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Meet Andy Wilkoff

Today we’d like to introduce you to Andy Wilkoff.

Andy, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
As a kid growing up in Ohio, I was always a Maker. This eventually led me to industrial design, which was my focus at the University of Cincinnati. This love of creating things, along with a passion for movies brought me to Los Angeles and segwayed into a 22+ year career in visual effects. A few years ago, I purchased an ebike so that I could commute to work, as cycling has also been a big passion of mine. It was a 22-mile daily round trip. The ebike allowed me to get to work and not get all grimey along the way. With a long ride, it’s important to be ready for anything, and having the right tools and items to repair a flat tire is key. Ebike repair is tricky, with all the equipment on the handlebars, and I needed a tool to protect the critical controls on my ride while performing a roadside repair. The problem solver kicked in like a lightbulb, and the Original Handlebar Jack™ was born. After several prototypes and some encouragement from friends and family, I launched an online business. One thing has since led to another, and the demand for our product has now led to mass production and global distribution for cycling enthusiasts everywhere. We’re excited to be rolling out new products later this year. It’s been a humbling experience.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
The road to today has been full of learning new tricks. Starting a business meant that every step was a new step. Making things was a no-brainer, but bringing a product to market and running a business was something altogether different, from figuring out the right paperwork and forms to registering patents to figuring out a marketing campaign and building a website. There were so many things to consider, besides just getting a finalized design and being able to make it! From considerations for branding, packaging, instructions, distribution, presentation and communication of the idea, while also making sure everything was buttoned up legally. And it all required some patience! Building an audience takes time and strategy, waiting for paperwork to return, vendor delays and patent approvals, all required some patience. But with so much to do, it’s never a dull moment. Some things happened very quickly and others took time and nurturing.

Then came the actual production of the widget. We are lucky as there is a great desktop manufacturing revolution happening right now. I was able to use a prosumer grade 3d printer to make my initial product at a really high quality. As the demand grew, so did my number of printers and before I knew it, I had eight printers working day and night, right out of my garage, to produce more products. The great thing about additive manufacturing is that, over the last year, we were able to change and refine the design until we got it just right. In a traditional manufacturing environment, this would cost thousands and thousands of dollars. Now that our design is proven and established, we have transitioned to producing the product in a factory in Reno, NV. Being made in the USA is an important aspect to our business. And now I have my garage back to work on the next great thing coming from our line!

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
As a visual effects artist, there’s an ebb and flow with projects and deadlines, and juggling the day job while launching my own business was a big challenge. That meant rolling up my sleeves and working lunches, nights and weekends to fulfill ALL my work and family obligations along the way and make sure everyone is happy. People often ask me what my favorite gig has been as a visual effects artist, and I’d have to say that working on the original X Men film was awesome. I’m a big fan of comic books and being a part of the birth of one of the great comic book movie series and being a team lead on that was really fulfilling. My favorite scene would have to be the big fight scene at the end, where we re-created the Statue of Liberty digitally.

Is there any advice you’d like to share with our readers who might just be starting out?
Whether you’re looking to launch your own company or go into a new career, taking the first step is always the hardest thing. For me, it was all about if I don’t try this now, then I never will. The worst thing that can happen is you fail. But failure often will lead to more knowledge and what not to do the next time. So my best advice to those just starting out would be to dare yourself to take the leap. If it doesn’t work out, then you’ll still walk away with some valuable new skills.


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Image Credits

All photos taken by Andrew Wilkoff

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