After Misjudging Market, Connected Bike Maker Vanhawks Has Been Resurrected with a New Approach

Vanhawks, maker of Valour, the world’s first smart carbon fiber bicycle, has resurrected itself with a new marketing plan after coming close to shuttering earlier this year.

The Montreal-born company, which was a sensation on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter in 2014 before falling into financial difficulties, says its plan includes a hybrid sales model with both online and in-store sales. It’s a change in direction from its online-only sales model that promised to disrupt the bike industry. The now Toronto-based Vanhawks also says it has lined up promising partnerships in the bike industry to help influence sales of its product, which is a $1,500 USD bike that can be connected to smartphones via bluetooth and track rider statistics, such as route and speed, in real-time.

“My whole effort for the last few months has been around partnerships, as opposed to throwing money at solving problems,” Sohaib Zahid, cofounder and CEO of Vanhawks, said in an interview on Tuesday. “I have solved it by forming partnerships with people I think will help and believe will put us back on track.”

He won’t yet name the partners, or the dealers readying to sell the bikes in the U.S. and Canada, but said Vanhawks is “gearing up for 2017.”

Vanhawks was founded with a mission to shakeup the bike industry, including the product and how they’re sold. Like many other new consumer company startups, they launched with the idea of online sales only. Since then, Zahid says they realized the bike industry may not be in need of massive disruption after all.

“Along the way we realized, there are a lot of good things the industry does. You can’t just throw away the whole book they wrote over the last 60, 70 or 80 years. There’s some great chapters in there that you can always use,” says Zahid. “It’s going back to basics.”

That includes the in-store experience where you build trust with the person or place selling you a bike.

“It’s a very different industry than buying shampoo or soap from [a drug store]. It takes trust,” he says. “Some players do this really well.”

The rise, fall and restart of Vanhawks was discussed by investors from Relentless Pursuit Partners at the VanFUNDING 2016 conference in Vancouver on Tuesday, put on by the National Crowdfunding Association of Canada.

Cofounder Simon Whitfield, the former Olympian, and investor Brenda Irwin outlined how they were attracted to Vanhawks, which fit their model of investing in health and fitness technology firms, and some of the mistakes and lessons learned along the way, in particular around crowdfunding.

Irwin, a former life science venture capitalist for Business Development Bank of Canada, says she always enjoyed the “luxury” of investing in private companies, which aren’t required to publicly disclose all of their ups and downs.

“What hit me with Vanhawks was [while it’s a private company] you have public stakeholders that are very active on social media,” Irwin told the audience at the VanFUNDING 2016 conference. “When the company hit a wall, you are exposed as if you were a public company. That was new feeling for me to deal with, let alone the company.”

But Irwin says she and Whitfield recently got their Valour bikes and love the product, and the new company direction.

“We are cautiously optimistic about where Vanhawks is gong to end up,” Irwin says.

She then read a quote to the audience from Zahid, who lives in Toronto and was not in attendance. It said: “Ups and downs are part of starting a new business, especially one that challenges the status quo, but when you have passion to change something … you aren’t going to back out when you get knocked down and rest assured, you will get knocked down, over and over again. And isn’t getting back up what winning is all about.”