Keep your eye on the chase. This week's guest: Jenn Kriske, founder of women's cycling apparel company Machines for Freedom. Jenn talks about her feelings around March's word Revolution, breaking the "rules" of cycling, and navigating a company acquisition.
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Lisa: Welcome to episode 4 season 4 of Outside by Design.
Lisa: So what's going on, all you marketing managers and writers and photographers and CEOs? How's it going out there?
Iris: Welcome to the show.
Iris: Today we have Jennifer Kriske. She is the founder of Machines for Freedom.
Lisa: Yeah, she's awesome and smart and really really methodical about the way she does things. So it was really fun to speak to Jenn and learn a lot more about Machines for Freedom.
Iris: We've never had a guest on the show that is in the road biking industry specifically.
Iris: We've had a lot of mountain bike industry professionals, but not a lot of people from the road biking side. So that's really interesting to get a perspective on that area of the industry as well.
Lisa: And Machines for Freedom is so progressive, like, what they're doing with photography and what they're doing with women's bodies and how women are portrayed in the media is amazing. So I think they're literally just such an example of really positive way to do things. So nice work to Jenn.
This is our first episode in March and our word for March is: [robot voice] Revolution. Revolution! And so Revolution is a fun word because it basically means a dramatic and wide-reaching change in conditions, attitudes, or operations. So everybody we talk to in February is going to be…
Lisa: So everybody we talk to in March is going to be revolutionary.
Iris: Yeah. We’ll hear lots of different definitions of what Revolution means to various folks. Let's hear what Jenn has to say.
Lisa: [robot voice] Revolution. [laughs]
Lisa: Welcome to the podcast and thank you so much for being here.
Jenn: Thank you for having me.
Lisa: I'm super excited to talk to you. And the first question that we always ask everybody is to describe where they are in the country and what they're looking at.
Jenn: I'm in Los Angeles, California and I'm looking at a very messy desk. Lots of stacks of papers, some bar tape samples, and then there's some sunshine streaming in the window off in the corner.
Lisa: Perfect. That's exciting. So we're based out of Whitefish, Montana and it's absolutely freezing here right now at the time of this recording and like negative six degrees is the high.
Jenn: Oh, you guys are in the polar vortex?
Jenn: Yeah. I mean, we've had epic amounts of rain, it rained for like more than a week straight, which is pretty unheard of here and I was like getting so stir crazy, so. Bless you for making it through the the harsh winter.
Lisa: Oh, yeah. We're just waiting, the mountain biking up here is phenomenal in the summer. So there is hope. So you are the founder of Machines for Freedom. And so we selected you to be on the podcast during the month that we speak about kind of the theme Revolution. Which two you could relate to bikes, but I really think it's more about kind of the movement you are creating through Machines for Freedom. So what, what do you think about that when you think about Revolution and what do you think of when you hear that word?
Jenn: Yeah. I thought it was a really interesting word to give me because I think like when I think of Revolution I think of, you know Rebellion like a very in-your-face kind of aggressive confrontational type of Revolution, you know where you're like fighting against the man and you know, you're like out in the streets and you know that kind of activity. Which is so counter to my personality. I tend to operate just the opposite way and I think even with Machines for Freedom I kind of operated the opposite way even though maybe the end result was sort of the same where it sort of created this... it definitely woke people up, right? Like Machines for Freedom came onto the scene and people were like, whoa what’s this brand doing and then you have larger Brands like hey, so we got to take note of this and we had people starting to kind of mimic us and copycat us and you know that kind of thing. So I think that, you know kind of assigning us the word revolution that makes sense, but it also just kind of funny to me because I'm... I've always been a bit of a fly on the wall and more of like an observer.
And I think that goes back to a lot of my design background. I did a lot of restaurant and hotel design and a lot of that work was really just kind of observing how people interact with the space. And then trying to figure out what you could do to make them more comfortable or to make a restaurant more efficient or... You know, like are you noticing that people don't have enough room on their table for a share plate like their own plates plus like a plate in the middle and they're feeling awkward because the tables too tight like you start... So a lot of your job is really just observation and then figuring out how to fix things. And I think that was sort of the approach I took the Machines where I was just like observing this unmet need in the market. And I was observing a lot of frustration amongst women riders who are like saying to the industry, like, “hey guys, pay attention like we need better kit. We need more Community, like we want all of these things” and they were just sort of getting ignored. And so I kind of went out trying to just fill that white space. So it was much more of a kind of... under the radar, I guess kind of approach. You know, it definitely wasn't like that in your face, combative kind of approach that I think of when I think of Revolution.
