Every interview on The Interview Portal is special to us !
Today, as we reach a significant milestone having covered 500 career stories, we are immensely grateful to our pathbreakers for believing in our vision and setting aside their time to contribute to it.
For our 500th pathbreaker, I wanted to cover someone whose product has had a significant impact on me personally. In 2015, I decided to go in for a road bike designed and manufactured in Coimbatore. It was a gamble at that time because all that I knew was it was made by a group of freshly graduated mechanical engineers from VIT.
I have always been fascinated by core engineering startups because they are incredibly rare these days ! I wanted to invest in them not only as a customer but also by giving feedback about the product through usage. It’s very hard to beat the experience of touching and feeling your product, not to mention using the product daily.
Here is our interview of Somy Sridas, our 500th pathbreaker, Co-Founder at Scolarian Bikes. Having been a very happy customer of their world class 10.6 Kg bike and riding it for more than 5 years, i wanted to understand his fascinating biking journey from an entrepreneurial lens !
After riding for more than 30,000 Kms and running The Interview Portal for 3 years, i have realised that entrepreneurship, just like biking, thrives on internal forces (stamina, perseverance) rather than external forces (motor) !
I believe that this interview, like all our other interviews, strongly reflects our ethos for covering professionals who have carved their unique paths based on their beliefs, took on risks, and through their journeys, inspired several students to follow suit.
Somy, tell us about Your background?
I was born in Kolkata, but moved to Hyderabad at a very young age. Curiosity about different aspects of life is something that has always been synonymous with me and hence it is no surprise that I enjoyed and loved being a part of different activities like the school’s drama team and school’s running squad. Academics was something in which I always performed, but I do believe my interest and knack for learning and participating in a multitude of activities have been a foundation stone in shaping my character as well as my life. My parents have been my pillar of strength, in terms of their approach towards life, and their dedication towards their work. My mother is a school teacher and my father is a self-employed professional. They have helped me understand the granular aspects of life
What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?
I graduated from Vellore institute of technology , Chennai in Mechanical Engineering
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
I consider myself incredibly lucky to be born in the internet era and the information age. Watching the Mega Factories series on the discovery channel was not only a key influencer in my decision to choose Mechanical Engineering but was also my first brush with Mechanical Engineering. The way they show the world’s most innovative products, most optimized production facilities really stimulates the brain of every curious child.
It is often said that a student’s understanding of the concepts is as good as the teacher’s. My career choice was validated by my esteemed Professors from VIT, Chennai. Their constant encouragement to us to take up more hardware projects and develop a deeper understanding of the foundational concepts has been a great learning curve. It is with this ideology that I co-founded the VIT University’s International BAJA team “TSI” with my VIT batch mates. It gave us all the essential hands-on experience in building a product from scratch and an insight into different aspects of Product development like prototyping, designing, developing, testing, and also marketing. Being able to represent my country and university in Tennessee, USA gave me the confidence to be part of more projects and experiences.
I truly believe that my 4 years in VIT have shaped the next 10 years of my life, but if I consider an important event in the timeline, an event which taught me the virtues of patience and perseverance and gave me the confidence to design and build products from scratch, then it would be our final year hardware project which resulted in a patent pending Mountain bike suspension design. This introduced us to the world of bicycles and made us fall in love with its mechanism. While still pursuing our final year project, me and my project partner decided to start something related to mobility and that is when we founded “Scolarian Bikes” in our final semester.
Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey in the world of biking
When you decide to begin your career by starting a business, then every aspect of the business, every domain, every minute detail is like your very own child. So developing a bottom-up understanding of the entire bicycling arena becomes a necessity. It was very important for us to understand the real world scenario of the cycling world, no matter how much you read and learn about it online. One needs to be aware of the things happening at the ground level.
We decided to visit the mecca of cycle manufacturing in India – Ludhiana, to get a glimpse into the real world of bicycling. The heart to heart conversations that we had with factory owners, engineers and machinists were the key takeaways of our very first business trip.
Now when I look back, it was a good decision to start immediately after college. Being young made it easy for us to get appointments with the stalwarts of the industry, and understand their point of view of this business. They were all curious regarding us young lads who were planning to start a bicycle company against convention, instead of just building an internet application like the normals of the era.
