milKit Set to Change Tubeless Riding

May 2, 2016

Text by Zanet Zabarac

Mountain bikers know: The future is tubeless. Professional and amateur riders prefer tubeless tires. Why? No more flat tires.

As easy riding as tubeless tires may sound, it comes with its own hassles such as maintaining the tires which are filled with sealant that needs to be refilled occasionally and usually results in quite a mess, including greasy hands. Luckily, there’s milKit – making the maintenance of tubeless tires easy. The Swiss startup recently launched a new valve stem and syringe system that lets you check sealant levels without taking everything apart. Now, they are on the ground at swissnex San Francisco as part of the CTI Market Entry Camp to explore opportunities in the US Market.

We sat down with Pius Kobler, CEO & Co-Founder of milKit, and talked with him about the specific features of tubeless tires and about his plans on how to become an innovation leader for bicycle components.

"Being [at swissnex SF] has put us on a fast track and we are able to make things happen so much faster than if we were here alone."
Pius Kobler
CEO & Co-Founder / milKit

Q: How does milKit work?

Imagine, you have these tubeless tires and you fill in a sealant from the very beginning so that you don’t have a flat tire anymore. It works almost perfectly but the sealant dries out over time. That’s where the mess starts: You have to open the tire, release the air pressure and look inside the tire to see how much sealant is left.

This is where milKit comes in: Our system allows you to measure and refill the sealant in tubeless tires without having to release the pressure. We invented a valve to access the tire using only a needle, which avoids the mess and hassle of opening the tire. You can extract the sealant with a syringe and see how much is left. After that you can push new sealant back into the tire. It’s an easy and quick way to take the sealant out and push it back.

Q: Why call it milKit?

In German tubeless sealants are referred to as “milk” simply because most sealants are white and look exactly like milk. Since we are selling a “kit” that allows the tubeless rider to handle this milk-like sealant better, we came up with the name milKit.

Q: What inspired you to start milKit?

Actually, the idea of milKit was born out of a personal need while I was on a mountain biking trip in the US. I was biking and since it was a little warmer than usual, the sealant in my tires dried up quicker than I had expected. So, I ended up in the middle of nowhere somewhere in Colorado with a flat tire. That’s when I thought to myself: Hold on, this can’t be. I am a mechanical engineer, a product development engineer, and a bike freak and I don’t have the system under control. That’s when I decided I had to find a way to get into the tire. Many bike trips followed, giving me time to think harder about this specific problem and ultimately, I came with the idea of milKit. I soon started developing my first prototypes and patented it. In February 2015 Sven Rizzotti and I co-founded Sport Components Ltd.

Q: What brings you to San Francisco?

I guess we are a typical case of Market Entry campers. We are entering the US market now. We were selling our product on Amazon in the US but soon realized if we want to get into other shops and stores in the US, it is almost impossible to do that sitting in Switzerland. You have to be here to get connections and introductions. It makes such a big difference whether you are here or not. That’s why these three months during the Market Entry Camp are perfect for us.

Q: Why do you think San Francisco is the right place?

That’s an easy one: San Francisco is the main hub for cycling in the US with many bicycling companies in and around the Bay Area. The mountain bike itself was actually invented in Marin Headlands, just over the Golden Gate Bridge. Here’s where everything started and there’s a lot going on in the cycling industry around San Francisco, and all the way down to Santa Cruz. This is where we have to be.

Q: What is planned for your time here?

First and most importantly, we have to start selling our product and we have to get into the shops here. We have to find a distributor. We are also talking to some partners, for example bicycle manufacturers that could sell our product together with the bikes that they’re selling. Also, we want to create an online user platform, a “tubeless user world”. We want people with questions regarding their tubeless system to come directly to us. Our goal is to provide them with an online community. And, we want to find Mr. and Mrs. milKit North America to represent milKit over here.

Q: How is swissnex helping you achieve your goals?

We have to meet so many experts and if we were here without swissnex, we would be losing so much time looking for the right people. What happens here is, we get a list of potential candidates who are already validated and we can just pick the ones we see fit and meet them. This kind of support is very valuable and a huge help for us. And let’s not forget, we get to work out of the swissnex San Francisco office space and we work with all these people. Any small question that we have, we have the right person here to ask. Being here has put us on a fast track and we are able to make things happen so much faster than if we were here alone. It is also amazing to have all these other startups at swissnex San Francisco working right next to us. Some of them are more experienced and can give us very helpful tips. We can all learn from each other.

Q: What are your next steps?

Besides all of the boring but necessary administrative stuff that we have to deal with, we really have to focus on sales. We want to get our product into US stores. There is no comparable product to milKit on the market yet because tubeless used to be such a small niche that nobody invested in. We have to take advantage of the fact that we are lucky to be the first ones in this field.