Factor says that seven-time Grand Tour winner Chris Froome will play an active role in providing strategic direction, especially concerning product development and marketing/sponsorship decision-making, after investing in the brand and joining the board of directors. We spoke to Factor's founder and CEO Rob Gitelis to find out about the new arrangement.
Factor announced last week that it had raised its latest round of funding from an investment consortium that includes Froome, Sam McKay, Co-Founder of Point King Capital and Scott Farquhar, Co-Founder of Skip Capital.
Pic above and main image: Velo Images
“Scott Farquhar is a big hitter,” says Rob Gitelis. “He is the co-founder of Atlassian which is a huge $90 billion software company that's traded on the NASDAQ. He’s an avid cyclist and, was enamoured by what we're doing. He approached us asking if we were looking for any investment.
“It was a similar situation with Chris Froome. He reached out to us at a similar time and asked the same question, and then we thought: wow, that’s the dream team of investors.”
Rob says that the funding provided by the consortium allows it to invest in the business, developing product, increasing its website visibility, and expanding the brand’s direct-to-consumer retail model.
“We’re already direct to consumer in the UK and Australia and we're very happy with those results. Now we want to look at the United States which is a much bigger thing to bite off. We want to have some select dealers, a few of our own retail outlets, as well as selling direct to consumer in the United States, which currently we don't offer.”
Pic: Noa Toledo Argon Photo
As an Israel Start-Up Nation rider, Chris Froome already has extensive experience with Factor’s bikes.
“Before Chris signed for the team he wanted to make sure he liked the bike but, of course, he was still under contract with Ineos so he couldn't spend too much time on it,” says Rob.
“He really started to ride the Ostro around Christmas time, and I got an email from him in February 2021 asking some questions about the bike, after he had been riding it for a few weeks. He wanted to understand the design a little better because he had been with Pinarello for years.
“It was his first time with disc brakes and he didn't really take to them. In the beginning, he spoke, fairly negatively about that.”
Chris Froome’s views on disc brakes were well-publicised earlier in the year when he spoke about them in a YouTube video.
“The other feedback he gave us was that he really enjoyed the bike but he felt like the handlebars weren't quite stiff enough. That was an interesting remark because we had never heard this before, even from someone like [German sprinter] André Greipel.
“We made him some stiffer handlebars because we own our own factories [in both Taiwan and mainland China] and we can do things like that quite quickly. After supplying him with stiffer handlebars, he said he actually preferred the original one, so that’s what he ended up riding. I think it was just a question of the bar being different from the one he was used to with Pinarello.”
Now, though, Chris Froome has invested financially and has a more formal involvement with Factor’s products.
“Like Scott Farquhar, Chris has put in significant capital,” says Rob Gitelis. “Chris isn’t simply an ambassador-type investor. He comes with a great understanding of the cycling peloton. He's still racing and we will get very good feedback from him about you the products that we're currently producing, as well as future products.
“We've already worked on some projects together, and once he’s hung up the wheels he will be a great advocate for Factor, helping us understand products that we should be developing, using his vast network of connections from such a successful career, and weaving that together with what we're doing.”
The Ostro aero race bike, launched last September, was already complete by the time Froome joined Israel Start-Up Nation, but part of Factor’s agreement with the team was that it would create a new time trial bike especially for the British rider.
“We got a mandate of what he was looking for and a lot of that has gone into the new time trial bike that we debuted at the Tour de France. We haven't officially unveiled it; the official launch will probably be in October. I guess the name is already out in the open: it’s the Hanzo.”
Even putting Chris Froome’s involvement to one side, Rob says that Factor already gets excellent feedback from Israel Start-Up Nation.
“We work closely with the team and have a meeting every single Tuesday, conducted between Canada, Taiwan [where Rob is based], Australia and Europe,” says Rob.
“We've gone to the wind tunnel together four times this year, so we're constantly working with the team. It's all about the way different things interact. We also supply wheels to the team and we want to give the riders the maximum amount of information about them – which they should be using on which day based on the course profile.
“By going to the wind tunnel, we can say that the Black Inc Forty Five is going to be the fastest in most conditions, if it's an absolutely dead flat day the Sixty will be better, and if it's going to be an undulating course they have the choice of the Twenty or the Thirty.
“We want to know from the wind tunnel what's going to be lost aerodynamically by using the Twenty, say, and to be able to give the riders that information, so we work very closely with the team.
“The reason the team chose to work with Factor is that our goal is to make the world's fastest bikes. They understand that, and they want the world's fastest bike. They could work with bicycle companies that would pay them more, but their goal is to have the fastest equipment.”
We know that the new Hanzo time trial bike is on the way; what else can we expect from Factor in the future?
“I don't see any reason why Factor couldn’t also be offering mountain bikes,” says Rob. “I wouldn't be surprised to see mountain bikes before the end of the year from Factor.”
That means we will see mountain bikes before the end of the year from Factor, assuming production goes to plan. Owning its own factories means that Factor is more in control of its own destiny here than most brands although, like every other manufacturer, it’s affected by the worldwide component shortage.
“Our goal has always been the same: we wish to be the number one premium bicycle supplier in the world,” says Rob. “That doesn't mean the number one road racing or drop handlebar supplier, it means all categories. That could be e-bikes, commuter bikes, mountain bikes… but at that premium segment of the market and we're always going to focus on performance. It’s form follows function-type design, and it's always going to be.
“We've developed a number of e-bikes, for instance, that we've never brought to market because after we finished the development we asked: how is this better than any other e-bike that’s out there? I hated to say it but it wasn't, and therefore we just didn't sell it.
“There has to be a reason for what we produce. We need to offer something that's an improvement over what's already out there in the marketplace. Having our own factories, we can move quite a bit faster than our competitors and we also have a lot more flexibility.”
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now pushing 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.