Ep. 53 – Community-Driven Content Strategy to Disrupt the Traditional Market with Mehdi Farsi

Ep. 53 – Community-Driven Content Strategy to Disrupt the Traditional Market with Mehdi Farsi


Don’t be afraid to put something out there.
Get feedback on it, then grow from there and improve. Welcome to Honest eCommerce, where we’re dedicated
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to learn more. Now let’s get on with the show. Hey, everybody. Welcome back to another episode
of Honest eCommerce. I am your host, Chase Clymer. And today we have a fantastic guest
coming to us. It is Mehdi Farsi. He’s the visionary behind the State Bicycle Co. It’s an amazing product that they have out
there and it’s very unique because they’re selling something… It’s a little higher-end
online and it’s a completely digital native brand. So he’s gonna have a lot of insights on how
to help move those products that are traditionally luxury products per se with the higher price
points. How to move those online and connect with your customers and your brand. Welcome
to the show today, Mehdi. Alright. Thanks for having me. Oh, yes, this is gonna be a fun one. So, before
we get into all the fun stuff that you have going on at State Bicycle, let’s go back to
before starting this business. What were you doing? What was your journey like? Yeah. So throughout college, I was working
for a company called ImproveNet. They were contractor-to-consumer matching service, kind
of like ServiceMagic or HomeAdvisor; I think it is now what it’s called. So working on that, under the marketing wing,
learning all about different keywords and campaigns that they were managing. Several
hundred thousand different keywords and different campaigns. So I really got my feet wet that way. And
then, I always had the entrepreneurial spirit. I’m really drawn towards design, as well. So, a lot of my friends and peers were in
filmmaking, photography, graphic design and really into that. And so I got into obtaining
and selling mid-century modern furniture and mid-century reproduction furniture. So with my passion for that and also my eCommerce
background, I started a furniture business where we were selling that type of furniture
online. So this was pretty early on. I would say 2005 – 2006, so before Amazon was a juggernaut
that it was. So I was doing that in college. I actually wrote my honors thesis about how
I could grow that business. And I got out of college. I wasn’t really sure what I was
going to do. And so I was going to just go the traditional route of, I’ll apply for the
MBA school at ASU. I liked being a student. So, I went to apply and aced all my entrance
exams. Thought I was going to be like a slam dunk in and I was told that I was denied on
the basis that I didn’t have enough work experience. And so that gave me a little kick in the pants
and I was like, “Well, I guess I’m going to just be doing this business that I started
that was just extra money for college students, I’m going to go pursue that full time.” And
so I did. And I was doing that. And my brother, who I work with now at State
Bicycle, decided to join me in that. We became partners in that and we grew that. We did
over a million dollars gross in our first year, which, being 22 years old/23 years old
was phenomenal for us. And so yeah, that’s what we were doing before State Bicycle Co. Now, that was still back in like, 2005 – 2006
that you were… Yeah. 2005 – 2006 was when we started and
then I graduated in… We both graduated, actually in 2007. Me in the spring and my
bro in the fall, so… Yeah. Yeah. So after 2007, that’s what we’re doing
full-time. And that was way back in the day before Shopify
and all this direct-to-consumer craze. I feel like it’s definitely a lot easier to start
a business these days. Totally. Yeah, we were relying very heavily
on eBay. I think, later on, actually, even Amazon but just (as an) Amazon seller, not
selling to Amazon. But you could set up a small shop on Amazon. So we’re doing that. But eBay was definitely a big driver for us
and then also selling locally as much as we can. And then building our own website through
GoDaddy. There weren’t really as many eCommerce backend options, as you said, at that time. Absolutely. That’s probably where I first
started to get really deep into this stuff and learning web design and all that stuff. I think I was playing around with WooCommerce
back then. I don’t even know if that was out yet. Sure. Yeah. Yeah. I think we’re on something
called Volusion. Oh yeah. I definitely heard of that one. So,
is that business still around? Or did you guys sell it or calmed it down? We phased it out. Yeah. So, to backtrack a
little bit, again, that 2007 – 2008 range. We started seeing a lot of our peers and friends
riding fixed gear bikes and they were definitely popular amongst younger people at that time
and we were brought up around cycling. So we spent our summers watching the Tour
de France. It was something that was always a part of our lives as a sport and activity.
Nothing that we were super crazy active in terms of cycling but it was something that
was always a part of our childhood and even as adolescence. And in the process of wanting to get one of
these fixed gear bikes that we just were learning about ourselves, we realized that it was not
the easiest thing to get. So at that time there, there was virtually no retailer selling
online. And then locally here in Arizona, there were
only maybe one or two shops in the whole state that were carrying fixed gear related products.
