This week I unexpectedly received a call from an old colleague; someone with a lot of skill and business experience. We haven’t worked together for a few years, but we’ve kept in touch at a professional level. While I left the outdoor industry and went into the bike industry, and eventually quite my job to set up Airdrop, he went on to be CEO of a major group of retail chains. It doesn’t particularly matter to the story who he is or which company he works for, but suffice to say they’re stores you’re probably familiar with, and they’re very good at what they do.
The purpose of the call was to offer me a job. I had a couple of these after I left the old bike company, but since I made it public that I was setting up Airdrop, they tapered off. I guess potential employers might have been put off by my talk of my “never wanting to work for anyone else ever again” and “quitting my day job to pursue a lifelong ambition.” That sort of thing. And since I fully committed to Airdrop, the thought of going back into employment really hasn’t occurred to me, other than in the darkest moments when I thought Airdrop maybe wasn’t going to work out - and then only as a last resort.
Not to mention the fact that two years out of the corporate environment, I must be getting pretty rusty by now. My patience for sitting through tedious meetings has evaporated, and I’m not sure that I could tolerate being told what to do all day every day. I managed to escape all that, it took me a long time to dig that metaphorical tunnel, and I haven’t looked back since.
So you can imagine my surprise when this call came in, ”We’d like you to come and work with us.” It’s a serious offer too - Head of Creative for the whole group; a big salary, company car and a pension. And what about Airdrop? He offered to buy it, sell the bikes through their stores and give me a royalty off every sale. Holy shit. It’s the kind of offer that I would probably have jumped at a couple of years ago, and if it had come then, maybe Airdrop would never have happened.
To put this in perspective, I still don’t pay myself out of Airdrop. Not because the business is not successful - I probably could draw a small salary now - but because everything goes back in, to build Airdrop up to where I want it to be. I’ve never been poorer, personally speaking, than I am now. I used to earn more working nights in a chilled food warehouse. But I’ve also never been happier than I am now, and I’ve learned some powerful lessons about what’s really important. OK sure, I’d love to have disposable income again, and I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a free car. But that’s not what this is all about: to get those things I would have to give up on Airdrop - or worse, surrender it to someone else - and go back to working for the man. Even if it is someone I respect, and the work is good, I can never go back.
Thanks, but no thanks: Airdrop is not for sale.
I said I would think about it but the answer was obvious. Instead of thinking about it I went and built a customer’s bike, called back and politely rejected the offer. Don’t get me wrong, I was both flattered by the offer, and very grateful for it. And I realise that I’m privileged to be in this position, but I’ve got here under my own steam, and I feel like I've earned the right to turn this down. To be fair, I don't think any company could realistically make me an offer that I would say yes to.
That was a few days ago, and I haven’t regretted it for a moment. What I have now is worth so much more than any corporate job could ever offer me. Airdrop is something that I’ve built completely myself, and I’m deeply proud of it. I get a massive kick out of helping people to build their ultimate bike, and I’m looking forward to all the things I have planned for the future. I don't have to promote products I don't believe in, and I can do things the way I think is right. I can use my own conscience to guide Airdrop, and go to sleep every night knowing I've put in 100%.
The best bit is that I’ll get to share this with other people too. One day I’ll be the one making the job offer, but it sure as hell won’t be a tedious office job for some faceless corporation. If there’s one thing that working in the corporate environment taught me, it’s this: unhappy people make shit products. Happy people make great products. It’s not that complicated and I’d go so far as to say it’s common sense, but it amazes me how few companies actually get that. What I’m trying to do here is build something that I’m really proud of, something that people can believe in, and that is at a basic level, good. And I believe that the best way to do that is to focus on quality - of product, of service and experience, on creativity, and to keep things simple. If it becomes about company cars then we’re missing the point.
Airdrop is an independent bike company - and I mean properly independent - and it’s going to stay that way. Sure, there are sacrifices to be made and most things are a lot harder to do this way, but since when was taking the easy option good for anyone? The job offer was a timely reminder of how lucky I am, and how easy it would be to throw it all away. The only offer I’m interested in right now is one that helps me to make Airdrop Bikes better.
Ed is the owner of Airdrop Bikes. A former web and graphic designer, he sacked off his job one day and decided to start up a bike brand.
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