There was no business plan. There was no market research. For Jonathan Shriftman and Jake Medwell, their business just seemed logical; they wanted a product they couldn't afford, so they found a cheaper way to make it. But then a dreamy thing happened: Everyone else wanted one too.
At the University of Southern California, where the two business partners met (Jake is still enrolled; Jonathan graduated in 2010), most students get around on mountain bikes, beach cruisers, or skateboards. But Shriftman and Medwell started noticing a new type of bicycle appear around campus: a fixed-gear bicycle, or as it's commonly called, a "fixie."
"They were the ones chasing down buses and doing all the cool track stands and skids," says Schriftman. "Jake and I were like, 'that's what we want to ride!'"
Over lunch one afternoon on campus, Shriftman and Medwell talked about their mutual affection for these bikes. This conversation ultimately spawned Solé Bicycles, the one-stop-online-shop for inexpensive fixies.
According to the Shriftman, the bottom-of-the-line fixed gear bikes retail from $800 to $1,000—putting them largely out of the price reach for most college students. So Shriftman and Medwell contacted manufacturers all over the world, searching for the cheapest offer. They ended up securing a deal with a manufacturer in China.
After working with the designer and manufacturer to perfect the prototype, the co-founders scraped together cash from family and friends to purchase 150 bikes. Without a functional website, the bikes sold out within a few days. Word of their inexpensive fixies, which retail for $310, spread fast. The pair connected with Gilt Group, the online flash retailer, and the stock they offered sold out in seven minutes. Their next order of 1,000 bikes sold out in a month.
The two fraternity brothers speak with a laid-back, chilled-out Southern California vernacular. They are not business partners who wear suits to meetings; they say things like "rad" and "gnarley" without a tinge of irony. When asked if they plan to get a traditional business loan, Medwell scoffs. "No," he says. "We don't do things the traditional way."
Just when their cool, surfer exteriors seem directly at odds with their aggressive entrepreneurial exploits, it becomes clear the two have been hustling for years. Through college they were adept at both organizing neighborhood car washes or importing Air Force One sneakers from China to sell directly to friends.
So are they savvy businessmen or L.A. hipsters? Perhaps just a bit of both.
While they work ot expand Solé Bicyles, the pair says they haven't touched a cent of their revenue. "Every dollar we make, we put towards our next order," says Medwell, and adds that they are actively looking for investors.