Questioning the future of a promising bike tourism venture from an angel investor’s point of view
Angel investors love to ask, “What’s the exit?”
When they invest in a high-tech startup, they want to know how they’ll get their money back, plus a big return.
I’m a long-term angel investor dabbling in website development, in this case for cycleCalCoast, a bicycle tourism collaboration between Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, their tourism bureaus and related parties; I got involved through the Santa Barbara Bike Coalition.
Their website was languishing, a vision unrealized, until I came along. I feel like an investor due to the many hours I’ve contributed along with $1,000 out of pocket – I’ve got skin in the game. Still, I’m just a volunteer.
On a recent visit The Path Less Pedaled’s Russ Roca made the point: volunteers burn out. Personally, I can picture my eventual departure. Worse still, we’re an organization exclusively made up of volunteers, so how do we perpetuate this initiative?
Like a startup?
After the ‘08 financial collapse investors became more reticent, no checks would be written until they knew who would acquire the startup company. The analogy fits, as cycleCalCoast is pre-revenue, in need of direction, unclear of its future, and like all startups, convinced a bright future lies ahead.
Although the two Counties contributed significantly to the early formation, today it needs an executive director and at least part-time staff if it’s ever going to direct its own future.
Most exits are via acquisition
cycleCalCoast will likely never show a profit, never show measurable results – that makes it a tough sell. Meanwhile the rapid progress of the website has caused a renewed interest: Where do we go next? A strategic plan will help; collectively we’ll need to ask some tough questions.
Find an acquirer? Let’s run through the likely suspects:
VisitSantaBarbara – my first presumption, but there’s no budget and it would conflict with their narrowly defined charter to serve only Santa Barbara hotels. Too bad, because VSB does a great job promoting the city. Alternative idea? Cut cycleCalCoast up into pieces, give the appropriate piece to each travel bureau.
SBBIKE – It could be a good fit, but there’s no funds and little bandwidth. They’d be in conflict as they’re our fiscal sponsor.
Trek Travel – at first I thought yeah, maybe, but then I realized we’re giving away their “secret sauce”, showing everyone a do-it-yourself version of what they offer for a pretty penny. They would prefer us to stay unfocused and confused.
Wine Association – rumor had it they were thinking of creating their own bike tourism site, but now they’re distracted as they look for a new Executive Director.
The Pacific Surfliner is the winner, the most perfectly aligned partner for a spun-off cycleCalCoast. Their car-free alternatives to weekend getaways is an excellent fit, as many of cycleCalCoast’s routes connect to Amtrak stations. They’re actively promoting their own travel teasers with gorgeous aerial train photos. They connect and serve the dense urban regions whose residents need and want low-stress vacations. Bonus: they could easily expand bike tourism coverage to SLO.
Interested in learning more about cycleCalCoast? Come to our next meeting at 9am October 18th in the Council Chambers at Carpinteria City Hall.