Austin’s Bright Idea: The Story of Flashbak
The story of the Flashbak, a bicycle safety light that was invented by a native Austinite doesn’t begin with a bicycle at all. It begins with a dog named Rockie, a German Shepard that was both deaf and blind. Needless to say, Rockie would often wander away and because of her condition she would be hard to find so Brad, being the tinkerer that he is, created a simple collar made of two pieces of shower curtain and some LEDs. He thought nothing of it at first. It was just a simple way to track down Rockie. Then one day, his neighbor saw the collar and asked where he could get one and thus SeeSpot blinking dog collars was born.
Brad is tall and thin and moves with a quick deft preciseness. When he talks, he looks right at you and you can sense him thinking and computing, not in a robotic sort of way, but in that manner where he is constantly trying to make sense of the world. He’s personable and energetic and he’s the sort of person that will take an idea and run with it.
SeeSpot Collars transformed into the FlashBak by accident. Brad noticed that his bicycling friends would buy one or two of them and lash them across their Camelbaks for better visibility on trails and on the street. In a flash of insight, he transformed what originally was meant to keep his beloved dog Rockie safe, into something that would over the years keep hundreds of Austin’s night riding bicyclists safe as well.
When I first spoke to Brad, I asked him to bring the prototype, the first FlashBak. He pulls it out of his bag apologetically and a little reluctantly and is quick to point out the flaws, the PVC light switch housing and the missed stitches. “It looks like a messed up bra.” Yet, it is utterly fascinating to see how his idea transformed into his finished product today.
He chose amber colored lights, he tells me, because his eye doctor told him “30% of people are color blind and of that 30%, most of them will see amber.” Amber is the default color of car turn signals, of road stripes, of embedded road reflectors. He goes on to tell me that another advantage of the FlashBak over regular blinkies are the protruding LEDs. Because the lights protrude and aren’t focused in a lens they are visible from the side, minimizing the problem of a blinky’s directionality. Another advantage over a traditional blinky is the surface area of light, “In this case,” Brad says, “size matters.”Another great feature of the Flashbak is the weatherproof switch that a rider can activate and instantly tell that light is working.
The Flashbak, however, isn’t just the story of Brad’s own inventiveness it also speaks to the cycling community and culture of Austin. “I can’t say this enough, all the people I’ve met in the cycling industry are awesome.” He is truly overwhelmed by the support he has gotten from local cyclists and local bike shops.
He recalls talking to Hill, the owner of Bicycle Sport Shop, when he was first conceiving of the product. Hill told him that he would do whatever he could to help him. Bicycle Sport Shop was the first store to carry the Flashbak and from the strength of that relationship it gave Brad’s fledgling bicycle safety light some legs and credibility. The second shop to carry Flashbak was Mellow Johnny’s and since then it is available in 70 shops from San Francisco to New Orleans. However, if it weren’t for Hill who backed up Brad’s ideas and who wrote letters of recommendations to other shop owners, Brad’s light may have never spread as well as it did.
“I’m no advertiser or designer,” Brad readily admits pointing at the packaging. He describes the typical encounter in bike shops where he will give someone the packaged light and they’ll ask, “what does it do?” On cue, Brad will hit the power switch and turn his back showing them his Camelbak equipped with the light. At that moment, people get it.
Brad is currently working on getting his MBA and the next phase will be to expand the line and yes, work on the packaging of FlashBak.
“I sleep well at night,” he tells me. “I’m certain that every night some dog or cyclist didn’t get hit at night because of my light.”
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