For Tivan Amour and Slava Menn, it all started with a simple bike light getting stolen one day in 2011. Their friend got into a bicycle accident because someone had snatched his light, impairing his ability to see while riding.
"He wasn't hurt too badly, but as serial entrepreneurs, we thought this is a problem we should probably try to solve if no one else has done so. And sure enough, no one else had," said Amour, Fortified Bicycle co-founder and CEO, who was already working in the start-up world.
Fortified got to work and launched the "world's first antitheft bike light" on Kickstarter in the summer of 2012. But the company wanted to expand the antitheft protection concept to other products for city bikers. They got accepted into Boston's Techstars accelerator program in the fall of 2014, came out of the program with a concept for a "bike that thrived in the city," Amour said, and Fortified began shipping their bikes this year. In total they've had four Kickstarter campaigns for lights, seats and bikes, raising nearly half a million dollars.
Today the company's Invincible bike line features a rust-resistant chain and frame, puncture-resistant tires and added security with handlebars, seats and wheels locked down with proprietary theft-resistant bolts. On top of that, Fortified sells its own U-Lock system. Amour says the bike has gone through about eight iterations, and the lights have gone through more than 30.
"We make the best bicycle for the city, and we back it with a no-matter-what guarantee against theft," Amour said.
The start-up has raised $1.8 million so far in funding and has sold more than 500 bikes to date, and over 40,000 bike lights. By next year Amour said Fortified is on track to sell 5,000 bikes.
The bikes are currently manufactured in China, which can mean keeping up with demand is challenging, as orders are filled weeks after they're made. Amour said this summer they had a backorder of just under 200 bikes, and it typically takes about two months to get customers the product.
Single-speed bikes begin at $399, and customers can get a complete package with lights, a lock and theft protection for less than $600. Eight-speed models are priced at $649, and a complete package is less than $800, Amour said. Theft Protection costs $99 a year, and if the bike or any of its components are stolen, so long as it was locked up with the company's Fortified U-Lock, a replacement is shipped within 24 hours.
Fortified has also recently rolled out an on-demand option for customers who sign up online and have a bike delivered to them to test-ride in Boston and New York City. Amour said the conversion rate right now is more than 80 percent. Those who choose to buy can either ride away with the bike or have it shipped to their home.
"On average, we found our customers had been looking for a bike for about four months, which is like an entire season lost just looking for the right bike," Amour said. "A lot of them had gone to Craigslist, which of course is weird negotiating in garages, or they'd gone to a bike shop and didn't like how they were treated or didn't like the prices. It's exciting to see how many people love the bike once they get on it and have the right experience."
And being headquartered in Boston is just the right experience for Amour, who says he considered both San Francisco and New York City before deciding on Beantown, as he had some local family and costs were lower.
"San Francisco was way too expensive and too hard to hire employees at a reasonable rate. New York was similar — I found a thriving ecosystem of start-ups in Boston and people who want to see start-ups succeed, so I've stayed," Amour said.