Still Obsessed and Having Fun.

The Karmic Experience encapsulated in one image.

A friend posted something on Facebook that I found amusing. She said, “Yesterday’s obsession suddenly seems… lame.” I think a lot of us can relate to that. But I’ve had this obsession with bicycles for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest childhood pictures that we still have (in those days pictures were actually developed on a thing called “film”) is of me on my red tricycle, with my brown teddy bear, nearly as big as me. I still have him too.

I was reading Alison Tetrick’s post about why she still races bicycles professionally. Besides being the coolest job on earth, it’s clear that she still loves to race, including all the work involved and the potential downsides of the job. It really is just a job at the end of the day, but few are lucky enough to put that on their resume. Even fewer still have the mental fortitude to do it for years, or even more impressive, a decade of grinding out the gears.

“Entrepreneur” is such an overused word these days.

Everyone has a startup, or at least a side-hustle that they’re working on. Every dreamer has an idea for an app they think is gold. But that’s not what makes a business. That actually requires you to start something, not just talk about it. I’ve wanted to work in the bike industry since I was 12, but the local bike shop was owned by a short and surly old man, and his son was the only employee who wasn’t a mechanic. I wasn’t very good at fixing bikes back then. I’m much better at building bikes now. I did get a job offer to be a Product Manager at a small bike brand in June 1996, but I had to turn it down because it barely paid more than my student loan payments and rent. Fast forward to June 2016, and we shipped our first production batch of Karmic Bikes, twenty years after that initial job offer. It was a two decades long dream realized. And we’re just getting started. This is “Mile One”.

But why am I still obsessed with bikes?

You could say it’s in my blood, despite a brief love affair with cars and motorcycles. I’ve had my best days and worst nights on the saddle of a bicycle I’ve built up with my own hands. I had some help from my six-year old daughter with my latest build, a bubble-gum pink track bike with shiny silver bits and black Campagnolo components where it mattered (crank, bottom bracket). It was the simplest bike we could put together, but it also took over a year to get the right shade selected, and every component gathered up from the far corners of eBay, Craigslist and bike swap meets. My wife says I waste too much time looking for these silly bike parts. But is there really any logic behind our deepest obsessions? Should there be?


The last few weeks have been all about taking care of our customers. We obsesses over our customers. We had some isolated issues with our shipping partner mishandling bikes as they were heading to our backers. The fact that these boxes can travel 3000 miles over the Pacific Ocean without a problem, and then somehow can’t make it 300 miles down the Pacific Coast is really disappointing. I’ve meet with the team this week to see how we can prevent these problems for our second batch. They’ve promised to do better too.

There have also been some minor issues with broken parts from shipping or the factory, and we’re taking care of those customers too. The few customers that are affected are statistically expected (1–2% manufacturing error), but I know how frustrating it can be for them personally. We are lucky to have such patient and understanding customers early on.

The worst thing that happened this week was one of our customer’s Koben S was stolen from his garage! The police found it perplexing that he was more worried about recovering his Karmic than his Audi (that they used as the getaway vehicle). The customer actually ordered a second Koben S the next day, and while we hate to get a sale that way, it does show how much people love and need their Karmic Bikes. We hope he’ll find #1 and end up as a two-Koben family like a few of our other early backers and customers.


Everyone thinks you should start a business in an industry that you’re passionate about. I did that once. I started a car company. It didn’t work and I sold it a few years later. I had a pinned tweet for two years that said:

That’s the way to do it. You find something you’re obsessed about, and then you try to make a product that encapsulates that obsession. Then you operationalize it to make it a long-term viable business. I’m the biggest bike geek and routinely tell folks if their saddle is too high, or some other aspect of their bike setup is off. This goes beyond attention to detail, it’s literally losing sleep over every part and process that goes into building a Karmic.

It is possible that customers won’t even notice, but I know they’ll appreciate the thought and care that went into their Kobens when they do. It is an obsessive drive to make sure our customers are happy, despite any issues they may have. When something goes wrong, we go out of our way to make it better than before. We think that the “Karmic Experience” goes beyond that first ride, to the daily joy of using your Koben, and the lasting pride of knowing you’re part of something much greater.

You’re part of the Karmic Family. We’re all a bit obsessed.

Cheers,

Hong