Turning away from automation probably raises a few eyebrows in this day and age and rightfully so. It helps to scale a startup, free up time and sometimes improves customer experience. In an effort to seem less corporate and instead small / independent (which is exactly what Cyced is), automation didn’t make sense for my cycling side hustle.
To provide some context, the purchase flow below outlines the process from start to finish when ordering a custom Strava print on Cyced. The customer will typically wait 24-48 hours whilst my design time and liaising back and forth takes up to an hour in most instances.
Cyced’s main competitors are automated self-service platforms. They allow customers to scale the map, adjust the colours and change the text in real time. The creativity and design emphasis is on the customer opposed to the business, with zero human interaction, and that didn't feel right for me.
Part of the joy in creating cycling map prints from cyclist’s events or holidays is plotting the route on a map and seeing the details myself. I’ve had the chance to speak with over 100 customers directly to hear what this adventure meant to them. Automation would remove this entirely.
Bespoke little and small details or tweaks can only be done manually too off the back of conversation. You can’t add triathlon icons or add a ripple texture to the ocean for example when the platform is automated, which means nor can you go that one step extra to create love for a brand.
I don’t think I would have all 22 five star reviews across Trustpilot, Facebook and my website had I not had the personal interactions with each of my customers.
Creating these Strava prints is also a genuine pleasure. There are some trips and routes that blow me away - not only the distance and dedication but the topography on the mapping software I use. Mont Ventoux and the Scottish Highlands are stand out areas with their stunning topography but even a loop around the Isle of Man comes out wonders.
If and when Cyced grows larger, I’m sure I’ll get myself into a difficult situation with too many orders coming through to manage in my evenings and weekends. The 2020 holiday season did prove challenging when I gained an influx of sales at the end of November and early December although right now I’d probably still manage with 3x volume.
It’s not necessarily the map creation that takes up the most time either. Maintaining dialogue with the customer over a few days and chasing up when necessary all adds to the time it takes to complete an order. That’s the price of deeper personalisation and a human experience.
Right now not automating Cyced feels like the best decision. I avoid a £5,000 cost (on estimate from a few quotes) to implement a web app and I get to continue a personal connection with each and every cyclist, runner and triathlete that makes an order. With it, I may just become like every other offering on the market.