The Earth spins at approximately a 1,000 mph; while we don’t feel it, we have an astute awareness that there are only 24 hours in a day to try and accomplish as much as humanly possible. Starting your own business requires the commitment to put a majority of those 24 hours towards nurturing it, as Christian Meier, ex-professional cyclist, explains whilst we’re sat with him in Girona in his most recent venture–The Service Course. So if starting one business asks a lot of your time, how do you cope with starting three in the space of two years whilst still racing professionally?
The Mental Switch
“Was it the beginning of the end?” I enquire curiously. Had opening three businesses in two years essentially brought Meier’s cycling career to a premature halt at the age of 31, young by cycling terms, or was it vice-versa? It’s an interesting thought, he nods, and I muse that it’s surely impossible even for the super-endurance humans amongst us to achieve success in two careers–simultaneously.
“I started to reach a point in my riding career when, yes, perhaps, having these businesses did help me make the decision to stop. But it wasn’t the only factor. I personally found that racing was much different. It was much more stressful, it was much more dangerous.” There’s a pause as he recalls images from that previous chapter in his life, before he continues:
“It wasn’t really even just that people crashed, but [there were] bad crashes, you know, guys in comas, guys dying, accidents with motorcycles, accidents with cars; you just felt this nervous energy growing and growing and growing in the peloton.”
Christian, who retired a year ago from WorldTour team Orica GreenEdge, is not the first professional cyclist to observe this shift and describe a twitchiness to the peloton. When dominating teams like Team Sky take marching orders on the front, pelotons are mercilessly shredded. The tempo is so high that Meier describes teams being able to do nothing more than cling on for dear life. So it’s not surprising that after operating at such intensity, the everyday world can seem a little lethargic.
Starting so many ventures in such a short period of time and showing no signs of tiring suddenly makes sense. Christian and his wife Amber are demonstrating the entrepreneurial drive equivalent to that of Team Sky–sending one super domestique after another off the front to attack:
“The one thing you realise when you come from a professional sporting background is that the real world is much slower than what you’re used to. It’s hard to find people who are used to working as hard as you,” he smiles.
While each of the three businesses–La Fabrica, Espresso Mafia and The Service Course–have their own character, they’re synchronised on their meticulous eye for detail and outstanding design. As we sit in The Service Course, the youngest brainchild of the three, Meier admits that he’s constantly surveying and picking fault with areas that in his eyes need improvement, he explains: “That’s why some businesses that you see today are so successful–there’s an owner actually operating there, inside day-to-day who keeps plugging away, pushing it forward and continually innovating to find ways to do things differently.”
But despite his thirst for a fast pace in his life that’s not the way he sees the ethos of his businesses; here, he wants to provide his customers with “micro-connections”, moments in those chaotic 24 hours where we stop and connect to our fellow Earth dwellers, who, sometimes, unless they’re staring back at us from a screen, we forget about. It’s the equivalent of leaning over the garden fence for a chat with a neighbour.
Christian acknowledges the fact that although he’s trying to promote taking time out to his clients, the pace of the business doesn’t allow him to rest upon his laurels. Maintaining your position in your market is akin to holding your position in a speeding peloton in the last 3 km of a sprint stage. Everyone wants to be at the front, taking control and be the one with the winning move.
It involves deep thinking, analysing, questioning, and over-analysing even, to which Meier credits his background as an endurance athlete. He argues that this over-analysis is what they thrive on, constantly asking the what and the why–and that’s exactly why it’s good to have an Amber in his life to occasionally remind him to raise his arms in the air and celebrate achievement before constantly moving onto the next thing.
Surely some mornings they must wake up and think ‘sh*t, we’ve opened three businesses in the space of two years.’ There’s a nod of agreement from Christian: “Some days we talk about the madness we have unleashed upon ourselves,” he laughs but adds that it’s a labour of love and that’s what gets them through the tough times of launching a startup.
Conversations over the Garden Fence
Where Espresso Mafia gives him the chance to chat all things coffee over his roaster, The Service Course is his space to talk bikes. Joining forces with select custom bike builders is one way Meier encourages people to sit down and take some time out, investing their time in talking through what they’d like from their bike. Meier is unapologetic about the lead times, seeing some bikes take up to six months to build. In his eyes, this wait shouldn’t be seen as a negative; it’s about letting suspense overrule instant gratification.
All three of the businesses prioritise one-to-one contact and experience: “Most of the time I end up riding with clients and by the end of the day I say ‘here’s my Whatsapp, if you want something just let us know.” This is testament to the couple’s dedication towards their clients and part of the aspiration that they’ll leave feeling a connection, confident that he and Amber genuinely care.
As we spin on life’s axis, trying to maintain control of the day to day, where we rarely seem to have a moment to ourselves, are these “micro-moments” of human connection the way forward? It definitely feels like they should take more centre stage, and Christian and Amber are as passionate about unlocking these moments for their clients as they are about what they sell. It’s apparent these mini-relationships they create also remind them to take a moment or two for themselves amongst the whirr of the coffee roaster and hum of conversations going on around them at work.
Words: Hannah Troop Photos: Brazo de Hierro