Editor’s note: KCultivators is a lighthearted profile series to highlight people who are meaningfully enriching Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Today Startland takes a closer look at startup ecosystem champion John Coler. Check out our features on Made in KC’s Tyler Enders, Hispanic business builder Pedro Zamora, ‘fashionpreneur’ Jordan Williams, Plexpod founder Gerald Smith, innovation coach Diana Kander, Victor & Penny’s Erin McGrane, SEED Law’s Adrienne Haynes, Code Koalas’ Robert Manigold, Prep-KC CEO Susan Wally and community builder Donald Carter.
To the outside world, Kansas City might mean barbecue, beer and sports, but it’s so much more, John Coler said.
“I think we as Kansas Citians owe it to visitors and new faces to showcase the resources and best things we have going on here,” said Coler, quality assurance manager at RFP365. “We do that pretty well, but just need to continue to be cognizant of it. I think it’s one of the drivers of what draws people to Kansas City.”
A champion of the local startup community since his college days in the University of Kansas’ business school, Coler maintains a personal list of area resources, and shares it with others to acquaint them with what’s available in town, he said.
Coler’s own entrepreneurial spirit shows in his extensive involvement on the Kansas City startup scene. He most recently led the organization of Startup Weekend at the Sprint Accelerator and also co-leads the KC Roundtable meetups at eggct. with Glen Dakan, he said.
“When I was a student at KU, I actually came down for one of those and met some people that I still see in the community — so everyone from Ryan Bennett to Stuart Ludlow, my boss, to Diana Kander, and Nathan Kurtz at the [Ewing Marion] Kauffman Foundation,” Coler said. “That’s one of those things that just has some sort of sentimental value to be a part of, so I’m pretty excited to keep the heartbeat going with that.”
Leaders like Adam Arredondo and Matthew Marcus with the Kansas City Startup Foundation and Regan Carrizales, founder of Locale and formerly CEO of Silicon Prairie News, were some of Coler’s first points of contact with the local startup community, he said. When Coler was still in school, they asked him and other KU students about volunteering for Big Kansas City, a now-defunct Silicon Prairie News event, so Coler stepped in, he said.
“And then it just kind of snowballed from there,” Coler said.
After his work with SportsPhotos.com in the Kansas City Startup Village, Techstars at the Sprint Accelerator, and Pinsight Media, and now his work at RFP365, Coler considers himself “entrenched” in the startup community, he said.
“The cool thing about that was that I felt like RFP365 was making a difference in the industry,” Coler said. “They have really great leadership from the founders and a great team, great work environment. I’ve been happy to be there for over a year and hopefully many more now.”
Also on Coler’s involvement list: TEDxKC events for women and youth this fall, which he hopes to help facilitate.
Coler is a big fan of KCUR 89.3, National Public Radio’s Kansas City affiliate housed on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus, he said.
“They put out a lot of really great local and national content, [and] they have events around the community for listeners to stay up on the news, to stay entertained and to keep up with the facts,” he said.
Coler also hopes to continue keeping up with what’s going on in the community, he added.
“I’m always open to grab coffee or drinks out with someone who’s interested in getting more connected,” Coler said. “Let’s make Kansas City and the world better.”
Startland sat down with Coler to learn more about his growing list of involvement in the Kansas City startup world, as well as his views on the city’s strengths and areas of improvement.
Job: Quality assurance manager at RFP365.
Twitter handle: @JohnJohnColer
Instagram handle: @cocacoler
Hometown: Overland Park
Favorite drink: Black coffee in the a.m., IPA in the p.m.
A startup idea you don’t mind if readers steal: It’s called “What the Blink.” It’s automatic blinkers for cars because for some reason people can’t seem to indicate that they know how to use them. It’s a big deal. People on both sides of the state line are very bad at using their blinkers.
A historical figure you’d like to have coffee with and why: Thomas Edison, just due to all the different inventions that he came up with. It’d be nice to get an idea of how certain things came to be and learn from those methods.
Weirdest thing you’ve eaten: So not necessarily the weirdest food per se, but I’m a pescatarian, so I eat fish and vegetarian diet and there have been times over the past six or so years where I’m out at an event and I accidentally eat something with bacon or ham or something like that. And that is a weird experience when you eat something and you don’t expect it to be in a food. It’s not like a huge deal.
