Kinetic Heights, an adventure sports center in Charlotte, exists because a couple of Charlotte dads had a crazy idea one Sunday afternoon back in 2013. And we talked to co-founder Steve Gruendel himself to learn more about their crazy idea and how they turned it into a successful business here in Charlotte.
Originally from Connecticut, Steve earned his college degree from Yale and went on to graduate from law school at Boston College. He and his wife moved to Charlotte in 1999 and are parents to Josie (11) and Jack (7). Currently, he’s a bankruptcy and restructuring lawyer by day…and an aspiring entrepreneur by night!
Keep reading to learn more!
CBRBiz.com: Is Kinetic Heights your first entrepreneurial endeavor, or has starting a business always interested you?
Steve Gruendel (SG): I’ve long had “entrepreneurial thoughts,” but this is the first time I ever took a step to follow through. I love the energy of “creation” – of building something from the ground up until it takes on a life of its own.
CBRBiz.com: You and Wilbur Long got the idea for Kinetic Heights while participating in summer YMCA programs with your children. Can you tell us more about that?
SG: It was the Y-Guides program. We were part of a Y-Guides Tribe with 5-6 other dads and their daughters. We would meet once a month while school was in session and do Tribe activities – some songs, some ritual, some talking, mostly fun. We all had Indian names – Josie’s was “Little Blooming Flower” and mine was “Tree Losing Leaves.”
Once each fall and once each spring, we would head off to a Y-Camp in the mountains and do fun adventure stuff. At 6, the girls were pretty timid and would only go about 2 feet off the ground. But watching other older girls do it gave them courage. They did more and more every trip, and pretty soon they were the ones in the role model position, helping the littler ones. Wilbur and I walked away blessed and amazed every time, that we could watch them grow up before our very eyes!
CBRBiz.com: Which local resources helped you get Kinetic Heights off of the ground and how?
SG: We talked to other entrepreneurs for feedback and ideas. I took a 4-week session on starting, hosted by SCORE. I also worked with George McCallister from UNCC. And Wilbur and I talked to about a thousand other entrepreneurs, sometimes for specific feedback and often just for encouragement.
CBRBiz.com: What was the most challenging part about starting your own business? The most rewarding?
SG: The most challenging part is always the interpersonal relationships. We hired about 30 folks in the first 60 days, and that’s a lot of people to bring into an organization while you’re still in the process of figuring it out yourselves! That said, we’ve been totally blessed with an amazing team that completely buys into the mission of Kinetic Heights – to provide transformational experiences that empower and inspire. When you are all working toward a common mission, that helps to smooth out some of the bumps.
It’s really rewarding, personally, just to be able to know that we did it. That we followed through on our own dream to bring this crazy idea to life, into something that actually exists. And, it so rewarding to think that it’s actually impacting parents, kids, schools, groups and families in the way that it is. This adventure represents our own desire and intention to Live Bolder, just like the Kinetic Heights slogan challenges everyone to do! And we’re hopeful that the ripples from this place travel far and wide.
CBRBiz.com: 3 years have passed since that day at the YMCA. What has surprised you the most over those years about being a business owner?
SG: How hard it is to build something from scratch. It took us about 3 years to conceptualize, fund, build and staff this idea. We’ve only been open about 3 months now, although it feels like a lot longer than that!
It took us about 3 years to conceptualize, fund, build and staff this idea.
CBRBiz.com: What is it like seeing parents and kids come into Kinetic Heights? What has been one of your favorite memories to date?
SG: It is amazing, every single day. It is so rewarding hearing from parents about their experiences–either that they got to spend this amazing quality time with their kids, or that they are gushing with pride about their kids.
Wilbur and I had one father come up to us at the end of a day with tears in his eyes. He said, “Thank you guys. I had no idea my son could do all that.” We about lost it ourselves because our vision has always been about more than adventure – but about empowerment through adventure!
CBRBiz.com: You and Wilbur both have other jobs in addition to Kinetic Heights. How do you balance the two?
SG: It’s really hard, frankly. I can’t speak for Wilbur, but I know my law firm has been incredibly supportive of me in pursuing this dream. They love to see lawyers engage with community and chase their passions, and building this business has surely been one of mine.
But we have an amazing leadership team at Kinetic Heights, and they are doing such an incredible job managing the day-to-day operations that it’s enabling Wilbur and I to step back and think strategically about the future for the company.
CBRBiz.com: Your daughters were a big part of your inspiration. What do they think about Kinetic heights?
SG: Wilbur and I got to take our families on the course before we opened, and we were a little nervous about it because they had each done so many other ropes courses in their day. We didn’t want this to just be one more. We were SO relieved to see them challenged on it, and we are excited that they bring their friends every chance they get. And we can’t wait to build more and more programming for kids their age, into their teenage years and high school.
CBRBiz.com: What’s the one thing about Kinetic Heights and its owners that you want people to know?
SG: This business, from its very creation to what happens inside every day, is to help and inspire people to discover what’s possible for them. That’s what we’re all about.