How long (time-wise and # of frames) was it from when you built your first frame until you hung out your shingle as a framebuilder?
Wow Todd, sorry for it taking so long to answer. I didn't even know you had posted. I am going to use your question as a jumping off point to elaborate on a larger issue: Where was I, where am I, where do I want to be?
I have been able to braze since I was a teenager. I started brazing on motorcycle frames in 2002. I started brazing up lugged bicycle frames in 2003. I built frames to ride myself or to cut up or to give to friends up through 2004. I got insured in 2005 and started working on a business plan and where I wanted to take Shamrock Cycles, if anywhere. The first person to pay me in exchange for a bike occurred in mid-late 2005. I never advertised, I never really did anything and my order book reflected that. I wanted that. I wanted to ease into this proposition and give myself ample opportunities to un-ring the bell and go back to barber college or be a poet or bank robber or Christ knows what. I salute those that close their eyes and leap and are successful at it. Ultimately I needed to confirm beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wanted to build frames and not just be a framebuilder. See the difference? In my opinion it is an easy trap to fall into. There is the perception of what being a framebuilder is and there is the reality of building frames. (A lot of the process is tedious and sucks. But there is no way to build something I am proud of without working hard at the tedious and sucky parts.) But I also wanted to commit myself to this endeavor enough so that I wouldn't pull the plug too early. I have other interests and means to put bread on the table but those can cut both ways. It gives you comfort knowing you have a safety net but can also act as an inadvertent crutch.
The trajectory of my business success has steepened in the past 2 to 2.5 years and I believe strongly that my patient approach prepared me for that. It has also forced me to evaluate where I was, am and want to be. Some assumptions I had back in 2005 or 2008 seem naive at this point and my future goals need to build on those lessons learned.
If you are headed to NAHBS, be sure and say hi. In the meantime, the folks from NAHBS stopped by the shop and did an interview of me.
I've been thinking about something lately. It's about fucking up. About how valuable a fuck up is. That is where you learn. Learning the hard way, yes. But learning nonetheless.
I've been asked in the past about framebuilding and how I learned the "craft". My answer is always the same. I kept fucking up until I learned to not fuck up. But that quest is never-ending. I now don't get discouraged when I fuck something up. I view it as a forced lesson and I learn from it. So, tooling up and having all kinds of whiz bangery to build a frame is all well and good but it seems that for someone just starting out this is a huge expense to try and keep from fucking up. I say, start simple and embrace the fuck up. Quit focusing on the destination and focus exclusively on the journey. That is where the good stuff is.
If someone is wanting to build a frame because it is another skill set they possess then I salute them. Go ahead and fuck it up a few times. You will have a better appreciation for the process.
It's the same reason I work on motorcycles. An infinite number of possibilities to fuck up. And learn in the process. I now know my way around an old British motorcycle because I am aware of so many paths that lead to a fuck up that I have a broader understanding of the various twisting paths. I just bought an old Datsun convertible. I know jack shit about old Datsun convertibles. But I am learning. Learning because I am fucking up.
Fucking up isn't something to be ashamed of. It is something to take pride in.
Anna over at Bike Rumor has a Q&A series with NAHBS builders. It appears she is getting near the bottom of the barrel.
Road to NAHBS: Shamrock Cycles Gets Dramatic on Detail