Get Inspired: KC Entrepreneurs Recount the Setbacks that Pushed Them Forward

You’ve seen the entrepreneurship how-tos: what classes to take and what people to connect with. But only KCSourceLink is brave enough to give you the real dirt.

When we work with business owners, they share so many of their personal learnings. Most are positive. But there are a few that fall under the “ick” category. Whether it’s pitfalls they’ve barely avoided or lessons they learned the hard way, these entrepreneurs have ‘fessed up about what mistakes you should avoid. Read on and learn.

Lisa Peña, founder of Urban Hikes KC

1. Don’t get stuck in the idea stage.

Lisa Peña, Urban Hikes KC

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. That experience helped her when she started her business.

“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.”

Celeste Aguirre of Relief Muscle Manipulation

2. Don’t discount your skills.

Celeste Aguirre, Relief Muscle Manipulation

As a massage therapist, it could have been easy for Celeste to think she didn’t have business know-how. Fortunately, when she started her business, she looked at skills she’s developed in other areas of her life and how they could apply to entrepreneurship. Now, she encourages prospective business owners to not be intimidated or underestimate their abilities.

“Being financially savvy helped me,” Celeste says. “As a single parent, if you can budget for yourself and your kids, you can budget for a business. You learn budgeting skills.”

Aaron Thomas, GearBrokers

3. Don’t take people at face value.

Aaron Thomas, GearBrokers

When Aaron started his business, he worked with a partner. Unfortunately, he didn’t know that person’s full history. Aaron needed law enforcement and a legal team to extricate himself – and his business – from the relationship.

“If I could go back in time and tell myself anything before I got into this, I would say, ‘Trust people, but verify everything they say,’” he says. “I’ve made that mistake more than I’d like to admit. It’s such a cliché, but going that extra mile would have saved me heartache. … I should have done a background check. I won’t make that mistake again.”

On the other hand, Aaron has given employees opportunities and been thrilled with the results.

Once GearBrokers was up and running, Aaron found himself “trying to do all of the things.” An employee offered to help with unhappy customers, and Aaron gave him a chance. Turns out the employee is uniquely gifted in that area – and now he’s general manager.

“[The employee’s] strength is the ability to look past words to what people really want,” Aaron says. “It’s valuable and rare.”

Ammar Qureshi and Osama Hanif of The Halal Guys in Kansas City

4. Don’t second guess yourself.

Osama Hanif, The Halal Guys

When you’re in your early 20s and already a serial entrepreneur, you’ve probably heard “no” a few times. UMKC student Osama doesn’t let it bother him – or influence how he feels about a venture.

“No idea is a bad idea; it just depends on how you execute it,” he says. “Don’t talk yourself out of things, and don’t be afraid of judgment or failure. See if it works out. And if it doesn’t, at least you know. You won’t say, ‘I should have.’”

Josh Lewis, founder of Kansas City-based UpDown NightLife

5. Don’t go after investors who believe in your business.

Joshua I. Lewis – UpDown Nightlife

This might sound counterintuitive, but there’s a reason behind Joshua’s madness.

“Find investors who believe in you,” he says. “Seek investments and investors who believe in YOU. Not your business. You.”

COVID-19 has shown that business owners need to adapt, especially in the early stages of a venture. Business models change, but the founder is the constant.

“The investors you choose need to be confident in your ability to lead the company through any circumstance,” Joshua says. “Notice how I said the investors you choose? You shouldn’t be beholden to any investor who doesn’t fit the needs you have established for your company.”

The Missouri Small Business Development Center at UMKC helped Joshua identify the kinds of investors he wanted to find. And the center’s business consultants helped him connect with these investors. They can help you, too.

More below …


Hasan Ali of Smart Resume

6. Don’t do it all yourself.

Hasan Ali, Smart Resume

Like many startups, Hasan started lean, with just he and his co-founder. Even though they were both tech-savvy, they still had a lot to learn about business: writing a business plan, forming an LLC, filing the proper paperwork, developing marketing and sales strategies.

“We wasted a lot of time where we could have easily gotten someone on board who has those skills and could complement our skills and make it easier,” Hasan says. “When you have a startup, hire or get the skills that you need. Don’t be doing everything yourself.”

Finding the right people in Kansas City to help fuel that business idea can be as easy as asking around.

“If you have an idea and you think you can’t do it all by yourself and it requires a different expertise, look, search for people,” Hasan says. “1 Million Cups is a great place to find those skills, all those events in Kansas City, Missouri. They are all free. Go to any of them, network with people and find the skills you need. … Network with people that could help you to make your dream a reality.”

