Brian De Groodt launched Dispatch Custom Cycling Components in 2018 after a long career in enterprise software. The company sells bicycle headset caps, which sit atop the stem connecting handlebars to the frame. Customers can customize the caps, adding uniqueness to their bikes.
He told me, “We don’t just sell headset caps. We sell inclusivity. We sell the opportunity to take a neglected bicycle and turn it into one of one.”
DeGroot and I are more than acquaintances. I’ve invested in his company via a firm I co-own with other entrepreneurs.
He and I recently discussed bicycle culture, the origins of Dispatch, and more. Our entire audio conversation is embedded below. The transcript that follows is edited for clarity and length.
Eric Bandholz: Tell us about Dispatch.
Brian De Groodt: I launched Dispatch Custom Cycling Components in 2018. We sell a small piece of the bicycle called a headset cap. We customize the cap with our own artwork or whatever text the customer wants.
Bandholz: You’ve had an accomplished career. Is entrepreneurship new?
De Groodt: I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart. I haven’t found the right outlet for it, until now. I spent most of my career in enterprise software. To me, entrepreneurship is freedom and a method of expression.
Bandholz: There’s a kind of elitism in the biking culture. If you didn’t have the best gear or wear spandex, you were looked down upon. Dispatch is the opposite.
De Groodt: Absolutely. It doesn’t serve the bicycle manufacturers or anybody else in the business to assume cyclists are supposed to look, act, and ride a certain way. It’s not good for the individual who wants to ride a bicycle. Maybe it’s their primary transportation or their mental or physical therapy.
Bandholz: You’re essentially manufacturing products and selling them. Where did you get the idea for the company?
De Groodt: The idea dates to 2015. I purchased a mountain bike frame manufacturer. I wanted to expand the brand into hats, glassware, mugs, those kinds of things. Headset caps came out of that. I worked with a local laser engraver. Before you knew it, they were taking off. So I separated that business from the frames and turned it into Dispatch.
As soon as somebody creates a custom text headset cap, we’re able to lay that out into a production template and run a big jig of orders for the day. We typically ship them in under 24 hours.
Bandholz: Why not outsource that process?
De Groodt: Speed-to-ask — taking what somebody created and producing it in the moment. Customers have two lines of text to engrave on their headset cap. It’s imperative to turn it around and ship within a day.
I’ve had two engraving machines. I’ve taught myself how to use them. I’ve worked in software all my life. An engraver is basically a printer. It comes with a cable that connects to a computer. It’s not complicated if you understand printing and vector graphics.
Bandholz: Your business model is compelling. You sell something roughly the size of a quarter with the ability to customize. How can Dispatch expand beyond headset caps?
De Groodt: We don’t just sell headset caps. We sell inclusivity. We sell the opportunity to take a neglected bicycle and turn it into one of one. We’ll continue to roll out products that allow for that individualization.
But we’re keeping it simple. We don’t want complex customization.
Bandholz: How have you generated awareness of the brand?
De Groodt: First, a lot of one-off, manual communication. Shopify facilitates the actual transactions, but the opportunity to use tools such as email, phone, and text is critical to get in front of customers and listen to them. I’ve had hundreds of emails from customers that have shared stories about their bicycle and how Dispatch has allowed them to further whatever that bicycle means to them.
I’ve received stories about divorce, DUI, family deaths, and how the bicycle has kept them mentally healthy.
Those types of conversations are amazing. They’re wind in the sail for the company.
Bandholz: I’m a fan of building a brand with a purpose. Authenticity can separate a brand from competitors. That’s ultimately what a business should be about.
De Groodt: Yes. The concept of value is critical — what you’re bringing to the customer. There have to be core values within an organization. Authenticity is one of them. You can’t fake it.
When you have those core values and stick to them, it becomes obvious that yours is a different organization. It wasn’t until I received feedback from my customers that I realized what my values actually were. And inclusivity, in my opinion, is paramount.
Bandholz: Tell us about your workday.
De Groodt: The structure is rigorous from 5:30 a.m. till about 6:00 p.m. The first part of the day is very regimented. I use Integromat to pull all orders out of Shopify into a Google spreadsheet. Then I run down the artwork, get the templates set up for the day, answer some emails, update the site as needed, and check the previous day’s reports. Then it’s off to whatever needs to be done, usually either sales calls or customer service issues.
Roughly 60% of my time is dedicated to operations, producing product and getting it out the door. Probably 20% is on ideas — what the next thing is. That takes a lot of mental focus. The remaining 20% is marketing.
Bandholz: Where can people support Dispatch and reach out?
De Groodt: Our website Dispatch.bike. We’re also on Facebook and Instagram. I’m on Twitter and LinkedIn.