The Many Hats of the Bicycle Product Manager
Part 1: A quick look at what a product manager does
by John Neugent
John Neugent probably knows more about bicycle wheels than anyone else alive. Maybe more about bikes as well. He's spent his life in the bike business, at every level. He now owns Neugent Cycling, a firm devoted to delivering world-class equipment at the lowest possible price. If you are in the market for a set of wheels, please, check out John's site. He really knows his stuff. —Chairman Bill
Ever since I can remember I always liked to make things. When I finally got into the bike business in 1973, I was partners in a shop and was responsible for the back end. This meant I did the repairs and assemblies. It was impossible for me to do anything without trying to figure out how to do or make it better. Decades later, after receiving a number of patents, and positions as a product manager and VP’s of sales and marketing and running a few companies, I developed a much better understanding of how the system works.
If there is one marketing line that drives me crazy it’s the ubiquitous “No Compromises.” The very essence of all things in business and probably in life is compromise. I recently watched a Nova program on the development of the newest generation of fighter jets for the US military. They had to build them to satisfy the Army, Marines, Navy, and many International customers who all had different requirements – and do this in one plane. The development was all about compromise. Yet, you see it every day in the bike biz about companies who want to make only the very best – nothing else will do. Give me a break.
To be fair, the bike industry (in the United States) is very unusual because sales are driven by a very small number of riders who, in no way resemble the vast majority of people who ride bikes. You may call them the bike industry 1% but that’s overstating it. The group the product is developed for is much smaller. But that’s a story to be told in another part of this series.
Bikes also hold a special place in patent law because there are more patents written about bikes than any other single industry. Much of that has to do with the fact that the patenting process started about the same time bikes were first being built, but It’s also because the bike is uniquely simple and complex at the same time. The technology is approachable by anyone interested in just tinkering. In fact, a very good place to look when you first start developing a new product are the patent files which are a wealth of new and sometimes innovative ideas.
Naming a product can also be difficult. That is the reason many auto companies simply number their models instead of name them. Trademarks don’t have to be registered – if you are the first one to use and trademark ™ it, you own it. So there is no single place to search. Google has probably done more for trade name searches than any other thing because it’s such a strong search engine.
The job of the product manager is to not only be innovative but to work with the engineering, design, marketing and sales groups and mostly be accountable for the profitability. In this series I will look at all of the components of development separately.
In the articles that follow I will get into more of the details about how products are developed in the bike industry. All the way from “open mold” tooling to working with top level industrial designers and engineers. I personally find all of this endlessly fascinating.
John Neugent was was one of the first to establish quality hand building in Taiwan around the turn of the century. He now owns Neugent Cycling, a firm devoted to delivering world-class equipment at the lowest possible price.