Fun, Friends and Family
When Don DiCostanzo first meets people, he often asks, “Are you looking for fun, or are you looking for trouble?” If the answer is “trouble,” he replies, “We’re all out of that, but we have plenty of fun!” This one exchange sums up a lot about Don’s fun-loving personality. While he’s an experienced and savvy businessman, he is also a happy family man whose lifelong friendship with partner Terry Sherry led to the creation of Pedego — where the motto is, “Hello, Fun!”
A Love of Cycling
After 30 years in the automotive world, Don started an electric bicycle shop in Newport Beach, California. This was a labor of love. Over time, he developed an interest in electric cycling and tried to find quality electric bikes for his bicycle shop. His frustration with existing suppliers led him to contact his friend and future Pedego partner Terry Sherry and make plans for Pedego. In 2008, the two men co-founded Pedego Electric Bikes, where quality, innovation, and customer service are among the top core values of the company.
“Pedego fuses the best in bicycle components with evolving electric technologies to create best in class electric bikes,” he explains. “As we look at how trends are evolving, styles and colors are playing an increasingly important role in the electric bike category. We are establishing Pedego as the best brand of electric bikes throughout the world by combining quality, service, and style into awesome electric bicycles.”
Today, Don rides regularly with other Pedego riders, friends, family, and co-workers. He enjoys visiting Pedego-branded stores around the world and taking part in group rides with the local Pedego owners. As a regular rider, Don can personally attest to the quality and style of all Pedego electric bikes. As the CEO of Pedego, he makes quality, innovation, and customer service happen every day. And he makes good on his company’s goals to delight Pedego customers and assist Pedego dealers to be successful.
A Big Wheel in the Business World
Prior to founding Pedego, Don spent over 20 years at Wynn’s, rising to become president of the global leader of innovative products and programs for the automotive industry. When Wynn’s was acquired by Parker Hannifin in 2000, he took over as Group President of Parker Hannifin providing strong leadership in a dynamic marketplace. This proved an exceptional foundation for his entrepreneurial ventures that followed.
Don went on to build several of his own successful companies. Starting in 2002, he acquired Zak Products along with a financial partner. The company owned and operated 40 car washes and distributed chemicals and automotive service equipment to franchised car dealerships from Florida to California. During that time, he also co-founded Prism Automotive, a very successful trade magazine publishing company and is the first angel investor in TicketSocket. More recently, he founded Bringpro, an Uber-style, on demand pickup and delivery service for larger items.
Tell me about your early career.
The first 30 years of my career, I worked hard and enjoyed what I did, but I didn’t love it. I climbed the corporate ladder and became the president of a global, automotive chemical company with the proverbial corner office. Globetrotting was what made it fun but it was a job, sometimes a grind.
How did the concept for Pedego Electric Bikes come about?
My home office was at the beach, but the house was on top of a hill. I enjoyed biking down to the beach to have lunch but didn’t like navigating up the hill to get home. So, I bought my first electric bike. The first one I bought got me up the hill and I said, “Oh, my God, this is the answer.” It was an ugly, clunky, and poorly put-together, but it got me up the hill.
After that, I went on a quest to buy any electric bike I could get my hands on. And I literally bought seven or eight different electric bikes from 2006 to 2007. I wasn’t a hoarder, just an enthusiast. Number one, I wanted bikes for when my friends and family came over so we could ride together. And number two, more importantly, I was looking for a better product and trying to figure out if there a better way to do this. The bicycle shops in Newport Beach hated electric bikes. They’d just about spit on me when I’d stop in and ask about them.
How was the first year in business?
I decided to open an electric bike store in 2007 to use it as a laboratory to see what the market was all about and explore the opportunity. I found a building for lease next to the Crab Cooker, an iconic Newport Beach restaurant established back in 1930. I looked in the window, and I thought, “Man, what a nice big showroom.” The landlord told me that they are planning to tear the building down for redevelopment but he’d give me a month-to-month lease. I called the business Zclipse (I used the word eclipse because I wanted to hide the fact that it was electric). And in that store, I carried electric bikes, electric skateboards, top-of-the-line electric golf carts, and even an electric car.