Lisa: Interesting. So it's more of a... not a silent revolution in a way but a more gentle revolution.
Jenn: Yeah, and maybe more of like an underground kind of thing. It slowly bubbles to the surface, you know.
Lisa: Yeah, so I'm curious how you went from like hotel and restaurant design to cycling apparel.
Jenn: I mean a lot of it came about just from my own passion about riding bikes. I was training for this huge ride through the Pyrenees. I was going to do 60,000 feet of climbing in six days and over 600 miles and this is like the first really big ride that I had ever attempted to do. And as I was training I was just having a lot of issues around saddle discomfort. And so I worked with a bike fitter here in Los Angeles. He's one of the best in the nation, and he really got my bike dialed and like you got me on the best saddle, but I was still having a lot of discomfort around bibs and around the Chamois. So it really all started there, with my quest to just solve that problem. Because as I was talking to him, you know, I was sort of complaining about these issues I was still having and he's like, “you know, you're not the only one. I would say almost every single woman that I fit has the same complaints.” And I was like, that's just crazy. So, you know, obviously there's like a need for this.
And so finally I just got really frustrated and I was like, you know what, this cannot be rocket science. I'm just going to do this myself. And like a lot of the design language translates, like that whole idea of taking an idea that exists in your head and being able to communicate that to somebody else so that they can manufacture it for you. You know, a lot of that translated from my interior design and architecture world into apparel. And then I just enlisted some friends that had the technical expertise in apparel to help me. But yeah, I really was just… I've always been a problem solver, you know, and when I see... and I like figuring out puzzles, and so I think that those two aspects is like, there was obviously this problem and just figuring out how to make it work.
Lisa: Yeah, no kidding. And you've built a really cohesive brand that has like a cool factor.
Jenn: Thank you. Thank you. Yeah, yeah, you know, I mean, I think a lot of the cohesion probably boils down to the fact that like... We have been a small team. And I hired Ginger Boyd like God... Machines with maybe a little less than a year old? Like we were a really new company when Ginger came on board and she's been with the company ever since. And we're still a two-woman operation, you know. So, you know, I think having that consistency in a team also really helped with creating consistency in our message.
Lisa: Yeah, and so what like on the topic of Revolution, like, how were you received when you went to market?
Jenn: You know, when I first... it's funny I can see sort of the evolution of the brand through my experience at Interbike. And I don't know if you're familiar with this conference. There's basically one cycling specific conference that happens in the United States every year and it's called Interbike. And when I first started the brand I went there basically pounding the pavement looking for like fabric suppliers and a factory. You know it really was just like this harebrained idea that I had and I would go and I would sit down with all these people and I'm like, hey, I'm going to start this women's apparel brand, can you help me? And everyone was like, I mean, are you have you worked in the cycling industry before? I was like no, I'm brand new to this industry and they're like, I mean, you know, there's no money in women's cycling and you know that a company will never last with just women's apparel. Like you'll need to sell men’s too, women don't spend money on kit and women don't really want high-quality kit. So it's just like a lot of naysayers and a lot of real patronising like ,oh, yeah, there there, young girl. Like that's a great idea. But you know, good luck to you.
So luckily I was able to find a factory. Right? You only need one. So I was able to find a factory to help us. And the fabric supplier that was able to help us and that helped me get the first kit off the ground. So then is like fast forward to year two. We had just launched our kit in August and then this conference was in September. So just after our launch and I show up to the conference and I'm like, hey! I met with all the same people that were like patronising me before and I was like, look! I made this kit, you know, like we launched! What do you guys think? And they were like, oh wow, like, okay this woman actually like got this thing off the ground, you know. So we had a little bit more faith in the idea. And then fast forward to the third year. They were calling me to set up appointments and you know, and they were telling me that people were bringing them our kit saying hey, we love this kit. Like do you have a fabric like it or do you have something like this? Do you have something like that? Like using ours as a point of reference. And so it was really interesting to see the evolution of like people basically not even giving me the time of day to you know, us being something that people were really like looking to and setting trends.
Lisa: That's awesome. That's such a huge transformation in three years.
Jenn: Yeah, I mean it did feel a bit validating. I'm not gonna lie.
Lisa: No kidding.
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Lisa: I think it was so awesome that Jenn was able to break that cycle of, you know, basically like, “oh women don't want to be in the sport because they're not worth the investment” or “they don't belong here” and then actually investing in women and bringing more women into the sport. I think the breaking that cycle is the most revolutionary thing that Jenn could have done.
