Not sure which is cooler – the actual StemCAPtain line, or the fact that a couple of guys came up with an idea for a product, and turned it into a successful business. I’ve kept in touch with Mike Hogan of StemCAPtain since I ran into him at my first Interbike, and figured it was time for an interview, since the company has grown a bit over the years.
*Note that he’s even offered a discount code for members of the Twospoke.com forums.
Q. We met at Interbike 2008. At the time, wasn’t StemCAPtain more of a hobby?
A. Yep, more or less. It didn’t really turn into a full-time gig until we re-located to Grand Junction about two years ago. I was then finally able to quit my day job as an engineer.
Q. Things have changed a bit since then, haven’t they?
A. Yeah, they definitely have. It’s been really exciting seeing it go from selling a couple of units on eBay a month, to now having full worldwide distribution and our own online store.
Q. How did StemCAPtain come about? Was there an epiphany, that light bulb going off, or was it one of those sketches on a napkin while knocking down some cold ones?
A. Well a little of both actually. My friend and co-founder Graeson Lewis and I were big time into riding at the time. Mountain biking was such a passion, I think it is natural to think about things like what could be a cool new product. We were always more into the freeride, all mountain riding style, and you wouldn’t find a cycle computer on our bikes. Equally important, neither of us owned a watch. But we both had girlfriends, and to stay out of trouble, it was good not to get home too late sometimes. Or waste time and get home too early for that matter! And having to constantly pull out your phone to check the time is a drag. Graeson knew that I had a product development background in the medical device industry. One night after a weekly poker game with some other riding buddies in Boulder, CO, hanging out in the garage drinking brews, Graeson was like “what if you could make a stem cap with a clock in it”? The topic was rehashed a few times over the next few months. Finally we got a design idea that looks doable sketched out over some sandwiches at Snarf’s on Pearl St. Then I can clearly remember making that initial first purchase, about $25 for a foot of aluminum round stock, and a few other items from McMaster Carr. It was really painful at the time, cash was really tight. But once you break that initial barrier, it gets easier. You can’t be afraid to invest in an idea that you really believe in. Fortunately, StemCAPtain was simple enough that it didn’t take a huge investment to get going. We have never had any outside investors. In fact I don’t think we have ever been in more than a couple thousand in the red. Just growing slowly and reinvesting has been the philosophy. One of the reasons I wanted to get out of the corporate world was so I could be my own boss. I’ve always thought having investors just puts you right back in the position of having to answer to someone else. We like to have that creative freedom that can only come from truly being our own.
Q. I’ve seen plenty of evolution in the product line. Any ideas that never made it to production?
A. There is a saying that goes something to the tune of “ideas are cheap”. Yeah man, we’ve had plenty of them. Some good ones that we maybe haven’t pursued because they were too expensive and or risky. Others that maybe sound good at first, but then started to be ridiculous after a while. One of the funniest and coolest ones I’ve heard in a while is a magic 8 ball StemCAPtain, with things like “go for it!” and “trust your gut” or whatever that would come up. We just might pursue that one. We have decided to stay out of the digital realm for now. Analog is our thing. Simple and classic.
Q. Does customer feedback play a big role in which products you create or improve?
A. Absolutely. We love hearing from our customers and get great ideas for new products and improvements all the time. The new StemCAPtain Enduro32 is a prime example. Set screw attachment, smaller diameter. This came directly out of testing and customer feedback.
Q. Each base is made in Colorado, where the final assembly takes place. Do you do the machine work and assembly, or do you have a crew for that?
A. We have a small machine shop we have been working with since we started in 2007 in Boulder called JDECM. JD is an awesome dude and does great work. He machined our first prototypes, and does our production work today. We do all the assembly and some of the post CNC work in house. Laser etching. We work with a local anodizer in town. Right now we only have myself and one employee. We hope to keep expanding and I can see having 2-3 employees in addition to myself a few years down the road.
Q. That’s great to see a contribution made to the local economy. Small or large, we need to keep some wages and tax dollars local.
A. Right on, we’re proud to do our small part.
Q. What’s your current favorite product, or the one you’re most proud of, either due to design or execution?
A. The new Compass 3.0 and the Enduro32. Both an evolution from the previous generation. Also, that bottle opener is pretty sweet and comes in handy.
Q. Are you going to accept custom work? Would you do a one-off, or limited run, if the terms were agreeable?
A. Definitely, we have done some custom engraving for shops, magazines and the like. We can also custom engrave for customers on a one-off basis.
Q. Have you gotten into many shops, or are most orders placed through your site?
A. We are in quite a few shops. Our first was Full Cycle in downtown Boulder. I remember walking in and just being a complete nervous wreck and asking to talk to the owner or manager. I never have been the best salesman or liked it very much. When the owner Kaj came out, I had some shaky hands and sweaty palms when I showed him what would become our first retail StemCAPtains. I almost ran through the streets wanting to tell everyone about it when he said he said, “pretty cool, I will take 30”. We now have distribution with QBP and J&B importers, as well as a few international distributors. Sales are pretty equal between direct internet orders and shops/distributors.
Q. Going forward, what does the future hold for StemCAPtain? Any sneak previews?
A. We want to keep going with the original stem cap theme. You might already know we now offer a motion activated valve stem cap led light. But we also want to expand out of the stem cap realm. We are currently working on a design for a handy component that I think could shake up the market a bit. We will keep you posted. Posted is a hint to what it might be as well.
Q. Thanks for taking the time to chat again. Anything you’d like to add?
A. Thanks for thinking of us and it’s been great keeping in touch. I also have a promo code set up for your guys on our website – www.stemcaptain.com. You can use “twospoke” for 15% off. All the best and hope to see you on the trail!