The Death of Guru

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I visited this company in 2005. Even back then it was doing something remarkable by building custom frames out of all four frame materials: steel, aluminum, titanium and carbon. It did it all in 6-thousand feet of space, which also included a state of the art paint booth imported from Italy. This tight Montreal-based factory looked like Agent Q's MI5 workshop.

For my visit I brought with me a collapsible version of a fit bike. What I said to these guys was, “You think your competitor is Cervelo, because you're both Canadian and you each sell to triathletes. Your true competitor is Serotta, because you each make custom bikes.”

Just like Rocky's manager Mickey, who insisted that the missing ingredient was the manager, I told GURU that its missing ingredient was a system. Serotta had a system. A system and a tool. A pathway from customer-walks-in to customer-individualized-geometry. This kind of prescriptive selling is powerful, and GURU's management, to its credit, incorporated the idea.

I exhorted GURU to build its own fit bike. I showed them what I felt were the basic functions. Three years later they debuted their own. It was in my view over-ambitious, that is, it was terrific, but more than what they needed. The GURU DFU was a motorized bike, computer controlled, software driven, and obeyed a basic principle of adjustment along an X/Y axis both in front (handlebars) and rear (saddle).
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This was just what the doctor ordered, but a process for using the fit bike was still largely up to the fitter to divine for himself. The basic functions of the bike were known, but a fit protocol was not codified. (In fact, we only just last week finally published the industry's first brand-agnostic manual for the general use of these kinds of fit bikes.)

Further, there was a limit to the number of these bikes GURU produced. These so-called legacy bikes numbered about 47. Certainly GURU needed a wider buy-in at the dealer level. These fit bikes were a huge drain on the resources of the company. While the bike was revolutionary, the monumental cost to develop, build, sell and maintain this marvelous piece of technology was out of scale with the economics of the company.

In 2009, shortly after the time the DFU was unveiled, GURU was close to insolvent. A businessman not from the industry, Ted Matthews, bought assets encumbered by GURU's bank, becoming the brand's new owner. According to my recollection of events at that time, Matthews gifted a stake in the ownership of his new company back to the key employees who had previously founded the company, as an inducement to keep them aboard.

In 2011 Dorel Corporation – owners of Cannondale, Schwinn, and other bike brands – made the strategic decision to aggregate the best brands in each category of bike fit, put them together, and produce the best fit and prescriptive solution available. This meant the GURU fit bike paired with our own F.I.S.T. protocol for bike fitting. We agreed to license the use of F.I.S.T. to GURU, to write its initial documentation, and to instruct its instructors, and Dorel purchased the name GURU and all rights and patents to the fit bike, licensing the use of the name back to the Montreal-based custom bike factory.

This gave GURU (the bike maker) a needed cash infusion, but there was an insidious side to the fit tool it designed. Two things in the bike industry were changing. First, these new prescriptive systems like F.I.S.T. and Retül were both ecumenical and designed around the prescribing of production bike solutions. These kinds of fit bikes, GURU's inclusive, were fabulous tools not just for generating a great position for the rider, but for prescribing complete bike solutions that included production bikes, rather than simply custom geometries.
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