Concept Sketch for the Shellback Bike to Work Backpack in 2006
Product Name was the BikPäk; Company Name was Ümlaut
Every Company Has An Origin Story
(Fairfax, VA) Prior to my retirement from the Marine Corps in 2017, my wife had gone on Leave Without Pay (LWOP) four times and sacrificed 6 years of her State Department career to raise our children and support my military career. When I retired, it was my turn to support her and look after the children.
We arrived at her post at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam in the fall of 2018 and she went right to work. Being without a job for the first time since 2nd grade, I charged into setting up the household, unpacking, and getting the kids set up for success at school. I suddenly had time to chaperone field trips and actually take the time to get to know their teachers and other parents. But by October, I had read through my Unread Library, established pre- and post-school routines, and had the house running on autopilot. I needed a job, hobby, or pursuit.
Finding a job was out. As a diplomat’s spouse, I was prohibited from seeking employment in order to prevent any conflicts of interest at the Embassy. I considered getting really good at golf or becoming an age-group champion in triathlon. But in the end, the idea that excited me the most was an old idea that solved my pain point as a bicycle commuter.
Version E Shellback (testing capacity and strength)
The Better Mousetrap
That idea was to create a backpack specifically designed for cyclists that could transport a suit, uniform, or office attire CREASE-FREE. My idea was an ergonomically friendly backpack that distributed weight and reduced perspiration while transporting pretty much everything you’d need during the work day. You see, I had been biking to school or work pretty much my entire life. I loved the euphoric feeling of coasting into your destination, triumphant. The simple reason, in fact the only reason, I didn’t do it more often was that I didn’t have the right equipment for the job. I knew there are tens of thousands of people like me and believe that the right gear might be useful to them and even entice some on-the-fence riders to join the Bike to Work Movement.
After talking this entire idea over with me wife, we agreed to give the project $50K and 1 year and see how it went. I reviewed some of my notes from that time and laughed when I saw my original projection was to have a market-ready prototype in 3 months. Hah!! I didn’t have a name, a legal entity, or a backpack manufacturer, but somehow I thought I could have that all done in 90 days. Flash forward to our Kickstarter debut in January 2020, where it took a solid year of testing and prototyping to get a product ready for sale!
Version B Prototype (note presence of water bottle containers on the sides)
Version C Prototype. This version has seperate Garment, Computer, and Shoe Compartments
Version D Prototype. This version improves form and function, adds the logo, removes side cargo pockets, and adds chest and waste straps.
Starting a business isn’t the easiest enterprise, and starting a business in Vietnam just compounds that complexity. A mentor of mine said that to start a business you will need, in this order: a good lawyer; a good accountant; and a good bank. Even though we lived in Hanoi, I was starting an American company with plans to primarily sell in the USA. Our Home of Record is in Holland, Michigan and thus, would be the ideal location for the corporate headquarters. Then I set out to find my legal team, which eventually grew to THREE lawyers! Frontier Law managed my Vietnamese legal requirements; Cunningham, Dalman handled business law and starting the LLC; and Gardner, Linn, Burkhart & Ondersma handled Intellectual Property Law. In the end, I did need a good legal team and it was good advice. For an accountant, we hired DeBoer, Baumann & Company from Holland to manage our accounting. While pricey, getting set up correctly at the beginning paid off in terms of time and efficiency later down the road.
Choosing the Company Name and Logo
After getting started, I needed to find a company and product name and then get a logo. Since this is a family business, we turned it into a family event. We left a sheet of paper on the refrigerator for all of us to write down our ides for company and product names. We had fun debating the names around the dinner table and some of them were pretty hilarious. Would you buy the SuitSack from Marbuta Backpacks? The Testudo by Velocipede? Perhaps you’d enjoy riding with the WorkCycle Backpack by Axello? Or the SuitShell from the Holland Backpack Company? But all of the debate helped us define that our family business would be sustainable, eco-friendly, use recycled products as much as possible. From those discussions we settled on “GrüneStrasse” which is German for “green street.” We came to believe that a Green Street captures the ethos we wanted in a company as well as a great message of sustainability for our customers.
After we had a company name, we worked on a logo. Of course it would be green in color and involve a bike. We turned the bike wheels into the “G” and “S” or GrüneStrasse” and added a rider. It was my wife’s idea to turn the rider into a turtle because the turtle is steady, strong, resilient in water, and has a tough shell to protect the contents inside. With a great name and a great logo, my good friend Paul Cucinotta helped put it all together when he said, “of course you’ll call it the Shellback.” Of course. And we were on our way.
Earliest Version of the GrüneStrasse Logo
We reversed the direction and added the turtle. Here in a two-tone version
Want to Bike to Work But No Place for Your Professional Attire?
Is your Bike to Work day confined to Casual Fridays? Do you have two wardrobes—the Bike to Work wardrobe at the office and the rest at home?
GrüneStrasse Backpack Co. produces the Shellback Bike to Work backpack. This hand-crafted backpack stores the entirety of your one-day work requirements to include: crease-free professional attire (suit); laptop; shoes; toiletries; bike repair kit; accessories, and dozens of other bike-friendly features that Simplify, Organize, and Protect.