And even in that case, you would have to buy the frame from one manufacturer. A different
manufacturer you’d buy the wheels (from). You might have to go online to find the crank
that you wanted. And by the time you did all the research,
figured it all out, priced everything out, you’d be looking at well over $1,000, a ton
of time and for someone who was just getting into it, that wasn’t very attractive. Because
you don’t know… It was a pretty considerable spend. So we actually went through some of our supply
chains in Asia and asked around. (We) started looking at bicycle manufacturers and we’re
like, “Hey, maybe… We know there’s going to be definitely a demand for these things.
How can we get them made?” And again, — the same thing overseas– there
weren’t a lot of factories making what we were looking for. You could find a factory
that might have a bike to sell you, but it wasn’t something that you want to ride. The
quality isn’t good. So we spent about a year and a half just going
back and forth sampling and sourcing all the different parts and components and everything,
and managed to completely bootstrap the operation. (We) put our funds together and we ordered
140 bikes, which was the bare minimum we could order, and we got them and (it) took off from
there. It’s so funny how many successful businesses
start from the founder, experiencing some problem and having that lightbulb moment where
it’s just like, “It shouldn’t be this hard.” Yeah, definitely. I think, also it was something
that we were passionate about. And yeah, it was almost selfish in the sense that, “Hey,
we want to be riding these cool bikes, but we don’t want to be spending $1500 on them.
There’s got to be a better way to do this.” Yeah, plus the countless hours of research
and all that. So how long did it take you when you guys realized, “There’s an opportunity
here. Could this be a business?” How long (did) it take until you guys had
that idea in your mind to where you got a physical bike that you were riding. The first samples didn’t take very long, maybe
only a couple of months. But those were, again, things that we weren’t really fond of. Because
the first supplier (said) actually, “Oh yeah. You can do it.” So we got a bike. I think it sat… I rode it a couple of times
and sat in the warehouse, our furniture warehouse for a couple of months. And then, I think,
I sold it on eBay for $100 because I was like, “This thing is a piece of junk.” And then it was actually my brother, who kind
of prompted it. It had to have been several months later after we sold that bike he said,
“Hey, what happened to that bike? I think there’s an opportunity. I’m seeing these bikes
more and more everywhere. They’re really cool. I think we should maybe try to sell these
things as a side business.” So, we both discussed it and decided that,
if we were going to do this, (we) gotta do it right. And that’s when kind of that research
process happened. And I would say that that took maybe 12 to 18 months. And then we started a separate company because
we did bring in a third partner who was actually working for us in the furniture business.
So, we all put in a little bit of cash to completely, separately fund the bike venture. And then… And so that was November 2009
so we’re coming right up on our 10 year anniversary. And then we started selling bikes that March
of 2010. And this is before we even, I think, had the
name of the company or anything. We were just selling generic fixed gear bikes. Unbranded
fixed gear bikes, I should say. That’s amazing. So you guys were scaling that
up, and the furniture business is still going? Yeah. Still humping along. Yeah, yeah. So,
all the proceeds from the bike business we were able to reinvest. So when did you guys start to shift your focus
away from furniture into these bicycles and just go all in? I would say, we were simultaneously doing
both for a year to a year and a half. And then after about 18 months, it became apparent
that what we were doing, in terms of creating a brand, that’s so much more potential on
the State Bicycle side of things. So after about 18 months, I think we decided
to just phase out the other business. So, I would say in total, we are probably running
about both businesses for about 2 years from start to finish. And then yeah. Then it was
off and running full-time with State Bicycle. Awesome. So in that first couple… Once you
guys started to shift your focus, where were you guys finding your biggest wins? You had
established your product-market fit. You guys have made an awesome product. You guys are
getting those initial sales. You realize like, “Hey, we got something here.” Where were you starting to invest your time
to move the needle in your business to increase what was important to you? Which for most
people it’s sales, but there are other things that are important. So where were you guys
spending your time? Sure. So a lot it was just boots on the ground,
grassroots stuff. So, we were able to… Our warehouse was very close to the Arizona State
University campus. Big student-base. A lot of people (are) commuting by bike, etc. So, before we had a website or a name we’re
selling… We’re just hustling, selling bikes on Craigslist and Amazon and eBay. But where
we started to build that brand and community was through doing different events. And this is also at the time when Facebook
is starting to just really take off astronomically and you can reach an audience with actually
no money. There weren’t even ads, I think, at that time and everything was chronological. So (we) started building that way, but a lot
of it was local community building on Facebook. So, doing weekly night rides at 8 pm on Wednesdays
and getting people to come out. I think there was just a lot of excitement
around the brand because we were just doing fun and exciting things that we found interesting
and people wanted to be a part of that. That’s awesome. I think the community aspect
comes up a lot when people are talking about how they really got the first/initial jump
forward with their business. Yeah, absolutely. I think, without the airs
on a community here, –I was being out and really trying to facilitate and foster and
grow the bicycle scene here– we wouldn’t have happened. So I think we contributed a
lot, but also the riders around here contributed a lot for us. Gorgias Ad
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get your second month free. So, let’s jump through time to the present
day. You guys have been doing this for almost 10 years now, (laughs) what’s changed since
then? Oh my goodness. So, a lot has changed and
a lot is the same. So, for one, the products are way different. So we started with what
is now called our “4130 Line.” At that time, it was just our fixed gear bikes
and we had seven colorways but it was the same bike, just seven different colors. We
started with three sizes and now, just in that line alone, we probably have a dozen
different colorways that are constantly being retired and new ones coming out. Seven different sizes, different handlebars,
different wheels, and that’s just that line of the bike. But we’ve branched out. We do City Bikes now that are more casual.
