Entrepreneur chat transcript: Fiks:Reflective

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Kim Lyons: Hi there-- we'll get started at 1 pm, but feel free to leave any questions or comments, and I'll get them into the queue.

Kim Lyons: OK, we're about ready to get started. I see Nick has joined the chat, are you ready to roll?

Nick Drombosky: I'm good to go.

Kim Lyons: (sorry that was an unintentionally bad pun)

Kim Lyons: Great! We have quite a few questions lined up already, so I'll dive right in. We're talking today with Nick Drombosky from Fiks: Reflective

Kim Lyons: http: //www.post-gazette.com...

Kim Lyons: One note: That article ran online today, and will run in our print edition tomorrow.

Kim Lyons: OK, our first question is business-related:

V. Bush: I'd like to ask about the reality of New Economy startups - by which I mean, sure the web and KickStarter provide lower barriers to entry, but the development of sales and distro networks, the relationships - to what degree is business for the entrep still the same v.hard, v.loong work it's always been?

Kim Lyons: Great question, V. Bush-- entrepreneurship isn't for the faint of heart, for sure.\

Nick Drombosky: For me, technology has certainly helped, but it really still comes down to hard work and drive

Kim Lyons: ... what I have found in covering entrepreneurs is that they all felt the pull of entrepreneurship even before they start their own company

Kim Lyons: Nick you mentioned when we talked that you had some early "ventures" as a teenager...

Kim Lyons: what was your first "business"

Nick Drombosky: I think what things like Kickstarter have done is allowed the people who have the drive to get an easier jump on it. However look at any crowd funding platform and you'll find countless example of people who just don't have what it takes, or aren't willing to give it their all.

Nick Drombosky: I think my first business outside the typical lemonade and such, was a small record label I started with a friend when I was 14. We released a few really bad EPs and a compilation album.

Kim Lyons: I wanted to post a photo of what the reflective stickers look like at night, because the pic with the article was taken during the day

Kim Lyons: v. cool.

Kim Lyons: OK so, next question relates back to a project you worked on a couple of years ago, Nick, the Ghost Bikes initiative

Nick Drombosky: We have tons of nighttime pics on our instagram too: http: //instagram.com/fiksre...

Kim Lyons: Oh nice, thanks for that link

Kim Lyons: This is the article my colleague wrote about Ghost Bikes in 2010: http: //www.post-gazette.com...

Jun: Did your work and involvement local Ghost Bikes have any influence on the products you developed with Fiks: Reflective?

Nick Drombosky: I actually have ghost bikes on my mind right now. I was just moving a ghost bike for Jame Price I was asked to remove and still haven't found a new place for.

Kim Lyons: where was it? And who asked you to remove it?

Nick Drombosky: I think so. When Rui Hui Lin was killed, it really drove home the point that life is fragile and people on bikes, as well as pedestrians, are particularly vulnerable. 

Kim Lyons: Mr. Price was killed in a hit and run in 2012-- http: //www.post-gazette.com...

Nick Drombosky: It was on the edge of the parking lot to The Factory, a hundred feet down from where Mr Price was killed on Penn. The owner of the property, who gave me permission to lock it up, asked for it to be removed.

Kim Lyons: That's a shame... are most of the Ghost Bikes removed, or have they stayed where they were originally placed?

Nick Drombosky: His feeling was it had been the for a year, and that was enough. Though I certainly appreciate his willingness to be accommodating, I disagree.

Nick Drombosky: Very few stand for very long. Rui Hui Lin's has been around the longest at Meyran and Louisa in Oakland. However, it have been replaced many times due to vandalism

Kim Lyons: Another Q about Ghost Bikes (some of which we've talked about):

vincent: Hi guys great article today. Does any one know if there are any more "ghost bikes" in pitsburgh?

Kim Lyons: Other than the two you mentioned, Nick, where are the others still standing (if any)?

sarah q: one on 51 at Sewickley bridge, very moving every time I ride by.

Nick Drombosky: I'm not positive, but I think Rui Hui Lin's is the only one currently standing. One was locked up for the young woman who was killed at the end of the Sewickley Bridge

Nick Drombosky: Yes, that one. It's for Emily Jancart.

Kim Lyons: Ms. Jancart died in 2013: http: //www.post-gazette.com...

Nick Drombosky: We also locked one up in Indiana Township for Don Parker, which was almost immediately removed. There is also one we locked up in DuBois, for Dr. Albert Varacallo. They put it back up every year.

Kim Lyons: You know all their names, Nick, obviously this is really personal for you.

sarah q: I have a teenager who rides a bike. It is like a punch in the gut every time I see the dates on that bike.

Nick Drombosky: I'm sorry, there is also one in Carrick for John Pearson

Kim Lyons: Mr. Pearson died in 2013: http: //www.post-gazette.com...

Kim Lyons: I have a question from Lindsay about what other cities are doing

Kim Lyons: re: bike safety

Nick Drombosky: I try to remember their names to permanently attach the human side of the events. These people all left behind parents, children, and friends. I've been lucky enough to meet, and stay in touch with, many of the family members.

