Today we talk with Alex Arkhangelskiy, CEO and Co-Founder of BrakeFreeTech, makers of Brake Free, an easy-to-use accessory for bike helmets to keep riders safe. From its launch in 2020 to date, Alex's company has enjoyed significant success, including endorsements from celebrity entrepreneurs and an upward trajectory in profit.
Listen to Alex tell his gripping journey on today's podcast; how he transformed an uncompelling start-up idea into a million-dollar brand without much experience in marketing.
In today’s episode of the Harvest Growth Podcast, we’ll cover:
● How to approach marketing and sales if you don't have a marketing background.
● The easiest way to "save" problematic start-up ideas.
● Building awareness and publicity on a low budget.
● How apprenticeship can accelerate your entrepreneurial journey.
● And so much more!
You can listen to the full interview on your desktop or wherever you choose to listen to your podcasts.
Or, watch the full video interview here!
Visit Brakefreetech.com to learn more about their ultra-bright and smart LED brake light that makes bikers safer. Use "harvestgrowth" at checkout for a 10% discount on all purchases.
Do you have a brand that you’d like to launch or grow? Do you want help from a partner that has successfully launched hundreds of brands that now total over $2 billion in revenues? Set up a free consultation with us today!
Prefer reading instead of listening? Read the full transcript here!
Jon: Today's Harvest Growth Podcast guest took an existing technology, modified it to a different market or audience and grew his business to well over seven figures. Today he shares the key marketing strategies and tactics that he's using that's growing his business at 50% per year.
Speaker 2: Are you looking for new ways to make your sales grow? You've tried other podcasts, but they don't seem to know. Harvest the growth potential of your product or service as we share stories and strategies that'll make your competitors nervous. Now, here's the host of the Harvest Growth Podcast Jon LaClare.
Jon: Welcome back to the show. I'm really excited to be speaking with Alex Arkhangelskiy today. He's the CEO and co-founder of BrakeFreeTech.com. Check out their website we'll hear more about the product today, but it's a super cool product. You got to see the visuals of it to really understand it. Alex, I want to jump in and give you the chance to really describe what is the Break Free product, the Break Free light that you developed.
Alex: Absolutely. Break Free essentially is a product that makes motorcyclists much more visible out on the road. It's the simplest way to increase your visibility. It's a product that attaches to the motorcycle helmet, any motorcycle helmet for that matter. Just a simple mount sticks on the back of the helmet. You click the product in, turn it on and that's it. It's got all the built-in sensors. It's got over 100 LEDs super bright wide-angle views so real simple, real straightforward way to increase your visibility a ton.
Jon: I personally love this product. I'm not a motorcycle rider myself, but I do ride road bikes although the specific problems might be a little bit different, awareness of drivers or them seeing us on the road is very similar. I use a product, again, a little different from yours where it's a sensor that sees them coming and notifies me when cars are about to pass because I'm on the side of the road not in the middle of the road like you are with a motorcycle. Man, it's been a game-changer. I've been using that for a couple of years.
I can see that this on motorcycles specifically, again, on road bikes I'm not really breaking too often. Again, very different, but on the motorcycle that's where you've really got to watch out for motorcycles in front and around you when they start to slow down and you may not see the small light that comes on the motorcycle so kudos to you. I'm glad you came up with this really to help the safety of other motorcycle riders out there. Can you talk to us about your origin story? How'd you originally develop this product?
Alex: Absolutely. The product actually came together by chance honestly. I graduated from San Jose State back in 2013 and after I graduated with my bachelor's in business and focused on entrepreneurship, I really wanted to dive into the entrepreneurial space because that was super interesting to me. I asked my business plan class professor to see if maybe she can get me into an internship with an entrepreneur or a startup where I can just learn and get my hands dirty and so she did that and connected me with an entrepreneur that's been at it for a long time.
He was towards the end of his career, he's an alum from San Jose State and he was working on a bunch of different projects. One of the projects that he just had an idea, purchased the prototype and then wanted to see if there's a market fit, that's where I came in. It was this light bar for cars that was his idea. He wanted to add an extra bit of visibility for cars when they're slamming on their brakes and the regular brake lights aren't enough. That's where the whole thing started so it wasn't entirely my idea, but what I've contributed to it was the research.
