What Kansas City lacks for startups

15 August 2016

In late 2015 and the early half of 2016, the hot topic around the Kansas City startup community was funding, specifically outside investment. There isn't enough of it. Which companies were moving away to get it. Which were staying here because of it. Whether the problem is actually late stage funding. Or whether you actually need outside investment at all.

I've always disagreed that the problem is funding. The money will come if the companies we are creating are good enough. What Kansas City lacks is the people who have done it before.

I don't mean founders who have had an exit. I mean the people who those founders hire to help take their startup from product/market-fit to a healthy, sustainable business. The people that grow them from $1M in revenue to $100M and beyond.

The V.P. of sales who has created a sales process from scratch, implemented commission plans, and built sales teams.

The CMO who understands demand generation and not just corporate marketing. People that know how to use data to guide the creation, not just the execution of a marketing plan that fits your target customers.

The CTO who has scaled an application from 10,000 users to 10 million. The V.P. engineering who has grown a development organization from a team of 5 developers to 5 cross functional teams.

The Head of Product who has chipped away at his vision of a product for year to finally see it become a reality.

The Product Engineer who has taken a physical product from prototype to production. Who spent a significant amount of time in China making sure it got built correctly and learning how to build it better the next time.

While you probably won't need all of these people, with that level of experience. These are the people who can more quickly take your company from where it is today, to where it needs to be in a year and give you more of a margin for error when doing so.

I'm not saying that the people that have done it before are better or make people that haven't done it before unnecessary. I'm one of those people who haven't done it before, but I hope everyday I gain a little bit more of the experience of someone who has done it before. You need both perspectives to understand, question, and iterate on your product and business.

When I think about Kansas City's tech companies, I picture a barbell. All the concept to early growth stage startups on one end, a few growth startups in the middle and a lot of large corporations on the other end. These larger companies are mostly just doing more of what someone else did before and trying to make a little more money this time.

The people that initially grew these companies that are big corporations today probably didn't have another company in KC that needed someone with their knowledge of how to grow a company when they started looking for something new. So they left, moved up the ranks, made a lateral move into a similarly large company, or became consultants. It's been a long time since some of these companies went through their growth phase and some, if not most, of the knowledge you gain from helping to grow a company has an expiration date. Things move fast in tech and what worked yesterday isn't guaranteed to work tomorrow, but it is more likely to work than what did 5 or 10 years ago.

A startup's greatest resource is it's attention. And people who have helped grow a startup before can better guide you through which problems need your attention today and which ones can wait till next quarter, next year, or you just plain shouldn't spend time worrying about.

People who have done it before are also better equipped to teach the people that work with them how to do it for the first time. When you've grown part of a company before, you have to spend less time worrying about how to do it for the first time and can spend more time developing your team, refining your knowledge, and passing it on.

The result of having more people who have helped grow companies before would create a virtuous cycle. Those people both create more people that have done it before and tend to eventually want to try their hand at starting and growing something on their own.

We are on our way to organically creating this, it just takes time because growing a company takes time. They say that to grow and mature a SaaS company it takes 10 years. If we can sustain the startup activity of the last few years for the next 10 or so years, we should have a pretty decent knowledge pool of how to create and grow businesses.

But, that's a long time, and other cities will be doing this too. We've gotten more capital, it's time to figure out how we attract more people who have done it before.