The Path Less Traveled: How Urban Hikes KC Founder Re-Imagined Her BusinessDavid Cawthon
Business ideas come from everywhere. For Lisa Peña of Urban Hikes KC, it was from the airwaves.
“I first heard about the idea of urban hiking on a podcast called Side Hustle Nation,” she says. “A woman named Alexandra Kenin has a company in San Francisco called Urban Hiker SF. On that podcast, I heard what she does, and I just fell in love with the idea.”
The concept was simple: Explore urban landscapes while hiking. Participants get a good workout while learning about the city.
Lisa was hooked. She reached out to Urban Hiker SF and visited with its founder about her interest in starting a similar tour business in Kansas City. Alexandra was incredibly supportive, and Lisa even traveled to San Francisco to take an urban hike.
It seemed Lisa had all the makings of a successful venture.
“I love hiking in general,” she says. “I grew up in Kansas City and have lived here a lot of my life, but I hadn’t had a lot of hiking experiences here. I do recognize now there are more trails than when I grew up. But hiking in the city is a cool idea. We have so many hills, which replicates hills in hiking. And I love the idea of hiking downtown and looking at buildings and looking at street art and learning history. I married those two ideas – hiking and nature but with my love of the city as well.”
There was just one issue.
“I didn’t really know how to start a business,” Lisa says.
A fork in the road
Lisa started by asking around. She asked Alexandra at Urban Hikes SF about what she would need to start a business. And Lisa looked at the U.S. Small Business Administration website to see what she needed to do to register a business. She bartered with a knowledgeable friend to take on that task for her.
“I know that you can do it on your own, but I realized I wanted it done sooner rather than later,” Lisa says.
Like many successful entrepreneurs, Lisa’s can-do attitude got her far.
“If I had a question, I would just look it up online and find the answer,” she says.
Online information was a lifesaver, but it was face-to-face networking that introduced Lisa to a new world of resources available to Kansas City entrepreneurs. In 2019, she attended a bootcamp with Square One Small Business Services at Mid-Continent Public Library. There, she learned entrepreneurship basics and met the founders of Boyer Web Studios, who saved her sanity and allowed her to outsource the website for Urban Hikes KC.
“I had been working on a website — that was another thing I started on my own,” she says. “But I hadn’t done a website before, so it was extremely slow and frustrating because I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Meeting the right people at the right time made a difference – just like it did when Lisa met Rebecca Dove of Block Knowledge at a networking event. Rebecca was looking for entrepreneurs to join a class that was getting ready to start at Block Knowledge, a KC accelerator that offers business validation and product development courses. Lisa signed up.
“I took a lot away from that class,” she says. “When I started my business, I saw it as a side hustle, so I wasn’t really focusing on who my audience was or the different aspects of the business. But in my class, we went over my lean canvas multiple times to understand who is our audience, what is our problem, what are we solving. It helped me see how much more work I still needed to do and that I was still defining all those things.”
Exploring new routes
Block Knowledge also helped Lisa expand her business’s horizons.
“The class helped me to have a bigger vision,” she says. “That’s one of the things I really value from the class. They helped me dream bigger than what I was thinking. I saw it as giving urban hikes when I have time to give urban hikes, probably on weekends. But there’s a cap on the amount of money I can make doing that. But they helped me to think about ideas of how to scale it.”
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Thanks to her instructors and fellow classmates at Block Knowledge, Lisa is now starting to work with fitness instructors. She’s thinking about what it would be like to develop an app. She’s giving tours in English and Spanish. Her daydreams are getting bigger, and she’s realizing they are within reach.
Even though the Block Knowledge course is over, Lisa is still working with the instructors.
“I feel like they believe in me. They believe in my business and that it can grow,” she says. “I’m in a different spot now that I’ve taken the class than I was three months ago, before taking the class. And my business has grown.”
Help reaching the top
Lisa has been impressed with how the Kansas City community rallies around people starting their own businesses.
“Kansas City is so supportive of entrepreneurs,” she says.
In addition to Block Knowledge and Square One, Lisa has also benefited from SCORE – Kansas City. She’s taken a workshop and developed a helpful relationship with a mentor.
“She gives me really sound advice, and I can always talk to her. I’m so grateful,” Lisa says. “I had always heard that being an entrepreneur is lonely – you’re the only one who cares about your business. But your mentor really cares and Block Knowledge instructors care. I’m really grateful.”
Lisa is definitely an entrepreneur now. Earlier this year, she left her full-time job at Girl Scouts to pursue her dreams with Urban Hikes KC. It was a leap, but her coworkers have been supportive, and Lisa has some other revenue streams, like interpreting and teaching Spanish. As a former Peace Corps volunteer who lived in the Dominican Republic for five years, Lisa is not unaccustomed to going out on the skinny branches.
“I was maybe more willing to take risks because doing something like that gets you used to the uncomfortable,” she says.
Lisa encourages budding entrepreneurs to get comfortable with taking risks as well.
“Put your mind to it and start working toward it,” she says. “So many people get stuck in the idea stages. If you have an idea, execute on it – even if you’re just taking little steps to get there. Experiment with your ideas. The worst that’s going to happen is it’s not going to work out.”
New Block Knowledge courses start soon
Block Knowledge helps budding entrepreneurs validate, launch and grow their businesses. This empowering organization has classes starting soon:
July 29 Product Development: This rigorous course is for founders looking to improve their technical skills. The class meets once a week for six weeks. This free program is virtual.
Aug. 4 Business Validation: Do you own an existing business or are you exploring a new business idea? Or do you have a side hustle that you dream of making a full-time gig? This course is for you. Come with a well-articulated product or service description. Scholarships are available for those displaced by COVID-19.
Block Innovators: This six-month program has a cohort starting this fall. It’s designed to provide opportunities for computer science students and bootcamp students to build market-ready skills in the STEM field. So far, Block Innovators has helped more than 30 people improve their skills and build their dream careers.
Technology office hours are also available with Charlotte Clark, Block Knowledge’s community tech officer. Free virtual sessions are 15-30 minutes and dedicated to your idea. They’re offered Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday to anyone with a vision. Schedule your appointment online.