I've interviewed a lot of different people, I've researched all the different products, that have attempted to do something similar. The conclusion that I came up with is car drivers already have a lot of visibility. They already have the third brake light on the center of the window. They've got lights on the left and right. Most car drivers feel fairly safe inside their car. They don't necessarily need a product like that and being a motorcycle rider myself at that point, I'd been commuting to San Jose State on my motorcycle. I've been riding since I was 20 years old, and I'm 37 now, so for record.
To me, it was obvious that something like that needed to exist for motorcycle riders more so than it needed to exist for car drivers. Then I suggested a pivot. After that did a little bit of work with that entrepreneur and our internship concluded, and he wasn't going to continue with the product because he's close to 70 years old at that point, and had never ridden a motorcycle in his life. He had no interest in learning this whole new industry that he wasn't really that excited about and so I asked him if maybe we can take this on together as him being my mentor and guide me in the right direction and I wanted to see it to the end and so that's how it started.
Jon: I love that story and I think so many inventors if they pull an idea from someone else and modify it, they don't feel like they invented it but in reality, I love there's a, I don't know a quote exactly, but Thomas Edison talks about this where he obviously invented thousands of things that we still use today. Groundbreaking inventions but he talked about how none of them were from scratch. They were taken, it was the next step in innovation, taking an existing product and making it better or altering its purpose like in your case.
The technology was there, but what I love about that story is you identified the bigger problem. Really successful products are solutions to problems that people face and in the car as you mentioned, who are we to say necessarily but you did some research on this. It seems to me also like a very minor problem with the lights that are around it especially relative to motorcycles, but a huge problem for motorcycle riders. Took that to a better market, I think in this case, and identified really the problem to solve. To me that that is true invention. Taking a good technology, but modifying it for a better purpose so kudos to you.
Alex: Thank you.
Jon: Part of what I understand about your story also is that you spent a lot of time in getting to simplicity. How this works so for the consumer and I'll let you describe exactly how it works a little bit further, but it's super easy and that is almost a necessity, especially for technology products. Making it easy for the end user, but in the engineering and development phase, it can be so difficult to get to simplicity. For you, it can be difficult to make this just right and easy for the end user to use. How did you achieve that? I guess maybe just describe a little bit more about the process and how easy it is to install, use, functionality in general.
Alex: Absolutely. The product itself is using built-in sensors, microprocessor, everything's built into the unit itself. It's running our algorithm that we've developed and customized specifically for motorcycle use where the product detects the inertial force of braking and is able to use other sensors to filter out all the other things that are not breaking. If you're just using a simple accelerometer that's going to have a lot of issues, it's going to have a lot of false positives because to an accelerometer, gravity is acceleration.
You slowing down is acceleration, you going around a corner that's also acceleration. We had to make this work and in the process that's how I found my co-founders is I'm not a technical person, I wouldn't have been able to do this on my own. We needed to have good industrial design and we needed to have somebody that was able to create this vision of what I wanted into reality through hardware and algorithms and things like that. The process was quite long actually for us to get this right but the way the final product works is that you just attach something to your head to your helmet.
It's a simple plastic mount. You take our product, you turn it on, clip it into the mount and that's it. It does everything, you don't have to worry about it at all. It's just something that's watching your back as you're riding and it's not meant to eliminate accidents altogether, but it's meant to elevate your visibility to the next level. On motorcycles, as you mentioned, there's only one brake light typically and it's really dim and it's out of eye level for car drivers. In general, car drivers are not looking for motorcycle riders because we're only 3% of the vehicles out there on the road.
Most of the time if you're driving you're looking for car lights, you're looking for that big shape and you're not used to seeing motorcyclists so we're kind of invisible on the road. Adding a brake light up high onto the helmet, it mimics the third brake light of a car that doesn't exist for motorcycle riders. Plus adding additional light source for a motorcycle rider helps with depth perception as well quite a bit so that you can actually tell what the object in front of you is doing whether it's slowing down by getting closer or if it's getting further away, with one light source, you can't really quite tell.
