Starting a business is a huge risk. You're putting almost all of your chips into one pot and bluffing on your hand all the way to the river. Of course, the bluff is supported by strong ideas and your hard work comes through on the last draw.
Harry Geyer, owner and founder of The Wheel Mill knows all about the risk of starting a business, because risk is his draw. The Wheel Mill Indoor Bike Park located in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is 80,000 square feet of handcrafted indoor cycling trails for mountain bikers, bmx riders and cycling beginners. There are ramps that throw you in the air, five foot tall beams to balance across and one of the fastest pump tracks in the nation. It's risky business and its the adrenaline from the fear that keeps international riders returning for more and more Wheel Mill experiences.
Harry's brave and pioneering mentality toward cycling and business have been incredibly influential for Rolling Pepperoni. Harry was the first to carry Rolling Pepperoni for wholesale in the winter of 2014.
I was still working on a perfect sweet bread recipe and had brought in a few rolls for people to taste. Harry pushed me to supply The Wheel Mill regularly with the well-balanced pepperoni roll snack. The recipe still wasn't perfect and I pushed back saying I wasn't ready. Harry influentially said, "Who cares. You keep baking and we'll keep selling and we'll figure it out together. As your rolls get better, so will sales. Just get going."
These are the same sort of words Harry would say to you as you're standing at the lip of a jump or a new trail, "Just send it. You've got to figure it out on the trail. Just get going and you'll get better."
Harry's push to jump into business has stuck with RP ever since and his confidence in risk taking empowers cyclists every day. Here's some Words of Wisdom from the man himself...
Q: What were some of your initial fears in creating The Wheel Mill that turned out to be inconsequential once you got rolling?
Harry: I probably should have had more fears, haha! It really went the opposite way. I had a very high confidence level starting out, but the fear of failure came crashing down when things didn't go as planned in the first year.
Q: What were some things that really scared you once the creation of TWM was underway?
Harry: I had committed myself financially in a huge way. This business has a huge initial investment. Before you can even start charging people to ride, you have to build the park and that was almost a year of spending money on rent and construction. Periodically revising the projections for time-to-opening and revenue always made me a little sick to my stomach. There could be a good argument that I should have cut my losses after things didn't pan out initially, but I kept pushing and we're still here, so I'm glad I didn't throw in the towel.
Q: In the creation of the park how do you calculate risk versus safety for riders?
Harry: Safety is our first concern. We are not trying to create risky situations or encourage risky behavior in the park for the sake of "thrills.” We build each area to have a consistent and predictable level of skill required throughout each line. We don't want a rider on an easy trail to suddenly be confronted with an expert level obstacle.
I believe you can have fun riding terrain at any skill level with very little extra risk if you ride smart and don't ride beyond your abilities. We designed the park to have a small, medium, and large version of just about every riding element. We even have completely flat areas. Don't ride the large jumps before you've mastered the medium jumps, and don't ride the medium jumps until you've mastered the small jumps. Some people have a hard time with the patience required to consolidate their skills before they move up to the next level of difficulty, and those are the ones who get hurt.
Q: With the inherent risk of injury for riders, how do you navigate those waters legally and logistically?
Harry: We have a comprehensive waiver that is approved by our insurance company and our attorney. Riding in the park is considered a self-directed activity. In other words, we aren't making you do anything. Everything you do at the park is your own choice. Obviously we have rules for safety, like wearing a helmet and following the trail directions, but we don't tell you what to ride, how fast to go, or how high to jump. People are responsible for making good decisions on how they ride. We try to facilitate that by building predictable trails, posting informative signage, and making lessons available. We also patrol the park to make sure people are acting appropriately, parents are watching their small children, and the park is in good condition, etc.
Q: What's the mantra you chant to yourself to overcome challenges and stay confident?
Harry: That really depends on the type of challenge. For riding mountain bikes there can be a significant risk of physically injury or death. I don't mind doing a lot of practice to gradually build my skills up without taking big leaps and getting hurt. I don't have an ego when it comes to riding. If I see a rider better than me (which I see all day, every day), it doesn't affect my perception of myself or my abilities. I'm inspired to practice more and be more creative by other riders, but not to take more risks. So, I guess you could say, the down side is too great for me to approach riding with a cavalier attitude. I also don't believe that performance achieved through bravado has any lasting contribution to your skill level.
If you do have a challenge of confidence, you need to know that you are approaching the challenge the right way, with professional advice. You can use examples of past successful performance as you work your way up to harder and harder things to show yourself that you are adequately prepared for the next incremental step. The keywords being, "prepared" and "incremental.”
You also have control over almost every factor of performance when you are riding your bike. You get to choose what feature to ride, its size, your speed, how you move, how you prepare, where you land, your equipment, your mental state at the moment, etc. I recommend that you pay attention to them all. If you think it sounds like I've taken all of the fun out of mountain biking, my experience has actually been the opposite. The more adept I get at managing all of these aspects of risk and performance, the more fun I'm having, the faster I'm improving my skills, and the less I get injured.
For a challenge like starting a business, where there isn't a risk of injury or death (unless you borrow money from the wrong people), I feel you need to take different approach. There are far fewer things under your control and there may not be a clear path on how to succeed that you can refer to or get professional advice about. In that case, you need to weigh your financial, relationship, health, and other risks against your dreams. You have to embrace failure and the ability to change and adapt. I try to identify with my business's mission and not my business's financial performance. If I feel like I have a mission that I am proud of and is a service to others, then I don't get as down when the money is not rolling in. That doesn't let you off the hook to find performance, it just keeps you from focusing on things that aren't productive, like self pity.
I deal personally with a lot of anxiety and depression at a baseline, so managing that is really a top priority for staying confident in business. Diet and exercise play a big role, as does spending time with friends, which is a real challenge as a business owner. One of the most helpful behaviors is actually to just show up and work. Do this without a plan or thinking about what's the best use of your time, just do whatever is right in front of you whether it is changing a lightbulb or filing a bill. Getting things done, getting anything done is always a great confidence builder.
Q: In life, what's the biggest risk you've ever taken?
Harry: I used to race motorcycles on tracks around the world. The downside risk at 150mph is pretty big, and I did get hurt a few times, but it might have been riskier to ride on the road in traffic. The Wheel Mill is by far the biggest risk I've taken that is not inherently physical.
Q: Last but not least, how much do you love Rolling Pepperoni Rolls?
Harry: Rolling Pepperoni saved me, haha! We have so many high calorie, simple carb snacks here to fuel our riders that really aren't appropriate for me to have when I've been on the computer for five hours. I can do guilt free snacking now and stay satisfied longer with Rolling Pepperoni, and the same can be said for our riders.