Published: September 11, 2013
One was merely looking for a hobby, the other simply wanted to build a better bike. But they both wanted to have some fun.
Those were the goals when businessman Steve Kaczmarek and Colorado College student and mountain bike enthusiast Adam Miller joined forces in fall 2012 after conjuring up plans to start Fat Bike Company.
What began with humble beginnings in Kaczmarek's garage inflated into what the 46-year-old predicts will be a multi-million-dollar business. Miller and Kaczmarek joined Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, community leaders and members of the media Wednesday to launch their entrepreneurial adventure from a small brick building in downtown Colorado Springs.
"I had no idea what this was going to be," said 21-year-old Miller while sitting in his loft office at 110 S. Weber St. and reflecting on the chaotic nine months that brought him and Kaczmarek to their grand opening.
The pair began Fat Bike Company in late 2012, formulating plans to build carbon-fiber mountain bikes with super-huge tires. The "fat bikes," as the style is commonly known, have tires as big as 4.8 inches wide and were born in the 1990s for winter adventure racing along the Iditarod Trail in Alaska.
Miller and Kaczmarek registered their company in January and aimed to sell 50 bikes in their first year.
Each partner laughed when remembering such a modest goal and then echoed one another explaining that in the first week, "We took more orders than we expected to sell all year," Kaczmarek said. Miller added most of that came in the first few hours.
"Expectations changed quite a bit," Miller said.
A prototype was built. Partnerships with bike distributors, including Pro Cycling in western Colorado Springs, were made. By June, Kaczmarek projected that by summer 2014 Fat Bike Company would sell at least $2 million in products.
Kaczmarek met Miller, who he calls "the bike guy" on the campus of Colorado College.
The younger co-owner of Fat Bike Company, which boasts the "Borealis" brand bike, came from Anchorage, Alaska and was studying entrepreneurship at the private school north of downtown Colorado Springs. Kaczmarek volunteered his time teaching in the program after having success in sales and marketing with Oracle Packaging and Chromatic Technologies, Inc.
The teacher heard about Miller's dream of starting his own bike manufacturing company and was intrigued. The pair met and the student told Kaczmarek that he planned to enter "The Big Idea," a CC entrepreneurship competition that paid $50,000 for the most innovative plan.
Kaczmarek swayed Miller to skip the competition which wouldn't end until April 2013 "because the fat bike thing might be taking off" and begin his project sooner.
"He said, 'I don't have the money,'" Kaczmarek noted. "And I said, 'But I do.' "
The partnership brings another manufacturing business into the Pikes Peak region which has struggled in that sector for a decade. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 8,000 jobs in the manufacturing industry have been lost in Colorado Springs since 2003.
John Wilson, the vice president of business development for Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, said the addition of any manufacturer in the area can only help bolster the economy.
"When we have a business like that, it's really gold for the community," Wilson said. "Manufacturers are usually base employers. They're selling their wares and services all over the country and the world. If we could add 10 jobs for every manufacturer that was here, that would be a considerable amount of business. And it would also soak up some of the unemployment."
Fat Bike Company, which moved to the downtown facility Aug. 1 and began building their last week, only has five employees right now. But Kaczmarek said if his sales predictions are accurate, they will be hiring more people.
He, Miller and their team will hop in their Fat Bike Company bus and head to Las Vegas next week for the Interbike trade show that begins with an outdoor demo on Monday. Kaczmarek said they will take 25 bikes and everyone in the industry will have the chance to ride what he calls one of the "best and lightest bikes in the world."
Fat Bike Company says it will be the first in the market to have a lightweight, carbon-fiber production model which they call the "Yampa," which weighs from 23 to 26 pounds.
Miller, who worked for fat bike manufacturer 9:Zero:7 in Anchorage, said his former employer and the other big player in the market, Salsa, have lightened their bicycles with aluminum models, but haven't made the move to carbon. Salsa is based outside Minneapolis, Minn.
Fat Bike Company's Yampa begins at the suggested retail price of $3,599 with a more decked out version for more than $5,500.
The company is aiming at the higher end of the market, Kaczmarek said, as other fat bikes from Salsa and 9:Zero:7 can be found for around $2,000.
"The business guy," as Miller calls Kaczmarek, punched a calculator, smiled and said that after the Interbike show sales predictions could go up as much as five times expected.
"I don't know what's going to happen," he said. "They're already going out the door as fast as we can build them."