Jimmy Phillips hails from Adelaide, South Australia (home of the Tour Down Under) having moved to Brooklyn, New York in 2012. After working jobs in the bike industry, most notably as a former manager at Rapha New York, he made the jump to pursue his dream. He quit his job and developed The Domestique in his Brooklyn apartment in May of 2014. Since the launch in August of last year, Jimmy has logged over 300 hours, riding with celebrities and clients from around the world, and in doing so has established himself as the go to cycling guide in New York City.
How long have you lived in New York?
Just over two years. I moved here in December 2012.
And what brought you to the city?
A girl. (laughing).
And were you into cycling before you moved here?
Ya pretty much as an enthusiast, for fitness. I hate to admit it but I am a triathlete deep down, once you peel back the layers. I have been pretty involved with Ironman for the last six years. I have raced the New York Triathlon a few times, and I’m racing Mont Tremblant on August 16 (2015). Hopefully that allows me to qualify for Kona in October (2015).
So you are still very competitive outside of your work?
I try to be. I think it keeps a healthy mind. I am always pushing myself, always trying to be competitive and strong. I love to go out and ride with the guys and have a real crack at it, but I always raced tri’s, never road. I can’t risk the injuries riders sustain in road racing.
Did your parents get you into cycling, or did you find it on your own?
My dad rides bikes. He’d always have a Colnago or a Merlin hanging in the shed, which I would try to ride at an early age much to his disgust. He’d have the latest Campy (Campagnolo) stuff on there. He’d say “yeah well, you can go around the block, but that’s as far as I want you to go”, and I’d go ride for 3 or 4 hours. I got a good taste of how fast you could go on a road bike as opposed to a mountain bike, and how free it made me feel. I was hooked.
Were you into other sports growing up?
That was my problem. I couldn’t stick with one sport. I always tried to do everything, because I was getting bored quickly. Cycling was always there, and I had bikes to kick around with, whether it was getting from A to B, or riding with mates. I guess that transitioned from just kicking around into a feeling of, “wow, I’m really starting to like this sport”. I could probably never have named one professional cyclist back in that era. And I’ll happily put my hand up and say that. I wasn’t that kind of cycling enthusiast. That came later. I knew who the greats were, but I wasn’t a die-hard fan. I loved it purely for the sport that it was.
What did you do in Adelaide before moving to the United States?
There was always a family business. I worked with my dad when I was young, and then opened and ran my car wash/café for 8 years. A year after the car wash closed I moved to Sydney for a year. After that I came back to another family business in mining and machinery. Looking back though, I always had one foot out the door. I was threatened with multiple firings from my dad if I didn’t do more work, and less riding.
So the family business pushed you to find your passion?
Absolutely. I learnt a lot working with my dad, and owning my own companies, but they weren’t my passion. Moving to New York was the best thing for me, because it gave me the chance to find exactly what I liked doing. I was able to spread my wings, as cliché as that is.
Tell us about the Domestique, and why you started it.
When I started my car-washing business in Australia, it was a very personal business. I liked being with people and getting to know them. I really enjoy building a brand from the ground up, and putting my name to something is very important to me. I’ve worked some great jobs for some great bands, but ultimately I wanted to be back working for myself. I was working in New York, and wasn‘t really making much money. Certain circumstances changed in my private life, where I was almost at the stage of moving back to Australia. But luckily I committed, and The Domestique was born.
Did you pitch the idea to any friends or investors?
I never approached investors, but I was lucky enough to meet the Northeast manager for BMC, Liam O’Brian. I pitched the idea to him over lunch, and he was, and has been, very supportive. A close friend, Mark Power, has been a big part of my life since moving to New York; a big mentor. He has been by my side from the start. And James Lalonde (Cannondale) really pushed me to go for it. He’s heavily involved in the cycling industry, and knows New York well. When I gave him the idea, his ears perked up, and he said nobody‘s doing anything like this in New York. So I jumped in the deep end, and within 4 weeks I had a name, a logo, and everything began to accelerate. With no real advertising, and a bit of word-of-mouth back in Australia, inside two months I had 20 clients. That opened my eyes to the potential of where this could go, and I guess I just ran out of weather at the end of the summer.