Kim Lyons: well said.

Kim Lyons: sorry, didn't mean to get ahead of you there : )

Nick Drombosky: I'm a slow typer today--hacked off a little chunk of my thumb the other day.

Kim Lyons: good grief, what did you do to yourself

Kim Lyons: (I hope it was not while riding a bike)

Nick Drombosky: I'm moving Fiks: Reflective production from Point Breeze to E Liberty and I cut myself on a pretty serious industrial paper cutter. It can cut an entire ream in one swipe--or a thumb.

Kim Lyons: ow

Kim Lyons: Are you ready for the next Q?

Nick Drombosky: I'm ready!

Lindsay Patross: Have you seen projects in other cities that have helped to make road friendly to pedestrians and cyclists, any ideas for how to get Pittsburgh thinking beyond cars

Nick Drombosky: This is a big question...

Kim Lyons: That's sort of the million dollar question, right, Lindsay?

Nick Drombosky: I think Pittsburgh is doing some great things. Bike Pittsburgh currently has a campaign to try to humanize people riding bikes via billboards in print, showing that all types of people ride bikes.

Kim Lyons: http: //bikepgh.org/care/

Lindsay Patross: well it is a big question, but I also think there are some smaller things that can be done.

Nick Drombosky: In Detroit, they have an amazing grass-roots effort going on through Detroit Bike City and Slow Roll. It puts emphasis on getting everyone on a bike and breaking down barrier that keep people from riding. It's pretty amazing. They have a weekly ride every Monday that pulled 1000+ people a week.

Kim Lyons: how big a factor is Pittsburgh's topography in keeping people from riding bikes, do you think?

Kim Lyons: Detroit Slow Roll: http: //www.slowrolldetroit....

Lindsay Patross: When I did the Zipcar low car challenge a few years ago - I walked everywhere. One of the things that I'm struck by is how our new developments are built for cars first and people 2nd

Nick Drombosky: I think it's a big part for people who have never tried it, but once you get on a bike, it isn't much of an issue. I think it's largely just used as an excuse. People are afraid of failing, so we often make up reasons to avoid trying, that way we never fail.

Kim Lyons: This is perhaps our most philosophical entrepreneur chat to date, lvoe it.

Kim Lyons: *love

Nick Drombosky: We definitively have some infrastructure issues in Pittsburgh, but these are issues that most US cities have.

Lindsay Patross: There has been a ton of development on Penn ave in East Liberty and Larimer - but it isn't really friendly to walkers and Penn has become way less friendly to cyclist. Why can't we think about how to make Penn safer for those not in cars

Kim Lyons: do pedestrian-friendly and bike-friendly development go hand-in-hand, do you think, Lindsay? I tend to think so

Nick Drombosky: A lot of the issue with Penn Ave has to do with it being a state road. The city can't do anything, they have to wait for PennDot.

Kim Lyons: Ah, good point, Nick

Nick Drombosky: I think designing for peds and bikes goes hand in hand. It's really designing for people. It's insane the amount of space we dedicate for parking, or the fact that 50-60mph speeds are tolerated on a road like Penn Ave.

Nick Drombosky: All of the driving of the past half-century or so has put us in a mindset that an individual in a car is the most important.

Kim Lyons: Sherry from NYC has a question I don't know the answer to, so I will throw it out to the chat...

Kim Lyons: (even while the cost of gasoline and the price of cars continues to climb)

Kim Lyons: OK, Sherry's Q:

Sherry from NYC: Hello I was wondering if any of the Bike Pittsburgh people could tell me whether we will ever have Citi bikes here. I used them all the time in NYC and they were great

Nick Drombosky: We won't have Citi Bikes, but there is a bike share program in the works: http: //www.pghbikeshare.org/

Kim Lyons: I love bike share! I used them in D.C. on a recent trip.

Nick Drombosky: It won't be as big as Citi in New York of Divvy in Chicago, but then again we are much smaller than those cities.

Lindsay Patross: Nick - well said"designing for people" - I have yet to see a parking garage that is designed for people.

Kim Lyons: Turning back to another businessy question for you Nick, when you are ready

Nick Drombosky: Parking garages are really just bandages for a much large problem.

Nick Drombosky: I'm ready. Keep me on track or I'll diverge for hours.

Kim Lyons: Diverging and tangents are encouraged here : )

Manuel Z.: From the marketing standpoint, how difficult are you finding it to differentiate Fiks: Reflective from other cycling products on the market and where do you see the company in the next 10 years?

Nick Drombosky: It's pretty hard. For the most part, our products don't really have direct competition. The largest challenge is education--explaining to shops and consumers that we don't make reflective vest is much harder than yo would think.

Kim Lyons: Yes... you mentioned you wanted to avoid the dork factor in your design

Nick Drombosky: For decades reflective design hasn't changed. It's dry and no one wants to use the bulk of the products available. So I have educate shops that we are different and convince them that people do want we offer.

Kim Lyons: is that usually a tough sell, given that most of the safety products aren't all that sexy?

