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Q&A with Jen Geale of Mountain Bikes Direct

Welcome to our weekly Q&A with Internet Retailing’s 2018 Top 50 People in E-Commerce. See our previous Q&As here.

This week, we interviewed Jen Geale, co-founder and head of marketing at Mountain Bikes Direct, which sells mountain bikes, as well as parts, clothing and other accessories, online.

Ranking 38th in this year’s Top 50 People in E-Commerce, Geale joined the business started by her now-husband in 2011 and quickly become known as the “process guru” for her focus on implementing a systematic, sustainable approach to growth.

Geale now serves as head of marketing and is looking to bring in more marketers as the business grows. Mountain Bikes Direct has doubled the size of its business for the past few years and currently generates revenue in the eight-figure range.

Keep reading to learn why Mountain Bikes Direct has no central office – everyone works remotely – and how Geale’s background in community development has influenced the business.

Heather McIlvaine: How did you get your start in e-commerce? 

Jen Geale: My now-husband Michael started in retail as a teenager. He was frustrated with not being able to get his hands on top mountain bike parts and started sourcing them for himself and also mates. It started to take off, and he enlisted his riding buddy Tim as a business partner and moved the shop from the garage into a physical store. It became a big part of Brisbane’s mountain bike scene, and when I came along a few years later, I spent a bunch of time doing various things at the shop.

Over time we realised that we wanted to focus on e-commerce for reasons both business and personal, so Michael and I took the lead on creating a new brand, Mountain Bikes Direct, that was online-only.

HM: Give us a sense of an average day for you. What time do you get to the office? What is the culture like at Mountain Bikes Direct?

JG: For starters, my office is just a desk in my house! We operate a fully decentralised team, with no office. Our customer service and technical staff all work from home. They’re based on the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane, Melbourne, Mount Beauty, Canberra…even Colorado, USA! It’s a cool model because not only can we offer our staff a job with no commuting (meaning more time to go out and ride!) but we can hire mountain bike and technical experts no matter where they live.

We use Slack for all our internal communications, and we make a point of keeping a bit of banter going there to keep our dispersed team connected. Everyone loves mountain biking, so that shared passion helps connect people, despite them working all sorts of varied hours and many having never met.

Source: Mountain Bikes Direct Facebook page

HM: How has your business evolved since you started? 

JG: We’re happily punching out eight figures in revenue, and we’ve been doubling year on year for a few years now. It’s also sustainable – we’re bootstrapped, growing, and profitable. That hasn’t always been the case. In the first few years, we were constantly flitting between pursuing growth and pursuing profit – only to realise we were not really nailing either, and in fact, they were often competing goals. We got really serious at one point and made sure we could really dial in the processes that backed up the business. We got lean, systemised and ultimately created something that was a lot more sustainable, and we’re pretty stoked on where it is now.

HM: What are your top priorities over the next 12 months?

JG: My focus as head of marketing is recruiting into that space. In particular, I’m keen to stop looking so much at channels and start focusing on customer journey a lot more.

HM: What new technology or trend are you interested in exploring?

JG: AI has been coming up a lot in recent years. Initially, it was hard to see how it was realistic for small businesses, but recently, I’m starting to see a lot more ways it is applicable to businesses of all sizes, in all sectors. That’s opening up some cool new possibilities that I’d love to look at further.

HM: Volunteering seems to be a big part of your life. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

JG: I have a real passion for community and have been lucky enough to be able to do a variety of things in that space over the years. I’ve been personally involved in large-scale fundraising for an organisation focused on literacy and gender equality in education, getting supplies to asylum seekers in offshore detention and supporting asylum seekers in the community by running a community welcome group. I went back to uni a few years ago and did a Master of Development Practice, which is a degree focused on community development.

That community lens filters through to our business. We are increasingly aware that we have a voice in the local mountain bike community, so we want to make sure we are shouting loud and clear that we love the sport, we love what it does for communities and areas who embrace it as a positive tourism opportunity, we love how women and kids are welcomed and the sport is becoming less and less male dominated. We are also passionate about supporting mountain bike clubs, which are almost exclusively run by volunteers around the country who get out each weekend to dig trails, run events, and encourage participation.

My passion for community is what drove the Dollars For Dirt program, and we instituted it the moment we felt financially we could make that commitment, as we give to 36 different mountain bike clubs every year. We’re quite particular about the fact that we give, no strings attached, and empower clubs to put the funds to whatever they deem is the best use. We’re just about to start doubling the amount we give each month!

I also really love the e-commerce community and have had a number of opportunities lately to give back there by speaking at events and participating in various forums, and while I’m by no means an expert on a lot of this stuff, I’m always happy to share what I’ve learned so far.

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