The product is really simple. Everything's built-in you just turn it on, that's it. If you forget to turn it off, it'll fall asleep. Once you pick up the helmet the accelerometer will detect the motion, it'll turn back on. We really try to make this product as simple as possible because there's been a number of attempts at this idea in the past, and I think the shortfall has been really added complexity in installation and just not really thinking it through all the logical steps of how a person might use something like this. Most motorcycle riders either have multiple bikes or multiple helmets. Having a solution, like currently if you look up on Amazon helmet brake light, you'll probably see a whole bunch of cheap little lights, and most of them you have to wire into the motorcycle. There's a little RF transmitter that sends a signal to the helmet light to turn on every time you're hitting the brakes.
One, the installation is complex. It takes a little bit of time to get that done. I've tested it myself. It took me about 60 minutes to get one of these wired up. My motorcycle at the time was a very cheap one, if I screwed up the wiring, it's not a big deal. A lot of customers have really nice bikes and so if they screwed up wiring on a BMW or Ducati that costs them thousands of dollars for a product that costs them $50 to initially purchase, that's not really a great outcome either.
I saw that as a barrier to a lot of customers for actually get getting this out there because personally, I've never seen these solutions that are out there on Amazon or Alibaba in the real world. As I'm riding around, I've never seen them around. I was asking myself, why? Why is that happening? It's a bit of guesswork, but I think that, that installation step is one. Two is if you stick something on your helmet, you need to be able to take it off and put it on your other helmet, or if you have a passenger, you don't want to be blinding them, so you want to be able to take it off your helmet, put it on their helmet.
The mounting solution was another. Just the accuracy of how the device is detecting braking, how quickly it responds, that's another important piece. On motorcycles as opposed to cars, when you let it off the throttle, the motorcycle slows down quite a bit due to engine braking. When you downshift, the motorcycle slows down quite a bit. For example, Teslas do that kind of thing. When you let off the throttle, the regenerative brake slows the car down quite a bit, but not in regular cars.
When you have a solution that's wired into your brake system and you let off the throttle, you're not using the brakes so your lights aren't turning on. Our products because, it's sensor-based, it's able to detect that deceleration as well and it's giving the drivers behind you more information on what you're actually doing. When you're slowing down by engine braking, your brake lights aren't on but brake free will let people know behind you that you're actually slowing down. There's that benefit as well.
Jon: That's fantastic. Again, we talked about the product, love it, and the development piece of it. Let's talk about the success you've had now. Because of the problems you're solving, because of this, you noticed a real gap in the marketplace and solved it in an ingenious and simplistic or simple way, not simplistic, in a very simple way for consumers. The business was launched just a couple of years ago, around 2020, and very early on you raised about $250,000 through crowdfunding. Then we'll get into your success. You've really grown the business since then, but that was the first step. What would you say was the biggest driver of success for crowdfunding for you to be able to raise that money initially?
Alex: I think that there's a lot of different elements. One, it's raising awareness of what you're doing currently. We've done quite a few podcasts, appearances prior to our launch talking about, "Hey, we're developing this product. This is going to launch." In March of 2017 is when we kicked off our Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. Prior to that, we were priming that pump with podcasts but then we have also staged a PR plan as well where we had a number of publications publishing the story about our product launching and everything. Then the other piece I think is really the quality of the video that you're producing and the story that you're showing to your audience. I think it's a big combination of different things. We did it on a really, really low budget too because it was all self-funded at that point.
Jon: That's a good recommendation. I think you've got to have quality but you don't want to spend too much budget if crowdfunding is there because otherwise, you might as well spend enough on the molds or whatever else you're working on. At the end of the day, we've seen so many people come through our doors that have started the crowdfunding route and maybe did so unsuccessfully and partially because they ran out of money in the early days because they spent too much. You can have a great quality video doing it a lot of yourself or finding local resources, et cetera, and I say that as a video producer, we do a lot of that, but our things are later stage.
