Meet Arieann DeFazio.
This fierce lady is CEO and founder of Kitables, a company that breaks down barriers to DIY projects by offering accessible kits and hosting social DIY building events. Check it out. Arieann was recently named one of the top 5 female CEOs in the nation by SheEO and is an active supporter of the Boulder startup scene.
I got to hang out with Arieann in her rad boulder office and learn what she's all about. FYI - my house needs one of those turquoise chairs SO BAD!
With a distinguished resume and intense vibe, Arieann's authenticity was refreshing. We talked about her humble beginnings and how she handles the ever-present "impostor syndrome". She also shared her excitement and disbelief around this whole empire she is building.
After our interview, we created a collection of branding photos and then did a fun little art project - giving her silhouette a Mad Men vibe.
Words from Arieann
Learn about Arieann and why she loves what she does!
Kasey: What's your story, how did you wind up where you are today?
Arieann: I was not by any means born into this life. I grew up as a barefoot redneck child in south Florida, pretty much on my own since I was 13. And yet I ended up with an almost-PhD in biochemistry and running companies. The struggle has been real for me, pretty much until I was 27. That's when I moved to Colorado and things started to turn around.
I moved to Boulder as my quarter life crisis. I didn't have a plan, it wasn't an intelligent thought-out thing, I just had a freak-out. I was getting my doctorate in Florida and I was a competitive rock climber at the time. I know, it's like a Jamaican bobsled team - makes zero sense. I was living in a place that I hated that did not fit my personality. I came out here to visit a friend and I just fell in love with Colorado. I put everything I owned in my car, quit my doctorate, and drove out here two weeks later.
"This all just kind of accidentally happened and I'm glad it did."
People ask if I moved here for the startup scene, and I didn't even know there was one! I stayed in a spare bedroom and needed to eat, so I spent my first few years working in a lab as a biochemist at CU.
The startup scene is cool and everything, but I think what's cool about Colorado is it seems to be a place where people chose to be. Everybody is pretty stoked to be here, which is why I love this place. We live where other people vacation. Moving was the best thing I've ever done, but for all the wrong reasons.
Kasey: What inspired you to create Kitables?
Arieann: I was working at CU as a biochemist and - fun fact - I wasn't making enough money to live in boulder. So I went on Craigslist and worked all kinds of odd jobs - even chalking on the sidewalk at CU for advertisements.
I finally wound up as an R&D scientist at Geekify, here I had my lightbulb moment. I had access to all these makerspaces and machine shops, both at Geekify and at CU so I could basically make anything I wanted. The only thing stopping me from making something was my ability to figure it out ... and money.
Then in 2014 on my birthday weekend I was driving up into the mountains to go mountain biking and this thought just pops into my head: I make all this really cool stuff and it's dope and I want other people to make cool stuff. But how do other people do it? I have all these cool DIY tools at my disposal but it still kinda sucks to make stuff - there's still all this background work and planning... I can solve that - I'll just take everything you need for a project and put it in a box.
I launched a Kickstarter two months later. It got funded and I pulled everything together to produce my very first kitable - a rubiks cube solving machine.
Kasey: Why are you passionate about what you do?
Arieann: What makes Kitables special is that we specifically focus on adults. We're not an "education tech" company, Kitables was made to build confidence in people. I don't care if you understand why the thing works, all I care about is that you realize that you built it.
"I can't tell you how many times I've seen a 35 year old with a dual masters degree freak out about soldering and then five minutes later look at me and be like "that was it"? Mind blown. That's what we're trying to build!"
You don't wake up with Elon Musk style confidence one day, there are baby steps along the way and I think building and physically interacting with things is a very big part of the way humans learn. It's also something that is dwindling out of our everyday lives, particularly for adults. That's where Kitables comes in. Kitables gets people interested. It's like saying "hey, you can do this. It's not that scary, it's not that serious."
Kasey: What is your favorite Kitable project?
Arieann: I'm a very practical person. My favorite is the Bluetooth speaker kit because I use it everyday!
Kasey: What are you most excited about right now?
Arieann: My goal is to build confidence in people. We came up with the concept of the Build n' Brew micro-event.
