Businessing Magazine sat down with Todd Sebastian, co-founder of Off the Chain, a bike bus tour company operating in Sacramento, California, to learn more about his unique business and what it takes to succeed in the tourism industry.
Todd and his business partner, Jason Blessinger, started Off the Chain in 2014, with the goal of bringing a unique and amusing social activity to the city they love—Sacramento. Their fifteen-passenger luxury bike bus takes passengers on tours of Sacramento’s sights, events, landmarks, restaurants and entertainment venues. Along the way, passengers can enjoy participating in karaoke, trivia games, and learning more about the City of Sacramento, all while pedaling.
Before starting Off the Chain, Todd and Jason worked together in higher education as teachers in the Recreation Leisure Studies department at California State University, Sacramento. They found that they both have an entrepreneurial spirit and share the common core value of “humor” in their everyday lives. They decided to venture into the tourism industry to help others enjoy the best that Sacramento has to offer. Their company takes tourists and locals alike on pub crawls, progressive dinners, as well as on custom tours.
Read on to find out more about Todd’s experience in the tourism industry as a bike bus owner, and what advice he has for others looking to start tourism-related businesses.
What were some of the unique hurdles you had to overcome to begin operating your business?
Initially, everything was a challenge. No one could understand the concept of what we were trying to do, or even what a fifteen-passenger bike looked like. Additionally, there was not another example of a similar service operating within the State of California that we could reference. So it took a significant amount of effort to get the initial support and to help others catch our vision. However, in Sacramento, we were very fortunate to have support from the City Council, as well as the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, which helped a great deal in getting our business started.
What unexpected challenge did you come up against once you began operating, and how did you solve it?
During our initial operations, we quickly found out that we would need a regulation passed by the State government if we wanted to achieve our full vision. Through a crazy amount of work, and with the support of State Senator Dr. Richard Pan, who lobbied on our behalf, Senate Bill 530 was passed on January 1, 2016 with bipartisan support. Governor Jerry Brown even signed the bill into law on our bike bus! We are now able to operate at our full vision, and are looking forward to expansion opportunities in other cities.
How large of a role does social media play in your marketing strategy?
It’s huge! As with everything today, people use social media to find out details, seek reviews, and even make reservations. It’s imperative that businesses are using all social media platforms, and frequently posting relevant information. Social media is a great marketing tool, especially since it allows your satisfied customers to easily share information with their friends and followers.
What advice do you have for someone looking to start a business in the tourism industry?
First, you must have a passion for the city in which you want to operate. Next, you must have local knowledge and the ability to establish relationships with numerous entities. Lastly, you must love people and be outgoing. If you can show both locals and tourists a good time in a unique fashion, you have a great foundation for success.
What do you seen in the future for Off the Chain? Do you have any plans for expansion into other cities?
Our goal is to see Off the Chain bike buses in numerous cities. Although our initial goal was to roll out in California cities, we are open to the idea of other locations as well. We also want to be a resource for, and offer consultation services to, both State and Local Governments who need assistance in establishing the regulations and ordinances necessary for bike buses to operate in their areas. We want to make sure that everyone, from bike bus owners to government officials, is on the same page, and that safety is made a top priority.
We also offer consultation to those wanting to start a bike bus company in their own area. We can help them through the process of getting the necessary approvals from state and local governments, as well as help them get their business started on the right foot. People are generally surprised at the minimal amount of funding it takes to get up and running. We encourage anyone who is thinking of starting a similar bike bus operation to give us a call.