How KC's Yogurtini Founder Scaled His Businesses to Give Back during COVID
Business owners face many challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, but for those who are prepared like Yogurtini owner Isaac Lee Collins, it’s also an opportunity for growth, supporting other small business owners and helping the community.
Since purchasing their first Kansas City Yogurtini location in 2015 on the Country Club Plaza, Isaac and his wife Rachel have expanded to three self-serve frozen yogurt bars across the metro area (including one they bought in 2020) and have grown their operations to 45 employees. During the height of the pandemic, the couple pivoted to pickup and delivery services and put in extra hours to survive. With financial assistance from the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City and AltCap, they were able to expand to a third location amid the crisis by staying agile in their approach.
“I was terrified when the pandemic hit,” Isaac says. “After about a month of freaking out every single day, we formulated a plan to purchase an already existing franchise versus building one from the ground up like we had originally planned. I contacted four of my frozen yogurt competitors and asked them if they wanted to sell. Three said they'd be interested in having a conversation. I did my due diligence and decided on the one that was the cheapest and the best location.”
A serial entrepreneur who owned and operated a chocolate business before Yogurtini, Isaac also started a business coaching and public speaking venture in January 2021. He serves clients virtually and in-person.
“I want to support entrepreneurs because what I’ve found is so many people have this amazing vision for their life, but through circumstance, mindset or finances, they feel stuck,” Isaac says. “Entrepreneurship is constantly feeling like you're not good enough but having to push through anyway. I want to help people gain the competence to feel like they can do it.”
Even as a mentor with nearly a decade of experience, Isaac has learned that remaining teachable is a key to success no matter where you are on your entrepreneurship journey. In 2021, ScaleUP! Kansas City invited Isaac to be one of 20 scaling entrepreneurs in its 11th small business cohort. The 16-week program, administered by the University of Missouri-Kansas City Innovation Center and Missouri Small Business Development Center at UMKC, provides training, peer mentoring and expert guidance to selected participants at no-cost.
If you’d like to apply for the next cohort of ScaleUP! KC, head over to our blog post to hear what alums of the program have to say, see what you need to qualify and learn more. Applications are due Dec. 15, 2021.
Isaac received one-on-one coaching from program director Jill Hathaway who helped him reevaluate his business and leadership style as well as recognize opportunities to take Yogurtini to the next level.
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“I went into the cohort very cocky; I had a wall up thinking, ‘What can I learn from this?’” Isaac says. “The very first week I got knocked back on my heels. The training made me look at every facet of my business and analyze which parts were healthy and which parts were stagnant.”
The chance to connect with other local business owners was another benefit for Isaac.
“Entrepreneurship can be really lonely, so it was cool to be able to build new relationships with so many people who are like-minded.” he says. “I can count on them and bounce ideas off of them even now that we’re out of the program.”
One of Isaac’s main ScaleUP! takeaways is the importance of engaging his Yogurtini team around the business’ mission and vision to create a shared understanding, passion and motivation.
“If you came into Yogurtini, and I was there, you felt the mission and the vision because it was coming from me, but you didn't feel that same energy if I wasn’t there,” he says. “That wasn't my team's fault. I was doing a bad job of passing that along. Through ScaleUP!, I was able to figure out how to better define the purpose, bring it to life and then share it with all my employees so we could serve at a higher level.”
For Isaac, that higher level means cultivating value that goes beyond just selling frozen yogurt, including regularly supporting fundraisers and hosting donation events.
“We're huge in community involvement, partnering with nonprofits and other local organizations that are doing really cool things,” Isaac says. “ScaleUP! helped me really tap into the why of the business that’s about more than making money.”
Isaac also credits ScaleUP! with showing him that being an effective leader requires prioritizing employee development.
“I've always prided myself on having a good team, trusting them and delegating responsibility, but I didn't even scratch the surface before compared to where I'm at now. I learned that delegating isn't good enough. You also have to develop your people along the process with training that empowers them to do more and be more.”
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