Editor’s note: The following piece was inspired by recent news that Acre Designs, a startup that launched in Kansas City, will be relocating to San Francisco after facing a tepid, area investor market.
Cue the somber violin music.
Another sad, all-too-familiar Kansas City story recently played out with news that Acre Designs will be leaving the area for Silicon Valley.
For many folks, it represents yet another great company lost to the land of big dreams and VCs. It marks another missed opportunity for Kansas City. It was a startup that could have created jobs and offered vibrancy to a community of innovators.
But for me, Acre’s departure is an opportunity from which Kansas City can grow. Sure, it’s unfortunate we’ve lost a great team and an idea, but it’s proof that innovative companies are being built here and can come from anywhere.
In Acre co-founder Jen Dickson’s piece on the firm’s exodus, she relayed a message that still reverberates in my head:
Dickson said Kansas City’s “show me” mentality is stagnating its startups. I agree, but it’s way bigger than that.
I’ve seen this quote floating around the Internet in many forms:
“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than anything. It is more important than the past, education, money, circumstances, failures, successes and what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company, a community, a home.
Hell, many times it’s more important than the facts.
The remarkable thing is we a have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past. We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude.
I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it.”
That thought, penned by an anonymous writer, has fueled my mindset in business and in life. And it’s why I think the “Show Me” attitude is such a pessimistic way to brand Missouri, and ipso facto Kansas City.
Kansas City is competing not only to retain the talented minds we grow, but also to attract new talent that will help us solve problems and advance our prosperity. It’s a competition in which every growing city in the nation is playing.
The history of the “Show Me” slogan is frankly embarrassing.
One story on the history points out that if someone said they were from Missouri, you likely had to show them how to do something.
Let that sink in for a second. As a state, we embrace a slogan that originated because people from Missouri didn’t know how to do anything.
The site goes on:
“However the slogan originated, it has since passed into a different meaning entirely, and is now used to indicate the stalwart, conservative, non-credulous character of Missourians.”
Why do we embrace this perceived attitude?
It’s time for a shift in attitude. It’s time for us to start showing the world how it’s done instead of proving ourselves to one another.
Let’s show how a community can collectively identify problems that are holding back its growth. Yes, access to risk capital is a prominent issue right now. Let’s all agree it’s a problem and one that dates back to 1989 when Cerner struggled to raise capital. Let’s support those willing to take action in solving this problem, instead of continuing to complain about it.
It’s time we confront our challenges rather than ignore them.
Let’s embrace that the world is changing and accept that, by 2020, 40 percent of the workforce is going to be independent and working for themselves.
Let’s show the world that we’ve made significant investments to develop our downtown — to the tune of $9 billion in the last 15 years — because young, talented people want to live in cities more than ever.
Let’s show that we have a notable advantage with the creative companies in Kansas City instead of saying there are no developers. This resource of creative talent is something that we should leverage in a world where technology is being commoditized quickly but design and creativity are difficult to outsource.
This is a short list off the top of my head, but it’s a start. I hope others leave comments with ideas on what we can show the world.
There’s been a lot that has happened in Kansas City — how are we going to react to it?
I can tell you, it starts with our attitude.
Blake Miller is a Partner at Think Big Partners and Managing Partner at The Collective Funds supporting entrepreneurs at various stages in their company lifecycle. Blake has played an integral role in the development of the Cisco Smart + Connected City and Living Lab and serves on several Downtown KC committees. You can follow Blake on Twitter @ImBmills