Katy's Startup Story: Leaving the 9-5 to startup in professional bike cleaning
After a career change and a surprise redundancy, Founding Escape Member Katy decided to push aside her fear of failing to launch her own business, Ride Clean, at the end of 2017. She shares her startup journey so far.
What business have you started and why?
In 2018 I started Ride Clean, a professional pop-up bike cleaning service and health check across London. I started Ride Clean out of my own frustration of being unable to do a proper bike clean and maintenance in a flat, and couldn’t find a company across London that specifically did a deep clean of a bicycle. I knew that this put me off riding during the winter, and that I should clean my bike but lacked space and time.
Describe your life before you founded your business. What were you doing professionally?
My first job out of university in 2005 was as a golf caddy, not your average graduate job. I loved it and gave me the opportunity to live and work in the USA and support myself doing a job that I didn’t even know existed previously. But after several years I grew tired of the seasonal lifestyle and wanted some security, so I went back to do my Masters at Cornell University, NY and returned to the UK where I landed my first ‘real’ job as I approached 30. What a shock to the system to sit at a desk and attend endless meetings! Within 6 months I knew this wasn’t for me, but stuck with it thanks to advice from older and wiser mentors. I lasted 5 years and with a less conventional background found progression hard despite achieving targets and immersing myself in industry networking events and speaking at conferences.
How were you feeling at this point in time? About yourself/ about your life/about your work?
I felt suffocated, stuck, and completely frustrated stuck in an organisation that didn’t have a forward-looking approach, was focused on mediocrity and had no trust in its employees. It was at this point that I came across Escape the City and joined as a Founding Member. At this stage I didn’t yet have a clear idea of what or how I might start my own business, but I knew that this was a great community to be involved in. It helped open my mind and re-frame my thinking while being surrounded with lots of like-minded people across a wide range of industries and backgrounds.
How did you start to overcome your startup blockers?
Looking back I can see I took lots of little steps to get to where I am now. Taking a job in a cycling coffee shop to see how life stacked up without a salary, and the reality of not having a disposable income to socialise with friends or take weekend breaks away. Testing my real passion for combining my love for cycling and hospitality and whether this is something that can sustain me from a financial standpoint as well as an intellectual one.
This period taught me much about who my real friends were and the many money-saving tricks that allow you to live within your means…ride a bike everywhere (pretty much) and you save a lot of money! I don’t think there was one moment which changed everything, more a series of moments and following what felt right for me. Plus the idea of conitnuing to follow a path even if I didn’t know the outcome. Getting comfortable with being slightly uncomfortable and starting to believe in myself – relying less on external sources of validation but my internal dial.
How have you managed your finances whilst moving into entrepreneurship?
Money is always tight when you embark on starting a business, and something I tested my comfort level while working in a coffee shop. Between my coffee shop days and the present, I was lucky enough to take on freelance work at cycling events through the network I grew within the industry, and subsequently land a full time role as Commercial Director in a small cycle travel company. There was a point where I felt I now had the balance of a stable salary in a line of work I was passionate about. This was all until the end of last year when I was made redundant. This sent me several steps backward as I thought I had found my way only to be lost again.
It took several months and being in bed with flu to calm my mind and once again start to make sense of things. But I was very worried about money at this point. The idea for Ride Clean had been born but I didn’t know if it had any real commercial value.
One really practical step I took was to withdraw cash at the start of each week that would be my allowance to live off for that week. Having the real hard cash makes you think about the extra coffee, or snack, and then it became a game with myself to have change left at the end of the week. I would put any extra cash in an envelope and save it over the month and then bank it. I felt really positive about this as my own mini success. It might sound crazy, but it worked! I saved enough for a treat to go away for a weekend with my best friend.
What did the community mean to you? How did it help? What resonated the most with you?
The statement that resonated most for me from Escape the City was ‘what would I do if I had no fear of failing?’ I have often repeated this to myself when I am feeling stuck in a situation and let my mind open up to the possibilities available.
What are you doing now? What does your day-to-day look like right now? How are you spending your days? How are you splitting your time? What are your priorities?
I am now the founder of Ride Clean and spend my days split between working operationally to clean bikes in a variety of locations, (e.g. office storage units for bikes, markets, partnering with coffee shops or at cycling events) with strategic growth and development of the business. This involves business development, growth of partnerships, supplier relationships, and the long term growth and scaling of Ride Clean.
It keeps me very busy, and more doors and opportunities are emerging. I also try and keep a healthy balance with enough sleep, good nutritious meals, and exercise as well as seeing friends and family. The operational work I do is physically demanding and I need to stay fit and healthy so it is very important to maintain this otherwise I will be in trouble very quickly!
What’s felt like key milestones so far? What are you most excited for in the coming months or years?
The big milestones so far have been breaking even in the first month of trading, scoring corporate deals, repeat customers, and reinvesting in the company with an upgrade to an e-cargo bicycle!
I’m most excited about getting into next year and looking to add some helping hands. As Ride Clean grows the customer base, I am keenly aware I need help in a few different areas. I look forward to building a team that are as passionate about cycling and working to make our city more liveable through the power of the bicycle. The infrastructure in the city is changing to reflect a more human centred approach, encouraging social interaction and active travel. Ride Clean can help compliment these pillars. We not only provide a practical service, but through doing this open up dialog and educate people about basic bicycle maintenance to all those who use a bicycle.
I’m also excited to pursue more partnerships with organisations that promote cycling generally across the city. With growing numbers of people using a bike to get around, and overwhelming evidence that cycling helps reduce air pollution, congestion and improve personal health. I am keen to support the existing work being done to grow cycling especially among minority groups.