As the first post on the new blog I am going to put down a number of things just for the record that may or may not have been appropriate to put on the Count Motorcycles website.
Let’s me just start with this – I am not fond of anything that has been done to promote motorcycle awareness anywhere in the world. Motorcycle safety, that’s done quite well. Motorcycle Awareness, not so much. I will come back to this though, and tell you why in other posts, but this one is to answer the questions I am asked most frequently asked but never get a chance to answer completely. The answer is lengthy, a bit complicated, but hopefully, to you, not boring. However everything here is the answers to the questions, if you care to know.
“What is the Count Motorcycles® game? How did you come up with it?” and so on. The answer is who I am, not how, as far as I am concerned. The answer is a story that unfolds over nearly a dozen years. A story of how I felt I suddenly discovered I could make a difference and passionately followed my dream. Here then is the answer I have always wanted to give, but could never say in the 30 seconds I have at one of the many booths I have set up to promote the concept.
The concept and the company are one in the same. Count Motorcycles LLC is a made in America, veteran-owned, personally-financed venture and its mission – my mission – is to make the roads safer for all motorcyclists. You might have seen some of those words together before and thought it was all a sales pitch, or a ploy to pull you in to a website or retailer that is offering something similar to a number of other businesses. You might also think that counting games you do in a car are nothing new and therefore the Count Motorcycles® game is something similar to all sorts of motorcycle safety games. There are a few that have said things to me like “if it’s about safety, why isn’t it free?”, or why are you trying to trademark/copyright safety?” Here’s the answer.
1999 was when I came up with the Count Motorcycles® slogan. I was riding my ’96 XV1100 Virago (the same one I use to pull the Count Motorcycles® trailer) on the Sawmill Parkway heading to I-95 in the Bronx. I can barely remember but when I force myself it was because I was so put off by the “Watch for Motorcycles” bumper sticker I saw on a car in front of me. I saw it, from my motorcycle, and thought that reading the words makes an impression for about 1.5 seconds while I am on this road, going to work, trying not to get killed in rush hour traffic. I thought it strange that reading it annoyed me so much at such a time, because as a rider, I have to love it. I remember saying to myself “you have worked on some of the best Public Service Announcements (PSAs) that have been produced in recent years. You have been witness to the process, the research and the men and women that came up with ‘this is your brain, this drugs, this is your brain on drugs’. You were there when they came up with ‘Take the Keys, Call a Cab, Take a Stand – Friends don’t let friends Drive Drunk’ and you were part of the team that had to scour hundreds a tragic stories and home movies submitted by Moms Against Drunk Drivers for the follow up campaign that the Ad Council has listed in their publication ‘Public Service Advertising That Changed a Nation’. You have the experience, stop complaining and find the solution!” I was not the person that came up with any of those ideas, but I sure was around them as they built the campaigns and I always asked how they come up with them and the reasoning behind them.
I figured out what was wrong with the bumper sticker. Maybe it was because I was in the Bronx, it was simple. Why doesn’t “Watch for Motorcycles” work? Because “SCREW YOU! Watch where I’m going!” That’s why it doesn’t work. That’s what I said to myself (and what all Driver’s say to themselves) when I saw that bumper sticker in New York City traffic. These day’s I can go on and on about it, but this was what happened that day. I didn’t dwell on it and very literally said to myself “think of something better.” I commanded myself. In about fifteen minutes I came up with the Count Motorcycles® slogan. I used the “SCREW YOU” meter against it. If you read the Count Motorcycles® slogan on a bumper sticker you might think “Why would I do that? Well there’s one, there’s another one,” That was how I thought a person would read it. I spent nine months convincing myself that it couldn’t be good because it only took 15 minutes. After nine months of trying to come up with something better, only Count Motorcycles® continued to make any sense. It didn’t sound forced or contrived. It made sense. It was good. It was better. I started thinking I could save lives.
Isn’t it interesting that there is no nationwide motorcycle awareness campaign? There are national anti-drug and drunk driving campaigns, but motorcycle safety and awareness is all on the states. I crafted a pitch, on the advice of the AMA, and went to the Motorcycle Association of New York State (MANYS), a contractor with the NYS DMV. They loved it so much they trademarked it and promised to try to get more money from that state to implement the growing list of ideas that I was coming up with in support of the Count Motorcycles® slogan. They couldn’t get the money for the year 2000 and they failed again in 2001. I wasn’t even consulted before they trademarked it, but that part of it, I figured, they knew better than me. The goal was to save lives.I have never thought the slogan would make me rich. That has never been the goal.
