Co-Founder and CEO Robert Kirstiuk talks Coastline’s future in the Techstars Seattle incubator, and journey that got them there.
In recent years, technological advancements have led to an exponential increase of innovation in industries that are in desperate need of change. Robert Kirstiuk, Co-Founder and CEO of Coastline Market, and former Western student, plans to transform the fishing industry’s traditional supply-chain system.
Founded in February 2016, Coastline aims to update the age-old supply chain by providing an online network for fishermen and restaurants to connect directly. By cutting out the middlemen, Coastline’s transparent business model generates fair compensation for fishers while providing restaurateurs with a more valuable product. Coastline gives customers the opportunity to make smart, environmentally friendly and economically fair purchases.
Introducing a new technology into an existing industry resistant to change is a daunting task. At the beginning of Coastline’s journey, there were many who doubted the ventures ability to simplify the fisheries supply chain system so drastically. Ignoring the naysayers, Robert and his co-founder Joseph Han-Young Lee (Chief Product Officer of Coastline) continued to persevere, determined to create their business.
They tested their product with fishermen, recalibrated their business model numerous times, and fine-tuned the platform until they developed a simplified solution; allowing fishermen to make more money, and restaurants to get fresher product.
Reviewing Coastline’s platform and application, we can see why there is so much excitement surrounding the new technology. The company’s newly released iOS and Android applications will allow for streamlining of inventory and sales management for clients. Kirstiuk notes that the introduction of the mobile app signifies an exciting move towards fully integrating technology into the process of ordering, payment, and delivery. In the coming months, beta testing will come to an end and the app will officially be released to their pool of clients in the Google Play Store and iOS App Store.
Propel’s Director of Entrepreneurship at Western University, Ian Haase, who acts as a mentor for Kirstiuk and Lee, remembers why he was so excited at Coastline’s potential after meeting the team. “We work with so many startups every year, and over time it’s not so much the ideas that stand out. Good ideas are table stakes; it’s more the entrepreneurs behind these ideas. After meeting Robert and the rest of the Coastline team, I knew right away that they had something special. After seeing their passion, their ability to execute, their coachability and vision – I knew they were the complete package.”
Kirstiuk also stresses the importance of his team, and the success he owes to working with such a strong group of individuals. Reading somewhere that: "entrepreneurship is 1% idea and 99% execution,” Kirstiuk believes that “if you have a great idea and a poor team, you’re not going to get it done.”
Looking back on the development of his business, Kirstiuk fondly remembers Propel and Western as where it all started.
“I really just started out with this idea of connecting commercial fishermen with local businesses. I didn’t have anything else other than that. I spoke to Ian one day, and we worked on it for more than 5 months. Propel really gave me that initial footing to set things up in my mind, and they were the first organization to provide us with a grant.”
While at Western, Kirstiuk says that physics taught him to look at problems with more clarity, but the more poignant value he got from University came from the community. He credits Western’s environment with helping him get inspired, and finding some great, hard-working people. The Coastline team also took advantage of a number of other resources while in London, including the local Regional Innovation Centre TechAlliance, and an Ontario Centre’s of Excellence SmartStart Seed grant, valued at $60,000.
Entrepreneurship is something that can be intimidating, but speaking from experience Haase and Kirstiuk zero-in on the most important aspects. Haase notes that he often hears people say, “’Oh, I had that idea 2 years ago, and now someone’s doing it!’” He goes on to suggest that, “the biggest reason startups fail is because they either didn’t have enough passion to pursue it, or they didn’t have the ability to execute.”
Similarly, Kirstiuk emphasizes the need for grit and being able to hold on in the face of challenges. He stresses that, “If you aren’t able to handle micro-failure on a constant level, and if your ego is too high to start out, entrepreneurship might not be the right path. You really need to have a steady ambition and be resolute for a good long period of time.”
Kirstiuk highlights the importance of self-awareness in entrepreneurship as well. He notes that you need to measure your certainty, “to have an ability to look at a very big unknown and measure it as best you can, and try to take that leap of faith.”
He is also firm in his belief that “if there’s a time to really go into entrepreneurship, it’s when you’re young,” and that measuring the risk of an endeavour is vital in terms of working towards success.
When asked about the success of Coastline’s and their most rewarding moment in business to date, Kirstiuk was humble in stating he doesn’t feel they have celebrated a “big win” yet, but is able to recognize and celebrate the minor victories, like reaching $10,000 in recurring monthly revenue.
Despite these great benchmarks, Kirstiuk emphasizes that Coastline’s journey is just beginning, and that the company is ambitiously moving forward. Laughing, Robert says that the Coastline team should probably celebrate their wins more but that right now, they are primarily focused on the long-term strategy. Since their launch in September of 2016, Lee and Kirstiuk have worked tirelessly to reach seed funding goals, participated in a variety of start-up incubators, and built a solid network of clients now consisting of 25 restaurants and 6 fishing boats in Vancouver.
Looking towards the future, Haase believes that Coastline has a very good chance of being around for the long-term. The company is definitely in the right place, at the right time. With a great team and wonderful product/market-fit, the foreseeable growth of Coastline Market is exponential.
In terms of the near future, Robert reveals that the company is interested in extending to the United States. After achieving great traction in Vancouver, their next step is to prove the viability of Coastline in the U.S. regulatory market, which involves having proof of concept.
Kirstiuk discloses that Coastline was accepted into Techstars Seattle, a prestigious start-up incubator which looks for companies “that can have national or worldwide reach.” Techstars has accelerated the growth of numerous multi-million dollar companies like: Uber, sphero, Digital Ocean, ClassPass, Send Grid, Pill Pack, and more.
This exciting next step for Coastline comes with a $120,000 equity investment, among a variety of other perks such as connections to the Techstars Network with over 5000 alumni, office space for 3 months, and acceleration in a 90-day program with hands-on mentorship.
Kirstiuk feels that incubators and accelerators are somewhat of a mixed bag, because depending on the type of founder you are, the benefits can be uncertain. He does note that being involved with the "The Next 36" (a Canadian accelerator program), “The Next Big Thing” (a national charitable organization for entrepreneurs), and working in the Hootsuite Vancouver offices, provided a huge morale boost for their first employees.
Kirstiuk is enthusiastic that this opportunity will take their business to the next level, and prepare them for the upcoming seed round this year.
After nearly one year of hard work, resulting in successes and failures, he says, “I think we may take a night off, or a weekend off, if we do that seed round successfully.” Here’s to hoping that Robert and Joseph get a much-needed break sometime soon.