How to Break Into the Cycling Industry – Paul Budntiz of Budnitz Bicycles
Over the past couple of weeks I have been in contact with the fine folks at Budnitz Bicycles, hammering out the details of a review bike and contest to come. In doing so, I have come to learn (from conversations and research) that Paul Budnitz himself is a pretty unique and interesting person. I have also learned that he and I share a few core beliefs – for instance, you should always do what you love and in doing so you will find success and to spend your money once and spend it right.
Hoping to learn more about the guy behind the brand, I sat down with Paul to pick his brain. Enjoy.
Bikerumor: Who are you and what are you doing here?
Paul Budnitz: I’m the owner and founder of Budnitz Bicycles. I do some of everything — from designing bicycles to laying out our web site, writing copy and art directing the photography. I load boxes too, when we’re short handed.
Being such a small company (there are only a handful of us here) makes the company relatively dynamic and responsive. We know all of our customers personally, and can take the time to build bicycles that are just right for each rider. That’s a blast.
Bikerumor: What was your first job or experience in the cycling industry? How did you “break” in?
Paul Budnitz: I like to think we’re not in the bicycle industry, and I’m not sure if we’ve actually “broken in” anywhere.
I started out designing bicycles for my own use, mainly because I couldn’t find what I wanted on the market. I wanted a beautiful, fast, lightweight bicycle to use every day as my primary city bike, for commuting, and to use for long rides on the weekend. I also wanted my bicycle to be comfortable, and to look amazing — as beautiful as a classic car, and a design that would age beautifully as well.
Generally, though, most production bicycles I found in bike stores had lower grade components or just didn’t last or ride well over time — and others were just plain ugly. Plus, most high-end bicycles out there are designed race bikes, which makes them light and fast, but uncomfortable and impractical for everyday use.
It took many years and iterations and prototypes to come up with our first bicycle design, which eventually turned into our Model No.1. It’s been redesigned and enhanced over time, but it’s still our best-selling model.
The other key decision we made was to skip the bicycle industry completely, and to only sell direct to our customers. No bike shops. This means we can take less of a markup, and our customers get a much better bicycle, hand built with higher grade components than almost anything else out there. What other production bicycle offers White Industries hubs, Chris King Titanium headsets and Paul Components levers?
It also means that the person selling our bicycles understands them, top to bottom. If a customer calls and wants a bicycle we know he’ll be unhappy with, we won’t sell him that bicycle. We also won’t make a bicycle that we think is ugly, though we’re happy to work with a customer on a custom color.
We even offer a no-questions asked return policy, and so far we’ve had zero returns. None. I love that.
Bikerumor: What’s your educational background?
Paul Budnitz: I studied art at Yale University.
Actually — I started out studying physics, but switched to art when I realized I’d get to do more different things, and have more fun doing them, if I headed in a different direction.
Bikerumor: After that first experience/job, what was the path to your current position?
Paul Budnitz: I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never had a regular job. It probably would have done me some good, but I’ve been told I have a problem with authority most of my life, and always ended up doing my own thing.
I generally start my own companies based on ideas I have. Because I’m a designer too, I can design products that I love and that interest me deeply. I founded a company called Kidrobot which makes art toys with fine artists and street artists. That was certainly the biggest company I’ve created, but I’ve done many things as well, from programming software to writing screenplays to selling used clothing in Asia.
Budnitz Bicycles came out of a lifetime of riding, and a love of bicycle design. The bicycles we are making today are some of the best things I’ve ever done. I’m very proud of them.
Bikerumor: What’s a normal day for you?
Paul Budnitz: Get up, bike to the office.
Usually there’s a combination of design work, some marketing questions, and sales questions waiting for me.
I’m working on a book about creativity, design, and business and I usually take a few hours each day to work on that, unless a mini-crisis comes up. We manufacture many of our own components, and there’s often some pull and push to get everything we need in on time! Plus customer questions to be answered. Many details.
Bikerumor: What are the highlights of your job?
Paul Budnitz: Running into people riding one of my bicycles on the street and talking to them. That’s always fun, and I always learn a lot in the process.
That and cycling to lunch with the good people I work with!
Bikerumor: What could you do without?
Paul Budnitz: Bike snobs (not THE Bike Snob. We love him!).
Bicycle people tend to have strong opinions, which is a good thing — but there is sometimes a general intolerance for new or different ideas.
For example, some people gave us flack when we started out for making city bicycles that cost more than $300. As far as I’m concerned, if we’re going to elevate bicycles to the level of high art and engineering, like a BMW car or Moto Guzzi motorcycle, we need to be willing to invest in that. Also, there’s enough opposition to cyclists from the outside. In any case, time and a myriad of good reviews seem to have solved that issue for us on its own.
As bicyclists ought to support one another, whether you’re riding a fixie you built yourself from a bike shop’s dumpster, a vintage Raleigh you bought at a flea market (beautiful!), or a high end boutique bicycle like a Rivendell, IF, Beloved, or one of our bikes.
The key thing is that the bicycle you ride is something you love. That should be enough!
Bikerumor: What advice would you give to someone looking to follow your path today?
Paul Budnitz: I tend to burn bridges behind me, and I wouldn’t recommend that anyone do just what I do.
But I do suggest that the shortest path to success is following what you love and care about, and always having a commitment to do what you do immaculately. Also that your weaknesses tend to be your greatest strength, if you are willing to ask others for help.
It’s easy to sell something that’s truly wonderful. If your heart is in it, the love shines through.