Riding a bicycle was getting apocalyptic for Roland Harper—he’d been drenched by sudden rainstorms, nearly smacked into the pavement by chaotic drivers racing through lawless streets and almost run over by a bus. After cycling his adopted city of Bogotá, Colombia, for about a year, he realized something had to be done to improve his commutes. His friend (and now manager of sales) Raul Bermudez remembers meeting the French expat, who told him, “I promise you, I’m going to make the best damn cycling jacket Colombia has ever seen!”
Or maybe the world?
A few years after its launch, MOVA is delivering on Roland's mission to make a better urban riding experience for cyclists all over the world. It's not surprising that Roland took his inspiration for MOVA’s nascent line of cycling apparel from a high-altitude city with oftentimes daily subtropical downpours and insane traffic. Their first invention, an electric-lemon rainproof jacket, was a direct response to Roland’s experiences. The company, which manufactures right in Bogotá, is all about helping people use bicycles as a form of urban mass transport everywhere, explains Roland. “That’s our raison d’être,” he says. “It’s what we keep having to come back to.”
We might not make cycling apparel our whole lives, but MOVA will always stick to its mission.
Through their online store, MOVA ships to customers in 66 countries including the U.S., the U.K., Mexico, France, and Germany. But, for now, MOVA doesn’t want investors. Instead, they’ve relied on Kickstarter campaigns to fund big batches of production. Roland launched a 60-day Kickstarter campaign in December 2015, and it netted him $130,000 USD.
But the unexpected success of the campaign scared him. “I didn’t have a factory. I didn’t have a team. I had no experience. I was literally in my room in a house in San Felipe. What did I have? All I had was drive,” he says. Harper’s team of five kicked off another Kickstarter campaign, which promised highly visible jackets to customers and ended in January 2018, resulting in $80,000 in funding, more than four times their goal. They spent the next few months scrambling to send more than 650 jackets to backers.
At the office on a sun-soaked Monday afternoon, photographers take shots of a new jacket to the backdrop of up-tempo beats pumping out of speakers stationed around the office. It’s part of the Keep Fresh and Cool program, MOVA’s secret elixir for maintaining motivation.
Though each of the team members controls their own domain, everyone is part of product design ideation—and customer feedback gleaned from a Google Survey guides the design. “It’s very hands-on,” Raul says of the design process. He demonstrates a feature of a windbreaker prototype—a suggestion from a customer—that hides keys in a zippered forearm pocket. This kind of feedback, combined with the Kickstarter campaigns, Roland explains, gives his team more flexibility for steering the company in the direction they believe it needs to go. “We might not make cycling apparel our whole lives,” he says, “but MOVA will always stick to its mission.”
While customers might feel like they’re gliding along smooth ground in their new MOVA gear, what they don’t know is that Roland has hit a few potholes. The local culture is less concerned about timelines and deadlines than he is sometimes used to. “I think I learned how to be patient in Colombia,” he says. “Some of our biggest challenges are at the cultural level.”
Roland’s management style, though, has been described by early business partner Armando Rodriguez as sometimes “too chill”—a trait that may have helped him adapt to Colombia’s relaxed attitudes toward business. “He’s really good at stepping back, stacking people’s talents together, and trusting them.”
Words by Wes Michael Tomaselli
Illustration by Alvaro Tapia Hidalgo