Our inaugural Big Kansas City event kicked off Wednesday with talks from eight entrepreneurs and innovators. Staying true to traditions established at sister seminars Big Omaha and Big Des Moines, our first day wrapped up with a speaker Q&A session.
Jamie Wong of Vayable, Dhani Jones of BowTie Cause, Micah Baldwin of Graphicly, and Dan Martell of Clarity fielded questions about the biggest missteps they’ve made, educating young entrepreneurs, and how they find direction. Here are some takeaways from their replies.
Differentiating between what you could and should do
Wong identified data as crucial for Vayable’s decision-making process. “For us it’s very metric driven; whatever our core growth metric is, we focus on that,” she said. “If something is going to make that number go up, we do it. If it’s not, we don’t do it.”
Martell, on the other hand, advocated a more instinctual approach. “I feel like a lot of the times entrepreneurs actually know the answer and their gut’s telling them, they’re just not willing to go with that,” he said. “I just go with the one that makes me most excited, and it turns out to usually work out really well.”
Baldwin echoed that idea, suggesting that entrepreneurs should identify the end goal and work backwards. “Lay out steps that you need to get there,” he said. “If there’s clearly a roadblock somewhere in the middle of that, then you figure out how to either get around it, adjust it or go in a different direction.”
When the speakers covered their most memorable missteps, a key theme emerged: managing relationships—both business and personal.
Jones specifically bemoaned partnerships that crumbled after he handed the reins to someone else. “In the clothing world you’re able to do certain things because certain people have provided you with an opportunity,” he said. “You cannot squander that relationship, and not manage it, and pass it off to someone.”
Expanding on that point, Wong stressed the importance of slowing down and building the right team. “Hiring and choosing who you’re working with—do not speed through that … As they say: hire slow, fire fast.”
Baldwin underlined the importance of maintaining friendships through empathy. “The biggest mistakes that I’ve made in my life have centered around knowing that somebody else needed help and then not helping them,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons why I end every conversation I have with ‘how can I help you?’ “
Educating young entrepreneurs
Internet millionaires keep getting younger, and the panel understood the importance of encouraging young minds.
When Martell meets startup-focused kids, he provides them with a lifeline. “I ask if they have a cell phone and I put my number in their phone,” he said. “I say someday you’re going to have to talk to somebody; call me … I just know how powerful that is to have somebody who’s had some level of success that you can be around.”
According to Jones, being accessible goes a long way. “I think it’s being open and I think it’s being available,” he said. “When they find you, be available to talk to them, be available to offer them advice and understanding.”
On a larger scale, Baldwin believes the best way to teach budding business-people lies outside the current system, and he wants to build his own high school for entrepreneurial studies. “I believe strongly that entrepreneurs are born and not made,” he said. “The reason why (venture capitalists) invest in young entrepreneurs is because it gives them more shots at gold over the course of their life.”
Building entrepreneurial communities
Since Midwestern startups make it a priority to foster new ventures in their area, the speakers addressed how to strengthen those relationships.
“As entrepreneurs, it’s really our job to use our idiosyncrasies to our advantage and tell a story… why we’re the ones to bring this product to market,” Wong said. “That becomes part of your story, part of your branding, and also a way to really strengthen as a community and include more people.”
Martell also highlighted the benefits of the Midwest’s unique culture. “Let’s stop trying to be the next Silicon Valley, and let’s try to be the best Kansas City.”
The Big Kansas City Video Series is presented by NIC, Inc.
NIC Inc. is the nation’s leading provider of official government portals, online services, and secure payment processing solutions. The company’s innovative eGovernment services help reduce costs and increase efficiencies for government agencies, citizens, and businesses across the country.