By the middle of 2001 I had all but written it off for 2002, but I held on to some hope. I was an NYPD Auxiliary Police Officer, an unpaid, unarmed volunteer, when 9/11 happened. I like to help people and as a volunteer that I got more than I ever imagined. I forgot about the Count Motorcycles® slogan. I re-enlisted in the Army Reserve in 2002. I thought MANYS and the Count Motorcycles® slogan were in good enough company that I could move on. I choose this time to be an Army mechanic which led me to be assigned to a fuel transportation unit. Half of my deployment to Iraq was in a HEMMT wrecker following behind the trucks and fuel tankers we maintained in the motor pool on convoys. I never thought about MANYS or the Count Motorcycles® slogan, that is, until one day on convoy.
We had been delayed and set out in the daytime instead of the usual nighttime. At night we were alone, protected by curfew and enforced by night vision. In the daytime we were sharing the road with the Iraqi civilian population. Vehicle Bourne Improvised Explosive devices, or VBIED’s were an added threat, especially when there was no way to stay away from the local population. I was looking for roadside bombs and suspicious cars in a combat zone, and some guy and his friend rode past our traffic jam on a motorcycle. The passenger waved.
I had never seen one in Iraq before. Of course they were there, all motorcycles are economical and the rest of the world uses them to save money on gas, expense and get through traffic easier. But I had never thought anyone would ride one in an area where people placed bombs of various sizes all over the road. How could I, an avid Rider, not have noticed before? I was looking for threats. I had assumptions about what other people would do in their situation. I realized I was wrong. I started asking myself “how many have you missed?” I forced myself, as penance, to look for those motorcyclists. I was looking for bombs, but I didn’t want to accidentally drive a HEMMT wrecker over a fellow Rider, no matter who they were. I really got on myself, “how many are out there, fool?! See how many there are? Keep your damn eyes open!” We parked the vehicle and as I was heading back to my CHU. I had chosen to think about motorcycles on that lonely mile-long walk across the FOB. It was my topic of choice to keep from thinking of home or the recent death of one of our soldiers. Something I just did to keep my head from going dark. I went over why I was yelling at myself, my inner Staff Sergeant’s admonishments to my outer Staff Sergeant. “How many did you see today Sergeant?! How many did you see yesterday?”
That’s when it hit me. It wasn’t exactly a linear thought process. It had been seven years since I had first thought of the Count Motorcycles® slogan, now I started thinking about Count Motorcycles® the game. I had started keeping score – that changed everything.
I returned home a year later and was excited about bringing this new idea to MANYS, if they hadn’t already done it. To my surprise, they had gone out of business. There was no record that they had done anything with the Count Motorcycles® slogan. I checked into the trademark and they had renewed the mark, after eight years, like they were supposed to, and promptly went out of business. So there I was, the only person in the WORLD that knew the Count Motorcycles® slogan and now the Count Motorcycles® game exists and is worth bringing to the world to save lives. Was I the only one that could see that the other awareness campaigns are flawed and this this is a very real and lucid concept that could actually make people look for motorcycles? The only one in the world that has so much passion to bring the idea to light that he can’t sleep at night. I believed I was. Never again would I just give my idea to someone in the hopes that they could see what I see. If they don’t have a fever for it they aren’t right for it. Do you think this is narcissistic? If you do you do not believe in the power of one. It exists. It’s true. How do I know? One person in the whole world came up with “this is drugs, this is your brain on drugs, any questions?” Everyone in the world comes up with “drugs are bad.” When you work in advertising, you know. It takes one person, it takes the idea and then it takes the passion to weather the fight to make sure those that don’t “see” don’t kill it out of ignorance. That is what had happened to Count Motorcycles® the slogan. There was no passion, no vision and the world was left without a great awareness campaign because they already had their campaigns. This one was too new, even after eight years.
I couldn’t let it go, but the old avenue of approaching a state agency was out of the question now. What was I going to do? Say “I have this great idea for a motorcycle awareness campaign but all you have to do is sue to get the trademark released?” If it was going to be, the Trademark had to be released. I sued. It wasn’t a real lawsuit in that everyone that was aware of MANYS and their disappearing act (their lawyers and some people in Albany) were prepared to not respond to inquiries by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and let me win by default. But that cost me $5000 and nearly a year of time. In the meantime I kept working on convincing arguments for the concept. I wrote, I re-wrote, I had people read what I wrote and changed it to make it more palatable. The ideas became more and more clear and ways to make the pitch started becoming apparent. How could I convince people of the value of the game? I equated it with Punch Buggy. That actually took some time to figure out. Remember, I came up with the idea while keeping score as a self-inflicted punishment and time killer in a combat zone. The ideas have to click to come to certain conclusions and make convincing arguments.
