Updated with the outcome of Bunch Bikes’ Shark Tank appearance.
Aaron Powell always knew there was something more for him than teaching middle and high school band.
During a family trip to Sweden in 2016, the Texas native saw electric cargo bikes that transported everything from groceries to children. He returned home to Denton looking to buy one for his family but couldn’t find anything close to the popular bikes he had seen on vacation. That’s when inspiration hit.
Powell began working with a factory that makes bikes for the Scandinavian market, adding his own specifications and components to suit an American market, including increased wattage. Within a few months, Bunch Bikes was born.
Three years later, Powell is pitching Bunch Bikes on ABC’s Shark Tank. Powell was featured Friday on an episode of the popular entrepreneurship reality show.
Powell sought a $250,000 investment for a 10% stake of his company. His pitch was a success, earning him an offer from investor and television personality Barbara Corcoran.
After back and forth negotiations, Corcoran agreed to give Powell the $250,000 investment, including $150,000 as a loan. In return, Corcoran got a 15% equity stake in Bunch Bikes.
Powell built his first prototype in 2017 and took it out for a spin around his neighborhood. He couldn’t even get it off his street before neighbors he had never spoken to approached him about the bike
“The way people reacted to it is what gave me the confidence to go full hog into this thing,” Powell said.
He then biked to downtown Denton, where people swarmed him, asking to take pictures and post about the bike on social media. He realized he’d built an attention-grabber.
“People wanted to know about it,” Powell said. “I thought, ‘If I just get some of these out in the world, it’s going to grow on its own.’”
Shark Tank, now in its 12th season, gives him a chance to get his product in front of high profile investors like Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, technology entrepreneur Kevin O’Leary and Home Shopping Network star Lori Greiner.
Powell spent months preparing for the intimidating experience, which he described as “the hardest thing he’d ever done.” He spent countless nights practicing his pitch, bingeing episodes of the series and preparing answers to hundreds of possible questions.
“The stakes are so high,” he said. “Millions of people are going to see this thing, and it’s going to follow me around for the rest of my life whether it’s good or bad. I didn’t even know if it was going to work out. Thankfully, it did, but it was really tough.”
During the pitch, Powell shared his inspiration behind Bunch Bikes and explained methods of shipping the 150-pound bikes. In the end, investors like Cuban and O’Leary opted out. Powell said he left the experience without regrets.
“I prepared really hard. I could have done better, but there were a lot of things going on with COVID,” Powell said. “I think it’s going to look good on me and the business. It’s something that I’ll be proud of.”
Powell is excited to create a legacy for his children, he said during the episode. He hopes to show them “they can do anything they want.”
During the pandemic, the outdoor and cycling industries saw major growth, leaving Bunch Bikes scrambling to meet unanticipated demand increases.
“We’ve grown so quickly that every system and process we have is completely falling apart,” Powell said. “We are stretched to the limit in every area in terms of inventory fulfillment, customer service and sales.”
Product parts are manufactured in China and The Netherlands, while 11 employees work in the company’s Denton warehouse to assemble and distribute Bunch Bikes to customers across the nation.
Through e-commerce and Bunch Bikes website, Bunch Bikes ship fully assembled directly to consumers anywhere in the country. Additionally, a handful of bicycle stores sell Bunch Bikes across the country, with Powell hoping to add more locations this year.
Bunch Bikes offers four electric cargo bike options that fit everything from two large dogs to six preschool-age children. Depending on the model, the bikes range from $4,499 to $5,999.
The bikes have become extremely popular in places like California, Colorado and Oregon, where there are opportunities to get outdoors and enjoy nature.
Powell’s warehouse space doubled in size last year, but it’s already beginning to feel constrained. To meet growing demands and further develop online presence, Powell hopes to hire 10 more employees after his episode of Shark Tank airs.
In 2019, the company’s sales totaled $1.1 million. Due to the launch of its newest model, The Coupe, Bunch Bikes fell just under its 2020 target revenue of $2 million.
At the time of filming Shark Tank, the company’s lifetime sales had reached $2.7 million. It expects sales to double this year.
Powell admits there have been unique challenges every year along the way.
“The first two years were marked by quality challenges, poor logistics and operations, late shipments and quality issues,” Powell said.
After losing $120,000 in 2018, Powell was at a loss. He didn’t give up, seeking out the help of consultants and working harder to understand bike manufacturing.
“It’s really satisfying to know that it was worth pushing through it,” Powell said.
Through product reviews and conversations with customers, Powell learned that his idea was making an impact on people’s lives. For some families, it meant giving their special needs child an opportunity to ride a bike for the first time. For others, it meant taking older dogs on a final ride before being euthanized.
“It’s really impacting people’s lives and their lifestyles,” Powell said. “They’re reducing car trips, engaging more with their community and shopping at more local businesses.”