Hello all you wonderful PPP followers! I hope you all have been enjoying such wonderful weather and the sunshiney spring that we’ve been having lately! I know we’re a couple shades darker! So as much as we want to know you, our customers/ fans/ partners/ clients/ and readers, we want you to know us to! Where did we come from? How did we start? What does Ken do in his normal life setting when he’s not building wicked crazy things like rockets? So at the beginning of the season of the sun on May 6th, 2012 I sat down at a Starbucks in Sellwood to chat with Ken a little bit more about his life, and dig a bit into the beginnings of Portland Pedal Power!
Ken Wetherell is probably one of the most brilliant easy going people I’ve ever met. Almost like the mad genius in television shows that are fun, funny, and also solve all the problems that have occurred throughout the duration of the series as well. Ken is the mad genius of Portland Pedal Power, so keep reading and get into the mind of a genius.
Me: Hey Ken, what’s up on this fine day?
Ken: Man, just helping my wife paint her new salon and enjoying the sun!
Me: Rad man, well I’m here to find out who the man behind PPP is outside of Pedal Power. So what do you do when it’s not working on Pedal Power?
Ken: I work for a high tech company called Synopsys. I’m a marketing guy. I’ve had a mix of rolls since ’94 in the company which means I’ve been with the company for 18 years. Currently I’m working as the editor of a, what I guess you can call, a small magazine that we put out. So I started this newsletter that we launched in January featuring some bigger name companies. I also do some automated marketing and lead programs, other marketing type stuff.
Me: Alright, so now we know the work side, what’s the fun stuff? What do you like to do?
Ken: Well I have a family. So today I was helping my wife and her folks paint a small hair salon that she’s been working at for 3 years and, with their help, just bought the salon last month. So she’s making some nice aesthetic changes for the clients and for the people who rent booths, she’s going to be streaming music from Pandora stations, pouring a glass of wine with each hair service, etc. So she’s making some big changes, I’m really proud of her.
My kids are super active! I have twins going into high school next year. My daughter just got accepted onto DEBS (the dance team there) and I’m just so ecstatic for her. Her twin, my son, (both of them 13) is super passionate about long boarding so he and his buddies on a nice day like today will be out for like 12 hours in a day. They do this thing called sliding where they will just bomb a hill and get side ways and they’ll try and get as much distance as they can. I helped them measure that the other day and they both slid 25 feet.
Ken: Yea, so they’re really into that, and my other boy just got his license last year and he’s driving now. He’s a sophomore in high school and playing clarinet in a symphonic band. So they’re all just super active and I’m really just super busy with the family and making sure they get their sustenance through out the day. I hope that if I can just fill them up with nutrients once in a day it will balance out all the times they go to Safeway and just run in and grab Pringles and Arizona Iced Tea..
Me: Hey! There is nothing wrong with Arizona Iced Tea thank you very much! I drink Arizona Iced Tea!
Ken: Well it is very tasty. Aside from family I love to hike and walk my dog. We just went on a great hike yesterday up at Tryon creek, kind of a run-walk. It’s a gorgeous creek you can just drive up to and park your car and walk around, it’s like rain forest up there. I love it. It’s the craziest place to have a state park, it’s like the border of Portland and Lake Oswego.
Me: I now have a new hiking spot!
Ken: Yea man, it’s awesome. I’m also passionate about riding bikes, I commute 42 miles round trip to work a couple days a week using my long-tailed bike with a stoke monkey electric assist. It’s been in the shop for a while though, we think it’s a connector. Since then I’ve put on about 10 in the last two months because my commute has just been out! So I’m currently looking for a road bike, do some more recreational riding and getting around.
Me: Well hey man, I’m looking for a road bike myself right now. So if you find any good deals let me know. I’m on a fixed gear at the moment.
Ken: Aw man that’s rough for getting around! Do you have a break on it!
Me: Oh yea, I definitely ride with a break. I can’t skid, I’m just simply terrible at that. I loved it when I was younger.
