Prairie Portraits: Kellee Mikuls
The Prairie Portraits series features founders, funders and community builders from Nebraska's innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Meet Swishboom Founder Kellee Mikuls
CEO @ Swishboom
1. How would you describe the startup culture in Nebraska?
I can’t speak more highly about the startup culture in Nebraska. It is so warm, welcoming and full of really bright, innovative people. I have never felt more included or wanted in a group of professionals than by those in the Nebraska startup community. Coming from the corporate world, there is a competitive edge that exists. I don’t feel that when I attend the numerous mixers, talks and networking events that you can find on a weekly basis.
2. How do you balance taking risks and making calculated decisions in pursuit of innovation?
Wow — this is a great question that I am having internal dialogue about EVERY SINGLE DAY. I don’t think that answer is ever answered. In order to grow (in all aspects of the word) you have to live in that space in between calculated risk and innovation. It’s where you are most fueled to get up everyday and keep banging your head against the wall. We try to feel confident in our decisions everyday by looking at feedback loops. Sometimes we also have to trust our gut because we believe our conviction a.k.a. there is no balance, but a constant weighing of options.
3. How do you define success and what metrics do you pay the most attention to?
Success for us is having repeat customers that tell their friends. We want people to love our platform and tell their friends and employers, and believe that we are an easier, better mousetrap. We track this success by our unique users, recurring jobs and user growth. We know that with a mobile app churn happens, so if you get into the numbers too much it can be discouraging. But if you look at overall trends and see positive growth, we deem that a success. Luckily for us, we hear positive stories daily of a family who didn’t know anyone in Omaha and were able to go out for the first time or a parent who had a kid wake up sick and didn’t have to miss that important work meeting. We get to see the everyday impactful success because of the nature of what our app does.
4. What are the top one or two challenges / opportunities Nebraska startups face?
The two things that we have seen in our startup journey are access to venture capital and Nebraska employers not taking a more participative role as startups’ first customers. Nebraska is risk averse. This risk averse nature makes it hard to raise capital and is a time suck for founders who could be scaling their business instead of having to get someone to take a bet on them and their product. It’s a part of the Nebraska culture that is steeped in investing in “sure things” versus things that have high potential, but potential risk.
Growing up in Hawaii, I get an outsider look at this Nebraska mentality of status quo business that has, overall, done well for industries like agriculture, banking and insurance. But a status quo mentality and tech aren’t usually compatible. I wish Nebraska companies would step up and be some of the first customers of the many amazing startups that are coming out of Nebraska. Many of my startup founder friends talk about how you can have super reputable national companies be first customers, but converting companies in our backyard is even harder.
5. 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?
This isn’t a technology or industry that will have an impact, but rather climate. I believe that the Nebraska political climate will affect my startup’s ability to recruit and retain the best and brightest. If Nebraska continues to implement divisive policies, I worry many of the tech talent will decide to reside elsewhere and our talent will either go international or all remote. This isn’t the goal of most companies as we want to put a flag in the city where you headquarter as a means of building culture and brand. I worry about how Swishboom will continue to get the best people if Nebraska isn’t an inclusive place to live.
We’ll share event highlights, founder profiles and feature stories digging into all things related to Nebraska startups and small businesses. Delivered on Wednesdays.