It could be argued that Vanhawks cofounders Ali and Sohaib Zahid would inevitably become successful after launching its carbon fibre connected bicycle, the Valour.
The bike raised the most money for a Canadian project on Kickstarter in early June. Pledgers from all over the world pitched $820,000 total.
Everything seemed to have came together perfectly. The CEO Sohaib was in medical school when his friend Adil Aftab (now the team’s CMO) was developing a new carbon fiber technology that would ultimately lead to the Valour. An underserved commuter cyclist market with a big appetite fiercely bought up pre-orders when the Valour hit Kickstarter, including $100,000 pledged in under 30 hours.
Now just a few months away from its first shipment, COO Ali, 20, revealed to Techvibes that not everything went seamlessly for the team. Here are the four biggest stumbling points the team experienced en route to crowdfunding cred, and the lessons they learned.
1. Hire a Social Media Person
Vanhawks initially just used its extensive network to share content on social media, mostly because they didn’t have enough time to devise and monitor an effective social strategy.
“We just didn’t have the bandwidth at that point but it was a stupid call,” said Ali. “The reality is, that would have driven more traffic to us. It was a bad call on our end.”
2. Devote More Time to Manufacturers and Logistics
Though the startup now has three fulltime employees based overseas, it initially struggled with certain aspects of the manufacturing process.
“No one had ever created a handle bar like ours before, so every manufacturer we went to was like, ‘what is this?’” said Ali.
Thus, the team ended up seeking abnormal manufacturers who dealt with surgical instruments. That led to more issues: the mold for the Valour’s frame is abnormal as well, which translated to a time-consuming process that Ali never foresaw.
The mold was big and bulky, and transporting it to Vanhawk’s Pakistan-based factory was time-consuming. “One night when we were transferring it to the factory, the tires on the truck even popped and that put us two crucial days behind.”
3. Don’t Use Kickstarter
The same platform that propelled Vanhawks to earning nearly a million dollars was also the source of arguably its biggest pain: dealing with customers.
Ali told Techvibes that Kickstarter doesn’t have a backend for project managers to communicate with their backers, so it took the team two months to create their own backend solution.
“We did this to get our backers to confirm their orders, upgrade their brakes and more, but it proved time-consuming and difficult,” said Ali. “When you have 800 people who all have your personal cell number, they’re all calling you everyday and Kickstarter doesn’t have a way for you to mass communicate with them, it can be tough.”
The CEO went as far as saying that he would recommend entrepreneurs to avoid Kickstarter for this reason.
4. Don’t Touch Contractors: Hire a Hardware Engineer
It seems obvious doesn’t it? But finding the perfect hardware engineer for a unique product could take months, even years.
Once the Kickstarter campaign concluded, none of the cofounders had expertise producing Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs), a crucial piece for the technology side of the bike.
Hiring contractors who weren’t completely invested in the product ended up costing the team valuable money and time.
“Every experience with a contractor proved to be awful, so one of the first hires we ever did was a hardware engineer,” said Ali. “It was a struggle for the first two weeks without him and we were so lucky to find him. Our company might not exist had it not been for that hire.
The Vanhawks Valour ships in early February. You can check out their newly designed website here.