We asked the staff of Hemisphere Offroad a few questions about their company, their Ural upgrades and accessories, and their iterative, crowdsourced-based product development process.

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I’m a digital product designer by day. Part of modern product development strategy is to test the commercial viability and customer usability as early and often as possible.

We used to do things the “old fashioned” way, where we did a ton of market research, product design, built something full of features we thought people wanted, and then after a year to 3 years shipped a Web site or piece of software.

Turns out, we were often wrong, and/or the market evolved from where we started.

In most cases, it’s better to release the smallest useful thing possible, and evolve it based on customer feedback.

That’s why I was interested in how Hemisphere Offroad conducted themselves online, especially at Ural community forum Soviet Steeds.

Hemisphere Offroad announced their products, but also asked the community what Ural accessories they wanted / needed. In my world, this is called “crowdsourcing,” with the idea that the community you’re trying to serve has a pretty good idea of what they would buy.

We wanted to learn more about Hemisphere Offroad, and hope that you find their responses to our questions as interesting as we did.

When did the company start? Where are you located?

The product designing started about 3 years ago, but wasn’t formalized into Hemisphere Offroad until a year ago. We wanted to wait until we had several products at least, to unveil when we opened for business.

We are located near San Francisco, CA.

How did you get started making parts for Urals?

We are Ural enthusiasts, starting with a 99 Bavarian Classic 650. After riding that a long time, and finally coming to the realization that the old 650 parts were getting scarce as hens teeth, the BC was sold and a 2015 GU was bought to use as a test mule and, honestly, for personal fun.

Although the single-wheel drive BC was used offroad on fire trails and such, and was fitted with decent dirt tires, its limitations were clear. A 2WD was needed, and once the GU was in hand, the designs started to present themselves based on needs seen in the field.

The first was the engine guard, resulting from running through some dry riverbeds with huge rocks. Next was the ergonomic shifter, because not everyone likes the heel shift method (even though it’s what our bikes were designed for!) and the stock shifter tends to cut nice holes in canvas shoes. Then the adjustable reverse lever came from spending a weekend in the mud, and not wanting to reach down into the gunk to shift into reverse.

The rocks guards came along one by one, after a taillight and sidecar lens were both hit by large gravel spit up from the rider in front, and needed to be replaced. The extendable bumper came from spending a weekend camping and having a monkey taking up space in the hack, and not enough space for ropes and towing gear on the stock rack.

It appears that you only make parts for Urals. Was there a time that you made accessories for other bikes, or are there other Web sites that cater to other makes and models?

Currently, we only make Ural accessories because this is what we are most passionate about. However, we are looking for niche markets to serve with our unique product designs and manufacturing capabilities. For instance, Kawasaki Gen 1 KLR650 (1987-2007) body panels are extremely scarce, even used parts on eBay. We have already 3D scanned the bike and designed replacements for all the plastics body parts except the front fender which is already available elsewhere. We are also working on a custom dashboard kit for the KLR. These parts are in tooling now, and the front fairings (radiator and coolant reservoir) are in beta testing now. We hope to release a full kit of direct replacement, factory looking plastics early next year.

You make sure to note that all parts are stocked and shipped from the US, and that the staff is entirely based in the US. Why is this important for Ural owners in America?

We’ve all been there….we go to eBay, see some enticing parts from Ukraine, and take a chance. Sometimes it’s a pleasant surprise, and the parts arrive on time and the quality is acceptable. Often, not so much. And communication can be tricky and time consuming. These are the pain points we felt when buying parts for the Bavarian Classic, including a new set of heads after an air box nut got sucked into the intake valve one fine afternoon. I’m not disparaging the overseas vendors here, but for an American customer it was frustrating.

So we looked at it backwards. We saw that we had some product ideas, and asked what we would need to do to stand out to our potential customer base. Well, first we tried making our products in the USA. We tried really hard, but there was no way to make our designs cost competitive in the USA. We use CNC milled billets of aluminum for many parts, which means lots of hours on a CNC machine, which simply costs a lot. So that idea was out, as we moved manufacturing overseas where we actually have quite a bit of experience though our American manufacturing engineering team.

How else to stand out? Be available to our main customer base (USA) within a couple time zones. We are already in California so…boom. Done.

We do not drop ship from our overseas warehouse, although we could. Why? Because of the uncertainty in shipping delays. We wanted to have the parts in our hands here, and when we promised a certain delivery time to a customer, we wanted to be able to always count on that happening. The best way is to use US shippers, and this works well even when we ship to Europe.

The biggest way we wanted to stand out? LISTEN TO OUR CUSTOMERS. ALL OF THEM. Even the cranky ones. We’ve watched crowdsourcing succeed in other areas, and started looking around for a crow to help form our product line with us. Soviet Steeds was the oldest and most well established group we could find, so that’s where we started.

You’ve actively solicited positive and critical feedback from the Soviet Steeds community and on your Web site. What’s an example of a product change you’ve made thanks to customer feedback?

Right off the bat, we had customers asking for the rock guards to come without the wire mesh. Yet some liked it. We took note, and the very next batch we made, we did 50/50 with and without wire mesh. We also had a request to ADD the wire to the tail light and stalk signal guards, and we will likely start offering that too.

Next, apparently lots of folks wanted the rock guard kit but without the headlight guard. This was also surprising, but we broke apart the kit and sold the parts as separates as an option. Next production run, we’ll offer a kit without the headlight guard.

Also, we ran out of the rock guard kits pretty fast. Our bad, but our customers were not too happy because we were offering a discount on the kits. And they asked us what we were going to do…

When we got them back in stock again, the headlight guards sold out fast, limiting our kit inventory. So….we had to stay up all night rejiggering the website to offer all of the rest of the kit parts individually, except the headlight guard, and at the same discount as before. And we took rainchecks for the headlight guards (at the original discount).

Also, once we posted photos of the proposed dual sidecar light rock guard, we got lots of nice feedback, but someone [that was me! – DrFaulken] asked if it would fit the newer model years (’17-up). So….back to the drawing board, need to make it fit, or offer a second model.

Are there any products coming out in response to customer requests / feedback?

Yes:

  • Affordable floorboards, possibly with a tilting feature to allow easier offroad use and a tie-in with the engine guard to make it stronger
  • Heavy-duty version of the sidecar rock guards
  • Possible shifter with spring-loaded pivoting toe pad like a dirt bike
  • Unique rack options
  • Affordable low-profile peashooter type mufflers

As of this writing, some of your light guard accessories are sold out. What’s your business’s practice / philosophy about making and stocking parts? Are they done in small runs, etc?

Yes, we generally do small batches, and honestly we are still learning how to gauge what will sell and when. It’s a learning curve. We do small runs because we want to be able to be flexible with our designs and make changes “on the fly”. Because we use CNC processing for many parts, and hard tooling is only used where necessary for production quality/consistency, we can make a design change one day and that change will show up a few weeks later in our USA inventory.

ABS

A big thanks to the team over at Hemisphere Offroad. It was interesting to read how some of their philosophies and processes regarding physical product development mimicked what I did in the virtual world.

I’m interested in the fog light rock guards, and have asked to be in any prototype / early adopter test pools. If I get a set I’ll do a follow up article with my thoughts.

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