Jordan Klein and David Hall’s ideal bike helmet doesn’t look like a bike helmet at all.
It’s a bit like a baseball cap, smooth with a black brim on the front. And it collapses down to the size of an umbrella when you’re not using it.
As it turns out, a lot of people don’t like traditional bike helmets, so Klein and Hall decided to make their design come to life.
The duo started taking orders in September. Already, their company, Park & Diamond, has raised $1.7 million through pre-orders.
At $84 per helmet, that’s more than 16,000 customers.
“I think the reason why we’re seeing the adoption and the interest that we’re seeing is because we saw this problem from a genuine and heartfelt place,” Klein said. “And people really resonate and react to that.”
Klein and Hall were undergraduate students at Virginia Tech when they first came up with the idea.
Hall’s sister, Rachel, was hit by a car while riding her bicycle. The driver didn’t stop.
Rachel spent four months in a coma. She hadn’t been wearing a helmet.
Rachel’s accident led Hall to think about why people don’t wear helmets. What’s stopping them?
He teamed up with Klein to put some ideas to life.
They took the concept to the e-Fest entrepreneurship competition in 2017.
The competition brings together entrepreneurial students from around the country, co-sponsored by the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas’ Opus College of Business and EIX.org, an online learning platform for entrepreneurs, students and professors.
Hall and Klein won $100,000, essential seed money to launch Park & Diamond.
The 2019 e-Fest competition kicks off this week, so it’s been just about two years since the pair won. We checked in to see what they’ve learned and how far they’ve come in that time.
The seed money helped make it possible for them to go after the dream, but they’ve had to learn and grow in the years since.
That started right away with product development. Because the standard bike helmet really hasn’t changed a whole lot over the years, the industry wasn’t automatically equipped for them.
“Redesigning the bike helmet from scratch requires that we also produce the helmet from scratch,” Hall said. “This has meant that we need unique suppliers, materials, tools, and custom parts that are not found in the bike helmet industry.”
Working with manufacturers and suppliers for the first time is always daunting for a small company. Things always take longer and cost more money than anticipated.
But Hall said the work has made him realize just how vital suppliers are. They can make or break a deadline.
“You are only as strong as your entire team, which includes everyone from the C-Suite executives to an assembly-line operator,” he said. “Everyone who is involved in the company and the product is involved in the success.”
The first wave of helmets is expected to ship to early backers in June.
Because the pair started their business as students at Virginia Tech, they had the resources of the university to help bolster their success.
But being an entrepreneur also takes patience, Klein said.
And it’s been encouraging for them to remember that there isn’t an age requirement to be an entrepreneur.
“I think that’s one of the wonderful things about entrepreneurship is that nobody’s too young to do it,” he said. “It’s more about aptitude than it is about experience. A lot of entrepreneurship is teaching yourself.”
Sure, skills learned in the classroom help. But direct experience isn’t necessary.
In the tech age, young entrepreneurs seem to be more common than ever before. For example, Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, created the site when he was just 19.
The Park & Diamond helmet was reactionary. Because of that, Klein said, it was important for it to be practical and accessible.
Price was a part of that. The two knew they couldn’t sell a bike helmet for $300. Rachel never would have purchased that helmet. Currently, pre-order pricing for the helmet starts at $84, which is in line with many traditional adult bike helmets.
The pair say making the ideal helmet has been taxing, but rewarding at the same time.
Their mission makes it all worth it.
“You have to be completely obsessive about the problem,” Klein said. “That comes from a place of passion, and not a place of greed.”
Aside from the first product release, the team has a lot in the works, and is working with local artists and large retail brands for potential limited edition helmets.
But Klein said they’re careful not to get “shiny object syndrome.” They know the task at hand.
“Our most rewarding moment will come when we see someone wearing the helmet and knowing that we are protecting them,” Hall said. “That moment of knowing that we are preventing Rachel’s accident from happening to someone else is when we know that our mission has been successful.”
Gretchen has reported on the criminal justice system in rural Minnesota and covered everything from politics to millennial truck drivers for Wisconsin Public Radio. She is passionate about public media as a public service. She’s also into music and really good coffee. Follow her on Twitter @gretch_brown.