Interview with Fixcraft’s Sean Ingram: Hell Yes!

I’m pretty excited any time I get someone who’s willing to do an interview for this site, but I kinda have a guy crush on Sean and have been nervous to ask him for an interview. But lo and behold, it took one email and the dude was all about it. The interview covers his involvement with the sport, how Fixcraft became the name (my words, not his) in bike polo, and where he plans to go from here.

 

Give me a little bit about your backstory and bio (when did you start playing, when did you start making equipment?)

I discovered Hardcourt about 4 years ago really because they were doing it down the street from the house I lived at at the time.  My family was going through this kinda weird thing where we were pushed out of a church and they were playing on Sundays.
So I started showing up since I was looking for something to do with guys my age.  I called it bike church.  I was instantly hooked and started showing up 2 or 3 times a week.  This is cool if you are single, but I’m a family man with 4 kids so I was kinda blowing it by taking it too far.
I did the whole rigmarole you read about, search thrift stores, flea markets, etc for ski poles to make my shit.  Spent hundreds at 1/8″ to get my scrambler all set up.  I could only find 1 pair of used poles, it’s Kansas so they just aren’t available here. My day job is production at a merchandise company and I had a connection to get some poles done so I just kinda went for it since it wasn’t a bunch of money.  We got in like 200 black poles and I made some stickers or whatever.  Came up with the name “Fixcraft” by smashing the idea of fixing your stuff and the DIY ethic of “craft” into one word. I didn’t take it too serious.  We were really surprised how fast the poles were selling and I just kept putting the money back into it.
So the Fixcraft thing really happened shortly after I started playing because we wanted poles to play with at a cheap price.  Keep in mind, it was only 2 years ago that most of the polo world couldn’t believe that MKE came out with a clean shaft for people to play, wasn’t DIY enough.  I think even wired.com did an article about it too.  I bought one of those shafts and it’s a good product but I thought that $15.00 was too rich too at the time. So we just did a small run to sell a few and get our own shafts for cost.  Was a good plan, we used to do the same thing with Dischord vinyl in the early 90′s, pool all our money together, get them for wholesale. In retrospect, $15
is not expensive for a quality shaft, I don’t know what I was thinking, MKE was totally on point.

What drove you to start Fixcraft? Did you see on opportunity or was it just that you were tired of not having the equipment you wanted?

Well, the drive in the beginning was to have a product for ourselves at a cheap price because I had access to manufacture them, but after the response we got from players we only dreamed of talking too (Miguel Reyes, Chris Roberts, etc.) we realized that maybe it wasn’t too soon to really go for it. Here’s the thing about Hardcourt, and I’m sensitive to this because of my past in the DIY hardcore scene (Sean Ingram is the vocalist for seminal hardcore band “coalesce”) .  You have to evolve with whatever DIY thing you are doing.  So a 1 piece futuristic mallet will happen, but I don’t feel it should happen this year, or next even.
Consider the unibody or any other CNC machined head currently available.  It couldn’t have happened 2 years ago, it would have been rejected I think.  If people were balking at a $15 pole, can you imagine the thought of a $25 plastic head back then?  The game itself is evolving at an insane rate.  Seeing the Guardians or the Beaver Boys today is NOT like seeing them 2 or 3 years ago.  Everyone is playing next level, pro level games so the equipment had to evolve with them but not leapfrog too far.
I made a gamble on this a year and a half ago when we were hard at work designing an injection mo
lded head.  You should see some of the ridiculous designs that came back (look at the one that weighed 0.6 pounds!  jeez!), all basketball shoe looking with swooshes and golfball texture to reduce drag.  I had the whole team working on it with me and then abruptly cancelled the product because I couldn’t shake the feeling that people still want to customize their game.  We knew that CNC or lathing heads was the way to go so we helped distribute ST. Cago to have a good offering until we could get our product figured out.  We couldn’t decide if HDPE or UHMW was what players were going to settle on at the time either.  But to circle back, the drive now is to simply be a part of this amazing sport and evolve with it.  If we get to advance it in any small way, then we are grateful.

What was the first big hurdle you had to overcome with Fixcraft? What was the last one?

