It all comes back to time and money, Jennifer Rosenblatt said.
“With a startup, things always take longer, and they always cost a lot more,” said Rosenblatt, co-founder of MusicSpoke. “Where we are now is not where I wanted to be.”
Though selected as one of Startland News’ 2017 under-the-radar Kansas City startups, as well as being awarded $50,000 last month in the annual LaunchKC competition, MusicSpoke isn’t yet at the level Rosenblatt and Kurt Knecht imagined when they co-founded the composer publishing company in 2014.
And that’s OK, Rosenblatt told a crowd gathered Thursday for September’s Innovation Exchange, a program organized by Think Big Partners and Startland News.
“As entrepreneurs, we set really high expectations for ourselves, and then we beat ourselves up when we don’t hit those goals,” she said. “But we also have to take a step back, take a breath, and say, ‘OK. I created something out of nothing, and it’s working, and it’s growing. And that’s good, too.’”
Rosenblatt was joined at the Innovation Exchange by representatives from fellow 2017 under-the radar startups, including Rachael Qualls, Venture360; Kyle J. Ginavan, OneHQ; Paul Francis, OYO Fitness; Komal Choong, ZOHR; Jeff Glasco, Happy Food Co.; Delvin Higginson, TradeLanes; and Gretchen Henry, Sprout Solutions.
The biggest challenge for any startup is changing market behavior, Qualls said.
“You think you’re going to build something really innovative,” she said. “And then you think you’re just going to put it out there, and people are going to use it because it’s so darn awesome, right? No. You have to change a behavior. You can’t just drop something innovative in people’s laps and everybody clamors to it, especially when you’re talking about changing an entire business process.”
Kansas City, however, has proven a worthwhile homebase for breaking through those existing behaviors, startup founders said at the event — partly because of the community’s welcoming nature.
MusicSpoke, for example, was founded in Lincoln, Nebraska, before eventually finding itself untethered from the city and looking for a new home.
“We chose to move to Kansas City because of the arts, because of the support for entrepreneurship,” Rosenblatt said. “It’s just an amazing city to be in, and you still have the niceness of the Midwest.”
Kansas City also has been a good fit for companies looking for trainable talent eager to embrace progressive technology while keeping a Midwestern work ethic, OneHQ’s Ginavan said.
“I think Kansas City is unique from a hiring perspective,” he said. “You hear stories about startups on the east or west coast, and they’re working 16-hour days. I just don’t think that’s sustainable, honestly. I really like Kansas City’s culture where everyone wants to just come in, work really hard, then go home to their families. I think that’s more of the Midwestern developer mindset.”
The 10 companies featured on Startland’s 2017 under-the-radar list — which also included Dunami and RiskGenius — have achieved increasing levels of success in their individual industries, while maintaining a low profile at home.
Some of that anonymity is by design, Qualls said, though she admitted everyone appreciates a pat on the back to recognize the work behind a startup’s upward trajectory.
“Most of our business is international, so I would never take out an ad in Kansas City,” she said. “We wouldn’t put any marketing dollars here locally because that isn’t where are resources are best spent. So for our community to say, ‘Hey, we still know that you’re out there. We understand what you’re doing’ — it feels awesome.”
Check out photos from the event by Hannah Arredondo and Tommy Felts.