Iris: Yeah. She says that that Revolution seems really aggressive but it doesn't necessarily have to be and I think that Machines for Freedom definitely was a Revolution that really needed to happen. I mean. It's not like 1950 anymore, women can ride bikes.
Lisa: That’s right.
Iris: So yeah, it’s silly that women didn't have any choices and Jenn made it happen. That’s quite the revolution. All right, let's get back to Jenn.
Lisa: I mean, I'm a cyclist myself and what I like about Machines for Freedom is that there's there's a bit of like high fashion feeling in all the pieces that you're bringing to the table and like the look books that you're curating. So I'm really interested in hearing your thoughts on photography, when you are doing photos for Machines for Freedom because they're beautiful.
Jenn: Oh, thank you. Yeah, I mean, we have... we're lucky to work with a lot of very talented people. So Tracy Chandler did a lot of our photography in the very beginning and she's incredibly talented. You know, she came from a production background, so, you know, she ran her own production company in New York for a very long time where she was producing commercials and music videos and... you know for a lot of high-profile clients and things like that. And so she had a really good eye and she was learning the trade of photography now that she was out of that production world. And so that really went a long way to helping us establish that sort of like brand look and feel. And then once we had those building blocks, then, you know, it was great because we could really seek out additional, like, different talent to kind of like take a different spin on this those same concepts.
And you know, a lot of it was really bringing a sense of relatability to the sport because I always felt that a lot of the ways that cycling is portrayed as really like dehumanizing in a way. You know, you're like in this helmet and you're in these glasses and like you can't even see the person's face and… You know, you almost like look like a robot on this machine. So we were really looking for ways to bring in, like, the human connection component of cycling through the photography and the storytelling. So I think that's something that has stayed distinctly Machines over the past several years.
Lisa: And I find it fascinating that a lot of the photography is women, you know, real women, on a white background without helmets or cycling gloves or shoes and it’s... it's kind of a softer side of cycling.
Jenn: Yeah, and we wanted to tell the story that… you know, prior to Machines for Freedom cycling was really told through this very narrow singular lens. And it wasn't my experience of the sport. It wasn't the experience of a lot of the friends that I ride with. So I wanted to create a more vast view of the sport. I think that that is ultimately what's going to do the most for growing the sport of cycling. Like as long as it sort of remains this cult, niche kind of activity where you have to be really hard core in order to be part of the community, you’re really going to alienate a lot of people. And so with Machines for Freedom I wanted to open that up so that people felt like they could still be part of the community, even if they... maybe they just ride 50 miles a week or, you know, maybe they even just ride it once in a blue moon, you know, when their friends are out. You know, that you don't have to be this like super hardcore into watts and power and you know, all that kind of stuff in order to like participate in this sport.
Lisa: And I have to give you just a huge, you know, shout out for selecting models who look like real women and real cyclists for that matter and not not conforming to like one certain look of the cycling industry. I think you've really done a phenomenal revolutionary job showing actual human beings of different ages and sizes and it's incredible.
Jenn: Thank you. I appreciate that. Yeah a lot of work goes into our casting choices and to, you know, finding people to work with so it's really great to see it so well received by our community. And then for people that don't know me, like, I'm not a small person. You know, I'm almost 6 feet tall, you know, I would consider myself having like a curvier hourglass kind of figure, you know, and I was the fit model for all of our first kits. So, you know our kit wasn't really designed with that very slim, very athletic build in mind. But what I'm really proud of in our design is that our kit does work on such a wide range of body types. So you have Ginger who is very tall and lanky and slender in the kit looks amazing on her, you know, she's like almost 6 feet an extra small and then you have me on the other end of the spectrum who is curvier and has like big boobs and a big butt and like, you know, and the kit looks great on me too. So, you know, I love that it can kind of expand that full range of body types.
Lisa: Yeah. That's so cool. What do you think has been like a strong obstacle that you had to overcome in, you know, starting this business and launching it and how did you overcome them?
Jenn: Gosh, there's so many obstacles along the way and I would say... you know, the biggest obstacles were really around the stress and the ambiguity that goes along with starting a business. A business advisor that I worked with Russell Cree, he would always give me this analogy about how running a business is like riding a lion. And like you climb on the back of this lion and you get going and then you're like, okay. Okay. I'm ready to get off and you can't because if you get off, the lion’s going to eat you. And that's like a pretty much how it is, because you start to get into it and you’re years into it. Now, you've like sunk all this money into it and so. Don't you can't just like pull the chute, you know, because then you're going to lose all of your investment and then... but you also don't know like, when you're going to catch your break, you know what I mean? You’re kind of like banging your head against a brick wall. Just waiting for it to start to crumble.
