Made in Britain: Toddlebike

What does your company do? What products services does it provide?

Toddlebike is a unique ‘Pre-Balance’ bike that fills the gap between baby ride-on toys, and balance bikes. We represent the very first step towards learning to ride a bike for toddlers in the UK and beyond.

We sell primarily via John Lewis, Amazon, our own website and a number of independent cycle shops. We work with childcare and cycling organisations and media, to encourage parents to get their babies out of buggies and learning to ride as soon as they can walk.

Where did the idea for your business come from?
My son – Elliot. At 15 months, he was hugely active, independent and not at all keen on being strapped in to his buggy, but was not physically or mentally ready for a balance bike or scooter. During a trip to Belgium, I came across a previous manifestation of the Toddlebike and saw immediately how perfect it was for this stage in his development. It soon became very clear that there was nothing comparable in the UK, so I secured the rights and worked with the manufacturers to make some improvements and Toddlebike was born.

When did you start up, and what support were you given?
I launched Toddlebike in autumn 2010 with a huge amount of support from the network of SureStart Children’s Centres, many of whom use the Toddlebike as part of their centre or toy library offering. I was also really well supported by the cycling community and cycling media, which immediately recognised Toddlebike as being an important first step towards learning to ride.

What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Winning the PitchUp competition last year saw Toddlebike being stocked across the John Lewis network, and propelled us into the main stream. The competition, run by John Lewis and StartUp Britain – an initiative launched by the Prime Minister in 2011 to celebrate entrepreneurship in the UK – helps small businesses get their products in front of top retail buyers.

To find out about PitchUp and similar schemes, the Business is GREAT campaign offers a range of information, inspiration and support for businesses to take the next step in their growth journey.

What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Staying motivated in the in the first two years of business, keeping my focus on the product and how to realise its potential. Regardless of how amazing your product or idea is, starting a business can be an emotional rollercoaster, and on top of that you have to suddenly manage a huge range of tasks, many of which are new and out of your comfort zone. Lucky for me, I do enjoy a challenge!

How would you say you differentiate yourself from the competition?
Toddlebike is the opposite of lots of other toys that promise the world with fancy branding or gimmicks, and then don’t deliver. Toddlebike is ‘function over form’ – while at first glance it might not seem much to look at, its simplicity is why it’s so perfect. The youngest of riders are much more interested in how they are able to interact with a toy once it is home, than the marketing spin around it. Word of mouth does an excellent job for us – once parents realise the impact it has on their toddler, no further convincing is needed. This is how we have been able to grow so quickly without the need for advertising.

We are committed to the whole lifecycle of the product, not just the initial sale. We work with organisations and parents to ensure that we are the first step towards learning to ride, and that the journey is supported all of the way up.

What has been the best decision you have made to-date?
The first was engaging cyclists and cycling media in the launch phase and early marketing of Toddlebike. Their support has been phenomenal and they are such an engaged community – I still regularly see posts from avid Toddlebike fans whose children were some of our first riders back in 2010.

More recently, Amazon has represented a very strong route to market for Toddlebike. The combination of a massive marketplace, and a customer feedback focused approach has meant that unusual products can be clearly seen in the context of customer experience. It has given products not already in the mainstream a very viable chance to compete, based on their merits rather than who has the biggest marketing budget.

Where do you see the business in 12 months’ time?
Continuing to grow! Sales this year have exceeded even our wildest estimates – which, of course, is wonderful. But managing the growth is going to be our challenge. There are over 700,000 new babies born every year in the UK and I think they all deserve a Toddlebike, so the scope is massive.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Know your market, your competitors and where your product fits in. This is the context in which your customers will see your product, so your messages need to be designed accordingly.
Keep start-up costs low. Use social media to spread the word. There has never been a better time to rely on the product to sell itself so take time to engage online communities and generate exposure – if it’s good it should sell itself.
Speak to ‘experts’ in your industry and use their views to help consolidate your own.
Learn how to survive the rollercoaster – enjoy the ups and downs – build on your successes and use the dips to make improvements. Be willing to change tack; in the early days when you’re small it’s much easier to be responsive and make changes accordingly which is a major strength.
Enjoy yourself – have fun and set yourself milestones so that when you achieve them you don’t forget to celebrate!

What do you find most satisfying about running a business?
Seeing all of the hard work and vision come to fruition, and hearing from other parents and toddlers who are as enthusiastic about Toddlebike as Elliot and I were at the outset.

It is great having absolute autonomy to plan the future, building on the success we have already had. Toddlebike is still in its infancy and has a huge amount of unrealised potential. These are very exciting times.