I would say the Mallet head was the first major headache.  1/8″ came out with theirs and I,like a lot of people,thought that injection molded heads is where it was going to go.  When I finally pulled the plug on our injection molded plans, and started looking for an inexpensive, quality place to lathe or CNC machine the heads, I really just ran into brick wall after brick wall.  Then the Northern Standard head video came out and as much as I wanted to dismiss it, I couldn’t because it was just so beautifully designed.  But one thing on the video really defined the difference from where we wanted to go and where others were going.
I don’t ever want to make anything proprietary unless it’s just absolutely necessary. I always want our stuff to work with MKE or NS or whoever. So we kept moving with the CNC machined head even though seeing what you could do with injection molds was tempting again.  The headache part is that getting anything made in the states here was near impossible.  Either the cost was unrealistic, or the person I was working with just simply didn’t want to do the project.  We finally found a place that had the quality we wanted, and we released 3 distinct sizes and styles instead of 1 un-customizable option.  I track which is most popular
 where and it goes back and forth.  I’m guessing that the 2500 size is where it will settle, but there are still 2375 diehards, including our guys in the Guardians,so we’ll be supporting those 2375 folks until they don’t want it anymore.
As far as the latest challenge? Probably the Hot ball. It’s probably taken up more of my time and patience than any other thing I’ve ever done in my life.  I knew it would be a challenge but I want to get it right for the sport.  The thing about working with overseas companies is that they want super long lead times.  For example I was finalizing testing and ordering hot balls around the time of Seattle worlds and was just getting them late spring the following year.  It’s tough to have to plan that far ahead.  Our main challenges with this ball is that we were looking at what the most universally accepted ball was at the time and it was the Franklin red, so that was our model we based the hot upon.  the D-gel pro ball or Canadian orange wasn’t everywhere and we didn’t consider it the standard, and that was our sad mistake.  So the product we were going after was a  more lively, harder, more visible Franklin red.
Well, we achieved that, but even with all the testing, all of the NAH members signing off on the product as worthy of their name, reviews were still mixed.  The thing that’s weird about hard court is some things you hear or read you can pretty much
 figure out what the problem is.  Like, this pole is too heavy or this face cage doesn’t fit my helmet.  You know, you can fix things like that.  But some of the response to the hot ball was all over the place.  It’s too hard, it’s too soft, it’s too heavy, it’s too light, it’s too big.  Just really more noise than feedback. We narrowed it down to two things.  one, we wanted better abrasion resistance (not sticky in high heat), and two, we wanted a harder durometer, like really hard so that it takes longer to soften.  Once I got that settled it was easy for me to take a trip to a known, respected, and loved hockey ball manufacturer and strike a deal to have them re-formulate our line of balls for next season that meet or beat these expectations.
We’ll have 3 balls for next year that will be suited for all conditions but deep freeze winter play.  I learned an amazing amount of info on how these balls are made on my trip,  it’s just fascinating how much little things change the play of the ball.  And the way our mallets work is a little different than a hockey blade, so we can’t borrow all the r&d unfortunately.  It still comes down to trial and error.

How do you decide what products to come out with?

I always want to fill a need first. But some things are just at my disposal and are either cheap or next to nothing so I’ll do them.  We started the glove before we were aware that Northern Standard had invested so heavily into one.  I think their glove is pretty much the best thing going in ter
ms of design and protection.  Once the sizing is fixed and the price gets lower, I think they will absolutely dominate the polo body armor market and even cross over into non polo worlds because the product is that good in my opinion.  Had we seen that product first I probably wouldn’t have put time into our prototyping our own glove.  It amazes me how close both products ended up looking having designed them with different teams with no knowledge of the other during the first stages.
Some things like the sponsorship shirts for our teams, the fundraising stuff, I own a screen printing and merchandising company, so that type of stuff is easy for us.  Then some things are just dreams you have.  You don’t care if it exists or if it’s hard.  Like the Fixcraft bike projects.  Who doesn’t want to be involved with bringing a bike to market?  it’s just something I could only dream about and am grateful every day that is happening. We wanted a polo specific frame that could crossover bike scenes, but we didn’t want to recreate anything currently available in construction or style.  We wanted something bmx bomb proof, but well rounded for defense and offense. I also wanted to see it run both 26″ or 700c wheels with big clearance, and have brake set ups for V’s and Discs. Tim Alteiner was the lead on the project with Sam Shulte and I couldn’t be happier with their design. Our hope is that if this cross over style bike is successful  we can work on more specific function frames too.
 The hubs were a big deal too. I’ve never really thought much about hubs, I just rode whatever came on the Julian wheels or whatever. I had no idea what a high quality hub could do for your bike and it’s mind blowing.  I think people are going to be blown away when they get to actually touch and ride these hubs.  Sam didn’t cut any corners on them.

