“When I moved here I had no plan,” Joseph Huba remembers. It was 2011, he’d left his hometown of Cheverly, Maryland and moved to Brooklyn with just enough money saved up to last him for two weeks. He had no job prospects and very few connections to pull from; the pressure was on.
He found a position delivering food at Dumont Burger and began to branch out, picking up delivery shifts at various other North-Brooklyn restaurants. He was on his bicycle constantly and quickly began making friends within the cycling community. And so when fellow cyclist Matthew Von Ohlen approached him with the idea to build a vending machine that would offer bike-parts 24-hours a day, it just seemed obvious. They enlisted business strategist Matt Harrison to help write a business plan and dove in headfirst.
Bikestock, as the company would become known, is a Brooklyn-based startup that aims to provide support to cyclists through their network of bike-parts vending machines, tool kits and repair stations. The company aims to “fill in critical gaps” in the hours of the traditional bike shop by offering around-the-clock service. Their machines offer patch kits, inner-tubes, lights, locks, brake pads, headphones, chargers snacks and many other cycling-related accessories. The entire operation fits into a 4’ x 10’ space, making it a logical companion to the urban environment.
Starting a business in New York City is no small feat, a fact that Joseph can certainly attest to. The company is run out of his apartment where wire-shelving stocked with bicycle parts, bottled water and granola bars lines the walls. It’s still very much a hands-on operation, with Joseph and his partners doing everything from building the machines, designing the logos and branding, and keeping up with social media and public relations.
“Bikestock is self-sustaining because we’re all still pouring sweat into the operation,” Joseph explains. “I restock the machines and work I don’t know how many hours a week, and it’s all with one goal in mind.”
Since living in Brooklyn, Joseph has also transitioned into the photo and film industries, working as an assistant, camera operator and editor. Balancing the business with his freelance career has proven to be a challenge, but it’s not anything he can’t manage.
“When I’m deeply involved in a project it’s hard to work on other things because it means I have to wake up at 6 a.m. to get things done and then I have to go to work and be on set or in the studio all day. And that might mean even after work I have to go out and restock the vending machines. I just do whatever I have to to get the job done.”
Although his role in the company does often conflict with the demands of his day job, Joseph hopes that they’ll eventually begin to intersect. “I want to parlay the film and video passion into cycling specific things whether it’s an instructional video or a tutorial on how to fix your bike. But I also love documentaries. So I just want to shoot real life pieces of people riding and talking about riding. I find beauty in things that actually happen from a narrative standpoint and so I enjoy just letting the camera roll and capturing what’s there.”
From the outset Bikestock has received an outpouring of support from the cycling community. They’ve since expanded from their initial location at 49 Bogart Street in Bushwick to include a total of three Brooklyn locations and a fourth in Manhattan. “We want to have enough coverage so that no matter where you are, if you get stranded you’ll never be too far from a Bikestock location.” Joseph explains. “It’s all about convenience… It’s giving people access and encouraging them to ride their bikes and utilize that mode of transportation because the benefits are so far reaching.”
That support has also helped to reinforce the team’s morale, keeping them focused and motivating them to work ever harder to enhance their service. “I get a lot of inspiration from the community and that pushes me to do more with Bikestock,” Joseph tells me. “I have a lot of friends who are doing really awesome things because of their bikes and I want to do awesome things because of a bicycle; whether that’s making films, putting vending machines in different cities or expanding in New York. The community definitely fuels me and I know it fuels the rest of the team as well, just knowing that there are people who appreciate what we’re doing.”
It was in that spirit that Bikestock began to experiment with ways to replicate the New York-model on a larger-scale. Back in February, they opened the first of two Boston locations at a Whole Foods in the South End. Although the growth has been gradual thus far, Joseph is satisfied in the way that the business has continued to expand and evolve in a very organic way.
“I like where we’re at, I like the fact that we’re still here. It’s really hard to run a business, it’s hard to do it in NYC and it’s taught me a lot about money management. I never thought I’d call myself a business owner. I always felt like some kid who just wanted to skate and party with his friends, but now it’s all put into perspective. I’m a small business owner in the best city in the entire world and so I’ve got to do everything in my power to make sure that we survive.”