An evening with Le Col founder Yanto Barker

The obvious question to ask Yanto Barker, our most recent BDOVELO guest, was “are there similarities between professional cycling and running a business?”  

In a very candid hour we had the answer to that in spades. There were a number of takeaways from what was an interesting insight into the mind and motivations of a successful pro-cyclist come entrepreneur. The importance of focus and the need to work with talent were two of the many components of success that Yanto shared.  

But the evening was as much about understanding Yanto, the man, the cyclist, and the founder of Le Col.  

Life as a pro cyclist plying their trade on continental roads in the early 2000's was a grind. Whilst a national champion at 18 and earning a healthy living from regular victories on domestic roads, Yanto found the step up to riding in France and Belgium tough, really tough.  With a weekly income of £50 and most of that going on food and accommodation, leaving £5 for coffees..., it was not a playboy lifestyle! 

A challenging life we were left in no doubt, particularly when Yanto shared his experience of his “hardest day on a bike” from the Tour of Poland where as one of the few finishers, he suffered from lock-jaw as a result of the cold. But this school of hard knocks was fertile ground for planning life after cycling. As others slept on the team coach after a race, Yanto was plotting, answering e-mails, drawing up spreadsheets and looking to the future.  

With no formal business training, it was fascinating to hear how Yanto took the lessons from life in the peloton into the world of business. With a focus on high performance and wanting the best that he could get, it’s no surprise that...."authentic" was always going to trump "marketing froth"...in Yanto’s book!  From friends and family, angel investors to a rollercoaster ride with crowdfunding, we were left in no doubt how hard raising funds for an early stage business can be. And if you want to compete with the big boys (think Rapha, Assos, Castelli….) you need even more financial clout. Fortunately, private equity have bought into Yanto and his ambition to create a £100m business.  

Further lessons to take away – buying-in talented people pays dividends; not everyone likes navy blue, and working with old friend Bradley Wiggins has taken design outside Yanto’s own taste but was seen as necessary to reach a wider audience....!
And with ESG and environmental issues high on many people’s agenda, we welcomed hearing how Le Col is removing all plastic from its supply chain.
Yanto is a busy guy; one who has learned to make the most of every spare minute. It came as no surprise to hear that the 7 hours a week he allocates to cycling are ridden at maximum intensity; designed to keep him at the top of his game.  As someone who'll train to "make his eyeballs bleed", we will be watching with interest as Le Col embraces the future.


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