By Eric Bacyinski, M Engage Director, and Kate Toporski, CFE Content Development Intern
Running a startup takes serious balance. But Chris Kiesling knows a thing or two about that: he completed his Ross
School of Business Executive MBA in 2010, all while pursuing multiple entrepreneurial endeavors. Featured in Crain’s and Bicycler Retail, as well as being a featured stop on the 2016 DTrek, his latest endeavour, Detroit Bikes, has become a booming success within the Detroit community and beyond. With DTrek 2016 just around the corner, the Center for Entrepreneurship had a chance to catch up with this Michigan Alumni and COO of Detroit Bikes.
Why go the entrepreneurial route?
The potential for growth and fast pace of an entrepreneurial venture is too exciting to pass up. Being able to have autonomy to help steer the ship is a lot of fun. I left a secure position to come to Detroit Bikes because it keeps you honest; you have to make smart decisions all the time because everything matters!
What about being at Detroit Bikes motivates you day to day?
Seeing the changes we can make on a day-to-day basis and being forced to be innovative to grow. I love being able to move things forward constantly. It’s exciting and keeps me hungry for innovation, success, and customer satisfaction.
What’s your typical day look like?
I usually arrive to work around 7, but we’ve been working with customers in China lately, so a lot of times I’m starting at around 5 or 6am from home. When I get into work, I make sure to say hi to the entire crew and check-in on what’s going on. Then, I set my priorities for the day on what, when, and where to get things done. I try to interact with everyone on the floor to get a sense of what their biggest challenges are so we can learn where we can increase efficiency. Then by mid-day, I’m usually doing something hands-on, such as cutting or welding parts for our bikes; this is a great opportunity for me to break from the norm and refresh my energy. I’m a really hands-on person, so that’s part of what drives me to be part of something more intimate to the creation process and have a chance to learn as much as I can about the entire company.
What’s the next big thing coming down the pike for Detroit Bikes? What is Detroit Bikes to connect with the community around the factory?
We’ll be launching our third bike this year, after just finishing a successful kickstarter. We’ve developed a 8-speed bike that will come later this year, as a response to our european customers wanting more of those for their clients. We’re having meetings now to figure out what the next 3 or 4 prototypes will be, those will debut in 2017, and then we’ll be ramping up for the trade show in Las Vegas in September.
What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?
Patience is the most difficult thing. It’s tough to sit back and wait for things outside of your control to develop.
Being ready to work with others and wait for it to become a priority to them is a difficult thing to do. It’s a tough contrast to be in as go-getter at a startup, but you have to wait on developments to happen.
What do you know now that you wish you would have
known when you were a Michigan student?
I wish I would’ve understood strategy and product positioning and their value. The more you can work on strategic vision and think long-term, the better off you’ll be. Having the patience I’ve acquired would’ve been a good skill too.
Do you have any advice for entrepreneurial students?
Think extensively about leadership. There are plenty of people who have the poise and desire to grow and be successful, but lack the focus on what it means to be a leader. Realizing that no matter what you accomplish, you can’t do it without a team is key. As well as treating your team with the utmost respect and importance. Time and success will give you the credit, but if you don’t share it with those on your team, you won’t know how to appreciate it.
Who are startup companies or entrepreneurs who you’re watching outside of Detroit Bikes that grab your attention?
The way that TechShop is taking off is pretty impressive to me. I use their facilities frequently, and I think what they’re doing is a pretty amazing concept. The connections you make in that community are really unbelievable, and it allows you to be a seed for more entrepreneurial activities.
Why stay connected to the University?
The opportunities as an alumni are worth every part of staying connected to the Michigan community. The university and its resources are incredible, and no matter what job I’ve worked, I’ve looked to U-M for recruiting, networking, and connections to help me succeed. Being a member of the community provides an amazing network for all of my professional needs.
If you’re interested in learning more about Detroit Bikes or connecting with Chris, be sure to check out their site – here! Or meet Chris in the flesh at the 2016 DTrek reception, happening on Thursday, May 5th! RSVP here for more details and the awesome opportunity to connect with Michigan Alumni and giants in Detroit’s entrepreneurial
For more information on CFE’s future entrepreneurial treks, head to their website and get ready for GREAT 2016!