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23/08/21: Meet Rich Flammer of Hydrobikes

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rich Flammer.



Rich, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin? I grew up surfing, boating, sailing and fishing, including working as a deckhand on several different boats, but got too busy as a composting consultant to do much more than work the last ten years or so. I was looking for a way to get back on the water and found Hydrobikes online. I love biking, so when I saw the Hydrobikes, I thought they’d be a fun way to combine a couple of things I really like to do. When I looked online to try to rent one here in San Diego, I couldn’t find a place that was offering them, so I decided to start a business doing so… Hydrobikes SD LLC. I began the process of starting the business even before ever trying one. They looked like so much fun; just like riding a beach cruiser on the water.


The bikes take up a lot of space and are high maintenance, so I needed to find the right location and partner. The perfect fit has been veteran-owned Aqua Adventures on Mission Bay, and a couple of years later, Disco’s Paddle Surf on San Diego Bay. I’m very grateful for the opportunity they gave me to partner with them. After three years in business, I’m still learning every day how to make this work. It’s very different from consulting, which, among many other things, is 90% sitting in front of a computer and 10% fieldwork. Working on the dock is a nice change of pace, fun and brings me back closer to my nautical roots.


Anyone who knows anything about boats, or has ever owned one, understands the harshness of saltwater and salt air and the constant work required to keep them going. The Hydrobikes sit in saltwater 24/7, so maintaining a fleet is like having dozens of boats that require daily and weekly care. This just goes with the territory and is a great challenge, but rentals keep increasing and after three years of work, I’m figuring out how to keep the bikes in good operational condition and finding new ways to combat the inevitable constant rust and corrosion.


We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road? The first year the Hydrobikes barely rented at all. It goes without saying, but ideally, you want to pay off the product you’re offering to rent before it degrades to a point where you have to put more money into it. With the bikes sitting in saltwater and salt air 24/7, it’s been a challenge to meet that mark. And just when rentals started to pick up, we had to close for six weeks for Covid. That was tough, but we survived, and when we reopened, rentals exploded. Since Covid, bicycling has become a more popular outdoor activity, and demand for common bike parts has risen dramatically, causing shortages. It’s a constant challenge getting replacement parts at a reasonable price. But we’re making it work.


Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business? We rent water bikes. Mostly Hydrobikes, but also have another brand called Chiliboats and plan to expand the fleet in the future. Water bikes are a great way to combine bicycling and aquatic activity. The bikes are really just a step below a boat, and their stability and ease of use allow a wide variety of people – many of whom aren’t entirely comfortable on the water (and quite a few who confess they can’t swim!) – to enjoy the fresh salt air and experience the abundant marine life of San Diego’s bays. This is something we’re quite excited about, and with the exception of a boat, the Hydrobikes are absolutely the best way for people who aren’t experienced or comfortable being out on the bay to fully enjoy being out on the water.


We’re a service-oriented business, and our partners Aqua Adventures and Disco’s Paddle Surf are the go-to companies for paddleboards and kayaks in San Diego. We offer a 10% military discount, have weekday specials, and are child, senior and dog friendly. Children who can’t reach the pedals can ride for free with a parent. Dogs always ride free, and we have life vests for all shapes and sizes. And riders as young as two years old and seniors in their 90s have enjoyed the experience of riding a bike on the water.


Risk taking is a topic that people have widely differing views on – we’d love to hear your thoughts. I’ve come to learn there are few, if any, slam dunks in business. It takes a lot of time, elbow grease and money to build a successful company, and this is always a risk, particularly the investment of time, which is something we can never get back. Risk is relative to the diligence and follow through the business owner is willing to commit to after starting the business. 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration as the adage goes. A great business idea or opportunity will quickly die if it isn’t followed by the dedication it takes to bring it to fruition and its full potential. That involves lots of patience, flexibility with regard to what has to be done to make things work, and simply just putting in the time (“90% of success is just showing up”). Bailing out of a business before the foundation is fully developed and balance sheets are favorable can appear to be a commercial risk that failed, but the lack of commitment and follow through is always at fault for a business not succeeding, and the basis of that failed risk. So if you go into an endeavor expecting a slam dunk and an immediate return on your investment of time and money, your enthusiasm for making it work may quickly wane and your investment, and assumed risk, was doomed from the start. With a “whatever it takes” attitude to make your company succeed, the risk involved with making that happen is greatly diminished.

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