-be entrepreneurs...
The WorkNotWork Show [0:17:58]: After a relatively short period of time, a few years, you launched Brodie Bikes and you were finally out on your own. You had your own shingle. How did you feel about that at the time? Did it provide a kind of freedom that you hadn't had before?
Paul Brodie: It was a good feeling because I had wanted to leave Rocky for at least one year. I was setting up and when I started that process of leaving and setting up my own shop. It shows how how bad I am at estimating: I thought I could do it in six months and spend $4000 and it ended up taking a year and $8000. So I was off the mark.
It felt really good to be on my own and starting to be successful. What was nice about the first couple years is that I was working out of my own shop. I wasn't paying rent because the shop was under my sundeck and I always had a big wad of cash in my left pocket. The number that seemed right for some reason was $700. So I always had $700 in my pocket. If I went somewhere I knew I could buy it if I wanted [although] it's not like I went on a spending spree.
Then in ‘88 when we moved into our first commercial lease. I never had any money in my pocket ever again like that. It was really nice for a couple years. I really felt like I was doing something and having the money…the cash in my pocket that was a sign to me that I had some success.
WNW: You tell a funny story in the book about the fact that you were doing painting with Imron. I don't know much about paint but Imron is pretty lethal and you had clouds of Imron paint wafting through the neighborhood.
PB: I didn't have a spray booth. It was the first summer—the business started in May of ’86. What I would do to paint a frame—because I knew how to paint frames—I would hang a stick off the sun deck and a little hook down and spray the frame. My next door neighbour was a Chinese lady and she had a wonderful…vegetable garden, she used the night soil and everything. So I can only paint when the wind came from the West because she was on the west side of me. I knew that she would not be happy with the Imron floating over her vegetables. So I really had to choose my days.
WNW: Another few years and another move of your shop later you incorporated Brody Research and Technology—the acronym for which is BRAT. First of all what was the story behind that and what was the best part of owning your own shop?
PB: Well, the story of Brodie Research and Technology is that years ago I had a girlfriend and she often thought I was a brat. So I kind of thought it was a fun thing to do was to name the company BRAT. Not many people would realize where that came from.
It was good running the business for a while because we are we were growing, expanding…I was hiring people, there was interest, there was interviews, [we] went to races [and] trade shows. I think there were a number of years where we were kind of on a high. People really thought that, yeah, we had we had made it.
WNW: Similarly, what was the worst part?
PB: Well, I can think of one short story I can tell you: we had expanded and we had moved into the place next door as well. That was an interior designer so they had a beautiful office. Now we had the added expense of an extra lease and the bicycle business was starting to slow down. I still remember people, one day, walking into the office and they looked around and they said “wow, you’re doing really well!” What didn't tell them is that I've just gone to the bank and got an advance on my Visa so I could do payroll. I couldn’t say anything because they were obviously thinking thinking that things were great. But there's always the two sides.
WNW: We’re you able to put a positive spin on that when they were in that shop or did you have this disconnect between what was actually going on in your financial life?
PB: I didn't actually say anything at the time but I just knew that what they were seeing was not the reality of our situation at the time. There was a lot of up and down because some years would have a good profit and the next year would have a huge loss. It was very hard to know exactly where we were. The business was getting complex because we had distributors in Germany, Austria and Japan and maybe some other countries, too. There was the exchange rates and importing and the duties and this and that. So it was really hard to nail down our true cost because we were buying parts for the frames, parts for the bicycles from all different countries and exchange rates with changing and so it was really hard to figure out just where we were financially.
WNW: Well and this was all pre-internet?
PB: There was computers, we had Excel, but there was it was really kind of limited and it was going to be a pretty complex situation. I realized that it was spinning out of my control. I knew how to make frames but how to run a business with that much complexity? I knew it was getting in over my head.
Listen to this excerpt with the player above, or listen to the entire interview. We welcome your comments below. Also, ratings and reviews on iTunes or Facebook are invaluable and very much appreciated. Thank you! (header photo: Paul Brodie and employees outside Brodie Headquarters from his book Paul Brodie: The Man Behind Brodie Bikes )
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