August 1, the peak of summer in Seattle and arguably here way too soon. It has definitely been a challenging/weird/scary few months as we continue to battle this virus and process all of the uncertainty it is bringing to our lives. To be completely honest, I am a bit surprised Project Cedrus has survived the pandemic. I guess all the free time is giving people the opportunity to foil a little more, and supply chain issues have made it challenging for foreign manufacturers to develop new products (eg. Slingshot) and supplies are running out (eg. Lift). Thank you to my customers who continue to support these efforts, your positive feedback has kept me going!
I have been busy adding new adapters and board mounts to Project Cedrus. These efforts continue to increase the value of the mast for the long term, and open up new markets and customers. We now have a wndsurf-foil specific mount for the Slingshot B/C position, as well as their annoyingly custom Tuttle adapter. Excited to offer compatibly with Naish/Takuma as well. A lot of my work seems to be custom these days, and for this reason I have updated my pricing structure to simplify purchasing and cover some of the additional costs.
Three years ago, I developed Project Cedrus as a cost-effective carbon upgrade option for the common aluminum foil setups out there. Unexpectedly, my primary market these days is actually riders looking for a stiffer, stronger, lighter upgrade for their carbon mast. Of course there is the occasional purchase to replace a heavy aluminum mast on a Slingshot or Liquid Force setup, but the majority of purchases are in the interest of custom lengths and increased stiffness over the Moses, Lift, and MFC masts. Fortunately for me, these customers are less price sensitive and more respectful of the amount of time, thought, and money that I have put into this product. Many of them actually buy two different length masts! Unfortunately, I’m still struggling with the economics of Project Cedrus, and rather than shut it down am hoping a small price increase can keep it going. Raising prices is never an easy thing to do, but I hope you will understand based on the following notes.
- Vendor price increases. Every single one of my vendors has raised their prices in the last couple years. The company that lays-up and cures the hat sections, the technician who glues them together and assembles the mast, my machinist, and even the anodizing shop. I am happy to continue supporting US manufacturing, but it’s expensive and I need to pass these costs on to my customers, too.
- A lot of custom design work. As mentioned earlier, I originally expected Project Cedrus to replace standard aluminum masts, and was not expecting to be spending so much time designing and engineering mounts and adapters to so many different components. I do NOT charge for my design time, I sell my adapters and mounts at my machining cost and rely on the margins in my mast to sustain my business. I need to update my prices and the pricing structure to reflect the type and amount of work I offer my customers, which is very hands-on, custom oriented.
- You can’t eliminate the middle man, you become the middle man. I thought going direct to consumer would allow me to keep my prices in-line with industry levels using a much shorter supply chain compared to brand->factory->distributor->retail shop->customer. Each link in that chain adds a different type and amount of value to the project, and this has been an extremely valuable lesson for me. I thought that I could do it all myself, and keep prices low. I am doing it all, however this is taking a lot more time than expected but also results in some inefficiencies in my operation because I am not very good at all of those things. These additional roles counteract my efforts to keep prices low. In reality, I could probably reduce my prices if I had a good partner handling sales and distribution, while I keep my focus on engineering and manufacturing. Alas this was my goal at the very beginning, to supply OEM to existing brands. I couldn’t find a partner, so figured I’d at least try going direct myself. I’m glad I did, but don’t want to continue losing money doing so!
- Volume is critical. Everything gets cheaper the more you make. I have been fortunate in my career to witness both ends of the manufacturing spectrum, from Boeing 787s to Apple iPads. Even spent a short stint in the automotive world. Volume increases manufacturing efficiency by improving quality and stability. Unfortunately, it is difficult for me and my vendors to plan and grease a supply chain for seasonal 1-off custom length masts. We’ll do it, but without a consistent volume the prices is high.
- The foil market is too small. We all have a tendency to think the world revolves around our interests. Kiter’s are notoriously guilty of eating, sleeping, breathing their sport, me included. Cyclists are a close 2nd. That being said, the sport of kitesurfing is a very small market, and foiling is an even smaller piece of that tiny market. Even if I were to capture 50% of the market with my mast, I still most likely could not cover the site licensing and software fees for CAD and FEA, let alone my mortgage. In short, there’s just not enough money in the foil industry to support the detailed design, engineering, and domestic manufacturing that goes in to Project Cedrus. Fortunately, I’ve never done this for the money! I developed Project Cedrus to improve the sport and exercise my creativity and passion for design and manufacturing. I am fortunate that I don’t need to profit from this; I am happier seeing my technicians feed their families with the money they make from production and getting positive feedback from my happy riders.
- The little costs add up. I never expected to see FedEx bills as high as I do, but it’s still cheaper than me driving things around. Ever made a custom length box from scrap cardboard? It takes a long time! Responding to emails, invoicing, and running to the post office do not have a measurable cost to my business as I cannot bill myself for time. However, the financial and emotional costs of these activities have become more apparent to me, especially after the arrival of our daughter back in May of 2019.
- Sales & Marketing are more important than I thought. As an engineer and designer, I have been conditioned to believe that the best product wins. In today’s world with social media influencers and massive marketing budgets, this is far from true. If I had the budget for sales & marketing and industry product reviews, I would most certainly invest. However I have chosen to instead focus efforts and capital on IP, technology, and domestic manufacturing.
- Undercapitalizing a business can be more damaging than overcapitalization. This is a lesson I have learned before, and one I hope to never learn again. You think being budget conscious and tight with startup money is the right thing to do, but without spending capital to improve the supply chain, have inventory for eager customers, or invest in some marketing to accelerate the business, you will suffer. Of course the opposite is true, as we’ve seen with companies like WeWork, or various kickstarter campaigns who blow their money on fancy marketing videos and don’t save enough money for the unexpected manufacturing challenges. With Project Cedrus I made a conscious decision to limit financial risks to me and my family, and keep it more of a grass-roots effort. By not making bigger investments, eg. ordering in higher quantities, holding inventory, or spending money on marketing, I have severely hampered growth.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading and I hope you understand my position. If you’ve bought a mast from me, I cannot thank you enough for your support. Sometimes I’ve even wondered myself if I would spend $1,000 on a carbon foil mast! So to those of you who see the value in what I do, thank you. For the love of design, engineering, and manufacturing, I do hope to continue supplying this unique product. Even at these new prices, it’s the positive feedback and interactions with all of you that keep this going. Not the money.
Stay healthy and enjoy the rest of the summer! Kyle