And you know, you definitely go through this like, roller coaster of... and it was always cyclical, like with our sales and when I had to order product from the factory and things like that, you know, you would always have your really busy months followed by slower months. And the sales cycle would always kind of work that way. And like my mood would follow, like, we're doing really well. We're having a really busy month. I was like Hey, we're killing it. This is going to be great. We're gonna, like, we got this, you know. And then it would be followed by a slow month and even though in my mind, I knew that was just like the natural course of things. I was like this is it. Like, people are over us, you know, people can get really fickle when it comes to fashion and like. People just forgot about us. They don't care. We're never going to sell another kit again, you know. And then, like, it would pick up again. I'm like, okay. Okay, we're all right, but it was just like this constant emotional rollercoaster of like... do I keep going, you know and like constantly asking yourself like do I keep going? Because I'm kind of digging myself in deeper with the hope that I'll get that break. But at what point have I just like dug myself into a hole is too deep to get out of? So I would say that that ambiguity is definitely the hardest part to deal with.
Lisa: Absolutely and being able to solve problems that you don't know how to solve.
Jenn: Yeah, I'm a little bit more comfortable in that world because my old design world, like, I would get some crazy projects thrown at me, you know, like just figuring out how to.... You know, there was like this bookshelf that my boss wanted to… he’d sort of like masterminded and then it involved a ceramic artist who is very not precise in his work with a woodworker who is super precise in his work and then this thing was going to weigh like a gazillion pounds. How do we make it safe in an earthquake? Like, you know, so it's like suddenly that's where like the puzzle piece part of my brain. Like I enjoy that kind of like Rubik's Cube problem solving kind of thing.
Jenn: So I think I always felt... going into this I felt confident that like I can figure just about anything out. You know, like if a problem comes up like I'm pretty... I guess maybe the word is like scrappy or resourceful that I felt confident in that ability. The problem came, it was like, did the did the solution require like a lot of capital that I did not have you know, so then it always come back to that like financial burden.
Lisa: Absolutely, and that is especially problematic. We work with a lot of different seasonal businesses whether it's ski or bike and so yeah, I mean that is a wild ride.
Jenn: Yeah, because it's like okay, you're in the ski business. I guess that's why you see a lot of shops that are mountain bike / ski shops.
Lisa: Oh, yeah.
Jenn: because then you kind cover both ends of the spectrum.
Lisa: Absolutely. And so I mean you guys are in LA, you can probably road bike all year, huh?
Jenn: Pretty much. Yeah, I mean except for this like week of rain. But yeah, we're pretty lucky out here.
Lisa: Yeah, and I noticed you have bibs that are for colder weather and those look amazing, they’re 3/4 length.
Jenn: Yeah, so those they're actually they're not insulated. They're perfect for a California winter. And then where you're at, they’re probably perfect for like spring and fall.
Lisa: They look awesome.
Jenn: Yeah I get a lot of compliments, like I wear them a lot. I wear them a lot even when it gets up into like the 80s here just because I really like keeping the sun off of me. And so I'll wear em and if I'm like driving to ride somewhere and I just have like a big baggy sweater on so it's covering the Chamois and I'll stop to get coffee or something like that. And you know, I've had people compliment me on my leggings before and I'm like, oh my God, that's such a win, you know, because I don't know. You hear this like, you know cycling meets fashion kind of thing, but it never really looks like you know, quote unquote normal clothes. So the fact that my cycling bibs passed for yoga leggings. I was pretty stoked.
Lisa: Right? And just like feeling good in your bibs, that was not really a thing previously.
Jenn: No! And like I felt totally fine wearing around town. A friend of mine commutes in them. And she was saying that one day she just wore them all day at work because she didn't even really mind the Chamois, and like nobody even paid notice that it was cycling bibs.
Lisa: That's hilarious, but also really speaks to the quality of your product.
Jenn: Oh, thank you. Thank you. Yeah, we try and push the envelope a little bit, you know and not abide to the you know, quote-unquote rules of cycling and apparel and really find something that people just generally like to wear.
Lisa: Yeah. So that's a good segue into all the vests and jackets. Are you intending those to kind of transcend experience from the bike and go like, you know to a coffee shop or whatever?
