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Coming Back to the Rodeo

For those unfamiliar with me, my name is Drew. I recently came back full time to Rodeo after a couple year hiatus working elsewhere in the industry. When I originally worked at Rodeo in 2016 and 2017, I had enjoyed working here and contributing to the products and culture. But until recently I never noticed how important this brand and community actually are to me.

I personally got to know Stephen, Rodeo’s founder and do-it-all problem solver, early on in the frame building days of the brand. He and I met in a way that is not uncommon in this internet heavy day and age: We saw a lot of each other on Instagram and started getting familiar enough with each other to start riding together IRL. Through chatting on rides about the DNA that Stephen hoped to ingrain into the Rodeo brand, we immediately found a likeness in the way that we approach bikes all the way down to the ooey-gooey existential stuff. 

Luckily enough, a period where I found more free time in my life aligned perfectly with the early days of Rodeo when Stephen really started to drown running this operation by himself. Under the premise of wanting to help an overwhelmed friend, I tricked my way into hitching my wagon to Stephen’s very early on. I saw how hardworking and passionate he was to make this crazy idea into a viable career path and I knew I wanted to be a part of it. 

While offering help in everyday tasks like building and packing bikes, ordering parts for builds, and tackling customer service requests, I slipped in an apprenticeship during the off hours by offering free creative work in exchange for the opportunity to absorb as much knowledge as possible from Stephen’s feedback. 

We were flying by our bootstraps. Somehow, some way, the story of Rodeo and everything we had to do to start a bike brand from the ground up resonated with more people than we could have ever imagined. OK, so we built an audience. The hard part is over and it’s all coasting  from here, right?

Not exactly. Starting a bike brand is HARD WORK, and we had no idea what next steps lay in store until we started to jump hurdles one by one:

People actually want to buy this bike we thought up! Where do we get that made? I don’t know. OK, found some people. That costs WHAT? OK, well let’s figure that out. Got it, now how do we make sure our bikes are GOOD, and that they are up to the challenge of where we want to ride them? Don’t know. How do we test and validate the frames? OK frames are tested and safe, let’s get these things into production and delivered. What’s that? People want fully built bikes and not just framesets? Well where do we get parts? They won’t sell us parts because they don’t think we’re a real company? OK, well we have to figure that out. Got it, just finished building the first bike, how do we ship this thing? Finally: the first bike we’ve sold is out the door. How many times do we have to do this to make back all the money we just spent? That’s a lot, I’ll see you tomorrow. Rinse, repeat.

We didn’t have a fine tuned bike company on day one. Mistakes were made, A LOT of mistakes were made.  But, somehow, our customers understood our story and we were met with the most graceful and patient customers I’ve ever met in the bike industry. Orders continued to roll in and as volume increased, the stakes got higher. Each day we were doing whatever we had to do in order to keep the lights on for the next day. The funny thing about the brand that Stephen built is that no matter how small we were, the Laboratory DNA he built the company around never ceased. While we were fighting like hell to stay above water, our heads were constantly on a swivel thinking critically about how we could approach products from a fundamentally different way. 

I always liken Rodeo to the Eames Workshop. If any individual person has an idea, they are fully encouraged to pursue that and are given the tools to make it possible. Traditionally with our unique style of riding, the tools available to us dictated our journey. Now, we had the opportunity to let our journey dictate the tools we made. We had become creators, not consumers, and we weren’t going to take that lightly. 

Eventually, I was offered a job opportunity at a great company in the industry  that I could not turn down. Rodeo at the time was still too small to pay me a living wage. But even as I left to take the new job I realized that Rodeo Adventure Labs had become a part of me. I like to think that my experience elsewhere in the bike industry taught me as much as we learned in the early days at Rodeo, but in a way I could have never learned here. Rodeo has always been my home and I’ve brought back many of the lessons I’ve learned over the past few years.. The people here are like family to me and the Rodeo DNA is a part of me. Sure, looking at it now in early 2020 we’ve “made it” as a company to some extent (whatever that means). We’re not as small as we were and if we make a mistake or encounter a setback today, the lights will still turn on tomorrow. But we’re not getting lazy and our success certainly doesn’t stop us from fighting like hell to stay true to the ideals of what we’ve built. 

The funny thing about leaving something you love and watching it from the outside is that it makes you realize how significant it actually is to you. I now understand how rare a group like this is and what makes Rodeo truly one of a kind more than I ever would have if I stayed. We’re still fighting to make our ideas a reality like we always were and  I thank my lucky stars every day that I’ve been welcomed back and get to do this for a living. This is our journey, it will continue to dictate the tools we develop, and we will never take that for granted. Thanks for having me back, fam.





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