By Marissa Blahnik
Going from a rough idea to product launch is a wild ride for any entrepreneur. It’s even more of a rollercoaster when you’re also finishing up your college career. David Hall and Jordan Klein, co-founders of Park & Diamond, an innovative bicycle helmet company, know this all too well.
Hall and Klein weren’t always on the path to revolutionizing bike safety. As students at Virginia Tech, Hall studied engineering with an eye on the defense industry. Klein envisioned his mechanical engineering focus resulting in a career as an automotive engineer.
But that all changed when Hall’s sister Rachel was hit by a car while riding her bike in 2015.
“And when she spent the next four months in a coma, we were asked countless times, why wasn’t she wearing a helmet?” Hall said. “And that was really the light bulb moment… That’s what really kicked us off and got us thinking about why don’t people wear helmets? What is preventing people from wearing helmets? And now, three years later, we’re where we are now, ready to launch our collapsible bike helmet.”
Rewire initially featured Hall and Klein in 2017, when they won e-Fest, the largest undergraduates-only entrepreneurship competition. Co-sponsored by the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas’ Opus College of Business and EIX.org, an online learning platform for entrepreneurs, students and professors, e-Fest brings together entrepreneurial students from around the country for a three-day competition. Hall and Klein won $100,000, essential seed money to launch Park & Diamond.
As the 2018 e-Fest competition kicks off, Rewire caught up with Hall and Klein during a Facebook Live Q&A. They candidly discussed the challenges and successes they’ve experienced along the way:
The origin story
“The very first, most influential advisor for us was actually my sister’s professor when she was still in college, Dr. Alkus,” Hall explained. “He basically said, why don’t we try to take this tragedy and see what we can do with it and try to make the most out of it. And he says, you guys are engineers, why don’t you try to come up with a product or a service, or just take some kind of action that could prevent this from happening to somebody else. …
“Something as simple as that was really all we needed to kick it off, and he was there throughout that supporting us, and even, at the very start, he offered to help us with a loan and stuff like that. So he was there from the very beginning and we would not be here if it wasn’t for his support.”
Ask for help
“If you’re a student, aggressively look for those mentors, they’ll be the biggest value add,” Klein said. “I know it may be kind of weird to email, just kind of, hey, I’m a student at the school you went to, or I interned for your company two years ago, I’m doing this now, is there anybody in your network?
“People love to help, they love to give advice, and it’s really kind of one of the most powerful things you can get.”
Accept not knowing
“You have to be good at not knowing what you’re doing, because at the end of the day, you’re just not gonna have all the answers, your mentors are not gonna have all the answers,” Klein said. “Frankly, a lot of these questions probably don’t even have answers, at the end of the day.”
“And I think that’s what’s so fun about it, and so enjoyable is that it’s not bogged down by this sense of certainty, it’s actually almost this kind of enjoyment for the unknown of your actions, and just kind of putting yourself in the line of fire, and just enjoying reacting to what happens.”
The importance of outside insights
“Avoid the top-secret mode where you’re afraid to share the idea,” Hall advised. “And that could be in the form of talking to your friend about it at school. It could be in the form of entering a pitch competition. Quite literally, you wanna shrug like we did.”
“It’s just a matter of the more you engage with people, the more they’re gonna respond, and the more you’ll learn about the user, the more you’ll learn about what they need, and also what they think your company needs. So it’s a learning experience you’re not gonna get by locking yourself in a classroom.
“I think the biggest tangential benefit to entrepreneurship, success or not for your company, is that really the success is improving your ability,” Klein said. “And the way to do that, frankly, is by pushing yourself. So if you’re not sitting there ready to pee your pants when you’re about to do something, then you’re probably not taking enough risk.”
The Park & Diamond helmet will launch in summer 2018. For updates, visit the company’s website and subscribe to their newsletter.
Watch the entire Q&A in the video above for more candid advice from Hall and Klein.
The Facebook Live event and this excerpted transcript are part of America’s Entrepreneurs: Making it Work, a Rewire initiative made possible by the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and EIX, the Entrepreneur and Innovation Exchange.