The inaugural Big Kansas City, a two-and-a-half-day conference on innovation and entrepreneurship, was held recently at the National Airline History Museum in Kansas City. I was there to take part in celebrating the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the heart of the Midwest. It was a truly inspiring event, and, having listened to the event’s star-studded lineup of speakers, I thought I’d share a few valuable lessons to entrepreneurs from Big Kansas City.
“Build the world you want to live in” -Jamie Wong
This line came from Jamie Wong, CEO and cofounder of Vayable, an online travel marketplace. She was referring to how she followed her passion for travel in order to succeed as an entrepreneur. “There’s no point in going out and risking everything,” she said, “if you’re not actually building the world you want to live in and believe in.”
Whatever your passion is, there’s a common thread that will tie you together with other entrepreneurs, movers, and shakers: the attempt to solve problems, to make the world better today than yesterday. So don’t get caught up in the idea that business is simply a way of making money and becoming rich. It is also essentially a social institution, the foundation of which is the desire to build the world that we want to live in.
“Fail purposefully” -Micah Baldwin
Graphicly CEO and chief community caretaker Micah Baldwin dropped a lot of wisdom at the Big KC. (He’s also a mentor at incubators TechStars and 500 Startups.) But none might be wiser than these two words: “fail purposefully.”
Indeed, what entrepreneurs need to know is that not every new business venture or startup is going to be a slam dunk. You’re going to be banging your head against a wall at some point. There will be challenges, there will be losses, there will be instant failures instead of instant successes.
The key, though, is to learn from these failures, and to recognize that this is what business is: an iterative process. What you start with is not necessarily what you’re going to end up with. Entrepreneurship is not a one-time, now-or-never, it’s-either-success-or-failure event; it’s an iterative process that requires constant adjustments, evolutions, iterations, polishing, and innovation.
“Talk to people who’ve been there, done that” -Adam Wilson
This was the advice of Adam Wilson, cofounder and chief software architect of robotic ball gaming system Sphero. “If you don’t surround yourself with mentors while you’re doing this stuff,” Adam said, “you’re going to die.”
It’s a great reminder to every entrepreneur of the value and importance of mentorship. Not only is a good mentor invaluable when it comes to learning the tricks of your chosen trade; it also allows you to make a meaningful commitment to a person outside your organization who’ll help you find a way to make progress in moments when you feel like your venture is not going anywhere.
“Have an idea? Start doing it” -Alexis Ohanion
The key message of Y Combinator ambassador and reddit, Breadpig, and Hipmunk cofounder Alexis Ohanian was this: take action and turn your ideas into ventures. Why wait? More importantly: why doubt? Test your idea and run with it. Gather the resources, make your idea as tangible as possible, create a prototype. This is when it will hit you: the exhilaration of being an entrepreneur.