As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Bryan Pate.
Bryan is the co-founder and CEO of ElliptiGO Incorporated. Bryan attended Stanford University on a Naval ROTC scholarship. Upon graduation in 1995, he received a Marine Officer commission. In the Marines, he led a platoon of USMC Scout Snipers through a deployment to the Persian Gulf and served as an intelligence officer on an admiral’s staff. He left the Marines in 1999 and accepted a strategic marketing position at a semiconductor equipment manufacturer where he helped lead two new product development efforts. Bryan entered Columbia Law School in the City of New York in 2002, earning his JD in 2005. After graduation he clerked for a federal judge and then joined McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm. At McKinsey, Bryan’s consulting practice was primarily focused on the high-technology and life sciences industries.
Bryan left McKinsey in 2008 to co-found ElliptiGO Inc. where he helped commercialize the world’s first elliptical bicycle. His primary contributions to the company have been in marketing, sales, and finance. He currently serves as the company’s CEO, a role he has held for the past 5 years.
Bryan is a named inventor on more than twenty issued patents and a recognized expert in the field of patent law. He has participated on numerous panels pertaining to patents and testified before a Congressional subcommittee on the potential impacts of pending patent legislation. He has also authored several published works on fiber-optic telecommunications components packaging and national security law. Bryan is an accomplished endurance athlete, having completed dozens of running, cycling, and triathlon events, including an Ironman triathlon, The Death Ride, and the Western Breach route to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. He recently completed a one-year road trip around the eastern United States with his wife Caroline and his pug dog Gidget.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
It was really an accident how I ended up an entrepreneur. My parents were both judges and our extended family is chock full of lawyers, so my assumption growing up was that I would practice law as well. While in law school I started playing competitive soccer again and after a few years of that I found myself losing the ability to run for exercise. The pounding was just too much on my knees and hips. A 3-mile run felt like a marathon in terms of the damage to my body and I slowly started to realize that at some point soon, I’d have to give up running as my primary means of exercise. Shortly after law school I was clerking for a judge and there was a gym in the building with an elliptical trainer. Because there’s no pounding, I found myself really able to push hard on an elliptical without feeling the pain on my joints afterwards. While I loved the workout itself, I hated being stuck in a gym and not really “training” for anything. I was literally working out everyday just so I wouldn’t get fat. That wasn’t motivating for me. After about a month of this it hit me that someone must make an elliptical bicycle — something that uses the elliptical trainer motion to propel a bicycle-like device on the road. I spent about a month looking for it online and concluded that it didn’t exist. I knew I wanted one and I figured that a lot of people probably would want one too. So, I called up a friend of mine, Brent Teal, who I had worked with developing new products in the semiconductor industry. He’s a degreed mechanical engineer and, equally importantly, a really accomplished runner. I explained what I wanted and he said he could design and build it. That was in 2005. Three years later, things really took off and we quit our jobs and have been working at ElliptiGO ever since.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?
We got an opportunity to get our bikes onto the Cesar Milan dog training show. I don’t remember what it was called, but he was the original dog whisperer and someone one of our partners knew worked with him. At the time, it was a fairly popular show but I didn’t know anything about it. We have a 17-pound pug dog who at the time was probably 2 years old and was poorly trained, so we figured we were a shoo-in for getting us and our bikes onto the show with our pug dog because of our connections. So, again, without doing any research at all, we shoot our submission video for the show and it’s basically our little black pug eating mud and humping my wife’s leg. We send it in and wait for the good news. The next day we get a call from our contact who says that it looks like it’s not going to work out after all. We were pretty surprised, so we decided to watch the show. Turns out, he basically only deals with dogs who are literally attempting to kill people. Most of them are on the verge of being put down because of their aggression and brutality. We couldn’t stop laughing at the thought of their producers watching our video of this 17-pound pug with mud on its face and wondering what the hell we were thinking. We still laugh about it.
Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I think the biggest takeaways were “do your homework” and you usually only get one shot. We could have arranged for someone with a real dog that needed some real training to submit our video. By the time we did that, Cesar was done filming in San Diego and the show wasn’t really an option.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I’m not a big fan of Guy Kawasaki, but his book Art of the Start is excellent for a young entrepreneur. It’s like a guidebook to getting your company off of the ground. I reluctantly highly recommend it.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Every person who works for our company and every one of our investors believe that we have created the next big thing in fitness and recreation. Our mission is to make that a reality — to pioneer the creation of the elliptical and stand up bike categories and guide them as they grow to become a billion dollar industry. It has been a long and hard road, but the continuous positive feedback and enthusiasm we get from our customers has always buoyed our spirits and kept us focused on achieving that goal.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
The Marine Corps infantry was a great training ground for being an entrepreneur. One of the things I learned there was that nothing is as good or as bad as it is first reported. So, I try not to get too excited when things appear to be going well or too disappointed when the crushing blows of reality pummel us. With faith in ourselves and conviction in what we are doing, we have managed to successfully navigate the past twelve years of ups and downs.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We were in a weird place when Covid-19 came to the fore. My wife and I were 10 months into a one year trip around the eastern half of the United States. We were both working from the road and I was flying back to San Diego for four days each month to check in on the team in person. On the Wednesday that the NBA canceled its games, we were in New Orleans and I had tickets to fly back to San Diego the following Monday. The next morning, it was clear my trip would be canceled, so we planned to get to our next stop, Montgomery, Alabama, a week ahead of schedule. That Sunday we had our car packed, our Airbnb rented and were literally about to drive to Montgomery when it hit us that we could end up being stuck there for weeks if not months. After 2 hours of sitting in our car debating what we should do, we decided to “cancel” the last two months of our trip and drive to Austin, Texas, a place we had never been before, but seemed like a good place to wait out a pandemic.
We hunkered down in Austin for 8 weeks and then made our way back to Solana Beach a week ago. For us, working remotely all day and being around each other 24/7 was pretty normal. What was hard was the inability to really do anything in this cool new city that we wanted to explore, and the realization that our trip of a lifetime was cut short. We missed out on what was probably going to be the most interesting part of the trip for a couple of Californians, spending a month in Alabama followed by a month in Tennessee.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The work related challenges are really about the team. We have a new employee who was hired the week before the pandemic started and began his work with us the day we closed the office and decided to work from home. I’ve never met him in person. It’s hard to integrate him into the culture remotely. We do zoom happy hours several times per week, and his manager does a good job of making sure he’s motivated and in the loop, but none of that substitutes for time spent in the office as a group showing him what the culture is here.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Self-care, self-care, self-care. I now meditate for 10 minutes every day, we do yoga in our home 3 days per week, I’ve worked out every day except one since March 15th, we take two walks per day as a family, and we try to be kind to each other. I am a bit of a math junkie and have always had a fascination with geometric expansions and the human inability to process them, so it’s easy for me to get sucked into the numbers and get really upset about how they stand in stark (and obvious) contrast with what is being “modeled” by the government in particular. At McKinsey I did a lot of modeling, so it was a bit maddening to see models that put out that showed the minimum number of deaths 90+ days away as fewer than the number of deaths that had already occurred, or the government announce their “expectations” of the total number of deaths likely to occur be so shockingly and obviously wrong. That was the hardest thing for me to handle personally, the fact that there was so much misinformation out there about things that I found particularly important in assessing my own risk and the risk for my family.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
I think there’s going to be a huge opportunity for active lifestyle and healthy living companies at least until there is a vaccine and likely well beyond that. It’s clear that two of the most common co-morbidities for this disease are obesity and type 2 diabetes. Both of those are best combated by lifestyle changes that embrace active and healthy choices. I believe people will tend to shift away from gyms and towards outdoor exercise or home exercise for a number of reasons. So, I think anyone in the at-home or outdoor fitness space is going to continue to do well for the next several years.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I am a bit of a contrarian here — I don’t think it will actually change that much for the long term. I think once we have widespread and effective vaccinations and people get readjusted to no longer fearing the disease, I think we’ll actually mostly go back to the way things were. I’m optimistic that some of the good things will stick around — more bike friendly streets and healthier lifestyles, for example. But I disagree with the people who say that we’ll stop shaking hands, going to the movies, going to concerts, riding packed subway cars to work. I’m pretty confident we’ll actually get back to all of those normal things fairly soon after most people are inoculated to the disease.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We are going to continue to develop and supply the most effective outdoor fitness devices in the world, and do our best to raise awareness about their existence and efficacy as efficiently as possible.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
That’s a really hard question. There are way too many variables and specifics tied to each individual’s situation that I don’t think there’s a blanket answer other than have a positive mental attitude about whatever is happening to you.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Our head instruction at the Infantry Officers’ Course always said “You have to have a plan, and it has to be phased.” I have relied on and repeated that little phrase dozens of times throughout my life as I have planned everything from sniper platoon operations, to Ironman training, to launching websites at ElliptiGO. I believe planning effectively dramatically improves the likelihood of success, and in my experience, having logical and timely phases set forth in the plan is an important part of effective planning.
How can our readers further follow your work?