Nick Drombosky: For example, we have a sticker packed called Hexalate. It's made from our same super-reflective, super-durable material, but it's a set of 52 tessellating polygon stickers. Several shop owners told me, "no one wants to put stickers on their bike". One month later, we shipped over 1,500 units.

Nick Drombosky: To consumers, it's an easy sell. To shop owners and store buyers, it's rough. They are just so used to seeing junk that it takes them a while to open up to something new.

Kim Lyons: it's all about the disruption...

Nick Drombosky: Hexalate: http: //www.ridewithfiks.com...

Kim Lyons: Ready for another Q?

Kim Lyons: (and a compliment):

sarah q: the bikes you did for RAAM look so nice.

Nick Drombosky: It is. I know I'm not selling ultra cool tech like a lot of the start-ups in Pittsburgh, but we still have some significant innovations int he industry under our belts.

V. Bush: another question, not business-specific but reflective: now that I've gotten used to seeing reflective/ hi-viz cyclists, I see pedestrians in "Normal" clothing in the dark, and I'm all what-what-what are they doing? Any plans to extend into Walker-clothes?

Nick Drombosky: The Team Phenomenal Hope RAAM bikes: http: //www.ridewithfiks.com...

Nick Drombosky: The goal with our clothing line was to stretch more out of cycling. The issue is the company is so small it's hard to diversify without losing focus. The current plan in to keep rapidly growing in the cycling industry so we can launch into other markets with much more momentum and brand recognition.

Kim Lyons: Fiks: Reflective clothing: http: //www.ridewithfiks.com...

Kim Lyons: On that note of business principles, another Q when you're ready

Nick Drombosky: We have an entire new line of clothing coming soon. It was going to launch this week, but the unexpected move has set it back.

Nick Drombosky: Shoot.

V. Bush: Many of the entrep's I know are serial people - they run project after project - which leads me to ask, what's cooking for what's next?

Nick Drombosky: Haha, good question. I'm actually working on two new projects. The most exciting for most people is Banker Supply. It's going to be a cycling lifestyle store opening in East Liberty this summer.

Nick Drombosky: The other project should be launching within a few weeks, but I'm going to keep that a surprise.

Kim Lyons: I expect an exclusive ;)

Nick Drombosky: I think we can manage that. ;)

Kim Lyons: Haha excellent.

Kim Lyons: OK, another product-related question up next

John M.: The stickers are really cool but are they okay for kid's bikes? Thanks for the chat and talking about bike safety

Nick Drombosky: Yep.

Nick Drombosky: They are great for kids bikes. I've found our stickers are a great way to open up a conversation with kids about road safety and road use.

Kim Lyons: kids + stickers are usually a hit, reflective or otherwise

Nick Drombosky: Last summer I was invited to talk to kids in the MGR Foundation's program Positive Spin. It was awesome to be able to talk to kids to see just how much they understand about nighttime visibility. Though I'm sure their instructs had a big part to play in that.

Kim Lyons: OK I think we'll have time for one more question, which happens to be a nice one to wrap our discussion

Kim Lyons: MGR Foundation: http: //www.mgrf.org/

Kim Lyons: ready for the last Q?

Nick Drombosky: Yep

Lindsay Patross: Nick - what can Pittsburgh do to help more entrepreneurs build and grow businesses here?

Nick Drombosky: Oh jeez. Huge question.

Kim Lyons: Lindsay with the big picture Q's today

Kim Lyons: : )

Nick Drombosky: I think there are a few things.

Nick Drombosky: I think one of the first things is to stop focusing on lean tech so much. We are building a culture that is telling people to work on becoming the next Google acquisition, the next Facebook or Instagram. While that is great the chances and extremely low, and you are seeing a lot of talent focusing on a big pay day rather than making change. I like to say that business owners work to make money, entrepreneurs work to make change ;)

Kim Lyons: I like that distinction

Kim Lyons: nicely put

Nick Drombosky: I think another big thing we can do in this city is thing about minority issues. Pittsburgh is a rapidly growing place and a lot of national media is focusing on it, but from the outside people would think this city is 99% white. It's rare for us to talk about someone of color who isn't an athlete.

Nick Drombosky: Damon Young wrote about this a few months ago.

Kim Lyons: Fair point-- we in the news media could do a better job at this, I think.

Kim Lyons: Before we wrap up, big thanks to my colleague Moriah Balingit who suggested I contact Nick for a story. Really glad I did

Nick Drombosky: I think we need to teach all kids that they can do whatever they want as long as they are willing to put in the work. However we have to remember that a kid in Homewood might not have the same resources or starting point as a kid in Sq Hill

Nick Drombosky: I love Moriah!

Kim Lyons: agree : )

Kim Lyons: Nick, thank you so much for your insights and your thoughtful comments today

Nick Drombosky: Thanks for having me! It was fun!

Kim Lyons: Keep me posted about your next venture, I am sure it is destined for success

Nick Drombosky: I can't promise success, but I'm sure it will be fun.

Kim Lyons: Thanks to everyone who joined us today... we'll post the transcript of this chat soon.

Kim Lyons: Fair enough!

Kim Lyons: Thanks so much.

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