A broken leg doesn’t typically lead to startup idea creation. But that’s what happened to Michele Mehl.
The Seattle-based entrepreneur was well on her way to launching Excy’s first portable exercise cycle when she got injured while rollerblading with her son. The recovery process, which included a blood clot, made Mehl realize how her product could help others who were also bouncing back from injury. That experience reshaped Excy’s focus and target market.
“After months of physical therapy and relying on caretakers after breaking my leg, I got just a small glimpse into the plight of those living with injury, disability, and disease,” Mehl said. “It was an eye-opening experience that led me to re-think the type of company I wanted to build, which I captured in a blog post from the couch while being non-weight bearing.”
This week the 4-year-old Seattle startup launched the Excy XCS Pro, a 14-pound exercise rehabilitation system for upper and lower body cycling that works with an accompanying mobile app. It can be used while sitting down, laying on the ground, or standing up.
Excy’s customers include Stanford Health, NorthShore University, the University of Pacific Athletics, hospital clinics, and hundreds of consumers.
Mehl, a PR and digital marketing veteran who previously co-founded BuzzBuilders, launched Excy with her uncle and co-founder Mike Rector, a retired engineer and cyclist. We caught up with Mehl for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: We take giant quality physical therapy exercise equipment — a recumbent exercise bike, upper body ergometer, and resistance machines — and make the functionality available in a small portable package with digital content for training anywhere.
Inspiration hit us when: After months of physical therapy and relying on caretakers after breaking my leg, I got just a small glimpse into the plight of those living with injury, disability, and disease. It was an eye-opening experience that led me to re-think the type of company I wanted to build, which I captured in a blog post from the couch while being non-weight bearing.
I launched on Kickstarter to see if people would buy the Excy and learned that my backers had at least one health condition, and some two or three. From that moment on, Excy has focused on building a radically-inclusive product and brand, working with a wide range of people from children with autism, to those who are paralyzed, or battling health conditions like Parkinson’s, MS, cancer, COPD, arthritis and more who need easier and more convenient access to quality exercise.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: We bootstrapped using my savings, income, and customer revenue because I knew I wanted to take a radically-inclusive approach that broke all the rules in marketing. I also had a close advisor tell me ‘You live in Seattle and you’re hardware. It will take you twice as long to raise money. Bootstrap as long as you can.’
So, Mike and I spent 100 percent of our time building the product and company without wasting time pitching investors. We’ve produced revenue every month since we launched, we’re growing, and continually innovating. I’m just not a fan of thinking there’s a cookie cutter approach to anything except cutting cookies.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Being radically inclusive! We eliminate the exercise barriers of health condition, time, financial resources, and space compared to all other equal in quality full body equipment. No clunky gym device can compete with us on convenience or in dual-purpose functionality for quality upper and lower body cycling workouts anywhere with a single device. Having a mobile coaching platform that serves up on-demand training, physical therapy instructions, and tracks results puts a cherry on top.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: Focusing on hardware first and nailing the design and usability. Solving the challenges of patient non-adherence to physical therapy and exercise isn’t about driving downloads, but about digging into the problem, understanding the user’s motives and barriers so that we can design for incremental behavior change that brings results without asking for complete behavior modification.
We have a great mobile coaching application that is free today with plenty of opportunity to monetize it later, but nailing the hardware first was the best thing we could have done. If we would have tried to make the software equally match the capabilities of the hardware out of the gate, we would have needed to invest a lot more money.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Earlier this year, we met milestones I wanted to hit before attempting to raise outside capital. We started the due diligence to raise a seed round of $1 million, which was extremely time consuming. During this process, our sales volume went down because I didn’t hire someone to backfill me while I focused on the full-time job of raising money.
About seven meetings into the process, one of my brothers passed away unexpectedly, so I took time off to attend the funeral and to do some self-reflecting and decided that 200 meetings with customers and prospects would help our business more than spending time raising money. So, I spent the summer focused on meeting with customers and prospects and working with Mike to build our next products. Getting Stanford Health was one happy result of this decision, as was the filing of our second patent for a product we will launch next year, and sales rebounded. If and when I decide to raise external funds again, we will have a much more compelling investment case.
Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: It would be hard for me to choose between Randy Hetrick, founder of TRX, and John Foley, founder of Peloton. Hetrick worked so hard to get the word out, learned so many lessons along the way and is now a $50 million-plus company. He and his team have figured out how to build a great multi-domain exercise training brand across multiple sectors. His experience would be invaluable.
Foley and his team have built a $4 billion-plus company and would be amazing to work with as we shift to producing more digital content and building an incredibly immersive experience around multiple health conditions. They are both trailblazers who I would love to have in our corner.
Our favorite team-building activity is: Exchanging customer success stories to keep us focused on our ‘why.’
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Early in the entrepreneur journey, I created a document of nine core values that were important to me to maintain as we grow the company. I look for people who can passionately get behind these values (the first one on the list is empathy). But at the core of everything, I look for grit, curiosity, and an ability to deliver as promised. During our time running Buzz Builders, my co-founder Deanna and I had a policy of not working with jackasses. That policy also holds for Excy.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Asking my son for permission to start Excy is still probably one of the best things I have ever done. Highly recommend. Doing a startup is a family affair. The more they buy in, the better.