Before Ryan Kelley turned the living room of his 444-square-foot carriage house into Standard Bike Repair, he studied business, hitchhiked around the country, founded a painting company, and donned a tie every day for his job as a bank teller.
But after two years at the bank he still didn’t feel like he was getting anywhere.
He realized that the ones who were really having fun while making money were the entrepreneurs with whom he often shook hands while negotiating deals. And they got to call the shots.
That Sweet Aha! Moment
Ryan wasn’t a huge cyclist — he commuted to work on his bike out of simple efficiency. And he certainly didn’t know squat about fixing them. But it struck him as a killer business niche in a bike-crazy town like Boulder.
“Short of the apocalypse, the bike business wasn’t going to wipe out,” he told me, sitting on the back patio of his shop surrounded by bikes, frames, and parts, “and bikes always need to be repaired.”
So he took a leap.
In 2010, he moved his furniture out of his living room, bought some tools, asked some whiz-kid mechanics to share their knowledge, and founded Standard Bike Repair.
What’s the Worst Thing That Could Happen?
For the first two years he stayed on at the bank and ran the business in the evenings. “I was committed to one hour a day for my business,” he said, “so on Mondays I’d order parts, on Tuesdays I’d call people back.” His roommate fixed bikes while he was at the bank and things started to gel.
Ryan originally planned to build the business for his retirement. But two years later he picked biking over banking. “The best advice I can give is to take the leap. If you continue to do part-time, you won’t succeed. I have never met anyone who took the leap and failed.”
He now wakes up, cooks dinner, and watches Netflix six feet from where he makes his living.
A Genius Idea: Watch, Help, Learn
Standard Bike Repair is in Ryan’s teeny, highly organized home off an alleyway near Marine and 18th St. in Boulder. You can drop off your bike to get fixed, or you can choose the much cheaper “watch, help, learn” option where you stay for the repair and learn how to do cool bike stuff yourself. (You can also construct a bike from scratch with Ryan’s help.)
Watch, help, learn builds customers’ knowledge, cuts down on the amount of time they are separated from their bikes, and keeps Standard’s overhead low.
Ryan effusively describes what he loves about being his own man. “I am the freest person I know. I get to create a day. Sure, my business has a system and I have to do certain things a certain way, but I get the punishment and reward of all the systems I create.”
The Goal: Top-Notch Customer Service
Ryan’s says he tries to offer a five-star experience to every customer who comes by his shop.
While we were sitting out back, the gate clicked open and a fit young woman in a sleek helmet wheeled in her bike. She looked around at the bikes and parts neatly arranged around the yard.
“I heard I can stay and learn while you fix my bike?”
Smiling widely, he got up and extended his hand. “I’m Ryan. How about this afternoon?”