Josh’s biggest business miss
16 february 2023
By Nicki GIles
We asked Silca’s Josh Poertner how he identifies ‘the next exciting product’, and he told us often they fall into his lap through a customer, team or athlete request. However, his big fear is that he might not be keen enough to spot an opportunity when it arises. After all, it’s happened before…
“The biggest miss of my career was ceramic bearings, we had the first ceramic bearing in cycling. We did it! Ullrich came to me in 1999, looking for a custom wheel set for the Olympics. He wanted to use these Tune hubs from Germany. He sent a bunch over, and they all just felt terrible.
“A guy I knew from college worked for a bearing company and he was telling me about this fuel pump bearing they make for the space shuttle, with ceramic balls. I thought, ‘What a cool story that would be,’ so I call him and [he told me who their supplier was]. ‘Get in touch with them and buy them.’
“Ullrich won gold at the Olympics and we thought, ‘Let's make a limited-edition wheelset, a celebration, we'll put these bearings in there.’ $1,000 worth of bearings or something inside. To make this make sense we put the bearings on the price list, otherwise that wheelset for $3,000, ‘Well, it's $1,200 of bearings.’
“We put them on there, launched and got a tonne of attention. People thought we were crazy, there was a lot of hate about the bearings. That was the extent of it, a limited-edition wheelset. Then I turn around two years later, and there’s CeramicSpeed selling bearings as aftermarket in different sizes, and people are putting them everywhere like crazy.
“I'll never forget, I was two years late to the party. I never, ever imagined that this could be a business. You look at those guys today and they're a huge, probably a $50 to $60 million a year business selling aftermarket ceramic bearings to people – which we invented! We did that first, and had you come up to me and told me, ‘We should make a business out of that,’ I'd have probably told you no.
“So, I have spent the entire rest of my career trying to continually evaluate situations to say, ‘Okay, is this another one of those?’ Because that is not going to happen again!”