Founder Friday: Brian Grunert, White Bicycle

Most of us have watched the Grammy Awards at one point or another, but did you realize that a local company has been nominated for not one, not two, but six Grammy’s? I’m talking about White Bicycle, a Buffalo-based design company that does everything from album art to graphic and website design.

You’d think a company of that caliber doesn’t have time for the everyday business. Well, you’d be thinking wrong. White Bicycle works with several local businesses, including Ted’s Hot Dogs, Burchfield Penney Art Center, and 43North. Yep, that’s right, we’re some of the very lucky ones that benefit from having White Bicycle right in downtown Buffalo.

43North Week each October wouldn’t be possible without their hours and hours of work helping us perfect our brand and our vision for a week focused on entrepreneurship and innovation. I don’t think they’ll ever understand how truly grateful we are to work with a seriously skilled team that loves our city as much as we do.

Learn more about the brains behind the White Bicycle operation, Brian Grunert, in today’s Founder Friday.

How did your startup, well, start up?

White Bicycle is an off-shoot of my work as a designer in the music business as well as roots in the Buffalo advertising agency world. That was 11 years ago. About 6 months in, Kyle Morrissey joined White Bike, so he’s really been a part of the studio since the beginning. Casey Kelly joined about 5 or so years later. Brittney Sikora has been a White Bicyclist for about 3 years. And as our team has grown, so have our opportunities.

What do you do? Your startup?

I’m a graphic designer by training and practice, but my work has broadened to focus on brand strategy, communications planning, and project development. Creative direction and design is still a big part of my day-to-day, but it’s become much more directly connected with the White Bicycle team efforts.

White Bicycle helps businesses, cultural organizations, not-for-profits, hot dog stands, bands, etc. articulate what makes their brand truly unique. And we help them promote those points of difference by creating designed expressions of the brand that inspire their audiences to engage. We make the intangible tangible.

When was the ‘aha’ moment for your startup when you realized this could actually work?

There are many ‘aha’ moments along the way. Each new brand relationship presents an opportunity to re-prove to ourselves (and everyone else, I guess), that “hey, we might be able to make a go of this.” Helping the Burchfield Penney Art Center open their new museum building, working with Ted’s to open new locations or launch their food truck, sitting with the audience at Shea’s the past three Octobers and seeing the work we’ve done with 43North come to life as that year’s winners are revealed, going to the record store to buy an album we designed, those are big moments, ‘aha’ moments even. Seems we do learn as much from setbacks, too. When things don’t come together exactly as we planned, it gives us an opportunity to learn. Growing from failure is the best kind of ‘aha.’

What tools can you not live without and why?

Sketchbooks are pretty clutch. And a good pen. Idea catchers.

What was some important advice you received when starting up and who told it to you?

Don’t look down. I believe it was Wile E. Coyote (super genius) who taught me that.

What is the best part/worst part of your day as a founder?

Being part of our team is a privilege. Keeping up with email can be a drag.

Goals for the next year? Three years?

White Bicycle has always flown pretty close to the ground. Part risk mitigation, part priorities. We’ve tended to pay more attention to our clients’ brands than our own. This past spring, I completed UB’s CEL program, and as a team we have since been especially focused on the business side of White Bike and what’s next. For the first time, White Bike is engaged in some proper business planning.

Our immediate-term goals center on becoming most efficient design studio possible. That’ll include a strategic expansion of our team. 3 years from now? (insert entrepreneurial smack talk here: 10X growth, market dominance, geographic transcendence, supergroup with legions of loyal fans) … but jargon aside, our long-term goal is to achieve the same proficiency as business people as we have as brand designers. And we’d like to accomplish that without any erosion of the relationships and values that make White Bicycle special.

Why Buffalo

Because Buffalo f***ing rules, of course. Honestly, Buffalo is home. I’ve lived in Buffalo my whole life and been working downtown for the past 25 years. The resurgence that’s being realized now is thrilling to watch unfold. It’s the result of some exciting investments and efforts by public and private entities, big and small. But it’s also a validation of the faith that so many businesses and individuals have invested in Buffalo, swimming against the current for decades. Don’t look down.

How do you do it? What drives you?

Competition is a part of every business. I believe there are two types of competitors: those who love winning and those who hate losing. I’m a hate-to-lose guy. But, I also trust collaboration. My hunch is that collaboration makes me more competitive.