At first glance, Mark “Obie” Olberding, owner and creator of Boise-based Obie Link Guard, might not seem like your typical inventor or entrepreneur. But don’t let the grease beneath his fingernails fool you: Inside beats the heart of an Edison or a Ford.
Olberding’s love affair with dirt bikes began at the young age of six when his dad made him a mini version. He jumped right on and never really stopped. Born and raised in Emmett, Idaho, Olberding worked after school at a recreational vehicle dealership, learning about all the different makes and models. He started racing dirt bikes in 1975, traveling with his friends across Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California. In fact, he still dabbles in dirt and snow bike racing, just for fun.
Fast forward to July of 2012 when, after buying a new dirt bike, he noticed the suspension hung further down than his previous bikes. He thought it would get in the way, which it did. “I noticed my linkage was getting trashed and hammered on rocks while riding near Stanley, Idaho,” he said.
Out of necessity, Obie took things into his own hands, inventing and building the first Obie Link Guard. It worked so well, he built a few dozen more for his buddies. Their response? “That’s a cool idea! You should produce more and sell them!”
And there it began.
The Obie Link Guard is an add-on part that protects a vulnerable part of the dirt bike’s rear suspension, or linkage, from rock and debris. It also helps snow bikes keep heat in the motor and keeps your feet from being blown off the pegs.
Growing up, Olberding always had an inventor’s mindset — the urge to create something. It likely stemmed from his grandfather who was always tinkering on farm machinery. But after catching up with an old classmate who found success inventing something for the masses, he realized he needed to act quickly and confidently.
“If I’m going to do this, I better get going, get through the pitfalls and learn the process.”
Lucky for him, Idaho is home to several dirt bike companies that are innovating the industry. Olberding had a large network of local buddies with expertise in the field that he could turn to for advice. And he asked them all one question: “If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?”
Here are his takeaways:
A good logo is key.
Invest in creating a good, eye-catching logo from the start. Make it something you’ll never have to change but can be easily modified if necessary. Olberding took this advice to heart, working with a local graphic designer, narrowing down options and getting feedback from friends until he saw what came to be the Obie Link Guard logo and said, “That’s it!”
It paid off. A lot of Olberding’s marketing is word of mouth, or word of logo. Most individual sales come from riders who see the part and logo on their friend’s bike, go online, order and have it on their bikes within three days.
You can’t do it all.
And you don’t need to — just keep an eye on quality. Outsource where you can but do so locally. Keeping it local is extremely important to Olberding; he considers it mandatory. He works directly with a guy in Meridian, ID who cuts the plastic after he’s designed the part. It allows him to work one-on-one with the vendor, often discussing and troubleshooting over a six-pack of beer.
Have a strong network.
Knowing the leaders in the industry creates opportunities to team up. For Olberding, this means cross-marketing on each other’s websites, helping each other and getting advice. He also has strong support at the foundation of his business, his wife Lisa, who runs the operations side of the company.
One contribution to his success that Olberding made, all on his own, was his decision to become BBB Accredited. He knows people need to be able to trust a business when they buy a product online. He believes when his company comes up online as a BBB Accredited Business, people trust it. And having the seal right there on the website? “It’s huge.”
Oldberding still works his day job at Carl’s Cycles in Boise. There, he remains immersed in the ever-changing motorbike world. It also keeps him in tune with customers, identifying areas of improvement. After all, his inventor’s brain is always “on” and on the hunt for the next product that can help solve a problem.