"It's very similar to paint and wine nights except with drones and beer."
We go around to local breweries and co-working spaces and we drink beer and we build stuff for two hours. It's in a casual, fun environment that focuses on the social aspect to bring down the scary factor. There's a "buildologist" there to help you if you get stuck and a community of builders to support each other. It's a great date-night activity.
The first time we ran an event, I was like "this is it! this is the business I've been trying to build!" Now our big goal is expanding the Build n' Brews platform so we can get it in many states - we even ran some in Australia!
Build n' Brews is helping people see building as more of a casual fun thing and less of a terrifying chore. My goal is to give them that little extra spark to say "maybe I can do this" and maybe they crack their dryer open to fix it themselves.
Kasey: What is your favorite customer story?
Arieann: One time I was helping at a Build n' Brew down in Denver and we were getting ready to build the Lego solar charger. This guy walks up to me. He was a trucker - he drove a truck for a living - and just happened to park his truck outside the bar that evening. Now, whatever you have in your head about what a typical trucker looks like, is exactly what this dude looked like. He had the flannel and the trucker hat, the whole nine. But he was also the sweetest most polite man I've ever met.
So we're chatting and he asked what we were doing and when I told him we were building solar chargers, he kinda got a little down - "oh, that's cool - I wish I could do something like that." So I invited him to join us and told him I'd buy his next beer. He was sold. So he sits down with us. There's trucker guy, VP of engineering at a startup, a stay-home-dad that escaped for the evening, and a beautician.
We get to the part where the trucker guy flips the switch to test the circuit. The world's smallest LED - the tiniest light you've ever seen in your life - comes on. And this guy loses it. He gets up, holds the charger in the air and shouts "I'm gonna put this on my dash! This is so cool".
"It was one of those moments where I just thought, this is EXACTLY what my company is about."
My whole thing is giving agency to people who otherwise would have thought this was impossible. It doesn't matter if that guy never builds another thing in his life or ever does another Kitable. That thing he built is going to be sitting on the dash of his truck. He's going to look at it every day and remember that he did something that he didn't think was possible.
What really sucks, is I never got this dude's name or contact information. I can never tell him him how important that moment was in my life to me. To this day, when I feel like I want to quit, that story pops up in my head and reminds me of why I'm doing this.
Kasey: What is your one piece of advice for fellow startup creators?
Arieann: I think the number one thing that I wish someone had told me when I was starting my startup is you gotta start with the end in mind. In my mind, startups exist to create innovation and then hand it off to larger companies who can actually scale it. Your real customer, as the founder of a startup, is whatever company is eventually going to buy you. Your job as a CEO is to make sure that your company gets sold. I feel like we teach people this backwards. You should be going to the big companies and asking what their strategic plan is for the next 5 years and what are they looking for. I wish someone had said that to me.
Now, that being said...would I have listened? Probably not. Kitables has become somewhat of a lifestyle company. Halfway through building it, I realized who I was but I didn't know when I started. I know that I am the person who is good at raising money, creating an idea, and giving it to someone really quickly. I'm good at building teams, but I'm not great at scaling. I don't like teams over 10 people. I was a scientist, my preferred operating environment is sitting in a corner in the dark talking to 10 people a year. So, we have a potential partnership in the works with one of the fastest growing companies - they are killing it. We found our little special space in the world finally with our Build n' Brew micro events. If all goes well we'll be expanding our Build n' Brew platform in the next few months!
Kasey: What are other local Boulder business you love?
Arieann: I love the trifecta in the same spot with Boxcar, Cured, and Cured Wine. It's like you get everything necessary for life in one place!
Bonus: The full circle
Arieann: The guy that hired me to do the sidewalk chalk job back in the day was the CEO of the company, his name was Jake. About 2 years later I was presenting Kitables and a non-profit company I started at this event in Boulder. I walk into the room and Jake is sitting there! I went from the person who was drawing on the sidewalk for 6 bucks an hour to a CEO presenting to him two years later. It was just this crazy timeline solidification moment for me. We did a lot of stuff in a little bit of time. We've come pretty far!
currently in the Denver area, but expanding soon!