We have a more price point, entry-level bike at $299, which is called our “Core-Line”
out. And now, we have bikes that are… We’re getting into Geared Bikes, we’re getting into
Off-Road Bikes and then –that’s not even to mention all the parts and accessories that
we do– we do a ton of apparel. We do anything from handlebars and saddles, all the way to
light for your bikes, backpacks. So we’ve built an entire ecosystem around
the bike just because the bike really isn’t the only thing you need. There’s all kinds
of gear and stuff ad that’s something that we will either do in-house or bring on third-party
brands that we personally love and we personally use and curate that experience for our riders.
Because so many of our customers so many of our riders are first-time writers, like we
were, back in 2008 – 2009. So with selling a bike, that’s something that
traditionally, people would want to hop on it at the store and give it a test ride. How
have you overcome the difficulty of selling something that originally… It was definitely
more like a hands-on buying experience. So how do you translate that online? What’s that
process like? Totally. So I think, to zoom out and look
at the bicycle industry, most people… Let’s take out online sales. Most people traditionally would get their
bikes in one of two ways. They would go to a local bike shop, –which now we work with,
actually, over 300 bike shops worldwide. Local bike shops. And this is your mom-and-pop bike
shop that’s on the corner or nearby college campus– or they go into one of these boutique
experiences. There’s a lot of those shops, but that is
actually a fairly small percentage of the market. The big market is big-box retailers. So you go into your Walmart or Target or DICK’s
Sporting Goods and they’re doing the bulk of bike sales. Even if you exclude kids bikes,
they’re doing the bike… Unit by unit, they’re doing the bulk of the sales in this country.
And when you go into those stores, I can’t say that the experience is any better. In fact, I know that it’s worse than the experience
you’re going to get online because of those costs… Bikes for those stores is just one
tiny SKU in ten, or hundreds of thousands of SKUs at the selling that store. So, there’s very seldom, if ever, an expert
that can talk to you about the advantages or disadvantages of a bike. Oftentimes, they’re
assembled incorrectly. They don’t really have the size selection.
It’s like, you go in you, you look, and you see a bike with (and) adjustable seat post
in and it’s supposed to be one-size-fits-all, but that’s not (laughs) normally the case. So I think by being online, we can actually…
You can sit down, you can look at the pictures, you can read about how you can customize the
bike. We have very detailed geometry and size chart recommendations. One thing that we’ve had almost the entire
duration of our company is a wonderful live chat that our customers often engage with,
and then they can also ask questions on social media, and so forth. So I think there are multiple interactions
that we can have with a customer, and take care of that customer, and address all their
questions and concerns, a lot more than you would get in a big box store. And then like I said, the other side of the
coin is a local bike shop. There are some great local bike shops. There are some bike
shops that are not so great. So that’s going to be a coin flip on what kind of experience
you get there. In the bike world, there is definitely a stigma
or I guess a stereotype that a lot of the bike shops are like the high-fidelity, snobby
record store where if you go into a bike shop and you don’t look a certain way, or act a
certain way, or even on some of the higher-end stores if you’re not wearing clothes where
they think that they can’t sell you a $2,000 or a $3,000 or a $4,000 bike, the employees
there are not really great for their customers. And don’t get me wrong. That’s not every bike
shop at all. But there are countless people that have poor experiences in these types
of shops because it is cliquey in a way. And that problem is only exasperated if you’re
a woman or a person of color. So our whole thing –and it kind of harkens
back to kind of the grassroots efforts that we’re doing– is we wanted to be as inclusive
as possible for everyone. Our mission, whether it’s the price point
of bike, the design of the bike, or just our general attitude to new riders, and our patience
in explaining what kind of gear you need, and the maintenance and everything, our goal
is just to get more riders on the road because that makes everyone safer, that makes everyone
healthier and it’s good for environment. And ultimately, we’re sharing our passion
for cycling with more people. Absolutely. That was a great answer. My takeaway
was if you know, if you want to sell something that’s traditionally a more long-term sale,
you got to answer every question, you got to be the nicest about it, and you got to
be, you know, an expert in exactly what you’re doing. And I think that’s going to help anyone that’s
selling a product that could be compared to a bicycle. Yeah, absolutely. So, the one thing that we
always have to remind ourselves, especially the further we get away from the beginning
of the company, is that we were not always as knowledgeable, we were not always in the
position. Most of our customers do not self-identify (as) a cyclist. So as the brand is growing, we’ve definitely
bled into that like cycling industry and we get hardcore riders but I would say those
people only make up 10 to 20% of our client base. 80% of our customers are, the kid or
–I say kid but– the young person that either is going to college and they’ve had the same
mountain bike that their parents bought them in middle school and they are finally buying
their first bike with their own money and they want something a little nicer, it’s that
person. It’s a person (who has) freshly graduated
and they got a job and an apartment in the city and it’s just frankly inconvenient and
doesn’t make sense to commute by car so they’ve wanted a bike so they can get to work and
back home and go to the bar after work. So they want something like that. They want something that’s easy to maintain,
simple. That’s why the majority of our sales are still fixed gear and single-speed bikes.
