Editor’s note: KCultivators is a lighthearted profile series we’re kicking off to highlight people who are meaningfully enriching Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Check out our features on Victor & Penny’s Erin McGrane, SEED Law’s Adrienne Haynes, Code Koalas’ Robert Manigold, Prep-KC CEO Susan Wally and community builder Donald Carter.
In 2014, eager college student Jay Austin Googled the words “how to be an entrepreneur.”
Although young, Austin was determined to learn what it takes to succeed.
“I would always Google the questions that I had,” Austin said. “And back then, my only exposure to entrepreneurship was in the online world.”
But Austin didn’t want to do his work in a silo. Before graduation day, Austin knew the importance of community and was proactive about finding one for himself.
“I wanted to put my roots down in Kansas City, so I just cold emailed a bunch of people,” Austin said. “When I would come home for breaks, I began to realize that there was something going on in Kansas City. It helped that the Royals were doing what they were doing. I got a sense that something was up.
Fast forward to 2017, Austin has experience working with about a dozen startups. He is currently spearheading five different enterprises from a variety of industries — video, baseball, automotive, music and virtual reality.
Albeit a humble guy, Austin credits his success thus far to his proactivity, perseverance and community-building skills. He said that within Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, he aims to build bridges between aspiring and seasoned entrepreneurs.
Startland News sat down with Austin to learn more about what drives him.
Hometown: Independence, Mo.
A startup idea you don’t mind if readers steal: All of mine, feel free to steal. One, being the Brinks for the marijuana industry. Brinks are the people that deliver cash and have armed guards that deliver cash to businesses. Instead of moving money, moving pot. Well, it wouldn’t be legal here but in other places.
A historical figure you’d like to have coffee with and why: Thomas Edison. Our approaches are very similar, he’s the type of guy where at some point in his life he realized that he’s really good at forming the idea, walking people through the first 3 – 5 steps of bringing it to life and then building a team around it. His knack for finding talent was unmatched as far as I’m concerned. He would have his own lab and he had 15, 20, 25 men at the time who would take his ideas and build them out. And that’s why he was so prolific with what he was able to create. That’s my style, too.
Weirdest thing you’ve eaten: I’ve eaten cow tongue, and I’ve also eaten a cricket while on the Great Wall of China which was cool.
The animal you’d want to become in your next life: Do I have to wait? I want to be stegosaurus now. For real, I would say a camel. Or a wolf riding a camel.
You’re up to bat for the Royals, what’s your walk-up song: World Series by Machine Gun Kelly.
KC’s biggest area for improvement: The east side of Kansas City. I think the problem is we have to figure out how to elevate the community and not price them out further east. If people start moving to the east side — which they are — and if people start buying up plots of land for redevelopment — which they are — one of two things is gonna happen. The first is they build up a beautiful community and move everybody who’s there now further east. Or they build up a beautiful community with the 80 percent of people who are already there who deserve to be in that community and can function in a community like that. I spent a lot of time thinking about the development over there and what the gentrification looks like. We have to be culturally sensitive and ask “Are we developing the people there first so they can hold the high paying jobs who can afford the higher priced properties?” Or, are we bringing people in from the outside who can afford it already.
Favorite food joint in KC: Habashi House.
An influential book in your life: Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, but not for the reasons most people would think. I actually hate that book. I think it lends to the type of thinking that if you latch onto it for too long it may end up hurting you and I think it’s selling a false reality and false hope of the power of your mind when it comes to manifesting these types of things. … I think success really boils down to perseverance and treating people with a lot of respect.
What keeps you in Kansas City: I love this city. I’d love to see it grow. The people are really cool and I feel like you can know everybody.
New technology that you’re most excited about: Augmented reality is super fascinating because you can layer a world on top of a world and for the first time in a long time it’ll be seamless. If I can walk outside and through the power of my phone see things that other people aren’t seeing but have that be just as real to me as anything else, that’s going to be super fascinating. AI is really interesting, too, because it is the idea that bots can take over the world, which is a legitimate thing that we should be thinking about
What you would do if you weren’t in your line of work: Watching baseball and drinking beer all days of the week.
What pisses you off: Liars.
Favorite KC organization or brand: You know, who I think is really killing it right now is Lifted Spirits. I love Lifted Spirits, they’re doing everything right and they’re good people with a fantastic product.
What you hope you’re remembered for: I don’t think I want to be remembered. I kind of want the work to speak louder than my name. I think if I was going for something that was attached to my name than it’s too vain for me and it wouldn’t make me super happy if I ever achieved it. I’d rather have somebody say “Yeah, who even was that guy?” I think the work will live longer than the name.
Biggest failure: There was a stretch within a month where I lost four clients out of five which equaled $160,000 in revenue. So that was awesome. I learned to find the right clients and then regardless of the clients you find, actually do the work. As an entrepreneur, freedom doesn’t come until you sell everything. Up to that point, you are hostage to your clients, investors, the bank, customers and employees. So accept that. You can’t just call yourself an entrepreneur and expect freedom today.
An inspiration in your life: My grandma and the social work she did on the east side of Kansas City was fantastic. Plus, I love the way that she can deal with people. I try to emulate that as much as I can. Also, my dad, who is about as self-made as self-made gets. So that is inspirational because I don’t want to let him down. And my mom, an immigrant, who had to make a big leap of faith coming over here from the Philippines.
You can’t invest or save it — how would you spend $1 million: I’d give 10 percent to Lifted Spirits, 10 percent to support crowdfunding ideas and 80 percent would give to guys like Daniel Edwards who are putting in work toward rebuilding East of Troost.
Man crush: Donald Carter.
Woman crush: Kristen Stewart, she has one of the cutest laughs.
Recent weird dream: In my dream last night I was l walking into a gym and somebody looked at me and was like “Yo, did you hear Chris Lighty is dead?” And I was like yes, he has been dead for a long time. That was the end of the dream.
Favorite travel locale: Istanbul, Turkey. The food is amazing, the people are incredibly hospitable and I love the history of religion and how it’s changed over the years. But my favorite part of it, other than the people, is the commerce that goes on there forces those people to get along. Geographically they are located north of Syria, but on the Black Sea next to Western Europe and Russia. And then of course, Africa. The commerce there is incredible and they tend to get along. I feel for them right now due to the attacks.
Your mantra or motto: Get shit done. Be quiet, be humble.
Hidden talent or ability: I really don’t have any. I’m a pretty basic dude. One talent that I’m developing is being able to look at video and pick up some of the artistic stuff.
You’re awake at 2:00 am, what’re you doing: I’m working, absolutely. I’m a late worker anyways.