#thatsbrass | Kathryn Carlson Makes Urban Cycling Convenient and Stylish
Inclement weather, avoiding car doors, and swerving around pedestrians; these are only some of the issues urban cyclists face. Trying to avoid these obstacles while also attempting to look stylish? Well, that’s the holy grail. Kathryn Carlson decided to make the lives of city bikers a little easier with her invention: The Buca Boot. Think of the Buca Boot as a bicycle version of the car trunk. Store your belongings securely in the boot on and off the bike. You no longer have to worry about toting your less-than-fashionable helmet into the bar. Bike around town, reduce carbon emissions and throw on your stilettos when you meet up with your date? Now #thatsbrass.
Kathryn tells us where she came up with the idea, what it’s like to create a product, and how she stays stylish on the saddle.
Q: Tell us a bit about the back story of the Buca Boot. What were you doing before you started working full-time on the Buca Boot? How and when did you decide to make it your full-time gig?
Like many product ideas, the Buca Boot was born out of personal frustration…and shoes. I’ve been riding my bike around cities for years and when I was in grad school in London, I faced that age-old dilemma: Do I choose the practical or the fashionable shoes? I didn’t want to bike across London in my cute and very high heels but I also didn’t want to carry a bag of extra shoes into a club. I wanted a car trunk on my bike.
Each day since that first inkling, I’d come upon another situation where I wish I had a trunk. I was sick of planning my day around the stuff I might need. What if it rains, what if I get cold, what if I decide to meet up with friends after work? The Buca Boot solves these problems. We like to say that the Buca Boot gives you the freedom of your bike with the storage & security of a car trunk.
Since the idea’s inception, it took quite a few years to develop the right design. A big reason for this is that I’m an economist, not a mechanical engineer. I spent my days in the finance industry building models in Excel, not out of plastic. So I had to take the design in my head and find the right people to help bring it to life. We finally did that and when we successfully completed our Kickstarter campaign (last October, 2013), it became apparent that I needed to focus solely on the Buca Boot in order to bring it to market. I left my job a few months later and we’ve been working design iterations and setting up production since then.
Q: You did a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $90K. These pre-orders serve as financing for production and start-up costs. What are some of the benefits and drawbacks of crowdfunding?
A: Kickstarter was great for us because it provided market validation (and some money!) We have our first customers because of Kickstarter and garnered great press. That’s much more difficult to do outside of the crowdfunding campaign platform. However, be prepared that running a Kickstarter campaign is a full-time job. Unless you are one of a lucky few, you need to constantly reach out to potential backers and press and find ways to keep the momentum going. Also, remember that both Kickstarter and Amazon take fees, so factor that into your bottom line.
Q: What is one thing you’ve learned during the production and manufacturing process that totally surprised you?
A: It’s easy to make 1-5 units of something and relatively easy to make 100,000 units. It’s very difficult to make 1,000, which is usually where a small product start-up is for a first run. Set-up costs (molds) are very expensive, which we knew but it can also be difficult just to find manufacturers who will work on a smaller scale.
Q: We know you are a city-cyclist. What does the perfect day on your bike in Boston look like?
A: Every day on bike is a great day, especially in Boston because you don’t have to sit in traffic or look for parking. I particularly love any route that takes me along or across the river. I love the view crossing the Mass Ave. Bridge, in either direction. Also, my favorite days are those with that perfect in-between weather when it’s still warm enough to go without a coat but cool enough that it’s not sticky. So, September, I guess!
Q: How do you describe your style? Any special tips for ladies who still want to look fashionable while biking?
A: Wear dresses! So much easier to bike in than pants…you don’t have to worry about getting stuck in the chain. Your Sheath dress is perfect; in fact, I’m going online to buy one right now!