Editor’s note: KCultivators is a new, lighthearted profile series we’re kicking off to highlight people who are meaningfully enriching Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Check out our feature on Prep-KC CEO Susan Wally and community builder Donald Carter.
If you live or work in downtown Kansas City, you’ve likely seen Robert Manigold.
The “Ambassador of Awesome” for the digital agency Code Koalas, Manigold is hard to miss when he’s zipping along streets in the Crossroads Arts District on his motorized “One Wheel” scooter. But what may be difficult to see beyond his street-slamoning skills is Manigold’s magnanimous mission to create more opportunities for young Kansas Citians in tech fields.
We caught up with Manigold to unearth what motivates his benevolent pursuit to better Kansas City and each person he meets.
Twitter handle: @That1Dood
Occupation: Ambassador of Awesome at Code Koalas. I’m the non-technical leader in a very technical company. My job is to care about people.
Hometown: El Paso, Texas.
Favorite drink: It’s Diet Dr. Pepper but I’ve been banned from drinking it by the people who love me because of the aspartame.
A startup idea you don’t mind if readers steal: There are a bunch of people with ideas who aren’t able to execute. I’d like to open an open source idea sharing platform for startup ideas. Basically, open sourcing idea flow.
A historical figure you’d like to have coffee with and why: Leonardo da Vinci. From a creative standpoint I would love to sit across the table from a mind that bright that didn’t have a PhD from an incredibly cool school but is indirectly or directly responsible for the world as we see it. And then I’d hope Mozart would stop by our table.
Weirdest thing you’ve eaten: I went to Louisiana State University and did live in Louisiana so the bar for weird is pretty high. Probably rattlesnake.
The animal you’d want to become in your next life: Something lower on the food chain than I am right now so I can understand better and get a different perspective and develop empathy — like a bacterium that gets unceremoniously sucked up into a vacuum.
You’re up to bat for the Royals, what’s your walk-up song: White and Nerdy, Weird Al Yankovic
KC’s biggest area for improvement: Making sure every child in the city has an open door to walk though. Kansas City is great at a lot of things, but some of the really complex, nuanced problems that are hard to solve — like education — are ones we need to get fired up about.
Favorite food joint in KC: Bluestem
An influential book in your life: The Hard Thing About Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz
What keeps you in Kansas City?: Roots that keep growing deeper every day. There’s something very special happening in and emanating from Kansas City. … I want to be apart of something special and help it.
New technology that you’re most excited about:2 Natural language processing. It allows us to be free to create and make the world better rather than accomplish technical tasks all the time. It allows us to be creators rather than technicians. It gives us freedom.
What you would do if you weren’t in your line of work: I’d be a conductor in symphony or opera. From a passion standpoint, that’s what I’d do.
What pisses you off: Bullying. That has a long funnel before you call it that. but it’s when people make decisions for other people rather than helping them achieve. It doesn’t have to be physical but there are a lot of people that put invisible lids on someone else’s life. It’s my mission to tell people that the lid is not real.
Favorite KC organization or brand: It’s a brand in its infancy — a startup nonprofit — called Code the Block. The purpose to teach everyone in the city to code, starting with students. The pilot is going to be at Crossroads Academy. The audacious goal is to figure out how to deploy this to the Kansas City Public School System.
What you hope you’re remembered for: I hope that I’m remembered for helping. For being part of the solution — not one but a lot of solutions.
Biggest failure: When I acknowledged obstacles that weren’t real. When I’ve felt constrained by a leader that wasn’t out for my good and not going around it. Just acknowledging boundaries that aren’t real. But what that did is help me understand how to articulate that for other people and help them walk through barriers that are only as real as they let them be. Basically, it was when I lost faith that I could make a difference.
An inspiration in your life: Brandon Rochon, managing partner of Kastner & Partners. I feel like I’m his ambassador to the world at times but I’m simply a guy who acknowledges when I’ve been impacted in such a way. He’s unlocked some of the ways that I view haters. … He’s an amazing human being — just one of those people who just leaves an indelible mark on every person he comes around. I’m inspired by it every day.
You can’t save it — how would you spend $1 million: I’d spend it on two nonprofits in digital inclusion and disability inclusion. I’d seek out the people who’d multiply it the most.
Man crush: Erik Vervroegen, global head of art at TBWA. He’s one of the most talented humans on earth.
Girl crush: Melissa McCarthy. She’s one of the coolest people that I would love to just hang out with. I think she’s amazing. She’s just a person who was probably told several times in her life that she couldn’t do what she’s doing right now. I love the fact that she proves that as an example of millions of young ladies and men of someone being themselves.
Favorite travel destination: Alberta, Canada. It’s how I would have designed Texas but with way better weather but has really nice people, too.
Your mantra or motto: Right now, it’s “Give people a seat at the table.” Give a seat to the person that would find the most of an opportunity.
Hidden talent or ability: I don’t want to say singing or then everybody ask you to sing. But people I was around in high school or college know me as a classical singer. … I’m a tenor 2 or high Baritone.
You’re awake at 3 am, what’re you doing: Pranks were a big part of my life, and if I was up a 1 to 3 a.m. it would have been planning for a prank. But now, meditation or spiritual reflection. But most of the time it would have been a prank.