Olympian Ed Clancy OBE on starting and growing his own business
With three Olympic golds already in the bag and plans to add to the tally in Tokyo, you might think starting a business would have been the last thing on Ed Clancy’s mind in August 2019.
But when the three-time Olympic champion and six-time world champion Team GB track cyclist, along with co-founder Graham Briggs, opened the Clancy Briggs Cycling Academy it was the culmination of eight years of planning.
“It didn’t need to be that long,” he told the audience of GoDaddy’s first Back To Business Masterclass. “We could have done it in a couple of months, all the talking and the preparation, but I’m glad we thought it through.”
As you’d guess, Ed loves cycling. It was that, combined with the chance to get more youngsters into the sport and outside having fun, that spurred him on.
“I think what inspired me to start my cycling academy business was a love of cycling above all else,” he said.
“Even outside my career in sport in my spare time I hang out on my mountain bikes and my trials bikes.”
“I meet up on weekends with a car mechanic and a farmer and we head out on mountain bikes together.”
He added: “When I think back to my childhood, I know how much of a difference it made to me and my friends to be able to get out on a bike and enjoy yourself.”
“I think for the youth of today it’s getting harder and harder to get out and enjoy your bike, so that’s why I did it.”
Aiming for a gap in the market
Ed believes that there isn’t anything truly original about the academy idea in itself, but he is trying to fill a gap in the market.
“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. There’s been kids’ academies since the dawn of time, but I don’t think anyone’s given a cycling academy a good go.”
As you’d expect, the business model is focused on giving the kids something to enjoy.
“By and large, the Clancy Briggs Cycling Academy is a monthly subscription and there’s weekly sessions of 45 minutes to an hour for the kids,” Ed explained.
“The kids range in ages from 18 months to 16 years old.
“If it’s about one thing, it’s fun. If the kids at the older age of the spectrum are getting something out of it because they’re getting fit and they’re winning races, that’s great.
“With the little nippers on the balance bikes, they’re meeting their mates and they’re doing social activities.”
The importance of a website
Ed also revealed that having a website has been absolutely crucial for his business.
“It’s the 21st century. There are probably a small number of businesses out there that probably won’t need websites, if your entire customer base is people you know personally, but for everybody else I think you definitely need a website.”
“I personally have my own website, edclancy.com, and it’s fit for purpose. It tells people what I’ve done, who I’ve worked with in the past, it’s got testimonials.
“You meet people, you give them a business card, you create a relationship and they go to that website to see ‘yes he has done this and he can stand up and do a public speech in front of my audience’.”
But for the Clancy Briggs Cycling Academy, the website has to do much more.
“That’s got a different website entirely and there’s no way on earth we could run that business without the website. The website pretty much is the business.”
“It shows people who we are, what our brand is. It’s got to be an easy platform for people to go to and buy stuff from our online shop and sign up as members.
“But it’s more than that. The Clancy Briggs website has a whole backend the public can’t see, but the directors and coaches log on to the backend of the website.”
This backend allows staff at the academy to deal with vital admin, such as health and safety assessments, that is absolutely crucial for the day-to-day running of the business.
“You need a website that’s fit for purpose,” Ed added.
Ed also warned that people should make sure they team up with someone trustworthy when getting their business online.
“We had this big launch date planned and we wanted to make a bit of a show of it,” he said.
“We rang the local newspapers and so on. We had this fella that had committed to building us at least a homepage so people could go and see what we’re about and he failed to meet the deadlines.”
“My advice is do your research and if you do need help, don’t be afraid to ask.”
The benefits of social media
When it comes to promoting the website, Clancy Briggs Cycling Academy is big on social media and Ed’s advice is to give different platforms a try and see what works.
“You learn which ones work well. When we started, I always thought Instagram might be the big one and we’d get a lot of customers through that,” he explained.
“In reality, Instagram is really for the kids because they want show their friends ‘oh this is what I’m part of’.
“But we do them all, they all have a different purpose.
“We get most of our business through Facebook and to me that was a big surprise, but when I think about it now I realise that there’s a lot of parenting groups on Facebook.”
“If we put 20 to 50 quid behind a sponsored Facebook post, that’s the best 20 quid we could ever spend.
“LinkedIn is useless for the kids, but in terms of finding bike partners and sponsors and things like that, and for me personally as Ed Clancy and what I bring to Clancy Briggs, it’s the best thing by far.”
Dealing with lockdowns
As you might imagine for a business that launched in late 2019, it hasn’t all been plain sailing.
“The first time we did lockdown, we pretty much stopped all operations,” Ed said.
“We stopped all outgoings and we just put the whole operation on pause. Then we got going through the summer once we were out of lockdown, and straight away we doubled our membership in the first couple of weeks.”
“The second time we went into lockdown, instead of just pausing everyone’s subscriptions and stopping all outgoings, we kept things going.
“We did online Zoom classes. We taught kids about how to pack a kit bag and what good bike maintenance looks like. We did as much as we could online. It wasn’t for everyone, but it kept things rolling and it gave us something to talk about on social channels.”
And that approach is here to stay: “The online coaching is a winner, we want to keep doing that.”
Dreams vs goals
As you might imagine, Ed has some words of advice on how to stay motivated when trying to achieve something big like winning Olympic gold or creating a successful business.
“It’s really important to have clarity on what your dreams are and what your goals are,” he explained. “And they are two different things.
“As a sporting example, the dream for me is to go and win at the Olympics in Tokyo. You get your gold medal and you have a great time, you spray champagne around the nightclub with your mates and everyone’s happy. That’s the dream. But it is a dream and its dependant on a lot of things that aren’t in my control.
“The goals are really what’s more important. So, the goals for me are to eat five fruit and veg a day, make sure I’m getting nine and a half hours sleep a day, make sure I’m in constant contact with my coach. These are the attainable, doable, perhaps a little more mundane day-to-day things.
“It’s the same with business, I’ve got this dream where we have this Clancy Briggs Cycling Academy that’s got a hundred thousand members and we’re the authority on kids’ cycling. But that’s a dream. The goals are to answer my emails, check in regularly with the staff, try and build up a good emotional bank account with all my friends and directors.
“I think it was Aristotle who summed it up when he said ‘excellence is a habit, not an act’.”
For further information on the Clancy Briggs Cycling Academy visit clancybriggs.co.uk.
Image by: Featured picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com - 12/08/2016 - 2016 Rio Olympic Games - Track Cycling - Olympic Velodrome, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - Great Britain's Ed Clancy celebrates winning Gold in the Men's Team Pursuit Final.