Screen printing, innovating, and community building: Q&A with Kylen Blom

Kylen Blom is no stranger to starting a new project. The serial entrepreneur has been building businesses since his days studying business management at Hope College. 

Blom is currently leading his company, Silkscreen Marketing, which is the parent brand of the Silkscreen print shop located at 422 Diekema Ave. in Holland and The Printmobile, a mobile design and print studio. 

While he’s not at the print shop, Blom works remotely as the manager of brand marketing for digital advertising firm, Kubient. He also supports his wife’s nonprofit organization A.C.T.S., a nondenominational ministry that serves at-risk youth in the Holland area, where Blom serves as a “helper, supervisor, janitor, and landscaper.”

If that doesn’t keep Blom busy enough, he owns a property near Silver Lake called Wayside Orchards, where he produces honey and maple syrup. 

We caught up with Blom to ask him what he’s learned from more than 10 years of business ownership, his work with the Herrick District Library, and why Holland is a nurturing place for young entrepreneurs. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

The Lakeshore: Was there an experience in your childhood or life that gave you the confidence to start something on your own? 

Kylen Blom: I've been working on my own or for myself throughout high school and college and often juggling multiple jobs at the same time. But that real “aha” moment came after taking some of the entrepreneurship courses at Hope and really liking it. I did some pitch competitions and won a good number of them with different ideas I was coming up with on the fly.

And then I came across this concept of a T-shirt company. And I was like, cool, I love it. So I would order the shirts, wait for them to get printed, and then take them to different retailers or sell them online. And it got to the point where I was waiting so long for these shirts that I decided to do it on my own. 

TL: When you were at Hope or doing the pitch competitions early on, what was the best piece of advice you received?

KB: There was practical advice offered along the way from the different judges. But I think the resounding advice or theme from the judges and advisers was just, again and again saying, what an investor is looking for isn't the product or the business plan — it's the person. 

TL: What is your favorite part of the screen printing process?

KB: Yeah, that's tough. There’s a lot of different parts of the process that are fun. The process of seeing something go from a sketch on a piece of paper or a computer to a polished final design. Earlier this week, we got a forwarded text message from a customer saying, "This shirt is incredible. I love it. It feels great. It's my favorite shirt. I'm coming by and ordering more." 

We love it when that happens.

TL: You don't have to name names, but what's the strangest design request you've received? 

KB: We've turned quite a few away. Anything that is just incredibly politically charged or downright hateful. 

But a lot of the odd requests that aren't hateful end up being a lot of fun, people asking for us to screen print on umbrellas. Or a Catholic church needed some new vestments made and wanted us to screen print them. I feel like every month or two, there's just something interesting. 

We'll be at a Printmobile event and somebody will walk up and be like, “Oh, I love that design. … Here.” And they'll just take their shirt off and have us print it. 

TL: Let’s talk about the Groundworks project at the library. Can you talk to me about the inception of that, and how do you think that's helped the community?

KB: A friend of mine sent me a job description and I thought it was a joke because it was for the Herrick District Library. I’m the furthest thing I could imagine from your status quo librarian, which, after getting to know a lot of them, I would say isn't entirely accurate. 

Generally, they were looking for someone who can put together a program for adult continued education in the digital realms. And as somebody who does marketing and had taught entrepreneurship at Hope and went through the entrepreneurship journey, I knew there's a lot of gaps in the community as far as just having access.

I really loved pulling that all together and making it happen with the different elements. And the library was great about all of it. I’m happy to see it continuing to do well.

TL: You’ve started a lot of projects and been involved in a lot of things. How do you know when it's the right time to either pass it off or even delegate the work? 

KB: I think the best way I've been able to describe that feeling is … if I were to be hit by a bus today, flattened, would it still be able to continue without me involved daily? And I like that feeling of handing it off and stepping away a little bit and seeing what the others do with it.

TL: If you were talking to someone who is looking to start their own business, what advice would you give to them on finding a business idea?

KB: I would say figure out a bunch of terrible ideas first. I like to compare it to riding a bike. You have to fall off the bike a lot before you go, “Oh, yeah, this feels right.” You also need to start going down that hill. You may not know where it ends up, but you're never going to see the different options and the different turns that you can take if you aren't moving, and you aren't doing it.

TL: You were also involved with the Holland/Zeeland Young Professionals group, just to add another thing. What are some of the challenges that you think young professionals in the Lakeshore community are facing right now?

KB: I think a lot of people right now are just trying to figure out what networking looks like again. And there's this hesitancy to do it because it is strange. It's a clunky restart, but it's coming. I think we're getting back into a rhythm of things. 

There are more questions around what does work look like and challenging that 9-to-5 status quo. If I can get all of my work done from home in a four-hour span instead of going to an office for eight hours, is that the same value to the company? And does the company realize that and appreciate that? 

And there are some people trying a work-from-home job and finding that it's not for everybody. I'd say that's a lot of the conversations I've been having lately. It’s just recalibrating boundaries, really.

TL: Can you share how the Lakeshore Advantage SURGE program has helped you?

KB: SURGE has been fantastic. We have good conversations about what's going on with each other’s businesses, what's difficult, what's frustrating, what are some action steps. And then you get that feedback from other individuals from different industries, different walks of life, different age groups. And it's just a refreshing perspective on certain things.

TL: What makes Holland and the Lakeshore area a good place to start a business?

KB:  I think you can start a business wherever you are, honestly. But Holland is really receptive to new ideas. We've got really awesome coworking spaces downtown and around town. That boils over into coffee shops, where there are just incredible amounts of talented people with access to enormous networks. 

You've got an engaging public entity that is valuing things like Groundworks, you've got a self-run organization, in Holland Young Professionals with a superpower group of people that really just want to get people together and learn from each other. You've got Lakeshore Advantage (SURGE) literally investing into small businesses, not just saying, hey, we have some services you can use if you need them. 

TL: What gets you out of bed in the morning? 

KB: Coffee.

TL: We always ask that question and that's the most honest answer we’ve gotten.

KB: [Laughs] If that doesn't work, I've got two dogs that will jump on me. If that doesn't work … I think it's the diversity of the day. Wake up, make the coffee, look at the calendar. I haven't had a day like this before. And that's fun. I like it. 

It's not that it's unpredictable, because I know it's coming. I like the various things that can be done and that juggle of, where's the priority, and how can I be working ahead here? How can I prioritize time here? How can I get everything done so that I can go spend a night up at the property? All sorts of different things are happening. It's probably what I'd say is the most exciting to me on a daily basis.

I think it's also important to note how finding a life partner that can understand your quirks and relate to a lot of them is helpful. Like my wife, Jamie, with her nonprofit that she started up. She gets the in and outs of daily ebb and flow, and she's also got an entrepreneurial spirit. It's nice to be in partnership with someone who understands, is encouraging, and can also call you out on things, too.

You can learn more about Silkscreen Marketing and Kylen’s projects at their website silkscreenmarketing.com.

Read more articles by Luke Ferris.