What 10 KC Entrepreneurs Wished They Knew When They Started Their Businesses

Starting a business but not sure you’re doing it right? Every entrepreneur has been there.

Let these words of wisdom from some of KC’s most exciting entrepreneurs set you straight.  From one entrepreneur to another, here’s the advice business owners wish they’d known.

Alesha Bowman of unLESHed+ in Kansas City, Missouri

1. Follow your idea.

Alesha Bowman, UnLESHed+

Where you start is less important than actually starting.

“Follow the idea,” Alesha says. “I don’t mean go spending your entire savings from the beginning. Start within your means. For me, within my means was starting in my apartment. I took a certain amount out of my check each month and put it into my business.”

But Alesha is careful to note that you don’t need the best of everything when you start out.

“You’re probably going to mess up,” she says. “Just start wherever you are with however much you have. Start there. Explore. If it works out, great. If it doesn’t, that’s fine, too, because at least you won’t have any regrets.”

2. Don’t go it alone.

Jannae Gammage, The Market Base

The Market Base team took advantage of KCSourceLink Resource Partners. They completed the OHUB.KC accelerator in 2019, won a KC Collective pitch competition and finished the ELEVATIONLAB® Tech Venture program from the Missouri SBDC at UMKC, which Jannae says was a boon to the company’s outlook.

“Just being in Tech Venture and being able to feel comfortable asking, ‘OK, is this wrong, or is this right? Really, give me your professional opinion and be honest.’ That was great,” Jannae says. “A lot of the decisions we made in the past three or four months were a lot easier. We were a lot more open to doing things because we took Tech Venture, and we had gotten that validation.”

That expertise has helped Jannae move her business forward.

“It’s really important that you find somebody you trust,” she says. “It’s really important to find someone who has that expertise, or at least find a mentor, someone who has been there before.”

All that hustle paid off. In late 2020, The Market Base team landed early-stage project funding from Digital Sandbox KC.


3. Get comfortable with risk.

Greg Storm, TripleBlind

Greg has learned a lot about startups firsthand and he has a Ph.D. in entrepreneurship. So his insights are grounded in research and personal experience.

“There are many theories on what motivates entrepreneurs, but it’s all gunk,” he says. “Everybody is different and has their own motivations for what they do. You have to be comfortable with where you take your risks.”

He suggests entrepreneurs expand their vision and realize that not everything is in their control.

“So much of business is tainted with human psychology,” Greg says. “This job would be easy if people bought what they were supposed to, but you mix in psychology, and people buy stuff because they like the color. That’s where hypothesizing gets interesting. History is rife with examples of people who got the tech right but the timing was wrong.”

Greg suggests that budding entrepreneurs get to know programs like Kauffman FastTrac and the UMKC E-Scholars Program.

“There are a lot of resources in the area to support you,” he says.

Kansas City Entrepreneur Brooke Estell | Photo by Adri Guyer

4. Embrace small changes.

Brooke Estell, Brooke Noel Digital Marketing Studio

Effectively launching a business isn’t all grand gestures. It can happen in baby steps.

“The first thing I did was force myself to change my Instagram category to reflect that I was a freelancer,” Brooke says. “It’s such a little thing. But a few weeks after I did that, a colleague said, ‘Hey, I saw you were freelancing – my boss needs marketing support.’ I think sometimes we overlook those baby steps but they can have a very big impact!”

That small change was a way she advocated for herself.

“If you don’t believe in yourself, there’s nothing that’s going to happen,” Brooke says. “You have to trust yourself. And you have to just go for it. You hear people saying, ‘Just jump off the deep end,’ but if that’s not how you roll, you don’t have to do it like that. I work slower – I’m protecting my peace. I’m not a gambler. People should look at themselves and how they operate and understand there’s not a cookie-cutter way to operate.”

Lisa Peña, founder of Urban Hikes KC

5. Act on your ideas.

Lisa Peña, Urban Hikes KC

A marvelous idea isn’t worth much if it isn’t backed by action.