Jenn: For sure. Yeah and our vests especially, like I wear those hiking a lot. A friend of mine who's a trail runner really loves them because the pockets are really big and really deep so things don't bounce out when she's running. Our most recent jacket, the Twilight jacket, we added some detailing on there. To take it away from a very cycling look into something that is more of an all-purpose type of wind jacket. And it's great. I run in mine. Just really... because it's like the fabrics are there, the fabrics give you the same performance. I think cycling is maybe one of... it's a pretty demanding sport in terms of like how much you sweat and for the bibs like abrasion on the saddle and things like that. So when you're able to bring that kind of tech into more of an everyday activewear usage, it's really effective.
Lisa: Yeah, and they're beautiful as well.
Jenn: Well, thank you. We try to do that too.
Lisa: Yeah. So and I do know that a lot... not a lot, but more female specific cycling brands popped up after you guys and did you find that competition was scary or competition was a compliment or did you not even consider other brands’ competition because you believe in abundance? Or like, what did that look like for you?
Jenn: Yeah. Yeah, the cycling kit Market in general is really interesting the last couple years where it's it's very saturated, you know, and if you're active on social media you’ll see like new kit designs pop up all the time. But I think we always... I always felt confident that we had a Competitive Edge against a lot of those brands because we were doing something really unique, you know. Our patterns are developed from the ground up. A lot of the kits that you see on the market is essentially a graphics program over a template, you know that you're getting through manufacture and we never we never work that way. We created our own, we designed our own patterns our own templates our own, you know, used our own fabrics, all that good stuff. So. So we always had a very unique proposition. I guess my eye has always been more on the big guys. And like how do we compete with the Castellis, how do we compete with the Rafa's, how do we compete with Assos? And so I've always kind of like had my eye... I guess I've been more like, eye on the carrot up front than the people coming up behind us.
Lisa: Yes, and I think in business, I really think the chase is incredibly fun.
Jenn: It is yeah, it can be. I mean it's fun too because we're still, you know, we're still small enough that we can be nimble and quick and and react quickly. And so sometimes it is kind of fun to like do something and put something out there and then you can see the bigger companies trying to react to you because they just can't maneuver as quickly. And that kind of thing is sometimes fun.
Lisa: Yeah, absolutely. So I know that you guys were acquired by Specialized and I have so many questions. Did you... did you want to get acquired or did they approach you?
Jenn: So they at the time I was looking for either strategic acquisition or investment. So this goes back to that whole like financial burden rollercoaster. You kind of get to a point where in order to grow you need Capital because if you're going to sell x amount of dollars in kit, then you need to buy X amount of dollars in kit. So, you know, you just kind of you need that push and it was more than I could do on my own for my own bootstrapping and side hustle, you know. So I was actively looking for that, and then Specialized actually, one of their business development guys had contacted me over LinkedIn and we started a conversation and we started talking for probably like six or seven months before it kind of moved into the negotiation phase. And it was really interesting because at first I was really thinking more investor, you know, where I was looking for venture capital or something along those lines.
But then as we started talking I was like, you know, this totally makes sense. Because at the size that we're at, it's not just about getting funding. It's also about that strategic partnership where they can bring something to the table that you're lacking and so for us, you know, they have an amazing distribution network. They have Operational Support. They also have like all the support of those nuts and bolts, like your finance and your legal and like, you know, all that stuff that it just takes to run a business. So it was really one of these situations where I think the the two companies are a bit of a yin and yang that make up a really great whole. So, you know on the flip side, we have like a really kind of fresh and innovative design sense and a really unique voice to the cycling world. And so that's something that's unique that Specialized couldn't really replicate authentically, you know, so the two together, we were able to complement each other really well. And it came at just the perfect time to because you know, I think at a certain point when you're an entrepreneur you're kind of going it alone for a very long time and a lot of entrepreneurs will talk about how lonely it is. Because you kind of, you're in this position where it's all on your shoulders. You don't really have anyone to talk to the stress about, talk through that kind of stress, because you know, you don't want to like let on to the people that are working with you that like you're scared about something. But the reality is that like it's really scary. But you have to like keep your cool and look like you got it all together.
And so it's really nice also to now be part of a company that has a lot of very savvy businessmen that have done this before and that have built businesses, that have been in this business for a very long time. And so there's like, you know that guidance and mentorship there as well.
Lisa: That must have felt like such a relief.
