What Kansas City lacks for startups

16 August 2016

In 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 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 for a product for year to finally see it become a reality. Or even the VC who recognized a diamond in the rough and won big.

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

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 probably didn't have another company here that needed someone with their knowledge of how to grow a company at the time (it's been a while now), so they left, moved up the ranks, 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 grown 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 they hire and work with how to do it for the first time. When you've grown 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.

This would create a virtuous cycle because then the people who have helped grow a company before 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.