Is most of the innovation aesthetic, or is there room for performance improvement?
There’s always room for performance improvement. How you really define and achieve it can be touchy ground sometimes. In the real world, you can have the best functioning product and if it looks bad nobody’s going to buy it. I’m a classic engi-nerd and I connect the dots so structures do their job. Sometimes they look clunky, so I work with industrial designers (who are kind of artsy-engineers) and they have that eye and artistic feel that engineers don’t have generally.
When you have different opinions during product development, how do you ultimately make decisions?
You know, that’s evolving right now. Ben and I, who are the elder statesmen of our design effort, recently led our industrial designer down a certain path with some product shapes. When I took the rapid prototypes to a trade show, the sales guys who hadn’t seen them yet took a look and said, “Oh, I thought they were going to look different.” They’re looking for something a little edgier, a little sharper. As a result I talked to Ben and said, they’re the front line…they’re the troops so can they have a vote at the table? Let them make some tweaks which allow more pride of authorship because they know who they’re trying to sell it to. That’s how it’s evolving.
What’s best and worst about being a small, independent company?
By virtue of our team being small with limited resources, we can’t do as much. On the flip side, we can do a lot of things faster. If I have a clever idea and I want to try it, I simply go out to the shop and do it. I don’t have to present it to a board or committee.
But sometimes people ask why it takes so long to do what I consider my due diligence on the mechanical testing of a fork during the product development cycle—it can take me months to test all those samples. Why? It’s because of the time it takes with the large quantity of forks needed to test and having limited equipment in the lab. Larger companies often have multiple high-speed machines testing simultaneously, where we have one.
As a small company, we often have to do a lot of things with clever that other people do with money in larger companies. There are also a lot of things we just never get to do. I’m sure there are a lot of things happening inside Trek and the other big guys playing with composites. I’m sure they get to tinker and play too, but we just never hear about the stuff that isn’t wonderful. Everybody’s got to do R&D.