Like true entrepreneurs, Lucchesi and Gardner saw a problem and created a solution. Modern clipless pedals, whether for road bikes or mountain bikes, aren't designed to work with normal shoes.
"The alternative is carrying an extra set of shoes and clipping in or going to the coffee shop or bar and clip clopping around in your clipless pedal shoes or riding your street shoes on your clipless pedals which is very uncomfortable and not that safe," contends Lucchesi. Road-bike shoes have a hard plastic bottom with a large clunky cleat that makes walking nearly as awkward as ski boots on a summer day.
Fly Pedals use a cleat to mount a pedal platform to clipless pedals allowing users to wear whatever shoes they want while biking. The platforms are die-cast and designed to work with all the major clipless bike pedals and cleats. It was obviously a solution bikers wanted.
When Gardner and Lucchesi launched Fly Pedals, they raised a little more than they planned. "It was actually 399 percent of our goal," Lucchesi says. "Our Kickstarter goal was $12,000 and raised just shy of $48,000."
"We put it online on May 27, 2014, and in 48 hours we had reached our goal," Gardner adds. "It took about two and a half to three months to start to deliver the rewards." Between early June and October of 2014, the duo was able design and deliver its first product.
Lucchesi and Gardner were excited by their immediate success. "We were jumping for joy and going 'We're going to be millionaires next week!' Little did we know it would be a two-year journey of ups and downs and learning what die casting was and learning about suppliers and assembly, fulfillment and international shipping," Gardner says.
The owners had always wanted to produce in the U.S., but after the orders came in through the first Kickstarter, they had to fulfill them as soon as possible and as cost-effectively as possible. "The cost of tooling is dramatically cheaper in China. We were up against a wall. We didn't have the $50,000 extra to spend on a first mold in the U.S.," Gardner explains. "We got laughable quotes or people didn't respond to us at all."
"The manufacturer we now use in the U.S. ignored us at first," Lucchesi notes. "They were located two blocks from my house. I stopped in there to let him know he blew off a real business and he was really apologetic and said, 'I'd like to earn your business, I'm sorry about that.'"
Since 2014, they've gotten both the original Fly Pedals and the newer, sleeker version into roughly 250 bike shops over the past two years.
When it came time to launch a second version, they returned to that vendor. "Early signs were looking as though it was actually going to cost us less to produce the product in the U.S.," Lucchesi says. But the new die was going to cost $25,000 more to produce in the U.S.
"We asked for $40,000 on the second Kickstarter because we already had known we wanted to make it in the U.S.," Gardner says. He adds that the high taxes and air freight were enough to make it more cost-effective than manufacturing in China.
Challenges: "Our biggest challenge has been production and manufacturing," Gardner says. He explains that the supply chain and manufacturing process have been frustrating especially when moving back to the U.S.
Opportunities: "The biggest opportunity is distribution and getting into the bike shops and on the shelves. We're chipping away at it. That's where the product has to go," Lucchesi says.
And now that the company is manufacturing domestically, it is starting to offer more customizations, including colors and straps.
Needs: "Dan and I have taken Fly Pedals to a point where we're no longer the best suited people to run the distribution channel," Gardner says. "That's really the biggest opportunity for Fly Pedals, and we want to see Fly Pedals reach its full potential." The strategy could involve selling a majority stake in the company.