Cyclepods: James Steward
If you can combine innovation with sustainability, you're onto a winner
James Steward, co-founder of Cyclepods, came away from university with something far more useful than a degree: the product on which his business was founded.
While studying design at Nottingham Trent University, he conceived his cycle storage unit as part of a project. It’s attractive, space-saving and environmentally friendly. Graduating in 2004, Steward met his co-founder, Natalie Connell, and it was her desire to run her own business that spurred the couple on to leave their jobs and form Cyclepods.
James designed the Cyclepods while consulting Nottingham County Council about its criteria for such products, and the council was the company’s first customer. Before long, it was counting names such as Pepsi, Reebok and Marks and Spencer on its client list. And all this from starting up with a Small Firms Loan Guarantee for just £15,000.
The product quickly received huge publicity, which the young ages of the founders (currently 23 and 24) contributed to. “We got a lot of interest from design and sustainability magazines as we decided to make Cyclepods from recycled materials,” says Steward. “Soon we were getting enquiries from big names, councils and Transport for London.”
Cyclepods then sourced private investment, and now has three non-executive directors. It has sold more than 100 units to a varied market, including schools, universities, shopping centres, councils and corporate clients.
But the founders don’t want stratospheric growth for its own sake, preferring to concentrate on quality and brand. “By the time Cyclepods is five years old, we want to be turning over a million,” says Connell. “We could have done that a lot sooner if we were mass producing and selling normal bike racks and lots of other products, like our competitors do. But we’re careful about who sells Cyclopods. It can only be people that won’t damage the brand. So we’re growing at a pace we’re comfortable with and that makes the brand stronger.”
This attitude has still allowed them to sell worldwide and international sales will remain a focus. But concentrating on one product isn’t easy. “When you work for yourself, you start to see lots of other opportunities,” says Connell. “But I think that’s where a lot of entrepreneurs can go wrong – by taking on too much.”
Variations on the Cyclepod idea are being launched constantly. There’s the minipod for kids’ bikes and a rotating Cyclepod for tight spaces. But Steward and Connell’s business sense and patience give their ideas the best chance of success.
“We’ve got all these ideas that we’ll be launching, but not until Cyclepods is exactly where we want it to be,” says Connell.