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Spencer Rotting, Co-Founder of Infento Rides: “We Literally Started With An Empty Piece Of Paper”
To bike, or not to bike, that was the million dollar question. Just a couple of days after entrepreneurs Sander Letema and Spencer Rotting launched their crowdfunding campaign, they reached their stretch goal which enabled them to set up Infento Rides, the world's first real constructible rides. Eventually, 775 backers pledged $479,712 to help bring this project to life.
Bigger than Meccano and Lego. Much bigger. With just one kit and one tool you can build unlimited real rides, alone or together with your child. But what exactly is Infento Rides?
"Infento is a do-it-yourself kit for kids and parents which enables them to make a range of kid-sized rides, from balance bikes, scooters, to tricycles, recumbent bikes and sleds, with the option to add an electric motor to your ride as well." explains Co-Founder Spencer Rotting.
The idea simply started with the dream to build something cool. "We were thinking, what if you want to build something but you don't have a garage full of welding equipment or a handy dad or friend to help you out? If you want to build that cool go-kart yourself, what will you need? Where do you start? Infento is focused mainly on children, but it's not necessarily a toy. Infento is for kids at heart, too."
The most popular designs are the go-kart, tricycle, bike and sled. Until now, Infento has focused mainly on vehicles, although there is a lot more that people can make with Infento.
"I hope that the people who are interested in Infento will think 'What Infento came up with is funny, but I have a much better idea'. Basically that's the strength of Infento. When you think 'I will make this or that', the material actually gives you the opportunity to make your idea reality. And this won't just be something nice to put on a table, or something to hang on your wall, you can build something that you are able to drive around." says Rotting.
Letema and Rotting use feedback from their clients on a regular basis, the information they receive helps them improve their product and sometimes, it even leads to surprises.
"We are focused on schools because they approached us in the early stages of our business. We designed an educational package and we received great responses. Teachers told us they wanted their pre-schoolers to use the packages to work with. We designed different models so even the youngest kids could use Infento without too much fuss. We started with animals like giraffes and gorillas, the more simple designs. Beforehand I never would have guessed we would make these."
Another favorite story of Letema and Rotting is about a teacher in Amsterdam who used Infento Rides to build a fitness machine together with some of his students. They connected it to an energy measurer so the students could calculate how many sandwiches they would have to eat to use the machine for thirty minutes.
"We just give people examples of things that they can build and we create manuals for people who don't have any experience yet so they can build a go-kart, for example. Everything else is open, if you come up with ideas you are free to build it."
Hearing about Infento for the first time, it's hard to vision what exactly these products look like. "Based on aluminium profiles, we came up with construction material which in combination with all sorts of connectors, grips and brake parts gives you the freedom to build anything you'd like. It is very sturdy but very lightweight at the same time. This way you can build something that is very strong but you can ride yourself."
Infento has been compared with Meccano, Lego and Fishertechnik. "Simply put, Infento is a larger version of Meccano, Fishertechnik, K'nex, and Lego. These are the construction materials on a smaller scale. Our product is very big and strong."
Rotting teamed up with Co-Partner Sander Letema to make Infento Rides a reality. They are both experienced in mechanical engineering and graphic design. "As a kid, I loved building and assembling things. As I grew older, I worked as a volunteer for over twenty years, organizing and inventing games for children. The children would build things based on a drawing or blueprint and they would use their creations to do a race. They loved this so much I decided if I ever changed my profession, I would have to something with this."
At the time, Rotting was working in a graphic design business. Something completely different from what he's doing today; "I was working in an industry that already exists for over a hundred years, so there was never a lot of innovation. Things are very different now with Infento. In this industry, it's all about creativity, innovation and ideas. The sky's the limit, so to say.
Rotting partnered up with Letema, who happens to be his brother-in-law. "When I first spoke to Sander about my idea, he was immediately very enthusiastic about it. Sander is a great designer and one night he sent over a drawing that he made for Infento. He designed exactly what I had in mind. And while we both had our own companies at the point, we quickly decided that we were going to try and make Infento reality together. We left our businesses, we got started with Infento, and we haven't looked back. We're constantly inventing, discussing and adding new features."
Both Rotting and Letema were already business owners before they started Infento Rides. Rotting explains: "We've both worked for an employer at one point but we've been entrepreneurs pretty much our whole lives. I think this made it easier for us to start a new business together since we already had some entrepreneurial experience. Bringing a brand new product to the market is real entrepreneurship, in my eyes. I have learned a lot in my previous company but Infento has put a whole new dimension on top of that."
