An Excerpt from the Book:
“If money is your driving goal, you will fail”
Mike Weiss graduated from the Washington University School of Architecture in 1991. After a brief internship, he reconnected with his passion for the outdoors with mountain bikes. In 1993, he started Big Shark Bicycle Company, which has now expanded to three locations and one Sports Apparel store, as well as sports event management. He was the chair of the Tour of Missouri and is the event director of The Gateway Cup.
I got into architecture because I was interested in ways that creativity could be translated into buildings. As I worked through the program, I realized that there was a disconnect between what was being taught on campus and what was being built on the street: real world constraints kept a lot of that creativity on the drafting table. After my first internship, it felt like I had been trained in something that was becoming obsolete; I knew that if I stayed in the profession, I was going to be disappointed. My internships also highlighted that the nine-to-five office job was not for me.
At about this time, I bought a mountain bike, which rekindled my love for the outdoors, which I had experienced growing up with camping and hiking. I took a part-time job with a bike shop in Richmond Heights, which validated this interest. After they offered me my first salaried job, at about the same pay scale as I was making as an intern, I knew where I was headed.
Even though I was not an owner, I acted like one, and I looked for ways to improve their business: they had a good location, but not an excellent one – closer proximity to Washington University and Forest Park would have helped drive traffic. They carried the same brands as everyone else, charged about the same prices as everyone else, and kept the same hours – there were no strong differentiators. I knew I could do better.
The store manager thought so, too: along with a close friend who was a talented mechanic, we broke off to form our three-piece band. In 1993, we each put in $10,000 and formed our own company. We found 800 square feet in The Loop, did the interior build-out ourselves, and took no salaries.
We had a space and completed our first inventory buy but still lacked a name. The Loop was this eclectic neighborhood, and we wanted to get something colorful for the interior. One of our staff brought in these enormous stuffed sharks. They were magnificent. People have a fascination with sharks: adults fear them, kids love them. We hung them from the ceiling as we were finishing out the space – it looked like we were selling food for fish instead of gear for bikes.
A good friend, Lindsey Stouffer, came up with “Big Shark,” and the name stuck. Brian Hougland, a local graphic artist, designed our logo and made our first sign. My contribution was fostering a collaborative environment that inspired creative people to come together with something unique and original – a culture we still have to this day.
Several people let me know that the name was an uncharacteristically poor choice – that it was our “go-out-of-business-immediately” moniker. This was before companies had names like “Google” or “Yahoo.” Ultimately, it showed that we knew how to have fun and not take ourselves too seriously. But for everyone who has asked: no, I am not the Big Shark nor am I a marine biologist.
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