“Bzeeep! Off Course. Recalculating.”
There I was, cruising along in the paradise we call Western North Carolina, surrounded by steep, forested mountains (including the tallest peak in the Eastern U.S.) and kind people, riding my bike pretty much every day I wanted to… and working at the fire department once or twice a month (making a difference, let alone saving lives, is a unique form of addiction, trust me).
I was working with clients around the U.S. and the world, mostly by telephone, providing executive coaching on their various challenges growing their businesses. Cooking with (and eating) the abundance of local organic food, while quaffing awesome craft brews in one of the centers of the beer universe: Asheville, NC.
Plus, a loyal dog and an amazing wife. Who, among other wonderful things, plans beautiful trips for us to take, as well as helping clients from around the world enjoy the unique experience of riding their bike 470 miles from end-to-end on the stunning Blue Ridge Parkway. And I get to help her do this. Over and over, meeting the interesting and curious people that are her clients – many of whom have become good friends.
It was all very good and sweet. Until one of my executive coaching clients started to really grow, and take off. I’ve been on the board of directors of Kitsbow since the beginning, since before it even had a proper name. I was fascinated with the momentum developing in its 6th year of existence, and looked closer.
Years in the making, a hardy team based in “NorCal” (Northern California, above San Francisco) has steadily made progress creating a new brand of cycling clothing. Very specific, very picky, very unusual clothing. Where “performance” didn’t mean minimizing grams of weight in order to win a race, but creating a pair of shorts or a shirt that would last for five years (or more). Of daily riding. In brush and dust. And keep “performing”. And that the same clothing would “look good.” Always a subjective assessment, but worth pursuing nevertheless. The brand has become well-known throughout the bicycle industry.
As the new year broke in 2018, I broke one of my rules (never actually do anything; limit my involvement to providing advice and counsel). Excited about their progress, I began to work one day a week at Kitsbow helping the founder and CEO change the way the products were merchandised. And I helped recruit two new board members. And helped change the priorities of the company, and challenged many of the long-standing assumptions. I nudged, and prodded, and sometimes pushed (pretty hard). And the team responded. Revenue responded. In fact, it doubled.
I have to confess that I rediscovered the thrill of moving the needle. The pure meritocracy of making a monthly revenue target – either you do, or you don’t.
I could have called this story “Coach, put me in” – except I was the coach. And now I was on the field. Frankly, I was having a ball. Not that it was easy, but an old dog was learning new tricks. Making a transition from technology product management, to retail merchandising. And as anyone who knows me, I’m not exactly a clothes horse. Yet, it was fascinating. It tapped one of my handrails: stay curious.
By June 2018, Jen and I had agreed that we would spend two months in California, in Petaluma, so I could put hands on, so to speak, at Kitsbow. We hired more people on the team, revenue kept moving up and to the right, we planned the 2018 product line, and we raised more money from investors.
But the investment came with a catch – they would like me to be the full-time CEO. Recalculating.
After 10 years in North Carolina, where I moved to be with Jen; where I had literally not known a single other person, we had built a community of amazing friends. Jen serves on one of the town committees. We created a local business together. I spent years as the oldest active firefighter in my fire department. We had attended weddings, funerals, and held new babies. We had just begun to build on our property, heck we bought the lot next door in late Spring. Recalculating.
So we placed our home in a short term rental program in Black Mountain, which allows us to come back at any time for a few days or a month. We made plans to come back numerous times in the next year, including most of October, to run the Bookwalter Binge Gran Fondo event that we love. We made our lives more portable and drove pretty much the entire length of Interstate 40 in December, 2018 to a rental home in Petaluma. Recalculating.
This was the announcement in the press: Kitsbow Appoints David Billstrom as CEO.
And Kitsbow? 2018 was the best year to-date. A team of dedicated leaders are now driving a business that continues to grow, that now makes 50% of its apparel styles in the U.S. rather than overseas, that is re-introducing a line of products for women, and that has expanded into gravel-specific pieces.
Kitsbow also sponsored a short-film series about riding your bike on adventures near your home, which you just have to see (there are 5 amazing films). And this team is just getting started.
Me? I’m enjoying putting my shoulder to the revenue wheel again, just as I did in my first business, decades ago. Jen and I are slowly starting to build community again, while we explore the stunning bike routes of Sonoma and Marin counties.
Please let us know if you’ll be in Petaluma, and we’ll ride. And if you want to try some Kitsbow, hit me up. We’ll make it happen.