Clay Neigher, (BFA '05), lives and works in Chicago, Illinois. He is a Founder at BikeSpike and an ever-evolving entrepreneur. Follow Clay and his work at BikeSpike.
Tell us about your company.
Three Man Rocket (now evolving into) BikeSpike Inc, is a collaborative between artists and engineers and a web agency called ColorJar. I had the idea for the BikeSpike several years ago after being completely fed up with bike theft, knowing that there is existing technology that could be leveraged to help change a crime that goes virtually unpunished. I've had 4 bikes stolen and been in half a dozen wrecks and in all cases, I've been totally alone and out of luck. The most memorable theft happened to me when I was living at 54 Hillside in Mission Hill. I woke up one in the middle of the night to the faint sound of a hand saw, I said to myself, "is someone making a spice rack at 3 am?". In the morning, half of the porch was gone along with my bike. There was nothing I could do and I knew that the police had no tools or resources to help me. There is a stat in Chicago that says that about 93% of all stolen bikes reported stolen or missing, stay stolen or missing. I knew, with help, I could make a device that would make a dent in that stat.
What was your focus at SMFA and were there any faculty members or courses that were particularly influential?
My focus at Tufts/SMFA was primarily in Photography, Film and Performance. I studied Comparative Religion and History at Tufts. "So how the hell did I get here?" I've always been a creative thinker and I've been plagued by ideas that I felt needed to be turned into reality but I didn't have the technical knowhow to make it all myself. Instead of feeling bad about what I didn't know how to do, I celebrated what I did know how to do and looked for people that were totally different from me. I would go to meet-ups that would be full of doctors, electrical engineers, biologists, software developers, etc and just listen. The best thing you can do is to be pro-community and don't mislead anyone about your skills. If you can't personally make something because it's out of your skill-set then use the Internet to figure out what type of person you're looking for and go find them. The BIkeSpike required(s) a TON of people to make it possible OR you find people that can wear multiple hats. The latter is more risky and time consuming and you better choose your team wisely. If your team is unwilling to make time for the project, it will always be just that, a project. If you want to make a business, people need to commit or you'll find yourself hounding people and that is a big red flag and business killer.
Jim Dow had a major influence on me as a teacher and mentor. His knowledge of well...everything, made me want to know more about this world (I can say the same about several brilliant professors Tufts Professors like Joseph Walser in the Religion department, but Jim was so approachable and quirky. I just aligned with him and admired him). Bill Burke was great at cutting through the shit and getting to the point. He didn't have time for half-asked attempts. You either made interesting work or you didn't.
How did other SMFA students influence you?
I felt like I was close with a lot of different students mainly because most of my roommates with all into different mediums. I was lucky to keep good company with really talented thinkers and makers like Paul Waddel, David Boylan, Phillip Fryer, Sean Smith, Parker Davis, Brian Faucette, and so many more. All of my friends had different skills and similar interests. Collaboration and skill sharing and community building were extremely important. The best example was the evolution of the Performance Art department while I was there. The true collaboration process to elevate and promote the medium was unpatrolled. Jamie McMurry, Mari Novotny-Jones Marilyn Arsem. I also got tons of great skills and life skills from two of the cools cats in the world...Jeff and Jane Hudson. Extremely smart and talented folks that would never pull punches and let you know when something worked and when it didn't. That kind of feedback has been crucial in our development process with the BikeSpike.
The BikeSpike is an overwhelmingly simple concept that is overwhelmingly complicated from a business standpoint. I commonly describe it with the help of the following analogy.
"Take your cellphone, unscrew the back and look at the circuit board from above. It kinda looks like the birds eye view of a city, right? Now imagine you're the mayor of that city and each box represents a building you're responsible for. All of the tenants in those buildings have to get along with each other, all of the utilities need to work perfectly, and there must be zero crime. Then you have to make sure you can control the weather over your little city by designing a perfect enclosure that is both durable and affordable. You have to then create from scratch a beautifully designed web platform, iOS app and Android mobile app. Then you have to file patents, pay lawyers and defend against trolls. Then you have to market the device in a really clever way and hope people buy it for the price you can afford to sell it at...on and on and on."
Any advice for graduating students on transitioning to the professional world?
My best advice is to celebrate what your bad as much as what you're good at. A strong team needs diversity. If you'd like to go nuts and attempt to shorten your life with stress by taking on a problem you have no immediate expertise on how to solve, then you're going to need to humble and confident in the same moment. You don't have to be the best at everything, the key for a creative on a team is to have a vision for something and to learn the language of others. I'm still an artist and I always will be, I'm just trying to hang my work in a slightly different type of gallery.
Did you ever think you'd become an entrepreneur?
I've always had ideas for things I had no capacity to make. When I learned to change that statement to "I've always had ideas for things had no capacity to make on my own." Is when I decided to become an entrepreneur. When I realized that there were people with skills totally different than mine that wanted to leave their boring job and jump into a pit of uncertainty (entrepreneurship) with me, that's when the magic happens.
I don't sleep much, but the potential to really change the world of cycling is what keeps me going. I think I'm working on something that is solving a real problem. A problem that has plagued me personally and I wanted to try and fix it...even if I'm just an "artist" or creative. I was still able to inspire people to join me and to inspire customers to take the leap with my team. We're almost there.
What's the latest BikeSpike news?
People can stay tuned and up to date on the BikeSpike and our progress by liking our Facebook page "BikeSpike" and following us on Twitter @SpikeYourBike. We also just opened up our pre-order site. People can reserve their BikeSpike with no money down at bikespike.com. Folks that want to join us, even if they aren't based in Chicago are welcome to reach out and open a dialogue. We are all about community and we love meeting passionate people that love to be creative and of course, ride a bike.