Jenn: It was, and I'm the type of person that like... I do like a little bit of stress and a little bit of like... I kind of need a little bit of that pressure behind me. But if it's too much it becomes paralyzing and then it really sort squelches my creative brain. So, you know, at certain points in the entrepreneurship game sometimes that stress would become just like a little bit too much and then I wasn't able to create it think creatively. Especially when it came to like design and launching new gear and that sort of thing. So definitely nice to have a little bit… let a little of the steam out, you know.
Lisa: Absolutely. Yeah. That's cool.
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Lisa: I think the Jenn's concept of focusing on the carrot and not who's coming up behind you is something so relevant to anyone who starts a business or anyone who has a vision is really staying forward and not worrying about superfluous things around you. Even though it's easier said than done.
Iris: Yeah, don't look back because you're not going that way. You're going forward.
Lisa: That's right.
Iris: So keep pushing and taking on the big people in front of you. And leading the way for everyone else. I also found it interesting when Jenn talked about how entrepreneurship is lonely when she was running this company before they got bought by Specialized. What do you think about that?
Lisa: I think that's an incredibly common thing like that saying, it's lonely at the top. Because I mean if you think about it, most of your time is spent at work and your work relationships are so important and... You know, I adore my employees. I think everybody is amazing. But at the end of the day like who really wants to hang out with her boss and I get it. It makes me sad but I get it, you know. But it's like, when you are the CEO of something it's an interesting transition because you have to maybe not have the answers to everything but at least have the ability and confidence to figure them out. And that can be lonely or it can lead to feelings of not being relatable. So I totally see what see what she means and I am stoked that Specialized acquired Machines for Freedom. It sounds like that's what Jenn wanted and a really good thing and a really great fit. So congratulations to Jenn on that.
Iris: Yeah. All right. Let's get back to it.
Lisa: back to it.
Lisa: So you were excited about the acquisition. Did you did you find any of it scary or intimidating or was it a pretty supportive process?
Jenn: Yeah, I mean the process was really smooth. You know, it was definitely interesting and it's always a little scary when you know, we're like we're such a little guy, you know compared to Specialized. I mean Specialized has been around for what, like four decades or something like that? I mean, you know, they're a very established company and very successful company and then here I am, it's like little startup and and we are competitors too, in a way. So you know, it gets tricky because it's like, you need to obviously share and you need to like sort of pull back the curtain a little bit to show them your business. But at the same time, this is like, this is my competitor. And if this deal falls through, they now have all this knowledge about your business that you wouldn't normally share. So it does put you in a bit of an awkward situation, but I guess at the end of the day you just have to like embrace that vulnerability and trust that even with the knowledge of the business that they had like... Machines are Freedom is really like a brainchild of the people involved. You know, the brainchild of me, it’s the brainchild of Ginger, it’s the brainchild of all the creatives that work with us. So it really wouldn't be as successful without the that human component.
And so you just kind of have like trust in your own value. I guess is like the best way to say it. And so that kind of is what sort of like gave me the confidence to sort of like show them the numbers and some of that like back of house kind of stuff. But yeah, I mean for the most part it was really very smooth negotiation. You know, I think we both sides really wanted the same thing. And so it was really just a matter of ironing out the details.
Lisa: Well, that's serendipitous.
Jenn: Yeah, it worked out really well. Do you follow astrology at all?
Lisa: Yes a little bit.
Jenn: A little bit. Okay. Yeah, there's like there's this one site that I do kind of... I did start following religiously like as I was doing this business and she kind of like would call it every month. Like as soon as the first of the month hit I’d be like, I need to read what this month holds for me! And I remember she kind of called it like during that whole negotiation phase, it was like all about positivity in my career sector and like like, you know financial burdens that had been weighing really heavily on me like lifting ,and like finally having support, and gearing myself up for the future and all this kind of stuff. So like I did definitely feel like the universe was like lining things up for us.
Lisa: That's amazing.
Jenn: Not to get all hairy fairy on you but I am a SoCal girl, so.
Lisa: [laughs] So now that now that you've been acquired, do you still... I don't... does that extra support like really make make room for your creativity or do you feel like you have to ask permission to be creative? How's that going for you?
Jenn: I still feel like I have a lot of autonomy in the creative side of things for sure, and every once and a while I'll be like... actually no, I take that back. I feel pretty confident in decisions we make when it comes to creative and so I kind of just roll with it. You know, I'm like, that's why Specialized was attracted to us. That's why they really like Machines. And so, and we talked a lot about it like they don't want to change that. So we keep doing our thing. And I would say the... probably the hardest part is just going from the total autonomy of entrepreneurship to now working in within a big corporate structure, you know, so it's like there's all kinds of systems and processes in place that you have to try and work through and so you're used to being like this fast little Hobie Cat in the ocean and we're now like on the Titanic. So like how do you sort of reconcile those two extremes? So that's been a bit of a learning curve. But I think ultimately it's like what needs to happen in order for the business to grow. You know, you can't like stay the little Hobie cat forever.
