(Photos by M.Andersen/BikePortland)
Working from an office high above Interstate Avenue, a team of Portlanders has spent the last year quietly building what might be the country’s most ambitious bike-specific software company.
Funded out of pocket by three co-founders and led by the lead creator of the XBox, the ten-person company calling itself Project 529 hit the Internet last month with a web and mobile app that aspires to be a next-generation Stolen Bicycle Registry and with an attention-grabbing petition asking eBay and Craigslist to begin requiring serial numbers for the bikes they sell.
But the most interesting part of Project 529, which is pronounced “five two nine” in reference to the hours of rest and recreation, is what it wants to do.
J Allard, the company’s ballcap-clad CEO, says the firm might create “the eHarmony of trails,” matching riders to their perfect outdoor adventures. Or it might track maintenance reminders and fitness routines, becoming to “the regular Joes” what Allard says the six-year-old Strava has become for “the pros.” Or it might become a digital toolkit for bike shops that need to upgrade their services to compete with online discounters.
Or all of the above.
“We’re thinking long-term,” Allard said in an interview Wednesday. “I want to be the trusted brand that helps you get more out of your bicycle.”
Wherever the company might be headed, its first product, a free bike registry and stolen bike reporting tool called “529 Garage” with no obvious revenue model, certainly looks great:
“We’re kind of starting backwards, right?” 529 spokesman and co-founder Jason Scott said. “Most companies start on a commercial venture and then they give back.”
Instead, he said Project 529 is starting with a social mission — pitting mobile tech against bike theft — and “seeing where it goes from there.” The company developed its free anti-theft app’s features with input from the Portland Police Bureau and Portland State University security, among other law enforcement agencies.
One of the many nice touches: the moment you list your bike as stolen, the app automatically sends a push notification, with photo, to the phones of 529 Garage users for 10 miles in every direction, warning them to keep an eye out.
Another: the program automatically creates a printable PDF of a reward poster for your bike.
“We are looking at different ways to monetize what we’re doing. but we probably won’t pull that together until version 2 of the product,” Scott said. “We’ll go out for funding after we launch our initial product. So right now we’re in beta with the Garage, and we will launch the fully functional iPhone version around the second week of June, and I think we’ll have the Android version soon after.”
The pilot area for this initial experimentation is, of course, Portland. This Thursday, 13 local bike shops will offer free Project 529 anti-theft stickers and assistance registering bikes on the new site and app:
- Bike N Hike (Portland, Beaverton, Hillsboro, Milwaukie locations)
- Crank 2725 SE Ash Street, Portland, OR 97214
- Cyclepath 2436 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd,, Portland, OR 97212
- Hi-5 Bikes 3935 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Portland OR 97212
- The Lumberyard 2700 NE 82nd Ave, Portland, OR 97220
- Revolver 6509 N Interstate Ave, Portland, OR 97217
- Sunset Cycles 5320 NW Central Drive, Portland, OR 97229
- The Bike Commuter 8301 SE 13th Avenue, Portland OR 97202
- West End Bikes 1111 SW Stark St, Portland, OR 97205
Project 529 says “a West Coast tour and national bike shop rollout” will follow later this year.
Project 529’s founder and CEO is J Allard, whose official bio says he “crashed his first bike at 4” and later led the development of the XBox project for Microsoft, leaving in 2010 after 19 years with the company. His co-founders are Lara Ferroni, another former Microsoftie who moonlights as a cookbook writer and commercial photographer, and Scott, a onetime Intel employee who’s worked in political marketing and several startups.
Scott said they settled on bike theft as their first problem to solve after a series of meetings with contacts in the bike industry and elsewhere.
“There was a lot of value that technology can bring to the table that wasn’t being leveraged,” he said.
“Bike theft is a $400 million problem,” said Allard, who two years ago tapped his own digital knowhow to track down and reclaim a $7,500 racing bike that had been stolen from him. “Thieves will steal as many bikes as bike shops will touch this year. … We’re going to find a business model.”
Wherever Project 529 goes from here, though, it’s clear that like so many Portland-born projects, this one is driven primarily by its creators’ passion for two things: good people and good bicycling.
“The bottom line is that we’ve been really successful in those careers, and were kind of excited about (a) working together, and (b) working together on a project that we’re really excited about,” Scott said.
Interested in bikes and tech? Check out Portlander Aaron Kaffen’s Startup Swag ride during PedalPalooza June 14.
Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.