St. Louis Park bicyclists have a new resource, starting late March, when Bikeverywhere launches its interactive map making and printing community site. It is created for the explorer in every rider.
Twin Cities, small business man, Doug Shidell, has taken his lifelong passion for bicycling and turned it into a forty year publishing business, Bikeverywhere.com that specializes in bicycle maps and guide books for the Upper Midwest region. Over the years, Doug’s company has captured the niche market of these types of products. Since 2002, when Doug began tracking his sales, he has sold over 78,000 Twin Cities’ maps. Magers and Quinn, a noted Minneapolis bookstore, told Doug that his maps are consistently their number 3 best seller during the summer, right after the current two bestselling novels.
Doug’s success is due to his intimate knowledge of bicycling, focusing on quality products and evolving an efficient virtual business structure. From his sunny remodeled home office, Doug is transforming Bikeverywhere into an interactive web site that allows bicyclists to plan and print individualized biking maps. His effort, including using crowd funding for capital, is an example of how modern small businesses are adapting to the ever changing business environment.
Doug understands that in the digital age there is limited opportunity for the growth of printed maps. That is why he is now engaged in making over his paper and ink publishing enterprise into an online bicycling community. Bikeverywhere gives riders the ability to create and print their own unique maps with the same high quality data that is found on Bikeverywhere’s printed materials, such as bike friendly streets and roads.
However, the new online Bikeverywhere provides much more by merging information from numerous sources into a mapping application that uses Geographical Information Systems (GIS) data to accurately position roads, points of interest, and more. This data is available to the user in layers that overlay the base map. Riders use these layers to research an area and to map a route that reflects their interests. Once a route is mapped the user can save it locally, print and share it.
Competition is tough; Google offers a bike ride mapping service and many states, counties, cities, and bike organizations provide prepared bike routes as PDF documents. However, on a closer look at Doug and Bikeverywhere, it is evident that there is something special going on.
40 Years in the Making
About forty years ago, in Madison Wisconsin, Doug and a friend created the first bicycle touring book for Madison and surrounding Dane county. Because Doug was an avid bicyclist he was able to personally verify routes and road conditions. The maps were drawn by hand. Doug’s love for the sport of biking and his natural attention to detail led him to insist on making a high quality product.
Over the years, Doug developed a distinctive map style that was uncluttered and easy to read. He was one of the first to use tear and water resistant paper which minimized map wear. The new material allowed users to annotate their maps for a ride and later wipe it off, clearing it for the next time.
Evolution of a Virtual Company
As an entrepreneur, Doug has faced the classic problems of most small business startups that operate with minimum resources. He learned the basics of business 101 while at the same time developing the skills of a map maker and publisher.
Initially, Doug enlisted his wife, Vicky Vogels, to help. They quickly discovered that there was far more to do than they could handle. At that time Doug rode every trail and route that he mapped. This personal investment insured that the route data was current and the quality of services along the way, verified. When Doug prepared his Bicycle Vacation Guide for Minnesota and Wisconsin, he spent over six months riding all of the trails. Doug reached a choke point where the work to maintain existing maps and guides took all of his time. He’d reach the natural limit of what one person could do. It was then that Doug began recruiting and training fellow riders, as contractors, to develop new routes and monitor existing ones.
At another point, Doug found that he didn’t have the time to grow the business because he was spending all of his time at the computer working with the mapping software. Again, he turned to friends to find someone to take over the majority of the map data entry.
At about the same time, the price of map making technology was coming down and more GIS data became available. Doug was quick to adopt the mapping software and to develop relationships with new sources of GIS data, such as the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. These changes increased the accuracy and detail of his maps.
While Bikeverywhere printed maps were popular, Doug realized that there was much more that could be done. He began developing the interactive Bikeverywhere concept: a social networking site for bicyclists of any skill level. Map creation would be a key part of the site as would the ability of members to add their own route information: pictures, points of interest, and commentary.
Doug turned to professional software developers. Now there are three teams working on various Bikeverywhere mapping features, user interface, and the necessary backroom applications.
Doug ran into the common small business dilemma, how to raise affordable capital for the next round of development. Up until now, Doug has been able to finance company growth with his own resources: business revenue, personal savings and out-of-pocket donations.
Commercial lending was not the first option. Banks are overly risk averse and Bikeverywhere is not a traditional brick and mortar investment, so a loan, not to mention favorable loan rates, was not likely.
Here again, Doug has shown creativity. Rather than traditional lending, he has chosen to go to crowd funding. Crowd funding offers an opportunity to raise money directly from people who are either bicyclists who understand the value of Bikeverywhere or interested persons who see its potential. Doug also understands that crowd funding provides several advantages: ability to connect directly with people who through their contributions show a keen interest and faith in Bikeverywhere, generate buzz about Bikeverywhere through the online campaign and word of mouth, and begin to build membership which will become the heart of Bikeverywhere.
That is where Doug and Bikeverywhere are at the moment. He will be launching the new Bikeverywhere in March. It will have a basic set of tools to allow riders to map their rides and then save and print them. The various data layers will have the information gathered over 40 years of mapping.
Doug knows that this is a gamble. Without the active participation of bicyclists throughout the Upper Midwest and a successful fund raising campaign, Bikeverywhere will take much longer to expand its features that make it more a community experience.
If you’re interested in learning more about Bikeverywhere here are some links:
Bikeverywhere - http://bikeverywhere.com/home/
Indiegogo funding campaign, video and explanation of the new Bikeverywhere - http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/320424/x/2116975
Transparency Note: In 2005 I worked with Doug, as a contractor, assisting him with gathering and verifying data for his Bicycle Vacation Guide. Currently, I am working on Doug’s fundraising project as his video editor and copy writer.