This was in August of 2014?
It started really in September, and by the end of the month things were getting pretty gnarly outside, weather wise. There was nothing much I could do in New York, and I had always planned to spend time back in Australia doing a massive media campaign. New York has so many Australian visitors a year, so it made sense.
Tell us how The Domestique works.
The first point of contact is usually an e-mail or a phone call. Clients will explain when they will be in New York, and what sort of riding they want to do. I have 6 template rides on my website that can be booked online. Generally people want to do between 2 and 3 hours, either because of work, or they have to get back to their families. I have a form for people to tell me what size bike they need, their measurements, what sort of pedals they use, and what flavor of Skratch Labs nutrition they prefer. I ask if they like hills, if they prefer flats, or if they want easy rides with a lot of photo opportunities. I plan the day to fit in some city riding, riding over the bridges, and rural roads outside Manhattan, so really people are getting three or four different cycling experiences when they go out.
You offer a concierge service as well?
I do. The service allows clients to get dressed, walk down to the lobby and see me waiting with a bike and all the necessary kit. All they have to worry about is the ride. Afterwards I ride with them back to their hotel, drop them off, and head to Tribeca with the bikes. For time crunched clients, it eliminates all the stress associated with renting a bike in Manhattan.
Do you have another location clients can meet you if they opt out of the concierge service?
I have a gym in Tribeca called ARC athletics. I was lucky enough to meet the owner, and he generously offered me his space. The nice part is that it’s a private personal training gym, which provides a very exclusive feel. They have lockers and showers, which my clients have full access to. It’s very convenient for riders, but logistically, for me, the gym is worth it’s weight in gold.
Do you only offer road rides, or mountain bike rides as well?
In New York I only offer road riding. In moving out to California I plan on having both road and mountain rides available. I have been getting a lot of enquiries about purely city riding, and am looking to expand my New York rides to a more commuter based audience. These rides will be geared towards those who are seeking city rides up and down the paths, or to specific destinations in the five boroughs.
In February 2015 you did a trip to California with some friends?
I did, on my way back from Australia. The whole idea behind California was to work out where I could launch The Domestique through the winter months in New York. So when I arrived back in Los Angeles I spent some time in the outskirts of the city riding the canyons and the Pacific Coast Highway. There is so much rideable terrain out there. I also spent some time in Palm Springs, which is only 2.5 hours by car from LA. It blew my mind. I got to see Joshua Tree National Park, which I had only seen in movies. I plan on offering weekend getaways in Palm Spring as well. After that I headed up north towards Big Sur, checking out the local riding and climbs, then to San Francisco to ride the Three Sisters and Mount Tam.
So you have plans to move The Domestique out west?
Absolutely. I am planning to go out this October, and stay until the end of April, 2016 with plans to come back to NY and be operational on both coasts, simultaneously. I’ll base myself in NY, and make frequent trips out to California to manage local operations. I think NY is my main piece of the pie, and it’s where it all started. It’s a big hub for cycling and traveling cyclists, so I want to be here to make sure it runs like clockwork.
What’s next for The Domestique going forward?
From here on in I am pretty much in full planning mode for California. I am about to launch on the website all the different rides I will have available in California. I’m driving out west making several stops along the way to see sponsors and check out riding in Colorado, as well as a few other states. But really it’s marketing myself everyday, and growing my brand as best I can. I have clients booked until I head to Quebec for Mont Tremblant. Like I said before, I’m always moving, and always pushing myself to the next level. I’m excited to finish out the year on a high-note.
This interview was conducted in summer 2015, and was subsequently adapted and published by BMC Tempo.