Innovation Destination Hartford touched base with John Anthony, Co-Founder and CEO of Tagit Labs, Inc. to learn about how the company’s innovative BikeTag device is working to make cycling safer.
IDH: Did you always have an entrepreneurial drive?
ANTHONY: I have always enjoyed solving problems, especially when the problem requires a technical solution and the result delivers real value. This drive started in college when I was studying biology and we needed a way to simulate plant growth under different conditions using a programming environment called SuperCard. From there I’ve enjoyed going after problems related to measuring risk in the insurance industry using sensor technologies; building the Swimsense wearable to capture performance metrics when you swim; building Swim.com, which gives swimmers a virtual platform to compete with each other; and now the BikeTag.
IDH: How did you develop the business concept?
ANTHONY: My son and I have been racing bikes for the past few years. One of the first things you learn is that it’s not a matter of if you will crash while riding rather it’s when you will crash. Whether you ride your bike to commute, for fitness, or to compete, riders need to be aware of the inherent dangers. In fact, riding is often one of the most dangerous activities. Every minute, a cyclist is injured in the United States. However the health, social, and societal benefits of riding a bike are far greater than the risks, so we wanted to build a product, the BikeTag, which can help riders when they need it the most.
Within a few months of working out the concept on napkins at Cafe Sol in Niantic, CT, our favorite café, we had a working prototype, a product roadmap, and enough seed capital to get to market.
IDH: How does the BikeTag work?
ANTHONY: The BikeTag is mounted to the rider’s bike and paired (once) with the rider’s mobile phone. Within the mobile app, the rider invites his or her friends or family members to “follow” them. These followers become the rider’s safety network in the event of an incident while riding.
Once the BikeTag is set up, we use motion sensors and iBeacon technology to recognize when the bike is being ridden and automatically launch the BikeTag mobile app. This completely automatic behavior is itself a safety feature in that the rider does not have to manually launch our app before each ride. They simply start riding and the critical safety features, such as crash detection, ride alerts, and live tracking are enabled.
If the rider is involved in a crash while riding, the rider’s personal network of followers is notified of the crash event. The notification includes a live map of where the rider is located, the address, and other information to contact the rider. The goal is to get help to the rider as soon as possible if help is needed.
We also recognize that on any given ride, most riders do not crash or need assistance. So we wanted to add features that were fun and help riders achieve their goals. So, in addition to the core safety features, we also capture the rider’s route travelled, speed, distance, and other metrics so users can better track their performance over time. This data can then be exported to online training log platforms such as Strava.
IDH: How are you marketing the BikeTag device?
ANTHONY: We launched in October 2015 after a successful pre-order campaign and have been carefully ratcheting up sales. In 2016, we are sponsoring a number of athletes, teams, and cycling events including the professional cycling team Jelly Belly–Maxxis, the Yale Cycling, the CT Cycling Advancement Program (CCAP), and others to help drive awareness of the BikeTag. We have also begun to “turn on” a number strategic domestic and international distribution partners.
IDH: Where do you see your company in the next few years?
ANTHONY: For us it’s more about where we want to see cycling and bike riding in the next few years. We have an environment that is struggling to keep pace with our emissions, roads that are clogged with vehicles, and a population that is struggling to live a healthier lifestyle. Riding a bike can be one small, but important part in making change on all three of these fronts. But to really move the needle we need organizations like MassBike and PeopleForBikes and products like BikeTag to make riding bikes safer and more accessible.
IDH: What is the best thing about living and working in the Greater Hartford region?
ANTHONY: I have worked in the San Francisco Bay Area and while it has many advantages, such as the great weather, in many ways building a startup in Connecticut is easier.
The Bay Area, for example, has such a high concentration of startups that basic resources such as office space and technical talent can be more difficult to find or more expensive than what we have access to here in Connecticut.
The local universities in Connecticut are also a great resource. Yale University, the University of Connecticut, the University of Hartford, and others have provided us with great resources. I am excited about the opportunities in front of us as a growing company in Connecticut.
IDH: Advice for entrepreneurs or startup business owners?
ANTHONY: My biggest challenge over my past ventures has been to be patient. We have been laser focused on building a sustainable business before investing in growth. That may seem counter-intuitive to some, but if you can put into practice a break-even business model early on in the life of your startup, you will have more options and leverage down the road. It’s also likely that you’ll end up with a better product or service since you will need to be incredibly disciplined about where you make your investments.
Learn more about Tagit Labs by visiting www.biketag.com.