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Success is up in the air

"The Toronto Sun Newspaper"

Success is up in the air
by Ryan James, Toronto Sun, May 31, 1999

A lot of careers, involve climbing the corporate ladder. But Ivan Kristoff’s involves climbing the corporate tower. He climbs up the sides of high rises to do renovations, installations, aerial photography and emergency rescues. Kristoff calls his business Eiger Rope Access Work. Ropes, a harness and a few tools are all he needs to run it. Ha says his simple approach to the job makes him more efficient.

“Most companies use a swing stage and several people to do renovations,” he says. “It’s time-consuming and costly.” One of Kristoff’s most common job is dealing with water seepage. He gharges between $1,200 and $2,400 to inspect a highrise and repair the damage-which he says is half price.  Although his “Sider-man” approach to the job is unique in Canada, Kristoff says it’s common in his native Bulgaria-where climbing is a national pastime.

“It’s called ‘building science’ there,” he says. “Because of the terrain, there is a large industry for it in Bulgaria. There are a lot of people with this skills.” Kristoff has been learning the ropes since the age of 10-when he fashioned his own climbing gear out of common household tools like hammer heads and ice picks. “The proper equipment cost too much, ” he says.

After exploring the rocky terrain on his own for a few years, he joined a caver’s club when he was 12. “They smashed my  my homemade equipment, gave me the proper stuff and said ‘we’ll make a climber out of you,” he says. And they did. Kristoff’s spent most of his teenage years in caves with his new friends. As a young adult, he took a college course in mechanical engineering. Then from 1987-89, he did his mandatory service in the Bulgarian army-and just after his discharge he got started his own rope access company. He’s always been an entrepreneur as well as a climber. “Except for the government, Ive never worked for someone else, ” he says. “That makes me happy.”

Immigrating to Toronto in 1993 forced Kristoff to really put his entrepreneurial spirit to the test. For one, he couldn’t speak a word of English-and also there was no real industry based on “rope access work.”  He had to start somewhere, so he started with washing windows.

“I told property managers I could do the job by myself, without a swingstage or any help-for much cheaper,” he says. “They decided to give me a chance -my climbing experience gave me an advantage.”  Kristoff washed windows for eight months, while making contracts and picking up the language. Then in 1994, he combined $80,000 in personal savings with the investments of a few friends to start Eiger Rope Access Work Inc.

Enterprising entrepreneur climbs the corporate tower
The start-up capital covered the new equipment he had to invent for himself to suit Canadian skyscrapers. Traditional “roof rollers”- devices which attach the ropes to the roof- tend to damage the finish of a building, so Kristoff invented his own which wouldn’t do so. He also needed a new harness. “If you rappel down a tall building with the normal equipment, the rappel is so long the ropes will burn,” hi says. “I had to invent a new harness that wouldn’t burn the ropes as it slid through.”

He tested his new gear by going for a Guinness World Record– a 2,000 foot rappel out of a helicopter. “I test all my equipment in worst-case scenarios,” he says. “That way when I do the real thing, it seems like a piece of cake.”

Soon after, Kristoff was repairing, installing, and inspecting just as he used to do in Bulgaria. He says technology is the key to his business. ” I leverage technology to avoid manual work,” he says.

His clients are particularly impressed by the video footage he can broadcast to their monitors, while filming his inspections on the outside of the building.