One gear. And I would say the majority of the commute. Our bikes are sub 5 miles to
10 miles type of thing. Absolutely. So let’s switch it up a little
bit here now. So, let’s talk about how important is your content strategy to the overall success
of State Bicycle. I think it’s like, they go hand in hand. They’re
intertwined. Really, with us not having a physical storefront, the many ways that we
interact with the customers are… it’s all digital. Whether that’s our live chat, whether that’s
our social media, whether that’s through our advertising, whether that’s through our YouTube
videos, those are all of our touchpoints with our customers. And being able to clearly convey
our messaging, and what we stand for, and just our overall vibe is really important. And that’s why someone would choose to spend
their hard-earned cash. Again, many of our customers are college students, they’re on
a budget, and they’re choosing to spend their dollars with us and we don’t take that lightly. So, one of the ways that we are able to, convince
people and people choose to spend the money with us, is through our content strategy.
Like I said, otherwise, we’re not the cheapest bike on the market. We’re not the most expensive, but we’re not
the cheapest whatsoever. So people have a myriad of options but choosing to come to
State because of our brand, and because of what we stand for, and that’s backed up by
the quality of the product, but it’s really reinforced through the content and conveyed
through the content, I should say. So what are some of the, I guess, tactics
of producing the content for the business? Which ones seem to work the best? Really, it’s going to depend on the line of
bike and the different personalities. So, most of our content that you see is going
to be, we call it “casually competitive.” So, we always want to have that underlying
tone that like our bikes can perform, or you can race on our bikes, or you can crush the
streets on our bikes if you wanted to. But for the most part, it’s laid back, it’s
fun, it’s free-spirited, and that’s the messaging that we always try to convey. Another thing that just harkens back to my
love of photography and design, and everything, we just want to keep everything simple and
clean. Again, most of our bikes are going to first-time
bike buyers, and we don’t want people to really have to get into the weeds of having too much
maintenance or too much technical knowledge. We want to sell bikes to people that can just
get on the bike and go. So those are the messaging that we’re always trying to convey. And we
do that through a variety of ways. I mean, we tried to translate that in our photography,
like I said, and the copy on the website, through our different various video series
and video ads, etc. Awesome. That sounds great. Well, before I
let you go here, is there anything else that you want to share with our audience? I mean, it sounds a little cliche, but (if)
you have something that you’re passionate about, and you have an idea, don’t be afraid
to fail, especially if you’re a young person, that’s the best time to take risks because
you have a lot less to lose. So if there are young people listening, if
you have an idea, don’t wait and don’t sit on it too much. Just execute and who knows
what could happen? Absolutely. You’ll figure it out from there. Yeah, definitely. And your plan (on) day one
doesn’t have to be your plan five years from now. You do take it day by day. Absolutely.
You take it day by day, you sell products, whatever you’re putting out there you’re getting…
And then you get external feedback and you process that and then you get better. It’s always been an ebb and flow. We’ve been,
in a lot of ways, driven by the tastes and our interests of our customers. And that’s
another way that… And social media can be so helpful, too. You need to have a balance between listening
to your customers and putting out what you think is right. But don’t be afraid to put
something out there. Get feedback on it, and then grow from there and improve. That’s a lovely way to end the episode. Thank
you so much for coming on the show. Yeah, thanks for having me. I cannot thank our guests enough for coming
on the show and sharing their journey and knowledge with us today. We’ve got a lot to
think about and potentially add to our businesses. Links and more information will be available
in the show notes as well. If anything in this podcast resonated with
you and your business, feel free to reach out and learn more at electriceye.io/connect.
Also, make sure you subscribe and leave an amazing review. Thank you!

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