The animal you’d want to become in your next life: How about this: If I was on land, I’d be an American bison because they have the best beards, and if I was in water, I’d probably be a dolphin because they’re just brilliant and they do well together. They both do, I guess. One travels in herds, and one travels in … packs? I don’t know, but I think those two are pretty interesting. Maybe a mix between the two. Maybe a dolson? Biphon? The head of a bison, the body of a dolphin.
You’re up to bat for the Royals, what’s your walk-up song: It’s called “Musical Doodles” by Two Feet, and even the album is called “First Steps” or something like that.
KC’s biggest area for improvement: We could do a whole lot better at moving a little bit quicker in some areas. We kind of have this Midwestern, conservative sort of value to take things slow — you know, Missouri’s the Show Me State — so we need a lot of answers before things get done. There’s gotta be a better balance to that to help move KC forward, and I think some of our strengths are the things that probably end up slowing us down. We have to be more competitive with peer cities. One other thing is just being aware of the different resources in Kansas City and not duplicating efforts across many different organizations, because you see that a lot in the nonprofit space.
Favorite food joint in KC: Char Bar, specifically because of the Jackknife sandwich. It’s amazing. They just do a wonderful job with it.
An influential book in your life: “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch. Super inspirational. He was a professor out of Carnegie Mellon. It got a lot of publicity back in the day, but he had pancreatic cancer, and he talked about the areas of life that were very important to him. Everyone should at least read it. It’s a quick, easy read. It’s probably why I read it, but I definitely need to read more books, so if anyone has recommendations …
What keeps you in Kansas City: Definitely family, friends, professional network, cost of living, arts, coffee, beer. We just have a lot of really great scenes right now. I’d say maybe the overarching thing that maybe you wouldn’t see in another city is the ability to make an impact a lot quicker because of the size of the city. And everyone’s really willing to meet up, grab coffee, grab drinks, and continue to help move this community forward.
New technology that you’re most excited about: I think a lot of the stuff that Elon Musk is putting out is super aspirational. That’s probably the coolest. Reusable rockets from SpaceX and other competitors. The space race is back on, baby.
What you would do if you weren’t in your line of work: I really enjoy meeting new people, so getting out and meeting the most interesting people in Kansas City and across the U.S. Finding a way to make money while doing that would be very exciting, alongside a little bit of the traveling that would be done with that.
What pisses you off: When people don’t have community-oriented thoughts and approaches — when people are in it for themselves. We’re all in this together.
Biggest failure: I don’t know if I have one thing that particularly stands out, but I just would say procrastination and maybe not giving a few of the things I’m doing my all, I think. I used to be pretty healthy, so I’d say that’d probably be a pretty big one, just not being able to prioritize my health better. I need to improve upon that again.
An inspiration in your life: My mom and dad. They’ve both been so supportive over the years and given me the environment to move forward as I please, and while they don’t fully understand what it is I do, either at work or sometimes in the community, they’re always there for me to fall back on. And they’re just hard workers, so that’s something I’ve kind of gained from them.
You can’t save it — how would you spend $1 million: I’d split it three ways. One-third to programs that help fight poverty, one-third to the arts and then one third to some sort of technical training for people looking to get into development or design or things of that nature.
Man crush: I was just thinking about this. The new season just came out, so it’d have to be Jared from “Silicon Valley” because he’s like a perfect mix of sweet, thoughtful and a little bit deranged.
Woman crush: My girlfriend. She definitely is beautiful inside and out, and she gives me perspective on a bunch of things that I don’t think about due to her background and her interests. I couldn’t be here without her.
Favorite travel locale: I still have a lot of traveling left to do, but I would have to say that I really have enjoyed going to San Diego and Austin in the past. Great music and food scenes, and the climate is pretty nice.
Your mantra or motto: So I took this leadership class back at Johnson County Community College, and one of the guys that led that up, he passed along this quote that Jackie Robinson kind of lived by: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” So just kind of having that idea of how can I improve the person who’s sitting across the table’s situation in life, an opportunity.
Hidden talent or ability: I think I am a lot better than average at catching random little snacks in my mouth. So if you threw a grape or trail mix or fruit snacks, I’m good at catching those. I ran cross country and track, so we used to get really bored out there on the courses, and that was one of our pastimes.