Founder Friday is a weekly guest post written by a founder who is based in or hails from the Silicon Prairie. Each month, a topic relevant to startups is presented and founders share lessons learned or best practices utilized on that topic. November’s topic is education.
In 2009 I was 18 years old, and recently graduated from high school. In all honesty, I was an underachiever, and I’m sure my teachers would back that claim. When it came to my future the most thought I had given it was telling all my friends that I was going to be rich by the end of world, or December 21, 2012. I had an affinity for being creative and a knack for writing, so I decided to pursue journalism at the University of Missouri.
I applied my dream of being rich to my impending studies at Mizzou and decided I would gain success from being on ESPN, or something similar. With a sister in medical school and college loans looming, it was very important to me that I fulfilled my prophecy and reduced the financial stress on my family. It was on my first day of journalism school that I indirectly decided I would be an entrepreneur. I was sitting in a lecture hall of about 200 students, excitement and the clicking of keys on fresh MacBooks filling the room. I sat in the front, and admit the sight of hundreds of students with the same big dreams was daunting. I thought to myself, “How many of these kids want to be on ESPN, or write for the New York Times?” The professor began his introduction and detailed the journalism school’s storied history. He made a statement I truly believe changed my life.
As he started detailing the job market for journalism graduates, he mentioned the average starting salary upon graduation. This is when my insecurities about journalism school started. I wanted to be rich. I wanted to support myself as soon as possible. I knew I couldn’t simply claim I was going to be rich by the end of the world; I had to make it happen.
Immediately following that class I went back to my dorm and started work on my first venture—more of a scheme, looking back. I wanted to invent a new type of Tupperware that had peel-able layers so you never had to clean it, aka “TearWare”. My dream had shifted from ESPN anchor to late-night infomercial pitchman. I called a 1-800 invent help hotline, and after dealing with them for about three months I realized this scheme probably wasn’t going to take off, but something in me changed. I was hooked on the idea of creating my own success. Since then I have attempted to launch six different ventures, some more successful than others, but ultimately none got me to an early retirement. However, with each failure I learned something, and the unique experience from each failure set me up for my next venture.
With the end of the world approaching, I had a self-induced sense of urgency. I had embraced my inner nerd and got engaged with technology. One cold night in October I came across an article talking about Google Fiber and how they had chosen my hometown to be the first city in the world to get it. Like many others, I became intrigued—OK, obsessed—with the idea that Fiber would make Kansas City a breeding ground for technology. Almost instantly I decided I needed to move home and transfer to UMKC so I could get in on the action. I began researching the course offerings and to my surprise found out that UMKC had a nationally ranked entrepreneurship program. It was almost fate. In unison with an educational career at UMKC, I began taking free RareWire coding classes at the Kauffman Foundation.
The combination of learning entrepreneurial business tactics and developing mobile applications had my mind racing. Using my newfound skills, I began working on different concepts. UMKC had recently seen a string of student-related crimes, so one of my first ideas was an app that promoted student safety. e-Beacons was born. I knew my development skills weren’t enough to take it to market, so using skills I gained in Entrepreneurship 315, I pitched the idea at Startup Weekend and found my coding wiz co-founder Hieu Truong. Although we didn’t win, Hieu and I pushed forward. Using a presentation I did for homework in my entrepreneurship class, I pitched at 1 Million Cups, and my life changed once again. That led to our first beta clients, funding from Digital Sandbox and more than 100 new connections within the KC community.
Before, I was just a kid with crazy ideas. I had no gauge of how important business plans, ROI models and financial projections were. I was stuck in the Facebook-movie mindset. I thought all you had to do was walk into an investor’s office wearing a hoodie and say, “I have a billion-dollar idea. Give me money, please.” My studies at UMKC helped me realize crazy, billion-dollar ideas mean absolutely nothing. It’s the process of coupling those ideas with well-informed business plans, feasibility analysis and more that makes them look less crazy and more like a billion dollars. After some tough love from professors and mentors I met through UMKC and my presentation at 1 Million Cups, I knew that to succeed in Kansas City I had to emulate the practices of local entrepreneurs, not the film portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg.
It’s 2013, I’m 22 years old, the world didn’t end and I still don’t own a private island. The entrepreneur I was before would probably be devastated, but the entrepreneur I am now couldn’t be happier. My experiences the past four years, more importantly in the past year at UMKC and founding e-Beacons, have equipped me with the necessary tools. Now I can take almost any seemingly crazy idea and back it up with the information necessary to turn it into a viable business. Not all students are entrepreneurs, but all entrepreneurs are students. Even upon graduation, I will never stop learning about entrepreneurship.
If I could accomplish one thing in this article, it’s to inform and inspire other Kansas City entrepreneurs in my generation to take the leap, embrace crazy ideas, learn how to effectively execute and create your own success. It won’t come served on a platter, but if done right, you’d be surprised what you can pull off. Who knows, I might even have to revisit TearWare some day.
Credits: Photo courtesy John Ruiz.