“Put your mind to it and start working toward it,” Lisa 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.”

6. Know when to shift from hustler to management

Earstin Sanders, Aunt Mildred’s #10 Southern Style Barbecue Sauce

When you’re hustling, it’s all about taking care of business. But true management is planning and administering business.

“If you’re bootstrapping a business, you’re growing it from the ground up, and you’re wearing a lot of different hats,” Earstin says. “It’s more of a hustle. Then, you get to this point in business where, ‘OK, I have to transition out of a hustle to more of a business mentality.’”

To do this, he recommends looking at the big picture and learning from the resources around you.

“Focusing on the business plan and learning more insight on the business side of things was important,” Earstin says. “I’m more of a hands-on guy and so making more business connections and finding the sources like the SBA helped me focus more on growing the business instead of working in the business.”

Will Brown of Will Brown Interiors, a small business based in Kansas City

7. Let passion fuel you.

Will Brown, Will Brown Interiors

Being a business owner is tough. And if you’re just sort of “meh” about your business, it’s even tougher.

“I think it’s important that it has to be something that you are absolutely passionate about, and if you’re just doing a business to pay the bills, I don’t know that that’s sustainable,” Will says. “As a new business owner, something’s got to give you the inspiration and passion to keep going because you literally don’t know what the next day is going to bring.”

8. Communicate and learn.

Lauren Lawrence, Stenovate

Effective entrepreneurship means getting feedback, finding mentors and learning from others.

“Find advisors and talk to people. Listen to feedback. Tell everyone what you’re doing,” says Lauren. “The networking aspects in the Kansas City community are really critical and the nature of people in KC is that they want to help, even if it’s just making a connection. Ask for help. It’s the best thing you can do.”

She especially encourages people to reach up to leaders in their areas of interest.

“Talk to people – especially people who are smarter than you or a step ahead of you,” Lauren says. “Connect with leaders in those spaces – surely they’ll have a cup of coffee with you. Ask, ‘Who do you know? How would you go about this?’ Just doing those things is a big part of why we are successful today.”

Hasan Ali of Smart Resume

9. Take advantage of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Hasan Ali, Smart Resume

In Kansas City, we’ve built a culture of support for entrepreneurs. Hasan recommends business owners in KC take advantage of the resources available.

“It is a very good place to start your gig,” Hasan says. “I’ve never had an issue reaching out to my mentors here, and I’ve never been rejected by any venture or VC in Kansas City. Even if they don’t help you, they will direct you to someone else.”

He also points out that just because you’re an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you’re supposed to be going it alone.

“When you have a startup, hire or get the skills that you need,” Hasan says. “Don’t be doing everything yourself.”

10. Just do it.

India Pernell and Arvelisha Williams, Mattie’s Foods

You can always find reasons to not take a risk and start a business. But on the other hand …

“Just do it,” India says. “Fear can settle in and you might think, ‘Oh, I don’t think I can do it, and I don’t think I …’ No. You can do it. Get a plan first, and then just do it. Map out your vision. And then, go for it.”

Her sister points out that no entrepreneur in Kansas City is flying solo. KCSourceLink’s Resource Partners are here to help.

“The great thing is all these Resource Partners worked together to help us do what we wanted to do and coach us from the process of getting into the [food] truck and later working in the truck,” Arvelisha says. “They were there every step of the way. That’s what we love. Everybody is connected in KC, and so we never felt like we were lost.”

Help for entrepreneurs in Kansas City

Ready to build your business but not sure where to start? KCSourceLink has your back.

Check out our Resource Navigator to explore more than 200 programs and organizations that support KC entrepreneurs. And if you need a little extra guidance, that’s OK. Our Network Navigators can create a Personal Action Plan just for you. Provide a little info about where you are where you want to go. We’ll design a free step-by-step guide to help you meet your goals.

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