Prairie Portraits: Justin Krug
We're relaunching Prairie Portraits and asking the same 5 questions to community builders, founders and funders to get their perspective on the Nebraska startup ecosystem. Check it out!
Meet Community Builder Justin Krug
How would you describe the startup culture in Nebraska?
I would say it’s very inviting. So much so, that once you know one person, you basically know everyone. Not because the community is small, but more so folks in the community are incredibly willing to grab a coffee or connect you to others in the area. Personally, I feel there’s some good cross pollination happening between different hubs, i.e. Lincoln and Omaha. But also different areas of tech, i.e. we have the SaaS space, but then you’ve also got Web3. And we’re seeing a lot of tapping into those different buckets of people. I really like what’s happening.
The community was really vibrant and happening for a long time. And then some players in this space like Jeff Slobotski, Dusty Davidson and Tom Chapman sort of “retired”, if you will, and there’s just this void. I think that there are, I would rope myself into this bucket, quite a few others that are kind of grabbing the baton and leading this charge again. With the idea that we’re going to hand it off and try to keep it going. I feel like there’s a sense of re-energization of the startup scene here in Omaha and Nebraska.
How do you balance taking risks and making calculated decisions in pursuit of innovation?
I worked for Tom Chapman, so he kind of instilled in me to get it 75% or 80% there. And there’s gonna be unknowns. There’s going to be some risk inherently. But you gotta punch perfection in the face sometimes and just go. Otherwise, you’re never going to either take a step forward. Or arguably worse yet, you do take a step, but it’s too late. You kind of miss the wave, so to speak.
I feel that’s true in all things startup, even in the community building sense. That’s kind of my rule of thumb: just get it to 80%. There’s always going to be things that you could have done better or improved on. And it’s just being mindful of, taking note of that while you’re picking a direction and walking.
How do you define success and what metrics do you pay the most attention to?
I think inherently the first thing is creating events and gathering. That’s already kind of a win in its own right. I’d say re: gathering people, obviously the number of people you get into a room is also important. But arguably more important, are they frequent? Like at 1 Million Cups, for instance, we see a lot of the same people attend every week. It’s not just one and done. And so I think that that’s a huge win for our community because everyone is truly invested in what we’re building here.
Reflecting on my startup job mixer event, if I plant one person into a startup role and they absolutely love it, get enticed into all things startups. Okay, that’s great. That’s one person, but you’ve got to look long term. This person could become a community builder or a founder one day so there’s almost like this compounding interest, right?
The other thing, too, is just inspiring others. I’ve still got plenty to learn, but I’m already grooming the next community builders and leaders that are young professionals or college students today, passing on my expertise. I think it’s also more relatable to hear it for someone like me than someone like Dusty Davidson. That’s just two different levels. So it’s been really cool connecting and mentoring some college students.
What are the top one or two challenges / opportunities Nebraska startups face?
The funding space is difficult for most startups everywhere, especially after the Silicon Valley Bank situation. Talking to Nebraska founders, many are kind of in a phase where they aren’t getting the funding that they were two years ago, or it’s significantly harder, or it’s taking longer.
We’ve got a lot of new players in the space like Nebraska Startup Academy and Move Venture Capital from both an education and funding standpoint. That’s great. But also there are more funders now than there ever has been. That’s a huge opportunity. I would love to see that continue to grow along with writing more checks here.
What is one emerging industry or technology that you believe will have a significant impact on the Nebraska startup ecosystem in the next few years?
It’s hard not to go with agriculture, being true to our roots here. There’ve been some really interesting, awesome companies focused on ag. Grain Weevil is one that comes to mind. Corral Tech, like remote control cows essentially, is another. Ag is a big part of the Midwest and Nebraska. I’m excited to keep an eye on some of the things happening in AgTech.
We’ll share event highlights, founder profiles and feature stories digging into all things related to Nebraska startups and small businesses. Delivered on Wednesdays.