Do you ever get it wrong? Has there ever been a Fixcraft flop?

Sure, the first that comes to mind is that I tried to brand the company with garments too early.  Because I had access to shirts, that was one of the things we did first.  those took forever to sell.  The biggest never came to market flop would be this mallet head drill tool I’ve played with.  it’s basically a live strong bracelet with the drill marks in it, You slide it on and drill out your head.  The silicone is a complete bitch to work with and it shrinks un-predictably.  I’m still working on it, but meh, I think the stickers I did work a thousand times better and cheaper.  Plus I expect that when we do tools they will be rigid so who knows yet, we’ll see how the head mounting evolves this year.  We have been either lucky or cautious, depending on who you ask I guess.

What is the most popular product Fixcraft sells, and what’s the one you’re most excited about.

The hot ball is by far the biggest seller, without a question.  Even though some regions are mixed, it’s extremely popular in other regions.  There are thousands of these balls out there in play.  Financially it was a huge success and we were able to raise quite a bit for NAH from it.  After that, I would say the line of Unibody heads.I’m happy to see my theory that “one size doesn’t fit all” is working with those, even though there is always someone on Facebook to tell you why your set up is shit.  Keeping both of our shafts are always a challenge since they go in fast spurts.
The most exciting thing at Fixcraft though is all of the bike and components. Equipment is a lot of fun, no question, but working on a bike is universal and extremely exciting to be a part of. When I tell my friends I make mallets they stare at me, when I tell them I’m helping with a bike they freak out.

Fixcraft has become a staple of the Polo Community – was that ever your intention, and what do you think about it now?

It’s weird to hear that because I’m looking at it from half an inch up, where others have the luxury to stand back and see those things.  I guess the goal was to be a staple yeah, I mean I want to see hard court successful and us successful too.  I hope that’s true and I hope that we can see this sport seriously grow.
I really want to see the bigger hardcourt tournaments covered on the sports cable channels.  If I can watch girls high school softball at the bar when I’m traveling, there is just no reason why I can’t watch the worlds.  I have nothing but respect for the folks working hard to put them online, but I’d really like to see it on television.  It would bring so much new talent into the fold.

Is there something you really want to make but just can’t figure out how?

 

I think the holy grail is a reinforced shaft that is as light as what we have now, and can mount with 1 light screw. The coupler with tapered pole is really good now because it’s an evolution off of the DIY ski pole thing, but once something light, bullet proof, and affordable comes about I think people will be ready for it.

How cognizant are you of cost vs value? What I mean is, do you figure out the price of a product based off of your bottom line or on what you think a polo player can afford?

Oh yeah, totally, it has to be affordable, and not a wash financially.  If there is no margin on
 a product then you can’t sponsor a tournament or a player, or invest in new technology.  No one here is paid payroll or anything, Fixcraft is a labor of love currently, so we use what resources we have to put back into tournaments or new products we think people might want or need.  Some things we’ve looked at are just too expensive I don’t think anyone would buy them even if they are amazing.
 One example is titanium poles.  You are looking at big bucks there and if someone has the cash pile to back that up god bless them.  If you talk to hockey people they’ll tell you that bike polo stuff is too cheap and to raise your margins, but keep in mind that hockey companies aren’t competing with stolen signs and discarded ski poles. So you have to figure out what is cheap enough to make someone say “fuck it, i’ll just get it here and be done with it” and still make a buck to put into new product ideas or tournaments.
Some profit margins are super small because the end price has to be realistic.  For instance the unibody heads have real small margins because we feel $26 should be the limit on a head.  You can’t always just throw a 73% markup to get a MSRP price.  It’s like that in skateboarding.  the margins are in the shoes, not the decks.

