A world of Possibility: Cycling 5000km in Pursuit of a Dream
2 September 2015
Have you been thinking of leaving your job and pursuing your dream? Meet Lawrence Brand, the man who cycled 5,000 kilometres in search of his.
One year ago, in August 2014, Lawrence Brand was sitting at an old bus stop in the old Soviet countryside of Kazakhstan. Next to him was a bicycle (named Bringley), which he had designed and built himself. Behind him he had left 5,000 kilometres of tracks across eight countries, spanning from Romania to Kazakhstan. Now, a year later, Brand is the founder of Porterlight Bicycles, a company that makes cargo bikes and one of the winners of Space for Ideas, a competition run by Appear Here, an online marketplace for retail space.
“Entrepreneurship is not just about luck, it is about quite a lot of hard work and passion,” Brand tells the SCC.
Brand’s story started in 2009 when he was living and studying in Lund, Sweden. Always a keen cyclist, he volunteered as a bike mechanic in his free time. While in Sweden he was struck by the way that cycling was seen as a natural part of getting from point a to b, whether it was to get to the gym, to run errands or anything else where the average citizen would choose to take the car. He couldn’t help but noticing that the only thing that stood in the way of cycling absolutely everywhere (apart from long distances), was storage space.
Despite bicycles being used for almost everything, Brand “saw a need for a bike that was capable enough to serve as a car replacement; able to bring home the weekly food shop, and haul back famers’ market finds, but also small enough to fit in my apartment hallway”. This was where the dream of starting his own company producing these bikes was born.
Three years of university and many miles of cycling later, Brand starting working for onefinestay, a London start-up, similar to Airbnb.com. Saving half of his pay cheque every month, he started toying with the idea of handing in his notice and starting his own company. After one cycling trip to the Arctic and one from Munich to the Black Sea, he felt that he knew what he needed from a bike but was still far from possessing the skills and knowledge to run a business, yet alone, create a bicycle!
“You truly have to be able to wear every hat in the business”, says Brand.
In the year that followed, many evenings and spare moments throughout the day would be spent building his bike – and everything from exploring ideas to learning how to weld metal. Trials were conducted throughout the streets of London and slowly Porterlight Bicycles started to take shape.
However, Brand felt that he was still missing proof that the bicycle truly was strong enough to “move mountains”. One fine spring day, Brand decided he was ready to utter the five magic words “Here’s my notice. I quit”.
His next step was purchasing a ticket to Bucharest, Romania. Brand packed his bag in a cardboard box and flew out with his newly built bicycle to the starting point for what would be a 5,000km journey spanning over the next three months and passing through Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and back into Kazakhstan. The goal was to reach Iran, but his journey had to end at the border crossing where the guards were not willing enough to let a lone, happy cyclist through. Returning home, he knew that he had created a product that most certainly would be able to survive London streets, let alone 5,000km.
Brand is proud that both his business and his journey were organically funded – no external investors and no crowd funding or venture capitalists – it has all come from his own hard work and his own pocket. He has onlyworked full time on Porterlight Bicycles since he got the opportunity to open his shop through winning the competition. Prior to this he worked as a part-time reporter for a company, which went bankrupt the week after he gave in his notice.
And looking round the open space of his pop up store it was clear that it wasn't just a bicycle company, but a Possibility Shop. What Brand created was a place to inspire and connect people.
“Some people may say that you need to be at the right place at the right time, but from my experience you need to be everywhere, all the time,” Brand tells the SCC.
To find out more about Lawrence Brand and his bicycles, please check out the website.