Thank You Neverland

An open letter to the Nebraska startup community from Swishboom founder Kellee Mikuls reflecting on her decision to close her startup.

Kellee at Swishboom

This is a guest post contributed by Omaha founder Kellee Mikuls.

I’m writing this the day after I announced to the public that my startup, Swishboom, closed. Last night I tied one on at the Shania Twain concert with my sister and our friends. During her classic song “From This Moment” I bawled like a baby as my friends held my hands. I tried not to make eye contact with people I knew as I headed to the bathroom — the hugs and sad eyes from people were the last thing I wanted.

Last night’s shenanigans explain why I have pain between my eyes and it feels like someone hit me over the head. But I know that I must get up to feed and quiet my kids while my recently-laid-off husband has a Zoom interview in the basement. I also have to flip the switch on our Firebase account at 10am CST to effectively make our app unavailable to the public.

Meanwhile, another florist is at the door as a steady stream of bouquets keep getting delivered from family and friends. One particular delivery driver has been here twice in the past 48 hours.

I wonder if she thinks someone died?

Yesterday my team and I met to hug, cry, and wind things down so that we could cancel software subscriptions, get refunds on unused memberships and cancel all the upcoming events we were supposed to go to. We packed up our office and wondered what we’re going to do with 3,000 stickers with our logo on it.

As we were walking out with a wagon full of now useless branded stuff, a woman told me I looked tired. Note to everyone everywhere: Never say anyone looks tired. You never know if they just had the hardest 48 hours of their entire life. (And this is coming from someone who got pregnant at 20 in college and once slipped on ice and had a bone sticking out of my foot — just saying.)

Today I didn’t do my Slack check in with my team or send a follow-up email to an employer about the status of a contract. I didn’t send my team Airtable tasks on what we were working on for the week. I just sat and felt lost.

Lost because today is the day that I officially have nothing to do other than keep my family alive.

But can I tell you in full transparency what I’m thinking right now? Like be completely honest like if you took me out to lunch (preferably Indian) and asked me to tell you what I think on day two of being a failing tech startup founder in Nebraska: Never again.

Okay, that was a joke and not funny (but a little funny). And maybe true, but who knows it’s only been two days and emotions are high.

Yes, it does totally suck when your dreams become your worst-case scenario. But as I sit here after washing my puppy in my bathtub — that is something I do now — I can’t deny that I feel unequivocally loved. While I feel anger, guilt, shame, and can’t even process what I am possibly going to do next, I also feel this warm embrace of love.

Four years ago I walked into the Startup Collaborative office as an overly aggressive commercial real estate broker with a great idea. I learned about this whole underground of people who were making cool sh*t, and I wanted in.

It was weird because I had dealt with lawyers, bankers and C-suite executives in brokerage, but there was also this “Nebraska Neverland” of makers and creatives and marketing whizzes who were building Nebraska businesses that were solving problems faster, smarter and with a stellar user experience.

They met at coffee shops and connected to help each other get better at their craft. We were rooting for each other to succeed. It was literally mind blowing that there was a whole subset of very successful, creative people that I knew nothing about. And they welcomed me with open arms and coffee invites.

So instead of a letter detailing what I did wrong and what Nebraska could have done better to support a startup like mine (saving both of those for another day), I’m going to dedicate this space to the people in this startup ecosystem who welcomed me, supported me, told me about software that would cut down my time, took me out to coffee just to chat, shared my posts when I shared a milestone, and gave me a hug when I announced my business was closing.

I hope those reading this understand that what we have here in Nebraska is special and needs to be supported. More businesses need to prioritize supporting local startups by being their first customers. And to make it even easier, let me spell out how Nebraska businesses can keep the Omaha startup ecosystem (the one I’m most familiar with) alive and thriving to be ready to welcome the next startup founder with open arms:

  • When your internal comms platform subscription ends, sign up with Workshop to deliver delightful, culture affecting communications to your team. 
  • Give your employees the benefits that they want with Maxwell and make the change to their platform to manage perks and modern benefits.
  • Use Event Vesta to promote your company events, conferences, and happy hours when looking to engage with the community.
  • Incorporate Alpaca into your community giving programming to prioritize our educator’s happiness.
  • Excel is good, but using Logica is better. Tell your CFO that we can get greater transparency and support a startup.
  • Hire vets because it’s the right thing to do, but use Major Talent to ensure that you keep your money in Nebraska.
  • Got clients that are CPA firms? Give them an introduction to Kelly Mann and AuditMiner because we all know a warm intro goes farther.
  • Form partnerships with those in the education space? Introduce them to SheMate to help advance the mental health of our female athletes.

If you are in Lincoln or Kansas City or Des Moines or any other city that wants to keep innovation in your city – Google startups + your city and start learning more about being a customer. Or else communities like Nebraska Neverland will become Never Again Land because they run out of money waiting for meaningful revenue.


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