Lisa: No, I have a Hobie Cat and I flip that thing all the time.
Jenn: Yeah, you do, you end up flipping over in like face down in the ocean quite a few times. The Titanic offers way more stability.
Lisa: Yeah. I'm like trying to get the Hobie Cat up in the water. I'm sure the Titanic is going to sound just great next time. Yeah, that's a huge lifestyle shift for you on a personal level. That's amazing. Wow.
Jenn: Yeah. Yeah, it's definitely helped that I've stayed in Los Angeles. So Machines headquarters is still in Los Angeles, Specialized is located in Northern California. So having some physical distance I think helps us remain autonomous, but we're still close enough that it's easy to get there, you know more like in the same time zone and all that good stuff.
Lisa: Mmhmm. Wow.
Jenn: It's like, it feels like growing up a little bit.
Lisa: Sure. That's fantastic. I'm really happy for you.
Jenn: Thank you.
Lisa: Yeah, that's cool. We end up, you know working with a lot of brands who are trying to get into REI or on the other hand like pulling their stuff from REI and going direct to consumer. And so I see a lot of polarization in the industry around direct to consumer versus wholesale and retail and where do you guys, where are you guys landing on all that?
Jenn: I'm of the mindset that you really need both. I think you have your consumer that's just like a staunch online consumer. I'm one of those people, I never shop in stores. I'm just like, I'm too lazy, you know, so it doesn't matter like if a brand is only existing in brick-and-mortar that I'm probably just going to find something else online, you know, and then you have your consumer that really likes going to brick-and-mortar. They don't like, they like to touch and feel it before they buy it especially when it comes to apparel, you know, they want to be able to try it on. They don't want to have to deal with like, you know, ordering and then maybe it's the wrong size and sending it back and exchanging. Like that's just a big pain in the butt for them.
So I think it really really kind of need to be in both in order to satisfy a wider range of people because people just like to shop differently and I don't think they need to like cannibalize one another. I think that they can. Work together in a really effective way, you know, you might learn about a product online, but then it's when you see it in store that you're like, oh that's that product I saw online. Like, you know, and I'm sure there are scientific studies out there about how many times somebody needs to engage with something before they go and purchase that thing and I'm sure those numbers of engagements increase with like the cost of the items. Like the more expensive an item is, the more they have to like see it over and over and over and over again before they're like, I'm going to go for it. So I think, you know, having it online, having it in brick-and-mortar. It's just gives people more chance to experience the product.
Lisa: Absolutely and that's like a really symbiotic way to look at it as well, that you are, you know, you're kind of serving two different types of human beings that are both attracted to the same product.
Jenn: Yeah, and I understand that it's a little, you know, it might be a little... like, what's the word... I don’t want to say overly optimistic because I do believe in it... idealistic maybe is the word? And it might be a little idealistic. I know that there is a lot of tension between, especially smaller brick and mortars with online, but it's like the online isn't going anywhere. So it's just like, we all got to figure out how to adapt. And there is... there is something special to be offered in brick-and-mortar and there's something special to be offered online. And so how do you really capitalize on those unique offerings versus trying to compete on a level that you can't with the different styles of channels?
Lisa: Yeah. That's a, that is a very interesting topic. I think and it's a hot topic right now.
Jenn: Yeah. Yeah, especially when it comes to bike shops, you know, because that's a really tough business, you know. You’re selling products that typically have a very small margin and... You know someone buys a bike, and I’ve had my bike for eight years, you know, so you're really relying on service and there's like smaller purchases for the repeat purchases. And you know, retail space is expensive, overhead is expensive, staff is expensive. So, you know, I do have a lot of empathy for running small bike shops. It's a really interesting problem to solve right now is like how does apparel fit into that world? Right, because when you shop for apparel outside of the cycling world you’re just out and you want to get like a new pair of jeans, you walk into the store and they're like, they're beautiful. The merchandising is gorgeous. They have like lovely showrooms, you know there it's just…. it’s totally catered to that apparel experience. But then you walk into a bike shop and like a lot of what a bike shop is is a mechanics, you know, and so you have like gear and you have grease and you have you know... it's not necessarily conducive to shopping for clothes. So it's really interesting to think about like how to better service a bike shop when it comes to trying to sell high-end apparel.
