It’s a New Year, which means a new opportunity to get in shape. The holiday chocolates and pies have all been devoured; now it’s time to lace up your shoes and start moving.
But what will motivate you to keep moving? Enter the Stages Power Meter, created by Portland-based startup Foundation Fitness, which puts power-based training in your hands—or, more accurately, on your bike. Whether you’re a bike commuter, casual cyclist, spinning enthusiast, or biking pro, the Power Meter will help you set goals and gauge whether your attempts at exercise are paying off.
Here, Jim Liggett, co-founder of Foundation Fitness, sits down with OEN to talk about the winding path that led him to the power measurement industry and the insight he’s gained along the way:
What was the spark that inspired you to start Foundation Fitness?
Four years ago, I started Foundation Fitness with my brother, Dr. Scott Liggett, a retired nephrologist with a passion for preventative health strategies. The company followed a plain old-fashioned distribution model: Buy fitness equipment from manufacturers, sell it to any commercial setting that would buy fitness equipment. I knew I could make a living as a distributor, but I realized that I couldn’t create much value that way.
Shortly after starting Foundation Fitness, I learned that four engineers at Nautilus, where I worked previously, were in various stages of leaving the company. I hired them and we opened an office in Boulder without anything resembling a business plan. We created a line of spinning bikes for group exercise that we thought were unique, and then came the breakthrough—our engineers thought of a way to measure power, or wattage created, through a bike.
We launched the product in Spring 2011 to great success and realized immediately that power measurement was a big idea. The engineering team came back and said, “We could do this outside, too.” So we created Stages Cycling, which manufactures power meters for outdoor bikes and sells them direct to consumer in the U.S.
If you think you can do it all on your own, you’ve really lost your mind. (Tweet this.)
What problem does your business solve?
Foundation Fitness & Stages Cycling has become a technology company wrapped around fitness equipment. We’ve invented intellectual property that allows the cyclist to truly understand how much work they’re doing on an indoor or outdoor bike. What we’ve found is that there’s a big and growing market amongst fitness enthusiasts to truly understand the work they’re doing when they’re exercising. It’s part of a bigger movement going on called quantifiable self – an explosion of wearable devices that accomplish the goal of measuring activity. Our company has, whether it’s intentional or not, found itself in the middle of that trend.
How is your product unique?
Other companies have power meters—power measurement was not a brand new idea—but we created a much simpler execution of that idea. It’s much easier for the average cycling enthusiast, and we launched it at a price point substantially below where other companies have been selling.
What motivated you to become an entrepreneur?
You see these young hotshot entrepreneurs, right out of school guys. That’s definitely not what I was. I spent 25 years in large companies: Proctor & Gamble, AT&T and then Nautilus. It was part of a career-long journey to realize that not only did I want to do it on my own, but I could do it on my own. I wanted to make an impact. I wanted to look back on my career and see that I made a mark, did something that made a difference.
As an entrepreneur, if you think you can do it all on your own, you’ve really lost your mind. It’s really been about me getting out of the way in a lot of situations. Enabling smart people, motivated people to just really fly. Obviously I’m standing on the sidelines, watching and rooting for them.
What has been the biggest surprise in your entrepreneurial experience to date?
I’ve been surprised by how quickly we became successful at this. When I look back at some of our earlier business planning, we’re at a place now where I thought we’d be in seven years. I’m surprised by how well we’ve done simply because we thought big.
Success is certainly something to celebrate—what about your failures? What have you learned from them?
We’ve definitely skinned our knees. We have three businesses, and in each one of them, there were some things we started doing that we had to stop because it didn’t work like we thought it was going to work. It was humbling when I was so sure something was going to work, and it didn’t. When we first started, we had big plans to expand to Latin America, but that didn’t go too well. We made some distribution partnership decisions that didn’t go well. We’ve had to learn to walk away from some things.
As an entrepreneur, what keeps you up at night?
The people piece is really important, to make sure we’re keeping our good people. That’s usually the secret sauce in a company. I also worry about cash flow. We’re a hungry young company, and we’re growing faster than we thought we’d grow. We’re profitable, but managing cash flow becomes the challenge inside of that.
What is the best entrepreneurial advice you have received (and from whom)?
A friend of mine who had experience as an entrepreneur once told me, “Find a way to get to profits. Don’t just have a great idea but make your business profitable.” That had a huge impact on the way I thought about the business. We chose not to raise VC money. We did all this internally with bank debt. We took some risk there and forced ourselves down a path to launch a company upward where profits had to be the greatest source of new capital. We’ve had some really stressful months but have held onto company and made tough decisions to make the company profitable.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I grew up in a small town in Nebraska. When I think back, I certainly see some habits and themes that pointed at being an entrepreneur but I don’t think I ever would have guessed in my wildest dreams that I would have ended up where I am now.
I graduated from college with a degree in history. I was going to be a lawyer. Why, I have no idea. Instead, I traveled down a windy corporate road that took me down an entrepreneurial path. Sometimes people ask me, “Do you wish you’d done this 10 years ago?” But I don’t think I could have done it 10 years ago. Now I have enough confidence, resources, contacts—now I’m ready.
Imagine your venture becomes wildly successful. What does that look like?
I’m in this for the long haul. Entrepreneurs eventually want to talk about an exit strategy, I really don’t have one. A real home run for me is that we’re acknowledged as category leaders. I want to create a truly valuable enterprise that stands the test of time. I want to create a viable, healthy, stable entity that people look at and are proud to have in their community.
I want to create a viable, healthy, stable entity that people look at and are proud to have in their community. (Tweet this.)
Do you think Oregon is a good place to start a business? How has it helped you, and what challenges has it posed?
Oregon has become an Active & Outdoor category mecca. It’s a bit of a secret, but there’s something on the order of 250 startups in Oregon in the A&O space. There’s a lot of talent, a lot of smart people, and it’s a great place to live. For the A&O space, it’s very centric. From that perspective I’d highly encourage entrepreneurs to start a business here.
That said, I’m not sure our political leaders are in tune with the entrepreneurial community in Portland. Entrepreneurs have created a nice opportunity for other entrepreneurs here. But other things that need to happen – this is not an easy place to do business in, tax-wise, and it’s an awfully big burden for a company incorporated in Multnomah County. There are many positives, but at some point you have to ask the question: Is it good for business? The jury is out a little bit.
Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions as an entrepreneur?
Sometimes I get ribbing from the team that I can occasionally be 5 or 10 minutes late for meetings and phone calls. My resolution this year is to be on time. Yesterday I was on time for two meetings—of course, the people I was meeting with were late. I was also on time for this interview. So far, I’m batting a thousand!