What is your official title?
I have a bunch of projects going right now, so right now I am the Owner of 1977 Mopeds, Founder and Director of the Reality Factory Incubator, and CEO of Var, which is a new company which is still kind of in stealth mode; it’s pretty rad.
What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?
Typically I drop my son off at school, he’s five, and then I grab a coffee at Waterstreet or Fourth Coast, depending on which way I’m going. Then I end up at my office. A big part of my job is responding to emails, and I have meetings occasionally to go to. I’m answering questions, placing orders, a lot of screen time.
Tell us about 1977 Mopeds and the Reality Factory Incubator.
My love of mopeds started in 1997. It was me and my buddy Simon, and we did a website called MopedArmy.com, the world’s largest moped gang, as we coined it. It’s tongue in cheek, but it’s real, too. As it grew, there was no good solution to support it parts wise, so in 2003 I started 1977 Mopeds, which started as a brick and mortar moped shop, but turned into online sales, and now we ship parts and make parts. It’s another fun thing I get to do; designing, marketing and testing parts.
The Reality Factory Incubator is this set of buildings. It’s slightly more than I need for just 1977 Mopeds, which is basically the space out in the warehouse. We have this whole building, and extra internet and trash service, things like that, that can be shared, so we opened it up to businesses that we hand pick that need a spot to get started that gives them an address and a place to meet with suppliers or customers in a quasi-professional setting.
Here, we incubated Jeb Gast before he moved over to where he’s set up now. We had a guy doing bespoke denim jeans for awhile, and then he got recruited to go work for Apple as an engineer. We have Read and Write Kalamazoo, which is a literacy non-profit that gets kids excited about reading and writing; they host workshops upstairs and also run their office there too. Most recently, Grayling Ceramics started their company after launching a Kickstarter. We have a spot for the other company, Var, which I was mentioning earlier, more to come on that.
Tell us about how the Moped Army website got its start, and how has it changed since it started?
The first site I set up. Simon is the talented programmer/designer of the two of us. I don’t remember why he didn’t want to do it at first, but he didn’t want to. We were best friends in high school, and we had a business there called Phreakco. which was a website design company in 1995, which was wildly unsuccessful. I did the first Moped Gang website with what I think is called 3D Fusion, and it was fine, but I lost the core file on my hard drive and couldn’t edit it anymore. Simon then took it over and made it into a forum, which is what’s helped people get connected. He’s been upgrading it from there, adding features and functions.
It’s evolved into making it more social for people to be able to create profiles and add builds, then people can comment and see what the various affiliations are. It’s more than just mopeds now; it’s getting people to connect.
Can you tell us about your background/passion?
I moved to Kalamazoo in 1997 for school. I muddled my way through the business school and ended up with a BFA Ceramics degree. When I graduated, I tried running a small ceramics studio for about a year, but I realized it would be a long road to try to support myself that way. I pretty much started 1977 Mopeds right out of college. I moved out west for four years with my then girlfriend Emily, and then came back here and got married at the KIA. We had a son name Jack in San Francisco, but then moved back because we owned a house on Rose Street. We now have a little girl name Mabel, too. I’m really settled here in Kalamazoo and have been enjoying growing all of these different projects. There are a ton of resources and it’s pretty cost effective.
How did you get involved in mopeds?
In ’97, my friend Brendan Sang first got a moped, then Simon and I saw it and were convinced that we needed to have a moped gang. We found two mopeds on eBay and bought them, and started the Decepticons; the new Transformers the movie franchise ruined everything for us! We would ride to shows, ride to class at Western, just ride everywhere. And we built a real honest to goodness subculture. With MopedArmy.com, we spread that to other cities, so we would go meet with groups in Cincinnati or Seattle or Chicago, Grand Rapids; it’s really filled in since then, there are moped gangs all over the U.S.
If it had been just mopeds, my interest would have waned a long time ago, but because it has that social community aspect, it stays interesting. We were the initial moped gang; originally it was just called the Decepticons. When we were looking for a website URL, of course that was already taken. Our friends would disparagingly call us the Moped Army, and we were like, OK, fine, we’ll call it MopedArmy.com. It’s grown from just Kalamazoo, and now we have unofficial branches in Canada and Brazil.
When it first started, it grew from just the three of us to tens of thousands who are members now. We have 500 official members, but it’s open to everyone unofficially who want to use the website. It is the most popular moped website, it’s not saying much, but it’s the largest moped website in the world. It’s a niche market, and it’s big because it’s been around forever.
What do you love most about Kalamazoo?
I like that it’s fairly centrally located between Detroit and Chicago, so there’s always another big city around. It has all of the basics we need, great coffee and good food, a pretty awesome downtown to wander around. And it’s got a quirky history that I really like; lots of great things have come from Kalamazoo.
What can be done to improve Kalamazoo?
I wish there was more focus on the Kalamazoo river as a community feature. In other cities around the U.S., if there is a water feature, it’s pretty prominent in the community, and I think we’re missing that here. I know the reputation is that it’s super gnarly, but it’s safe for swimming and boating. All of the other things I would have said have already been put into motion; the downtown has completely changed from where it was years ago. This neighborhood, before I moved out west, it seemed like a tough spot in town, but moved back and it’s really turning around.
What have you been jammin’ to recently? What’s on the iPod?
Usually rock or indie rock, White Stripes and Modest Mouse. I still like Chisel, even though now they’re a pretty old band. And then sprinkled in with Gotye, and I’ve been digging Lorde recently.
How do you take your coffee?…or do you?
Do you have a “go to” spot in Kalamazoo?
One of my favorite things to do is to drive around and look at old buildings. And if it was open, I’d say East Hall; that used to be my favorite spot.
If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?
Wear a helmet.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
An archaeologist or a Lego designer.
What is the future of 1977 Mopeds?
I think more of our own products made in Kalamazoo; it’s a big part of what I’m working on right now.