Not really knowing the market, I employed a buckshot approach. “I just got bikes and other products from whoever had them. I searched the Internet, contacted vendors—which were so few and far between—and just pieced it together. While the business did well, the products and suppliers were all subpar. I decided I could do a better job, sold the store after one year, and along with a partner, we established Pedego in late 2008.
What was your marketing strategy?
While I’m a devout 4P guy (Product, Price, Promotion, Placement) and believe you must execute ALL of them better than your competitors, it became evident that the logical way to distribute our products would be in bicycle shops, but that proved to be (and continues to) a flawed strategy. Almost all traditional bicycle shops hold a contemptuous attitude towards electric bikes, much like computer stores did towards Apple in the 1990s.
At the suggestion of a customer who wanted to open a store to sell Pedegos exclusively, we followed that path which turned out to be the smartest thing we did. Our Pedego-branded stores is our distribution model.
We also spent countless hours on design and quality. While, admittedly, we were not all that good in the beginning, we got good real fast, and about the same time we figured out the distribution model, the store concept began taking off.
If you can be first to market or have the best product, you can win against competition. We had both!
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Our Pedego-branded stores are owner-operators that aren’t just entrepreneurs, but enthusiasts as well. Our store owners are customers first. Somebody rents one or buys one, then they call us up and say they want to open a store. That’s been fabulous for us because we’ve got a great, loyal following that doesn’t carry the competition.
That loyalty has created a familial company culture among the dealers. We operate the company like we’re a family, and it’s worked out fabulously. We started getting together once a year at the annual dealer meeting, and we all help each other out. When you’re an entrepreneur, everything you do is a learning experience, but it’s only useful if we learn not to do it again. I believe business is all about doing more of what works, and less of what doesn’t!
How do you define success?
The first 30 years of my career, I worked hard and enjoyed what I did, but I didn’t love it. Now, I don’t work at all because I love what I do. I don’t see it as work. I tell people all the time that I’ve always liked what I did, but I never knew I could love what I do.
I couldn’t imagine what else could be as much fun as riding the bikes, selling the bikes, and selling the fun that goes with it. I could’ve retired when I was 50 and not done this again, but boy, I would have missed out on so much of my life. Now that I’m 60, I don’t ever want to retire. This is just way too much fun!
What is the key to success?
Success is finding something you love to do so it’s not work.
Mostly, being an entrepreneur is, in my opinion, trial and error – to go out and try things. If you’ve got good, sound judgment and you’re right a lot more than you are wrong, then you’re probably going to be successful.
It’s critical to find unserved markets that has growth potential. Only a very small percentage of the population ride bikes today, but electric bikes are expanding the market opportunity to those who might never ride a bicycle again in their lifetime. Converting just a small portion of that huge segment of the population to riding bikes is very rewarding.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Branding is everything. Consumers have heightened expectations, and brands must master and present compelling and competitive shopping experiences. Brands and retailers must offer creative ways to demonstrate value and engage through experiential means to woo customers and maintain customer loyalty.
What are some quotes that you live by?
All from Pedego customers:
“Your invoice is wrong. You didn’t charge me for the fun. I’m going to owe you for that!”
“Just what the doctor ordered for these 55-year-old knees.”
“The bike is absolutely wonderful. It is well designed, visually appealing, and just plain fun to use.”
“There is never enough time to do it right, but there is always time to do it over.”
What are some of your favorite books?
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, and Steve Jobs.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
No single tough day but the most important thing for us is to delight our customers. If a customer is not delighted, whatever the reason, it causes me to anguish on what we can do better for that customer, and in the future, so it does not happen again.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Everyone has good days and not so good days. Whenever I have challenging days, I look at it as an opportunity to better appreciate all the good days.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
It’s very important to learn general business skills in the right environment and to learn everything about the industry where you have a passion. Starting as soon as possible, find a job with an entrepreneurial-minded company in the same industry where working won’t be work.
This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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