Suddenly, the team didn’t have Labesque to fall back on and make tough decisions nobody else wanted to make. “We’d become spoiled,” Kreysler says. While it was a tough shift, Kreysler says that it ultimately benefitted the company as it pushed all team members to be decision-makers, rather than deferring to a single senior leader. When Labesque left, Kreysler says, “It broadened the decision-making base and forced more dialogue and consensus among the team.”
Explore the Market for Opportunity
Schofield also encourages startup companies to gather marketplace feedback as soon as possible. “Engage the market as quickly as possible to test out your value proposition and modify accordingly,” he advises. “You might think that one market segment is really where it’s at for you, but when you test that you find it’s not so attractive. You need that real-life feedback.”
It’s a challenge, but also a freeing opportunity for composite startups to evolve their products and companies into new directions. Reeve explains that only some of Composite Advantage’s first products are part of today’s offerings. “There were a number of markets and products that never materialized,” he says.
For example, the company made prototype manhole covers for a few utility customers, but they soon found that other manufacturers had processes in place that could achieve similar products at a lower cost. The company leadership learned the hard way that they could make lots of products, but had to find the mix of materials, design and manufacturing that offered the best value for the customer. “The market will find the best value,” Reeve says.
Being open to unforeseen opportunities can spur growth. As Reeve explains, “There were a lot of times when there was an opportunity in a market that wasn’t something we originally had on our radar, but the opportunity came to us and we shifted to do that. Some of those worked out really well, and those were points in which we were able to grow the business.”
One of those serendipitous opportunities arose for Composite Advantage when a design consultant the company worked with on FRP bridge decks had a client also seeking a lightweight, modular tank system for hydraulic fracturing in the gas and oil industry. Composite Advantage was not supplying any tank products at the time but recognized that the design and manufacturing process for the product would be very similar to what it already had in place to produce its FiberSPAN® bridge decks.
“The product took off with the frack drilling boom. Our revenues almost doubled in one year,” Reeve says. “This enabled the company to buy its second building, add needed people skills and step up to the next level of capabilities.”