Lisa: Yeah. Yeah and like, to get people in a bike shop to know the features and explain the features and kind of honor the work and thought that's gone into every single piece in the shop.
Jenn: Yeah and to educate a mostly male staff on how to talk openly about a woman's product too.
Lisa: Yes, I grew up working in bike shops. And I find them to be quite lovable. You know, I love the bike shop culture. I think it's…
Jenn: what do you love about it?
Lisa: So unique, you know, I never found it intimidating. I know a lot of people find entering a bike shop to be a really intimidating experience, but it's like, you know, they're it's typically full of like pretty nerdy people who are kind of going against society to, you know, use these human powered machines and have them working in perfect order. And you know, I just think like it's actually a pretty nerdy group of humans. Even the mountain bikers.
Jenn: Yeah. Yeah. That's a good way to describe it.
Lisa: Yeah, you know. I never found it intimidating because it's just so silly. Like riding a bike is what you do as a kid, and it's so fun that it just sticks to some people.
Jenn: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And then there's also, maybe in that's part of it too, is like sometimes with that nerdiness, you know, that like comes a little bit of like a social awkwardness.
Lisa: Yes. Yes.
Jenn: Where when you go to really high end store like those people are very skilled at making you feel amazing. Right? It's like what they do, but working at a bike shop, you're not necessarily going to have like that personality working there.
Lisa: No and then getting like your best mechanic to like be the only one in the shop and come out from behind his bench and be able to talk to a woman about you know, this chamois... like, it’s so fun to watch that play out.
Jenn: Right, that's where like that online really helps. I mean, like, I don't... I don't think Machines could have existed if it weren't for a direct to consumer channel, you know, because like bike shops didn't really know how to sell women’s... I want to save it to know how to sell women’s gear but it just wasn't the right environment for it. Like it wasn't a good fit.
Jenn: And so the clothes wouldn't sell, so then companies were investing in the clothes, you know, and it became this like chicken and egg thing. So then that's where I was like, you know, and that's what I would hear within the industry is like, oh women won't buy kit, women won't spend money on kit, women don't want high-end apparel, which is didn't make any sense to me. Because I was like, well, I want all of those things and I know a lot of my friends want all those things and I'm sure there's other women out there besides just me and my friends that want these things. So that’s when I was like, I'm just going to go directly to the consumer and speak directly to the consumer and see if this is what they want. It's like that build it and they will come kind of thing, right? So, then the community got really excited about it. So then you have shops that are like, oh this is interesting. And we've had some situations where like we put our stuff into stores and then will advertise, hey, you know so-and-so City. We're in this shop and women will go to that shop specifically seeking us out, you know, and then the shops would be like whoa, like this has never happened before. We’ve never had people come into our shop specifically seeking out an apparel brand. And so that's really a testament to like, how online can help build community at the brick-and-mortar level, because now you have new women coming into your shop looking for Machines for Freedom. And now, oh great. Now they get to like, you know, meet your mechanic and like, you know meet your staff and now they've become a patron of your shop as well. So this is where like you can really build that kind of symbiotic relationship.
Lisa: That's a great way to look at it. That's awesome. I think that was a really rich dialogue.
Jenn: Oh great. Awesome. Thank you.
Lisa: Yeah and thank you so much for being on the podcast today, and where can people find you or follow you online?
Jenn: So I mean obviously Machines for Freedom. Is our website. We're on Instagram @Machines for Freedom. That's probably the best place. I have a personal Instagram @jenn.kriske. Although I'm not super active on Instagram, those are probably the best places to learn about us.
Lisa: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for your time.
Jenn: Thanks. This was fun.
Lisa: Yeah, it was fun. Thank you so much, and I'm just so stoked on what you're doing.
Jenn: Thank you.
Lisa: Thanks so much for being here today Jenn. That was awesome. You are a kick-ass lady and thank you so much for your time today.
Iris: Yeah, what an interesting story and business journey. Can't wait to see what she has in store.
Lisa: Yeah. Who's on the podcast next week Iris?
Iris: Next week we have Erin Machan from Project Bike Love, and she's going to carry on the torch of talking about Revolution. So we’re excited for that. Thanks so much for being here, and don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes. It helps a lot. We really like having reviews. So, please, please, please take like five seconds to leave us a review. Let us know your thoughts on Outside by Design.
Lisa: Have a great week.
Iris: Bye bye.
Lisa: Talk to you next week.
Iris: See you on Thursday.