Here we talk to Robert Aldous, founder of KitBrix, an innovative and modular way of organising and transporting your sports kit. It took the company a mere 12 months from concept to store, and Robert provides our readers with some valuable lessons he learned along the way.
The modular element is at the core of the product. What inspired you to come up with the idea in the first place?
In the summer of 2014 I entered into a Quadrathlon in Scotland which consisted of swim, hike, kayak and cycle. Great fun (sort of)! After travelling to the event with all my kit in one big bag, I realised that I had forgotten my cycle shoes, wetsuit and energy food! A shocking display of organisation for an ex-military officer! On the train on the way back, I decided to sketch a bag that would have helped me and all the other people that forgot equipment – the field that we all camped in looked like a bomb site with people trying to organise their kit and equipment. My brain works very simply, so I wanted to be able to use a bag while training for either swimming cycling or running (hiking). I didn’t want an event bag, that wasn’t going to solve the problem. I wanted to train with the same bag I use on the day of the races – therefore I had to find a way of connecting these bags, allowing me to have all my kit in exactly the right place when I need it. KitBrix was created.
Going from concept to store in a mere 12 months is an incredible achievement. How was this possible?
I registered KitBrix in the summer of 2014, spent 12 months learning the basics of the manufacturing and retail industry in my spare time outside of work (yes, I have a day job), spent Christmas in China learning how to manufacture a product and dedicated every early morning, late evening and weekend in to launching within a year of registration. 3 months from official launch, we have sold approx. 5000 bags and have initial distribution agreements in US, Canada, South America and Asia. In the words of my product, ‘keeping it together’ and managing my own time has been key.
How did your military experience help in the success of KitBrix – it could explain the answer to the previous question?
In the military whether in the field, on ship or working in an operations room, you learn how to ‘keep going’. You learn to read the signs that your body needs rest, nutrition, exercise, sleep etc. Understanding where my limits are, I know I can push myself and my efforts to be able to maximise my time working.
Is Kitbrix aimed purely at the sports market, or is there a dual purpose, e.g. going on holiday with children – each child could have their own bag?
KitBrix was initially aimed at the triathlon market due to the clear separation of sports. This was seen as good route to market as it focuses the product in to the sports industry. However, as you have quite rightly noticed, the opportunities for KitBrix across all market spaces is vast. Not only can KitBrix be used for any sport or leisure activity, it can be used for teams, mechanics, in factories etc. as med bags, tool bags, named bags. The possibilities are endless. The simplicity in design and its robust features, mean that KitBrix can be utilised for pretty much whatever you want it for! No fuss, just organised kit.
Has entrepreneur Lara Morgan’s input been particularly valuable, given her own success as an athlete?
Not only has Lara’s input as an athlete been vital, her business experience; knowledge of the retail industry, Asian manufacturing, international logistics etc has been key to the rapid development of KitBrix getting to market. I am under no illusion that without Lara’s influence I may still be walking the streets with a mock up sample trying to get someone to believe in my idea! I have ultimate respect and thanks for Lara Morgan and family for helping me get to this position.
What is your current sales model? Is this just UK or are you thinking about expansion within next 12 months?
KitBrix is available in select outlets in the UK such as Sigma Sports (Hampton Wick, London) and Ride Poole (Dorset), at present as we have only launched 3 months ago however we are looking for further outlets in the UK that match our standards and values not solely in the cycling community. Abroad we have a distribution model and have initial distribution agreements in US, Canada, South America and Asia
What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned over the start-up process?
- Establish working hours for both businesses Without establishing a clear plan and separate working hours my mind and my focus will drift and blur and this will make me unproductive, stressed and confused. I tried the whole ‘two laptop’ thing, working at lunch etc. This didn’t work for me. I needed clear separation. Apart from my smart phone where I have access to all email and all diaries, I kept my day job Monday-Friday 9-5 and my company 7-8am, 6-10pm and Sundays.
- Establish an overarching timeline Although I didn’t know enough to make accurate assumptions on timeline, I could put key milestones in to keep myself sane! This would help me plan my life, ensure I don’t lose to many of my friends and ensure I can maintain progression in the company.
- Be honest with your manager in your full time job, preferably talk to the CEO, they will understand! I was quite nervous about telling anyone within my day job about what I am trying to do as the natural reaction is to think it will interfere with the day job and to be honest if you don’t get no.1 right then it will! There is no need, unless you are contractually obligated, to put the cat amongst the pigeons too early as the idea may fade, be untenable or may just not work. I wanted to get the timing right, inform the right people at the right time and inform the CEO first (if you have a short enough management structure then I would recommend you do the same) as they will understand ambition, self-improvement and get the fact that being ‘entrepreneurial’ and driven can be a benefit to all. My CEO was understanding because I was delivering at work and asked me to just inform him if it gets too much or the lines begin to blur, a reasonable request.
- Keep a day off – Working all the time is tiring but fun. I love being in the mix, in the fast paced environment that startups provide and ensuring that I keep the plates spinning, but it was important to take time off and make sure I didn’t take MORE time off than what I needed. A big night out meant a day-and-a-half off and that was a waste of my time and the companies time.
- Keep time for training and personal development I signed up for a number of short evening courses from financial management to digital marketing. This was like therapy as it helped me forget about both roles and focus on pure theory and practice allowing me to implement these new skills in both roles. To an extent my job and new company had certain parallels, they are both sales focussed and therefore my courses served two purposes and benefited all. The training part was harder but the benefit of having my own product (this is NOT the sales pitch) was that I had all my kit ready in the car, if I had a free hour and was passing a Virgin Active, I jumped in worked out and got back on the road.
- Keep a record of your finances from Day 1 – A simple but effective action which I wish I had done from day 1 is to get an office spike and place every single receipt I had on to this. Keeping all receipts in order would have saved me time going through bags or envelopes of receipts when finances got serious. Simple solutions stand the test of time!
You can find out more at Kitbrix.com