Ken: Yea man, I did that with the PPP bikes. When we just got the enclosures with the rubber padding and I was riding them over boards and obstacles to test how quiet it was and then I was just hitting the break and taking it sideways for fun. It was rad, Jenn has video of it!
Me: You know I am going to have to post that video online now!
Ken: Go ahead man, that’ll be sweet!
Me: So where did the enclosures come from?
Ken: I day dream a lot. That’s how the enclosures came about. Just simply idea thinking or brainstorming. “What if we could do this? What if we could do that? Okay we’ve got a business idea and then it was like, okay I’ve talked about this big thing that we’re going to use to deliver products and keep it safe from the elements, but also provide advertising. That was the idea as a business, was making it a marketing tool as well because the delivery business just wasn’t going to be economically viable.
So I’m always thinking about new concepts, some are fairly far out there, but I’m always thinking about new stuff. The two I’m most proud of are the enclosure for PPP and I created this “Dive Pod” which is an assemblable/ disassemblable diving platform that floats. We take this up to Crescent Lake on our family trips and it’s basically a tripod that floats out on the water with two decks and big mast in the front. From the top deck you’re diving from about 9 to 10 feet into the lake, and the bottom deck is great for the kids because it’s only a couple of feet.
Me: So you’re basically an inventor!
Ken: I guess you could call it that but truly, and I can’t lay claim to this saying and nor will I quote it correctly but I think it was a sculptor who said “I don’t create these sculptures, they’re already inside the rock. I just free them.” None of these ideas I put together are 100% new under the sun but more like reimplementation of things that others may have already built. I’m just a day dreamer.
Me: So what day dream inspired you to come up with Portland Pedal Power as a company?
Ken: It really happened when I was working at People’s Food Co-op as a volunteer at what was call a HOO (Hands on Owner). I was working the produce rack Sundays, early from 6-9 for 5 years straight. I got into cargo biking because I would ride my bike there with a little trailer, like a kid trailer, from West Linn down to Tibbets and 21st where the Co-op is. That’s where Portland Pedal Power was born because at the time there was thoughts about expanding the Co-op into another store because the sales were so high and the place was so small relative to the customer base. Well not everybody agreed that buying a whole ‘nother store was a great idea financially or sustainably.
So I was brainstorming with Neil Robinson, the head produce guy there, and said “Well why don’t we do a bicycle delivery service where-by people can just order their food and we’ll take it to them.” So 3 of us: me, Neil, and Quo did a pilot project in the Fall of ’07 and basically said “If you take the bus or bike or walk to the Co-op every Sunday, we’ll bring your groceries to you instead for free by bike.” We got A LOT of support, but few customers because the Co-op had a lot of riders already as customers. So the Co-op got busy and I went off on my own and decided I need take this to the heart of Portland, really dive in and apply it to small businesses to deliver their goods and promote them.
At the time I had the idea for this big trailer with a really big sign and has since morphed into what is now the enclosure. So that’s how the idea came about, and things kind of evolved from there.
Actually from the original blog that I kept for that business, I got calls from all over the country from people wanting to start their own small bicycle delivery business, like this guy in Bloomington who asked me if he could call his business “Bloomington Pedal Power“. So he’s in Bloomington, Indiana and has been up and running since about ’07. We also got contacted by some people in Bend, by some people in Europe, etc. It’s pretty cool.
From there we were contacted by a woman named Nancy Ettinger who owned a cart downtown. She was starting a cart and wanted to partner to offer bike delivery services. I told her “Great! Though now I have to get partners myself because I have a day job.” So I wrote out a business plan, put out an ad in Bike Portland for $50.00 and I had DOZENS of respondents asking “When are you looking for partners, we’d love to join up!” So I had about 3 meeting at the Co-op and I got my first five partners out of 3 dozen people. The five was awesome, and that’s how I met a lot of the people with PPP today.
Me: Awesome, well thank you Ken for your time, it was rad learning about you!