When you're going towards revenue, you've got businesses that are there now they've got the budget to be able to afford it but in the early days, do what you can to build that business, whether it's crowdfunding, whether it's PR for initial sales until your budgets grow to be able to afford true marketing to really be able to scale. Later on in the process, you appeared on Shark Tank and that drove another $250,000 in revenues from the PR, the experience you had on there. Any learnings from the Shark Tank experience you think would be helpful for our audience of other product marketers?
Alex: Absolutely. The Shark Tank effect is absolutely real. If you show up on Shark Tank and it airs, you're going to see results. The $250,000 came in essentially in the two weeks after the airing and we've done about that much that whole entire year leading up to that moment. Absolutely Shark Tank effect is absolutely real. I would say if you think that your product is going to be successful on Shark Tank or might make make it to the show, I would say throw your hat in the ring and do it because that's essentially what we've done.
I honestly didn't think that we were going to be making it on the show. A friend of mine applied to the show when they were at CES in 2019 and then they told me, "Hey, there's all these casting calls all over the country, just look one up close to you and go to that one." For me, it happened to be, in Nebraska, which is not necessarily an entrepreneurial tech hub. I think that me appearing there was a little bit easier because I think they had fewer, maybe fewer options. I don't know but honestly, you create your own luck by putting yourself out there. Try it. Why not?
Jon: Yes, no, love it. You mentioned how you got a lot of that revenue in the two weeks since. A lot of the Shark Tank success stories that I've interviewed on this show and just we've had a few clients go on on the show as well, that revenue continues. It obviously goes down but it's steady because reruns for that show run forever. They're always on. You get blips coming over and over again and it's a credibility boost, even just to mention that, put on your website, on your packaging, et cetera as well. I agree.
Jon: This year you've grown, now you're well over seven figures in revenue annually and grew 50% from last year. You're in this high-growth phase. What would you say, if you could talk about a couple of the key marketing channels or tactics that you've used that have been really especially successful for you?
Alex: We've been doing a lot of different things just trying to see what works because as an entrepreneur, I'm really new to this. Every single step is new to me. I'm trying to learn from each one of the experiences. Last year we've done a lot of different trade shows and I think that that helped get our exposure out there. For our product, a lot of people go to a website and they have never seen this technology and they don't really know what they're looking at, how heavy it is. Some people need to hold it and see it in person. I think that that's been effective this year. That didn't happen for a variety of different reasons.
Some of the trade shows that we were planning on attending, they got canceled. Instead, we decided to focus on our E-comm channel. In doing so, we tapped into email marketing. Personally, we didn't do a whole lot of email marketing in 2021. We started doing email marketing in 2022. We've seen really great results from that. Obviously, Facebook ads, Instagram ads, Google search ads, I think that those are important. They're a base foundational layer, I would say. In addition to that, I would also say doing podcasts, anything that really gets you out there, it gets you exposure, but also trying to think of where your audience might be, what they might be listening to, watching, viewing, whatever.
The other thing that I think has been really successful that's been paying dividends over time is just having influencers on YouTube, Instagram promoting our products. A lot of the motorcycle culture is really well-connected together. There's a lot of different forums, different YouTube channels that a lot of people follow. If you happen to be on some of those and your product is actually up to snuff, people actually think that it's a good idea, then it will take off. I think the main thing is have a great product because pushing a product that's not a great fit, that's going to be an uphill battle regardless of what you're doing but then after that, I would say, obviously Facebook, ads, Instagram ads, Google, podcasts, influencer marketing, all that stuff, everything [crosstalk] and feeds into itself.
Jon: This is all great advice. I think one of the key points is to not focus on just one thing. In every business, it can be a little bit different what's going to work and a combination approach can lead you to a much greater success and do so more quickly as well, testing, learning along the way. One of the things you mentioned was email marketing, where have you found success? I get a lot of questions for our audience on, okay, sounds great, but how do I do it? Do you purchase lists? Do you go off visitors from your site? They give you their email? How specifically has email marketing worked for you?
Alex: Well for us, because we didn't do email marketing for the first two years of the business, we've accumulated about 20,000 subscribers to the email that have never seen an email from us other than just small updates about like, hey, this pre-order is going to be arriving on this date, or very transactional kind of things. That was just a personal limitation of my thinking that I get annoyed by email marketing, therefore I think my customers will get annoyed, so I will not send email marketing messages.
