A tale of two chairs

We couldn’t be more excited to finally launch the Freedom Chair here in the United States. However, as we get closer to launching, there seems to be some confusion about our products and pricing, and we want to clear that up.

The first version, the Leveraged Freedom Chair (LFC), was designed specifically for users in rural areas of developing countries. We spent several years, in between our classes at MIT, designing and testing it in countries around the world. We currently manufacture this product in India and sell it in bulk to NGOs, foundations, aid agencies, and others in the international development space. The price, for quantities of ten or more chairs, starts at $250/chair, which does not include shipping.

The LFC is a great everyday chair for rural users in developing countries and many people in the US asked us about getting one. In response, we began testing the LFC with US riders. After over a hundred interviews and countless test rides, it became clear that the off-road capability was excellent, but that there were major barriers to it being accepted as-is. We identified 3 key issues that had to be addressed in order for our product to be viable in developed countries like the US:

  1. The developing country LFC does not disassemble or fold for transport. The wheels are not removable. This is not a problem for rural users who do not have access to cars, but presents a challenge for US riders, who would like to put the chair in their car and take it with them. In order to transport the LFC, you need a van or large SUV.
  2. The LFC is built from bicycle parts that are standard in developing countries, but which are not available in the United States. This means the LFC cannot be repaired or maintained in the US, as spare parts are not available.
  3. The LFC is manufactured in India. This is geographically advantageous for bulk shipping around the developing world, but makes it extremely difficult and expensive to import it into the US. For example, shipping 1 LFC from India to Boston costs approximately $1,000. Because the LFC does not fold or flat-pack, shipping a single LFC from Boston to a city in the US, such as Los Angeles, costs approximately $500. So even if we were to ship container-sized quantities from India to Boston, inventory them in Boston, and ship around the US, the shipping cost per chair will still be around $1,000.

We have redesigned the product to address these challenges. The new Freedom Chair, which we are introducing in the United States:

  • easily disassembles so you can transport it in the trunk of a small car
  • uses modern bike parts found in local shops in the US
  • is manufactured in the US, reducing shipping costs and supporting American manufacturing

We understand that price is a major concern for many potential riders in the US, and we have been doing our best to keep costs down. Where possible, we are using off-the-shelf bicycle components and standard parts. This means you can customize your chair to your heart’s content, but more importantly, it keeps the total cost of ownership down because you can repair or replace all the moving components with parts found in your local bike shop. With a launch price of $3,000, the Freedom Chair is extremely competitive against similar off-road products that sell for $7,500.

Over time, as our R&D costs get absorbed and as our production volumes increase, we’ll achieve economies of scale that allow us to further reduce the cost. Producing a batch of 1,000 chairs is considerably less expensive than producing 100 chairs. Our goal is to pass these savings on to you, our customers.

At one point we considered a “buy one, give one” model, where each chair sold in the US would help pay for a chair to be distributed overseas. But after hearing from riders in the US about cost concerns, we decided to eliminate this. We have not added additional cost to the price of the US chair. If you are interested in supporting our work overseas, you may do so separately, but you are not obligated to do so.

We are a lean operation— 3 people working out of a shared office. We’ve put our blood, sweat and tears into creating these products, and we couldn’t be more excited to finally launch in the US. We are actively looking for non-profit partners who can help provide Freedom Chairs for those in financial need, and we’ll keep doing everything we can to make it as affordable as possible.

We’ve gotten to where we are today because of the feedback from hundreds of riders around the world. As always, we’d love to hear from you. If you have comments or suggestions, please reach out to us.