After working at an FRP boat-building company for 10 years, Bill Kreysler launched Kreysler & Associates in 1982 under the half-joking motto “Anything but Boats.” And in the beginning the company did, in fact, do virtually everything else, from fixing hot tubs to making letters for Gap clothing store signs to building sets for the San Francisco Opera. As Kreysler says, “We were all over the map.”

It’s tough to imagine the company, today a leader in architectural composites, so disjointed. But establishing a clear value proposition within the composites industry – itself highly fragmented – is a common challenge faced by many startups.

“The composites industry is quite complex due to its fragmented nature,” points out David Schofield, co-founder and managing director of Future Materials Group, a strategic advisory firm in the United Kingdom. That decentralized nature is evident in the industry’s diverse range of technologies, broad supply chain, vastly different-sized companies and varying regional leaders.

“The market needs and the value proposition being offered [by companies] can sometimes be misaligned due to that complexity,” Schofield finds. He suggests that getting through these challenges demands clarity on how the startup ultimately wants to segment its market, why it’s targeting those market segments and the value it offers to those targets. Of course, many startups learn these lessons through tough experience and trial and error.

Watch the Pace of Growth
Today, Kreysler & Associates has just under 50 full-time employees at its facility in American Canyon, Calif., and a new shop on nearby Mare Island. But the company’s present success was built on decades of lessons learned.

In the company’s formative days, many of those struggles centered around growing too quickly. When companies grow beyond what their foundation is equipped to handle, the additional sales can soon be outpaced by overhead requirements. Kreysler learned this while manufacturing props for the 1983 film “Return of the Jedi.” The company made sails and rigging for Jabba the Hutt’s barge and GFRP parts for the two-legged walking tanks used in the war scene on the moon of Endor.

The demands of the movie project required Kreysler to hire several employees, but when that project ended he didn’t have a backlog of other work. “I was so focused on the project I forgot to look ahead,” Kreysler recalls. “After burning all the profits, I finally had to lay most folks off. I hated that. It is so expensive to train new people, and I felt I’d let them down.” From then on, Kreysler says he has let the company grow organically.