Why do you sponsor so many bike polo tournaments?

It’s important to us that we are involved with people doing something, anything.  Unfortunately it’s so expensive, next year we will probably have to pick 3 big ones, and then supply balls for any other tournament that asks.  it’s hard to turn people down, they are doing something creative and constructive and I want to be a part of it, but as we change gears in our hardware next year it will ultimately have to be pared down. I really like to see all these artisan trophies at tournaments, if I was a competitive player I’d be more interested in that than a pole and some stickers or whatever.  I’d like to see that become a trend.

Any big news for the future of Fixcraft? Any sneak peeks?

Yes, we are really moving forward with
 a new partner here and investing heavily into bike components and frames (as well as the sports equipment) as everyone may or may not know.  We have our first frame and fork coming out in the spring, and we also have some hubs that are absolutely amazing.  48 hole, 135 backs, disc or freewheel.  We’ll be working closely with Velocity for our wheel offerings too.  Your bike has to be bullet proof in this sport and it’s our intention to deliver that.  All these custom built bikes are so rad, but there is room for a factory model and we want ours to breathe Hardcourt and BMX.  BMX has to be bullet proof, so it only makes sense to be taking their findings and applying it to our offering.
Also the new reformulated balls that we are launching as a partnership.  I mentioned this earlier, but we aren’t going it alone next year. We’ve had these tested in the hottest places of the United States, even boiling them before they hit the court if it wasn’t hot enough. We’ll have 3 options so that players can dial in their game based on what the elements are like.

I like to think that all of the Hot Balls you make reside in a single gated room a a giant ball pit. This isn’t so much a question as a statement, but can you just confirm, even if it’s a lie, that this is what you do?

Ha
, well, launch day this was kinda true actually!  3,000 balls on a pallet looks insane.  But sadly what’s left is a pallet with 200 ball boxes on it.  There aren’t a ton left actually.

Is Fixcraft involved with 321polo.net somehow?

When I started Fixcraft I also started the blog.  My thought was that I wanted to be involved in Hardcourt whether it was doing something or writing about things others were doing.  I put a lot of time into it, but it was becoming clear that I couldn’t do both this last year.  Fixcraft was getting to be too much work, and as it got bigger the conflict of interest got bigger too.  I finally found someone who could take it over and Aaron Hand from Como is doing pretty rad with it.
It’s the first thing I had to let go and it’s a bummer because I really enjoyed the interviews.  The Malletheadz article was amazing too.  I have this profound respect for Malletheadz, everything about the guy who runs that thing is just amazing.  He’s convinced me that he is the worlds best bullshitter and I’d love to see someone do a serious one on one with him, you know it would be pure magic.

How does Fixcraft view its competition?

Competition is the best thing for hard court on the equipment side too.  It will ultimately make the products better and more affordable.  I’m actually a big fan of a lot of our competition.  I started on 1/8″ bikes, I also think the MKE bruiser is one of the most beautiful bikes ever, and I appreciate people who want to make stuff in their basement too.  I’ve run into some weirdos here and there, but for the most part all the guys with companies understand that we define each other and that we’re all making a bigger market by trying to grow the sport.
At north americans we boothed with 1/8″ and I just love Noah from there.  If it weren’t for the ease of ordering from 1/8″ my first polo build would have been a much different experience.  The new owners of St. Cago are just simply some of the best people ever.  I love those folks.  I always love chatting with max from Northern Standard and am extremely jealous that he got Kevin O’Leary aka “mr. wonderful” on a polo bike at that Tv appearance he did. I think we could see collaborations in the near future between some of the companies.  How cool would that be?

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I guess I would add that we appreciate everyone out there willing to put so much effort and blood into this amazing sport of ours.  We appreciate positive attitudes and folks putting their ideas and resources on the line.  We feel so lucky to have found this sport and be a part of it.  And thanks for finding us an interesting enough little imprint to share our thoughts with you!
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