It wasn’t that I thought I could convert Punch Buggy to a motorcycle game, it was that Punch Buggy was a well-known frame of reference. I used the reference to convince people, it wasn’t the inspiration. From there the idea got even bigger. This, friends, is the power of having the passion. When you can’t stop thinking about something, you have breakthrough after breakthrough.
Having Punch Buggy as a reference point for a pitch was both good and bad – It has helped me win people over, but it also opened my wallet. That and knowledge of how state agencies get funded. This was the point where I started thinking that I not only had own the trademark, but I had to show people in great numbers what could be done with the idea. I was aware through research that state contracts for motorcycle awareness had one-year terms. The idea of one state running the idea for one year, then multiplying that for fifty states, did not appeal to me at all. That would almost be worse than allowing one state’s contractor to trademark the slogan and have it languish for nearly a decade. It needs to be persistent and it needs to be national. That’s when my retirement savings disappeared. That’s when I started working harder for Rider safety than I ever thought I would in my lifetime. That’s when I started telling myself I couldn’t live if I screwed this up. It had to be done right or it would fail from either lack of passion or watered down by the endless year by year pitches to various state agencies.
With the work done and a booth at the 2013 New York International Motorcycle show, I was ready to present to the world. My first press release used the punch buggy reference and people picked up on it. By displaying the countmotorcycles.com website at the show people got to see what I was doing. I was told there that “this is the best idea for motorcycle awareness yet conceived.” I had bumper stickers and magnets for sale to help offset the costs and a spokesmodel to draw people’s attention. There were people that thought it was interesting. There were people that had their own ideas (one guy told me my time and money would be better spent making a full motion 3-D motorcycle simulator that would “show people what it’s like when a car swerved in front of them”). Some loved the idea and liked me on Facebook. Some people stated with full authority that “any website that had pictures of people riding motorcycles with anything less than full gear is working against motorcycle safety and awareness,” therefore they hated the idea. But American Motorcyclist magazine picked up on it and mentioned the game in two issues. I made contact with a man from Allstate Motorcycle Insurance and thought I should talk to them. Later that year the game won a $6,000 grant in the form of an Allstate Motorcycle Good Rides grant.
It’s now been over year since the show. The website has been developed to answer the angriest driver’s questions about riders and the rules have been laid out. The game packs have been done and re-done and we are looking for partners to help defray the costs. I am not doing this alone anymore, but there is no more than three people involved. We have sponsored bike nights, we have put up banners at race tracks, we have sponsored the New Jersey Mini GP. None of this has put us in the black and every great idea that involves change is more money out of my pocket. It’s okay, I still believe. But let’s answer some of the original questions.
It’s not for free because I have no funding – yet. The word is getting out and I am far enough along that I can point at what is done and say “would you like to fund this?” For now, I like to tell people “we crowd source the old fashioned way, we sell things.” That is, bumper stickers, bumper magnets game packs and t-shirts. We will do crowd sourcing, but we need a bigger crowd before launching. Look for us on Kickstarter soon. Are there better ways to do it? Yes, and we are working on them. The details are so boring that you would have to be as passionate about this as I am to actually sit and read them through.
Why is Count Motorcycles LLC a for-profit company? Because in order to be a non-profit, I need a board of directors. I haven’t found anyone with my drive, passion or vision to do this yet, but it is very likely to happen – just not yet. Why the trademark? I would hope that if you read this far you already know. Most importantly, I do not trust that those that are used to doing motorcycle awareness the old way can take the helm yet. Old habits die hard. That said, if you think you love this idea and game, contact me. We need a board of directors.
And lastly, the game. There are no other motorcycle awareness games. This is the one – the prototype. A google search will yield that one person in 2005 made a connection to punch buggy, but that went nowhere. You have read how I got there. Driving games are not new, my driving game to promote safety and awareness is. Riders know. Riders are always trying to get people to look out for them. Last week a Rider saw me with my countmotorcycles.com trailer and said “I belong to all kinds of motorcycle safety and advocacy groups and I have never heard of this.” That is because it is new and I am spreading the word – Passionately. We are working on way to license the game so that you can help too.