Editor’s note: KCultivators is a lighthearted profile series 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.
Early in her career as an innovation coach, Diana Kander quickly learned tools can only take an organization so far.
“They have to be in a mental place where they’re not afraid to try things and fail,” she said. “Otherwise there’s no amount of worksheets and workshops that are going to make a difference.
“It’s much more than a hackathon, an event or a brainstorming session. It’s a daily practice to improve the skills to be innovative.”
After Diana Kander wrote her New York Times bestselling book “All in Startup,” a set of executives approached her about the fictional narrative derived from real lessons of failure in her first business venture.
They asked Kander to help their employees think more entrepreneurially and to establish a genuine practice of innovation. And thus she embarked on a path to instruct organizations and executives on how to hypothesize, test and implement new ideas.
The role allows Kander to make a broader impact, she said.
“I could spend my efforts helping people start their own business or I could use the same amount of effort to help these companies, which employ tens of thousands of people, save their organization and save those really great jobs,” she said. “I think it’s been a really valuable use of my time to try to save a lot of people’s jobs.”
Startland News sat down with Kander to learn more about her work, quirks and sources of inspiration.
Occupation: Innovation Coach. I help individuals and organizations develop a practice of innovation.
Twitter handle: @DianaKander
Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri.
Favorite drink: Iced tea.
A startup idea you don’t mind if readers steal: I have a thousand. I really want there to be swag design for women and women’s bodies. Unisex doesn’t do it for me.
A historical figure you’d like to have coffee with and why: Ewing Kauffman. He’s my entrepreneurial role model. He had a high school education and started a pharmaceutical company. They didn’t hire their first doctor until the company was generating more than $2 million in revenue in the 1950s. He was so good at understanding customers and caring about his employees. There are people to this day, if you ever meet anyone that worked for him, they talk about that company like a family, where they took care of each other and how much they loved it. And I’ve never heard anybody talk about working at any place like that.
Weirdest thing you’ve eaten: Cow tongue. I’m an immigrant and my mom would send me to school with cow tongue sandwiches, which is not the best way to become popular in elementary school. I didn’t eat it to try it, I ate it regularly. … Nobody ever wanted to trade for cow tongue.
The animal you’d want to become in your next life: I have an aspirational animal, and who I really am. My aspirational animal is the honey badger. It’s the toughest, scrappiest animal who eats cobras for dinner. … But my natural state is a panda, a scared and lazy animal.
You’re up to bat for the Royals, what’s your walk-up song: Pitbull, “Feel This Moment.” It has the best entrepreneurial advice. “Ask for money, get advice. Ask for advice, get money twice.” It’s the best fundraising advice.
KC’s biggest area for improvement: I used to think that KC’s biggest area of improvement was its apologetic nature for itself. Kansas City used to have low self-esteem, but I’ve been so excited that over the last three to five years I’ve seen an unbelievable amount of pride in our city. I thought this movement to always talk about your city was a national thing, but I travel a lot and it’s not the same. Kansas City has so much more pride for its city than most other places.
Favorite food joint in KC: Kona Grill.
An influential book in your life: “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi. It’s the first book I recommend to college people who want book recommendations because it’s a book about building meaningful relationships with your professional contacts. It’s not how to network but how to really connect with and serve others.
What keeps you in Kansas City: I’ve gotten an opportunity to travel all over the United States and Kansas City is home. It’s got the best of everything and anything you could ever want: art, sports, amazing food and the people are incredible. Whenever my husband and I have been away from Kansas City, we couldn’t wait to get back.
New technology that you’re most excited about: Watching the evolution of virtual is like what it would have been like to watch the beginning of the internet. It’s a new tool that most people don’t fully understand yet, but that’s going to create an amazing amount of entrepreneurs.
What you would do if you weren’t in your line of work: A shrink. I really enjoy helping people achieve transformation in their lives. It’s fulfilling.
What pisses you off: People whose actions are based on hate.
Favorite KC organization or brand: The Kauffman Foundation. If I think about what kind of foundation I would want to start, if I had all the money in the world, it would have the same mission and purpose as the Kauffman Foundation. We’re very fortunate to have it here.
What you hope you’re remembered for: The individual impact I made on people’s lives. Also, I really love helping people find their first customer. Whenever someone is starting a business, it’s a hobby of mine to either be their first customer or to help find their first customer.
Biggest failure: I had a successful cash-flowing business and I allowed startup culture to make me feel that if I didn’t raise investor money or start a Silicon Valley-type company I wasn’t a real entrepreneur. I raised several hundred thousand in investor dollars, started a software-as-a-service product, and found a problem worth solving, but my solution didn’t solve the problem. And I spent the money to build everything out, and not saving time or money to make big adjustments. After that, I resolved to never invest time or money before I’ve tested and validated that both the problem and solution exist. It took me about a year to get out of the fetal position and even talk about it. But I channeled my learnings into “All in Startup,” which was my first book.
An inspiration in your life: My 4-year-old son inspires me to be a better person. I’ve learned that he doesn’t do what I tell him to do, he imitates the behavior I exhibit. He makes me be a better person because that’s what I want to teach him.
Recent weird dream: I’ve been dreaming of stand-up material. I try to have a pen and paper handy so I don’t lose it.
Favorite travel locale: Any place with a beach. I love San Diego.
Your mantra or motto: It is what you make of it. Whatever happens in your life that is difficult, you have two choices. You can let it define you and it makes life difficult for you. Or can choose to have it as the genesis of the incredible things you did as a result.
Hidden talent or ability: I can do a lot of pull ups. I’ve done 20 pull ups. I’m working on a 10-minute plank and I’m up to eight minutes.