Kris Mathis started a marketing agency in Grand Rapids and had a hand in opening another agency in Detroit. Courtesy Sam Cooper
As an entrepreneur, Kris Mathis said the hardest thing he has ever done in his career was to believe.
The Grand Rapids native has carved out a career wearing multiple hats. He is a public speaker, an author, a business coach, the owner of Raise A Glass Tours and he currently is in the process of starting his investment group and writing a film script.
Mathis’ success is derived from a yearning to want to be better. He grew up surrounded by poverty, drugs, violence and gangs. He was raised, in part, by his grandparents and his mother.
“My mother, youngest sister and I lived with my grandparents and shared a room until I was 11 or 12 and then we got an apartment,” he said. “My mom rented a house for a short time and then bought a house when I was 19 years old. Growing up, my grandparents had six kids and they all had kids and then there was us. So, there were over 20 people at the house all the time. It was crowded. We had sleeping arrangements where we were sleeping at the top of the bed and others were sleeping at the bottom of the bed.”
His father, who was addicted to drugs for 30 years, left the family when Mathis was 4 years old. He visited occasionally.
“Every now and then, he would pop up and hang out with me for 20 minutes or stop by on a Saturday and pick me up and we would hang out at a friend’s house,” he said. “Then he would drop me back off, and I wouldn’t see him again for six months. He would call and say he is coming by and never show up. I would sit on the steps and wait; nighttime would come, and he never made it there.”
Mathis found solace in business. As he grew older, Mathis developed a business mentality. Before he was legally able to work, he took to the streets, selling sodas, juices and stereo equipment to earn his own money. He had a passion to learn more about business, so he took a business class in high school, where he was able to compete in competitions.
“I fell in love with the business class, and I remember the teacher wanted me to participate in different competitions around Microsoft programming and spelling competitions,” he said. “They took me to Detroit to compete at the state level. A kid from nothing, these types of opportunities don’t come up for us, but here at this young age, I am getting to see something that is outside of my environment, and I am thinking, ‘What if I stick with this? Could this become my outlet, the thing that takes me away from the negativity in my neighborhood?’ I held on to that.”
While Mathis was trying to figure out what success would look like for him going forward, he was affected emotionally by his father’s absence.
“I remembered when I graduated, my father called me that day to congratulate me, and he said he would see me that night at the graduation and I remembered getting there and seeing my family there and his seat was empty,” Mathis said. “After getting my diploma, I went back to my seat. He never showed up. He skipped my high school graduation to smoke crack, which I found out years later through a really painful conversation he and I had. From there, I knew I had to do something totally different, so I decided to go to college.”
He went to a technical institute to study electrical engineering, but after six months, Mathis said he dropped out because it wasn’t for him. After several jobs, Mathis started a marketing agency in Grand Rapids. He eventually moved to Detroit as a subcontractor on a project that involved an opening of another marketing agency in Detroit.
Mathis said the plan folded, so he eventually moved back to Grand Rapids, where he took an entry-level telemarketing job at Erie Construction, which he said he hated at first.
“I remembered one day my manager, Joe, caught me reading the jobs section of the newspaper,” he said. “I was in my cubicle and he just passed, so I didn’t think he was going to pass again. I had the paper out, looking at jobs and circling jobs and he caught me and called me in his office and said, ‘You know, Kris, you can’t do that on the job’ and then he said, ‘If you really committed yourself to this, you could be really good.’ For whatever reason, he believed in me and I don’t know why.”
The manager allowed Mathis to be trained by the corporate trainer, teaching Mathis how to handle the marketing business. He worked with Mathis on how to lead a conversation, listen to consumers and respond accordingly.
Afterward, he was promoted several times at the company, and he was able to manage different offices throughout the country. His seven-year stint at Erie Construction propelled him into his speaking career.
Mathis started volunteering as a public speaker for different speaking engagements and schools until he got his first paid event.
“I got the call asking, ‘How much do I charge?’” he said. “I never charged before. That first speaking engagement paid me $75 to come to speak. That changed my life, changed my whole world. I never made that much money in an hour a day in my life.”
He has since made a career out of public speaking, which led him to write his book, “From Success to Significance: The 8 Keys to Achieving any Goal or Dream.”
“I really, really want people to connect with my story in a way that isn’t traditional, meaning I am not a rapper, I am not an athlete,” Mathis said. “The second reason why I wanted to write a book is because I really wanted to go into a Barnes and Noble and see my face on the shelf. To some, it doesn’t seem like much and might even seem petty in a way, but what I mean by that is, when you walk into a bookstore there are no black authors, no black men, no young black men. Maybe T.D. Jakes, but outside of that, that is the extent of it. So, when kids go into a bookstore and they see this guy in his 30s who looks like them, they can think they can actually do this. That was what drove me to write my book.”
Mathis started his Raise A Glass Wine Tours last year. His wine tour business allows people to visit different local food establishments: Forty Acres Soul Kitchen in Grand Rapids, St. Julian Winery in Rockford and House of Wine in Grand Rapids, instead of vineyards. Wine stewards show presentations and share information about the wine, the pairing process, how to properly sip wine and why the wine pairs with that dish. Mathis said he will be opening more wine tour businesses.
Earlier this month, Mathis bought the LLC for both his coaching business, Full Circle Coaching, and his investment group, K Mat Investment Group.
Over the years, Mathis said he has coached close to 400 businesses around the country by speaking with them about the growing pains of building a business, step by step. He said some entrepreneurs come to him with just an idea, while others have their business for over 10 years and would like to grow. Mathis said he is able to coach businesses because of his own experiences.
“I have read a lot of books, a lot of books and I have made a lot of mistakes, a lot of mistakes in business,” he said. “I have made tons of money, and I have lost tons of money. I have spent money frivolously, and I have made a lot of mistakes. Between a combination of trial and error of my own experiences, 12 years of it now, and reading the stories of those who have done it right, bringing those together, I was able to create things that work.”
Mathis said businesses that he owns a stake in, his wine tour ventures and his upcoming film, among other things, will all fall under the investment group.
“I love to help struggling businesses,” he said. “Struggling in a sense of they are doing well, but they can really blow up if they know how to get the right resources. If they call me and I help to diagnose whatever the problem is, we can make a deal out of it and then my business will take over whatever those things are — whether it is accounting, logistics, structure, marketing or building a website in exchange for an equity stake in the business.”