Over time I've got over that and decided to give it a try. We signed up with an email marketing agency that really understood our needs and took the time to learn our customers and we worked together to create some really good content together. I think that's been effective, but I've never purchased lists. I don't really know how effective it is, so I can't really speak to that. I feel like to me that might work. If it's a targeted enough list, but honestly for us it's just been our own customers or people that are signing up to our list.
Jon: Everyone I've ever asked that question to says exactly that, like purchased lists-- Like you said, maybe there's a way to do it. I have not seen it work personally or through our clients. You talk about how we're sometimes hesitant to market, whether it's email or in other ways, or communicate with our audience or subscribers, et cetera. I think the key is no marketing is annoying to the correct audience. If they're big fans of you most, and if they've given you their email address, not everybody, but a lot of them are going to be fans of your product, of you, of your business, so they're happy to hear from you if you do it in the right way. Messaging is part of that. Audience of course is part of that, but it's a game to play really.
Figure out if you've got high unsubscribed rates from an email, change that tactic, et cetera as you go, but to not be hesitant as well, realize that everyone, our audience wants to hear from us if they're our audience. If they really resonate with us and think about that, I would say to our audience, in your own life, as you scroll through Facebook, as you get emails, the ones you open, that's marketing too. You don't think of those as annoying because you want that product, you like that business, or whatever. Same thing for Facebook and other platforms as well. It's just finding that right audience and communicating to them. That's all been great. What resources have been helpful to you along the way that have helped along your journey?
Alex: Could you elaborate what kind of resources?
Jon: Any kind of book or podcast or event that has been helpful for you to learn in the early days or as you grow your business?
Alex: For sure. Well, there's been a lot that have contributed. At every stage, I feel like there's a different book and a different podcast that might be helpful. For example, when I was getting ready for crowdfunding, I was doing a lot of research online, like what are the successful campaigns? What are the podcasts that talk to successful crowd-funders and stuff like that? If you're in that space, I would say CrowdCrux was a really great podcast for me at that time. They talked to a lot of successful crowd-funders that have a lot of different methods of what might work, so you can piece that together.
I was listening to a lot of Entrepreneur on Fire at the time as well as talking to a lot of successful people that are giving, sharing their advice. Then I was also in my twenties, so I didn't really know anything, so I was just like yes, give me all that information. In terms of book recommendations, I think we're creatures of our habits and having the right habits in place is really crucial. I would say Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg has been really helpful to just nail down your routines, how to get rid of habits that you don't want, and then how to structure and build the habits that will eventually pay dividends over time for. That would be my recommendation.
Jon: Love it, and like you said, it depends on what stage we're at with our business. Some of the resources we'll love for a couple of years. Then we grow past it and find another one along the way, and that's okay. It's good to focus on the right stage of your life, the right stage of your business, and finding the connection to, again, book, podcast, or a person or whatever it might be to really help in your journey. Well, Alex, is there anything I didn't ask that you think could be helpful for our audience?
Alex: No, I think you've covered a lot of ground here, so yes, no, I don't think so.
Jon: Well, I really appreciate the time. This has been a fun interview. Again, I encourage our audience, please go check out brakefreetech.com, check out Alex's business, it's super cool, lovely product. It's a lot of fun, but it solves a big problem for motorcycle riders out there. Even if you're not a rider, go check out his website to learn a little bit about how he's done his marketing. If you're driving or riding a motorcycle while you're listening to the podcast, you'll see it in the show notes when you get back home too. So brakefreetech.com and he's provided a promo code, so if you use HarvestGrowth all one word you'll get a $10 discount off any purchase off of his website. Alex, again, really appreciate the time today. Thanks so much.
Alex: Thank you so much, Jon. Appreciate it.
John: Be sure to visit brakefreetech.com to learn more about our guest's product. You're going to love it. Also, if you have need for help with your business to learn how to grow your consumer product or service business, be sure to check out harvestgrowth.com. You can listen to hundreds of episodes of our podcast. We've got blog articles on there, a bunch of resources to really help you to grow your business and harvest the growth potential of your product or service.
[00:26:23] [END OF AUDIO]