Rotting explains; "If you start a business in a market that's already saturated with similar businesses, it's easier to discover the do's and dont's of that business. We started Infento with an empty desk, an empty piece of paper in front of us, no existing industry, no machines or product, just an idea in our heads. And we literally started with that empty piece of paper. It gives you great freedom because you get to decide the feeling of your company, what the product looks like, – it's all up to you. The con is that you have to discover everything yourself."
Rotting and Letema learned along the way simply by making mistakes. "You can't really prepare for a project like this, but you learn by doing. You just have to go for it and if you are talented, determined and perhaps a little bit lucky, you will be successful. What we are doing with Infento Rides right now is a huge deal and I realize this is a once in a lifetime thing, it's not something you do twice." When asked why not, Rotting answers: "We are working literally seven days a week."
When asked if this is different compared to his last business, Rotting says: "My other company was also very intense but now with Infento it's different. We're still developing our product, we're constantly working with clients. Everything has to be done from scratch. We can't just grab an example from somewhere or take a closer look at similar companies to see how they are dealing with things. Like I said before, everything is new."
'Where you prepared for this?' is our next question. "Yes," Rotting confidently answered, "From the start, I felt like we were capable of doing this. It has been quite the journey, but with the experience we both had as individuals and entrepreneurs, I knew that we would be able to make this work."
The process of building a startup from the ground-up usually entails significant sacrifice. We asked Rotting about the biggest sacrifice he has made to ensure that Infento Rides would succeed. "Family and friends feel that I am always working or away from home but to me, it doesn't feel that way at all. Yes, I spend a lot of time working on Infento but that's only because I want this to succeed so bad. I am enjoying every step of the way and I wouldn't want to miss a day. To me, all the hours I put into our company doesn't feel like a sacrifice, it feels like a gift."
According to Rotting, his Co-Founder Letema feels the same way. "Like me, Sander is very driven and he doesn't know what stopping means. I am happy with that because when I go for something I don't know how to stop either. Of course, like any other starting company, we have our obstacles and setbacks, but together we find the solutions and the strength to keep moving forward. It is amazing to have a partner who is just as committed as you are."
As brothers-in-law and co-founders, Rotting and Letema spend a lot of time together. "Having a Co-Founder is kind of like being married, you spend so much time with someone you get to see every aspect of them. Every person has their talents and their strengths but also their inabilities and sooner or later, you will run into this. It is difficult when you are tired and experience setbacks, you might get annoyed more easily. You have to be able to talk about this. In the end we both have the same goal, this is a great opportunity for us to combine our strengths and to jointly shape the future of Infento Rides."
Running a business with a family member requires discipline, planning and recognition that family relationships are fragile, but Rotting had already experienced working with family before. "My latest company was founded by my parents. Back then, I thought that if I would leave the company at one point that would probably be my last time working so closely with family members. At dinner it would bother me that we were still discussing work, the whole family was just focused on our business. I'm grateful with the way that things worked out for me. I am married to Sander's sister. Before we started our company we talked about it, what if I ended up divorcing his sister? Would we still be able to work together? We looked at all kinds of scenarios and decided we would be able to handle it."
They haven't have any issues yet. "But it feels good to talk these things through. At the starting phase of building your own company, everything is positive, promising, and you feel like cloud nine. But we did talk about certain scenarios that might happen, we had to. But everything has been perfectly fine, so far."
By using crowdfunding, Infento Rides raised $479,712 to help bring this project to life.Their initial goal was 'a mere' $100,000. "I think we're successful because we are very determined to make this work. The fun we had as kids making, creating and building things, that is what is behind our business. Knowing that I have the possibility to create the things I have in mind, that is the magic I want to have today's children to experience as well. I believe that if you start a business for the sole purpose of being wealthy it is very different than starting a business because you have a wish that people can relate to."
Infento Rides is currently expanding their business. Not just in Europe, but also in the United States of America. "From the very start it was clear to us that the United States would be our biggest market. We both think that the American culture fits us. They have tons of TV shows about building things, doing races, challenging people's creativity – pretty much what Infento is all about."
"To gain free publicity for our business we decided to organize an inspiring crowdfunding campaign. Our strategy was, if our campaign goes well we might receive a lot of attention from the media plus at the same time, we can generate a nice amount of money to buy supplies." Their campaign did not disappoint. "We wanted to use crowdfunding for awareness, to get our brand noticed worldwide. Today, we are all over newspapers, blogs, websites – it's amazing. We are branding Infento as 'the world's first constructible rides', maybe in the future our product will be copied but this way it will be clear we were the first and original ones. We are very excited to see where this journey will take us…"