Jannae Gammage and Milad Chasempour of The Market Base

7. Don’t hesitate.

Jannae Gammage, The Market Base

As a seasoned entrepreneur, Jannae has some great advice for others who are blazing their own trails. Whether you have a tech startup, a Main Street shop or a solo side hustle, her words ring true.

“Do it. Go for it,” she says. “Because either way, you’re going to make mistakes. Either way, there’s going to be that fear. The only way to really get to the next phase or next step is to do it and start working out the kinks in the beginning so that a year from now, two years from now, you’re focused on growth. Don’t hesitate. Don’t overthink it. Do it.”

Carrissa Dowdy, founder of The Cosmetic Launch Pad

8. Don’t stay married to your original idea.

Carrissa Dowdy, The Cosmetic Launchpad

Carrissa knew what she wanted, and it was big.

“I had a clear picture in my mind of what I thought I wanted to do with my business, and I was resistant to anything that did not work like that picture, and that picture required millions of dollars in capital for a building and equipment,” she says.

It was a gorgeous picture. But Entrepreneurial Mindset Training at ELEVATIONLAB showed Carrissa it wasn’t the only option. Joel Barrett, a business coach with the Missouri SBDC who teaches the course, helped shape her business idea. Part of that transformation required a shift in mindset: less is more.

“Now, my business model is a bit different,” Carrissa says. “It doesn’t require what I consider the white-glove treatment. It requires kind of a bare-bones structure, and I think that that helps me meet my customers and my clients where they are.”

9. Don’t overlook the resource partners that can help you.

Samuel Lane, Lane Contracting

Determination, Incorporated helps formerly incarcerated people adopt an entrepreneurial mindset and start businesses. It’s just one of the 230+ resource partners in the KCSourceLink Resource Navigator.

Entrepreneur Samuel has built a successful contracting business with the support of Kyle Smith and the team at Determination, Incorporated. Now, Sam encourages other entrepreneurs to seek out the resources and people who can help them meet their goals.

“I’d have to say that Determination, Incorporated is a team of people who would go to bat and advocate for you no matter how rough it gets,” Samuel says. “A few times I went to Kyle and was quite honestly having a hard time finding a way to move forward. They won’t quit on you if you don’t quit on them.”

Chris Goode, owner of Ruby Jean's Juicery

10. Don’t pretend you’re always in control.

Chris Goode, Ruby Jean’s Juicery

The pandemic has taught many of us that control is an illusion. But for some entrepreneurs, this has been a hard pill to swallow. For Chris, it’s been an exercise in learning to let go.

“For me, the biggest thing is not to be afraid of the worst-case scenario,” he says. “Being able to take the positives out of this and be able to hear and see what I need to and gain from this moment as much as I can is important. Once things are outside your control, stop trying to control them. It just doesn’t help. For me, when I let go is when I get a better grasp on things.”

Savvy Salon, Rickey and Lenora Leathers

11. Don’t be afraid to step into a new role.

Rickey and Lenora Leathers, Savvy Salon

Rickey and Lenora bootstrapped their salon. At first, Lenora was the only stylist. But since then, the business has grown.

One Saturday, the couple stopped by the business to see how things were going. They found a busy salon, running smoothly with everyone working as a team. The confidence in her staff has given Lenora confidence to spend less time working as a stylist and more time working on the business.

“It’s nice step out from behind the chair,” she says. “I don’t have to be the center of the business.”

Earstin and Penelope Sanders pose outside Aunt Mildred's Barbecue Mobile Eatery

12. Don’t let anything stop you.

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

Earstin had the opportunity to present to the producers of “Shark Tank.” Although he wasn’t called back, the producers encouraged him to keep at it. That’s a message Earstin takes to heart.

“Success is like being on a mountaintop,” he says. “Another person may get airlifted to the top of the mountain, but that has nothing to do with you getting to the top of the mountain. Maybe that person beat you to the top, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get there. Whatever it takes to get you there, that’s what you have to do. Focus on what you’re doing and the determination to get there.”

Find the support you need

KCSourceLink is here to connect you with the people and programs that can help you reach your goals. Search more than 230 resource partners in our Resource Navigator. Check out our 10-part guide to funding your business. And if you need individualized guidance, reach out to our Network Navigators. With a little information, they can create a Personal Action Plan to get you headed in the right direction. It’s your free, personalized set of next steps that connects you to KC’s huge entrepreneur network that can help you avoid those  business mistakes.

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