How a 16-year old from Pretoria started an export business in a garage - and changed bike racing
- Pretoria teenager Jay van der Walt invented a new piece of gear aimed at off-road motorcycling.
- The J-Mount is a silicon mounting bracket for GPS units.
- It was an immediate hit, and gave birth to a successful export business.
- For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
Jay van der Walt knew from an early age that he wanted to be his own boss. He’d heard his father tell him over and over that if he wanted to be truly free he needed to work for himself.
This mindset gave birth to J-Mount, a business he started in his dad’s garage in 2017 that produces silicon GPS mounting brackets for “hard enduro”, a brutal off-road motorsport that is akin to hiking up a mountain with a motorcycle.
At the age of 16, Jay and his dad entered the fabled Roof of Africa, a multiple-day navigational enduro race in the Lesotho highlands that attracts some of the biggest international names in the sport. Known as the mother of hard enduro, “the Roof” is so challenging that bikers have been known to abandon their bikes in the mountains and simply give up on the first day of the race.
“The pro-riders normally use two GPS units so when we started training we were trying to figure out a way to mount our own GPS units in a more convenient manner,” says Van Der Walt, who hails from Pretoria. “I’d seen Graham Jarvis [a British rider, considered to be one of the world’s best] cut out holes in his handlebar foam and secure the GPS units in the cut-out using wire and duct tape. But I thought there must be a better solution.”
Fortuitously, a family friend had recently purchased a 3D printer so Van Der Walt set about designing a mould, which he then had 3D-printed in plastic. By experimenting with various chemicals he was able to produce a silicon prototype of his first J-Mount.
After testing the first prototypes during a qualifier for the 2017 Roof of Africa bronze class, Van Der Walt realised the product worked, so he set about producing 30 additional pre-production units. All of them sold out on the first day of the 2017 event and rider feedback was extremely positive.
Having started with zero capital and growing the business “sale by sale”, Van Der Walt needed to ramp up production while simultaneously improving the quality and finish of the product.
“The problem with producing from a 3D printed plastic mould is that the product looks a bit rough around the edges,” he says. “What we needed was a proper CNC-machined aluminium mould that’s been sandblasted and polished so that the final product has a high-end look and feel.”
The only snag he faced was the exorbitant cost of producing the mould and product locally - money he simply didn’t have as teenager. Fortunately his father had a contact in India who was able to produce the mould roughly “seven times cheaper”. He could also produce the products as well with no minimum order quantity.
“We needed to get production up and running quickly to meet orders so started producing in India and bringing in consignments that we would then distribute locally,” he says.
Soon he was selling roughly 100 units per month at a price that ranges between R629 to R850 depending on the specific product. However, in his youthful enthusiasm he’d omitted to patent the product and soon found competitors had copied it. What’s more, they were even selling it under his brand name.
“I had no idea people would do something like that but it was a good wakeup call,” he says, now wiser at age 19.
To combat copycats, Van Der Walt decided to redesign the product entirely; improve the manufacturing process; and make sure the new and improved J-Mount was patented. The result was a much lighter version of the initial J-Mount that consists of a thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) base covered by a thermoplastic elastomer outer shell. He also partnered with a South African manufacturer with a strong track record in producing thermoplastic products for the medical industry.
“We were very keen to produce locally, not just because we want to be proudly South African but also to have more control over the manufacturing process,” he says. “You also don’t have to face delays, shipping costs and other barriers.”
The new, improved J-Mount is patented and although the impact of Covid-19 has diminished sales he’s had a flood of export inquiries from Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia.
“Due to Covid-19 we’re currently selling about 50 products a month but about 50% of that is exports,” he says. “Because enduro is such a niche sport we really want to target the export market in a big way.”
J-Mount’s next goal is to expand the product range beyond enduro by producing products that cater to adventure motorcycling, canoeing and even mountain biking.
“The beauty of the product is that it is lightweight with no metal parts so it ships easily,” he says. “That makes it ideal for exports.”
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