Case Study: FULL Service Engineering
Beginning as a a startup in the Bicycle Industry, Synthesis helped this customer grow to World Cup Winning performance, Tour de France debuts, and many patents. This is a story of Full Service Engineering.
The customer, WickWerks LLC, had some good ideas for higher performing cycling components. They had prototypes and were selling very small volumes of beta-level chainrings. When we first met, the owner was struggling with several details keeping them from a production level product. They needed engineering assistance, and they needed product development experience. Enter Synthesis.
A few months after starting the contract, we produced a first generation of ‘production like’ prototypes. These 10 alpha’s were given to skilled cyclists to test — including previous National Champions (2) and several professionals. The plan was to ride them for a week, then gather them back to evaluate wear patterns and function. It all went well, except for 2 athletes: Katie Compton, a multi-National Champion, was reluctant at first, but after a week of riding, didn’t want to give them back. The other rider expressed similar feelings. At this point I knew we had something.
Fast forward through the prototype levels and other testing … and Synthesis successfully launched production. This put WickWerks on the map, and they began selling chainrings.
The Full, Full Service
The Full Service portion of the story begins here. The original contract included engineering and design. However, the project pretty quickly expanded to include prototyping, then testing and evaluation. Not a problem, we do that kind of thing all the time.
Once the design was complete, we found that WickWerks did not have a manufacturing source, nor did they have experience, so Synthesis found and qualified sources (like machining, anodizing, and laser etch). Along the way, we also managed negotiations and all the production hurdles. We even designed the fixtures and production tools for the unique tasks. Again, something we’ve done many times, so we were happy to help.
With time, we designed many chainring sizes for various configurations — for mountain biking, road riding, and for cyclocross. These designs fit various cranksets including 3x, 2x and 1x. The designs were done by Synthesis, and at first, we also sourced the prototypes. Soon the need for prototyping caused WickWerks to purchase a CNC and bring in their machinist. The ability to turn around prototypes quickly was a boon to our effort.
In the meantime, it became apparent that WickWerks did not have the skills or resources to effectively sell the chainrings. They had a website that looked great, but lacked functionality. So, with somewhat limited skill, Synthesis gradually took over the website and marketing too. It’s not like they were unprepared, there were organizational hiccups that prompted this — namely, a sales/marketing guy that failed to sell anything. I felt bad for the owner, so we did what we could with the website. Though marketing and sales are not engineering skills, we did OK — almost doubling sales each year that we did the marketing.
As demand rose, we were asked to set up manufacturing in Taiwan. That is daunting for any organization, but with our connections and experience, we were able to accomplish it. I say we, but it was more than just Synthesis. Our friends in Taiwan really helped in making it happen.
Creativity was in it from the start. The ramp technology that makes the chainrings famous was started by WickWerks, and perfected at Synthesis. Each product we designed also included new technology that makes them uniquely WickWerks (it’s the Synthesis signature).
We did a lot of things that others said wouldn’t work. We produced chainrings that shift in conditions where others won’t. The Road Bike Ultra Wide shattered the rules Shimano has been stating for years — and it outperforms the best Shimano in almost every way. The success is not by accident.
Another Synthesis invention, The Juniors Solution broke ground for young riders that have been largely ignored by the bicycle industry. It gives a much improved race setup which is lighter, shifts better, and is easier to retrofit onto a new bike.
A creative new Dual Side Chain Watcher was invented at Synthesis, then first publicly used at the Tour de France, 2016, by the LOTTO NL – JUMBO (TLJ) team. The product immediately sold out, (but they have more now).
From the WickWerks perspective, the big benefits in working with Synthesis are:
- Expanded Capability. We provided engineering & design services from the start in fluctuating waves as they needed it. At first, it was a little here, and a little there. It kept them from having the overhead of hiring full time engineering staff when they weren’t really ready to make full use of them.
- Skill & Experience. Synthesis has years of experience in many industries and lots of connections to get things done. Our broad reach into many different industries and markets over the years gives a very wide perspective, and rich experience.
- Flexibility to handle, well, almost anything they threw at us — even the tasks where we don’t specialize — like website building, trade shows, marketing, advertising, graphics design, video production, and sales. — This is full service engineering.
- Innovative Creativity. Our work yielded several patents. Many have issued already, and (at the time of writing) several more are pending. This intellectual property now gives the company a much greater value than just the products. When you hire Synthesis, you also get the creative thinking and innovation in design that goes well beyond the norm.
If you’d like to see a portion of what Synthesis was able to accomplish at WickWerks, look at their website. We built the site, wrote almost all the content on it, designed & developed all of their products, made the videos, made most of the images, etc.. This is truly the Full Service Engineering Case Study.
What We Love:
- Working with the amazing sponsored athletes was one of the best parts of WickWerks. As we attended (and promoted) at many events, it was a privilege to work with and get to know them. Many good feedback moments came because we were there. This is, I think, something missing in a lot of R&D — that of getting accurate, unfiltered feedback. It’s something that definitely improved the WickWerks chainrings.
- Getting our hands into all aspects of the projects is another part we enjoy. In this case, the engineering and functional aesthetics were just the start. We also took the designs through prototyping, testing, validation — then managed production. But it was even more because we designed the packaging, sourced or did all the graphic design, and more — to make the products complete.
- It’s very rewarding to have someone (Katie Compton) win the World Cup, in part, using your engineering. (Not to mention the many National Championship titles won by various riders in several countries.) It’s fun to see super positive articles written about your work, and to go against the grain of the “Traditional Knowledge” to do great things other respected engineers said were impossible.
Looking back, it’s good to analyze what could be better. WickWerks is progressing on their own now, like we want. Yet, it could have been faster with more success, we think, if a few key things had happened.
- First, (so important with all startups): Skills and talents used for inventing are different than those used to run a business. For WickWerks, the lack of business sense was identified early, but nothing was done to overcome it. Learning to run your business is important. Unfortunately, we’ve seen the consequences of ignoring it over and over with small companies we’ve helped. Hopefully WickWerks gets a handle on that.
- Second, (almost as important), is Marketing. We’ve seen it dozens of times — “If you build it, they will come” is a HUGE fallacy. There is no excuse for not dedicating time, talent and resources toward marketing. Synthesis did most of the marketing for a few years, and it was moderately successful. When WickWerks took over, marketing nearly stopped, and so did sales growth. I still think this is truly sad.
- Third is Teamwork. At Synthesis we work as a team. We gather to discuss progress and assimilate ideas. We prefer to have (at least weekly) meetings with the customer to involve their input, because it’s hard to be on the right path without it. These did happen, but not frequently and not as collaboration. I believe that stifled progress. Customer leadership, including proper planning, would have made progress so much more effective.
There is so much more to say about the good things accomplished for WickWerks, but most have already been said in the many articles in bicycle industry publications and on WickWerks.com. If you’re interested, go and read about the awesome products from customer reviews, professional cyclists, and the cycling media. At Synthesis, we’re quite proud of the products that came from our Full, Full Service Engineering at WickWerks.