As in any other project, research was our first phase, even today we like to stay updated with all the latest technologies, methodologies and design principles that are followed around the bicycling world.
How did you get your first break?
We picked up a bicycle related project for our final year project and developed a unique suspension system and went on to file for a patent. That experience combined with the working model of the first prototype gave us the confidence to venture ahead with the plan.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
Challenge 1: The ecosystem of building custom bicycle frames and components is nascent in India. We had to develop our own jig and fixtures from scratch and define every single process after a lot of trials. Also, the ever changing and vast number of standards for every component on a bicycle makes it a challenge to navigate through when you start initially.
Challenge 2: Hiring individuals who share a similar thought process and approach to work is one of the toughest tasks when forming a team. We provide internships and hire contract workers for individual projects before we offer them a permanent job.
Challenge 3 : Finance and governmental procedures are something which we had to research and figure out ourselves. Our educational background did not familiarise us with even the terminologies, let alone the vast array of topics that a person needs to know even before the business starts. This took up a lot of time in the beginning.
Take us through your venture, Scolarian Bikes
The cycling world is vast, and every segment has its uniqueness and fun aspect. If you are looking for speed and aggression, you look for a road bike. For commuting and relaxed riding, hybrid is the way to go. For trails and climbing mountains, we have MTB’s and for traveling and backpacking, we have touring bikes. We were looking for a bicycle that is simple, easy to ride, fun to commute, low maintenance, and most importantly, beautiful. Back when I visited the USA, I came across Fixed gear bikes, and found them fascinating. Though i didn’t know much about them, it was stuck in my head.
When I and Sachin were discussing bikes, from all the online data and hours of cycling videos, we just fell in love with the idea of a Fixie and I could relate to it so easily. I have seen day-to-day commuters, bike messengers use fixed gear bikes as the preferred way of transport. It is the simplest bicycle that could ever exist, fewer components mean low maintenance, lightweight, and fun to ride. Even if you don’t enjoy Fixie, one can always flip the wheel and ride the freewheel.
Since no brands were selling fixed gear in India, we decided to build one and test it ourselves as we were totally sold on the idea of fixed gear. It’s like relearning cycling again and that is the experience we wanted to give to the riders. After months of R&D, we launched our bike In 2015. We started with just four variants. Though they were all the same mechanically, they were different by color choices. The more bikes we sold, the more ideas and feedback we got . As a brand, we always listened to all the reviews and suggestions. Even in fixed gear, all our customers wanted bikes with different geometry and riding setup. Some wanted relaxed riding and some more sporty, with more color choices and different components. That is how we realized that it was best that we make bikes based on the specific order. “Made to order” is the concept we follow. We give the customer the freedom to select the components, geometry, and color of the frame. We also started getting more queries on different frames styles, like Road, Gravel, MTB. We had already developed special jigs to miter and weld most types of bicycle frames to any custom fit size. Hence, we started building custom frames.
As a complete bike, we sell fixed gear and Internal gear hubs with chain and belt options. Internal gears are simple and have a clean system, which is perfect for commuting.
We also visited Euro bike in Germany to get more insight into the international cycling world. We were able to connect with many cycling component suppliers and cycling brands with futuristic products, and made few friends in the cycling industry. Selecting appropriate components is as important as making the right frame.
Making custom cycles is more about understanding the rider. It’s important to listen and read about every aspect of biking when dealing with the requirements of a rider.
Every single customer is important to us and we always try to clarify every single query one has and then move ahead with the build.
How does your work benefit society?
Each bike that we put on the road takes one person towards a healthier lifestyle and happiness.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
We had been working on a coupling design for about a year. There are currently two systems primarily used globally. We made multiple prototypes and almost a year later, when the final machined parts came in and fit perfectly without the slightest amount of hitch, It was a very happy moment for us.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
If you like something in life, you need to at least give it a try, it’s hard to start things inside your minds, but, it’s the easiest process in real and then apart from all the difficulties, you will definitely find help.
If things don’t work , you will still have the experience which will always help wherever you are.
It’s never too early to start and never too late to learn. And try to see if your vision, thoughts, goals match with anyone who you know well. Having a cofounder(s) might be the best thing for you and the company. It definitely makes it easier to take up all the challenges head on.
We are venturing into more cycling segments this year starting with touring and gravel bikes. And more in-house components.