Like thousands of other people, we'd seen Revolights' Kickstarter campaign for the innovative bike lighting system by the same name. So when we met Revolights co-founder, Kent Frankovich, in Austin, TX during South by Southwest (SXSW), we were super excited to hear how the project was progressing. Kent was kind enough to carve out some time to meet with us for an interview and photo shoot. Read on to get the scoop.
Give us the rundown, what is Revolights?
Kent: We create, develop, market, and sell next generation, wheel mounted bicycle headlights and taillights. We promote cycling as a clean, sustainable form of transportation. Our goal is to make the roads safer by making cyclists more visible.
Our first product, the patented, award-winning Revolights bike lighting system consists of “smart” rings of LEDs which attach to the bicycle wheel and provides forward path illumination (Lighting), plus a huge increase in 360-degree visibility to cars (Sighting).
Tell us about the Revolights team.
Kent: Adam [Pettler] and I have known each other for more than 20 years. We grew up in the same neighborhood in Walnut Creek (San Francisco Bay Area), but came to work together somewhat by chance. While Adam was finishing up his MBA and looking for an idea to develop, I was working in Palo Alto serially creating prototypes of ideas at home in my spare time. One evening we were both at a mutual friend’s party when I showed Adam a video of what would become Revolights (prototype 2 out of 7). Soon after, we decided to start a company and build a bunch of bike lights.
What did you and Adam do before Revolights?
Kent: Prior to Revolights, I was working at a medical device startup company as a mechanical engineering group lead. Adam was working in the Biotech Industry at Genentech, while getting an MBA at UC Davis. We started out pretty far from bicycle lights.
How did you come up with the concept for Revolights?
Kent: The idea was spawned from a rather simple question I had while riding home one night. I wondered why the bike's headlight, meant to illuminate the road ahead of me, was mounted on my handlebars. I wanted to move my bicycle's headlight as close to the ground as possible to create a better lighting effect; which was the wheels. Yet to put the light on the wheels, I had to time the blinking of each LED to prevent the light from shining into the rider's eye when the wheel spins around. This also ended up creating a very unique "parenthesis" effect. After I had built the second prototype, we realized the incredible increase in the bicycle rider's visibly that came with it.
What makes Revolights different from similar products on the market?
Adam: Our goal is to make the cyclists more visible. Traditional bicycle lights focus on forward path illumination, yet a majority of night-time car-on-bike collisions happen because of inadequate side visibility. Currently no product on the market provides both forward path illumination + 360˚ visibility at a functionally high level.
Our answer is Revolights, the first product the combines both 360˚ visibility with forward path illumination. They are the first smart bike lights, and include a brake indicating tail light as well. We treat bicycles as vehicles, and want to afford them the same level of safety lights as cars.
Where is Revolights available?
Kent: Revolights are available at our website, revolights.com. We currently ship to all of North America, and recently opened our first shop location in Emeryville, California as well.
Do you plan to expand to other markets?
Kent: Yes. We plan to begin shipping to Europe very soon. From the UK to the Netherlands to Germany to France, Europe represents the center of the current 'bicycle as a means of transportation' movement. Europe will represent a very important market expansion for Revolights, with expansion to additional markets soon after.
We plan to begin selling Revolights in local bike shops soon as well. People that ride bikes, like riding to local shops.
How do you market Revolights to reach new customers?
Kent: We have a small marketing team, but work to make a big impact by focusing on design and community building. We focus our marketing resources on PR, guerilla marketing, social media, and online advertising.
We do a great deal of local organized events (i.e. rides, meet-ups, etc.) in the San Francisco Bay Area, and look forward doing a bunch more all around. In terms of social media; Facebook, Twitter (@Revolights), YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc., we are on all forms of social media, and use them to build community. We're lucky that we have such an attention grabbing product, so we believe our best marketing is to have satisfied customers out riding the streets at night with their Revolights.
What is your biggest struggle as a startup?
Kent: Resources. Since we need every dollar to go as far as possible we've had to rely heavily on our own personal networks for help in areas where we lack experience.
What one piece of advice would you give someone wanting to start a new business?
Adam: Find the right people. When starting a new business you'll end up spending a ton of time with your partners and relying on them a lot. It's important that you can trust in them, and create alongside them. Good people make all the difference
What are your goals for Revolights in the future?
Kent: : Our goal in the next year is to begin selling Revolights in stores, and producing future product versions.
Our 5 year goal is to become the standard in bicycle lighting. You don't buy a car without lights. We don't believe you should buy a bike without them either.
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