Seated amid vintage mosaic tile and striking black-and-white portraits by Kansas City photographer Cameron Gee, founder Tyler Enders seems at home within the walls of the Made in KC Cafe.
He’s an art lover with a finance degree — not to mention one of the minds behind Made in KC, a retail showcase for local makers. The startup’s latest venture, a downtown hybrid coffee shop, is the manifestation of an organically developed business model first envisioned by Enders and co-founder Thomas McIntyre in 2011.
Friends since their high school years, the duo initially brainstormed a concept that married a coffee shop with a wine bar, jazz club and gallery space, Enders said.
“The art was going to be first and foremost,” he said. “I knew fine arts artists whose work I thought was fantastic. I personally don’t have the financial ability to support them single-handedly, but I felt with my skill set I could probably help them access people who could support them.”
While most of his friends were in the Crossroads area, Enders saw the success of such a venture further south in the metro, where people tend to have more disposable income, he said.
“I’m the kind of guy who goes in and sees an art piece and says, ‘Oh, my gosh! This is going to be worth so much someday! You’re so good! I wish people knew how awesome you are!’” Enders said. “And I want to celebrate them and push them along, but it can be such a slow process.”
With the concept still rolling around in their heads, he and McIntyre attended a Bread! KC microfunding dinner to pitch the idea, Enders said. As part of the competition, they tied and met a jewelry maker with whom Enders struck a side project. They collaborated on a website, product photography and financing trips to craft shows, he said.
Ultimately, Enders and McIntyre approached the Prairiefire shopping mall in Overland Park about getting the jeweler’s products into a retail space, he said.
“The broker said, ‘Great. Who else do you have?'” Enders recalled. “I gave her a list of people and said, ‘Here are all the brands I would go with.’ And she says, ‘OK. You need to go work with them.’
“I was like, ‘No, no, I’m just helping this one artist because it’s a fun passion project,'” he said.
The team that eventually would become Made in KC relented, and today the business operates stores at Prairiefire, Briarcliff, Corinth Mall, and downtown, as well as pop up spots in Hallmark stores across the metro and an online marketplace with an expanded list of Kansas City vendors.
“All of the components were there, but there was no intention to any of it,” Enders said, referencing the path that led from initial concept to Made in KC Cafe, which features local art, wares and roasters — and soon a taproom with Kansas City beers. “We at no point had any of it mapped out. It was just a natural progression of things.”
The startup is a clear departure from his early work at a small, family-run, private equity company, Enders said.
“Unfortunately, I think that the world is run by a corporatocracy, so I’ve always been a little jaded in the sense that I think money rules most of society,” he said. “So I’d always seen myself working in finance so I could be well-positioned to create change.”
And while joining the world of retail was unexpected, Enders is happy his work at Made in KC still allows him to make change by shining a spotlight on local makers and artists in meaningful ways, he said.
Startland sat down with Enders to learn more about what else drives him to make an impact on Kansas City’s entrepreneurship scene.
Job: Co-founder of Made in KC
Hometown: Leawood, Kansas City.
Favorite drink: Sparkling water.
A startup idea you don’t mind if readers steal: The “Made In” concept. We get asked constantly why we aren’t in other cities. It partially insults me because people think it’s as simple as “You have the idea, you do it.” We frankly don’t have the relationships in other cities to make it work. … What I often tell them is, you should do that in that place because you know people. We don’t know anyone. As much as we could go and paper the city in ads saying, “If you’re an artist, talk to us,” that’s not going to be as successful as people who are in those hometowns.
A historical figure you’d like to have coffee with and why: Barack Obama. He ranks at the very top of my list in terms of heroes. I just have a crazy amount of respect for the guy. He’s got an unparalleled amount of poise. I just really admire the way he navigated all sorts of different issues. He’s the man.
Weirdest thing you’ve eaten: Kangaroo.
The animal you’d want to become in your next life: Dog. I think there’s a lot to be learned from just being happy all the time, and just giving love unconditionally. Seems like a pretty good life.
You’re up to bat for the Royals, what’s your walk-up song: I don’t have a specific song, but I think I would choose a nonconventional genre like jazz, opera or classical — all genres that I love, and have for a long time. I think it’s because it would motivate me as much as other types of music but even more so, the opposing pitcher would be very much thrown off of their game. I could condition myself to be super hyped on the classical song, but the damage would really been done to the pitcher. It’s less about me getting in the right mental space, and more about throwing them out of their mental space.
KC’s biggest area for improvement: Education. … It will take like decades to repair the damage to the Missouri school system and then even more so the racial disparity that we have in terms of the education systems. When I was at Shawnee Mission East, I was in two different programs. One was called UniTown and it was where you went on this retreat with other kids from the other area schools, and it was one of the most eye-opening experiences I’ve seen. Just to hear the struggles of other kids who were my age, who lived less than a few miles from my home.
Favorite food joint in KC: Cafe Provence. It’s, I think, some of the best food in Kansas City. … It’s a white tablecloth place, but it doesn’t necessarily feel really high-end. It feels more family operated.
An influential book in your life: “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. … That book, for me, just shows how in control of your life you can be. It’s about encouraging and building strong habits that free up your willpower to make the decision that you might not want to make. It talks about willpower as a muscle that can be overused, depleted, built, et cetera.
What keeps you in Kansas City: It’s a great place to be a small business owner. We just have all these advantages over other cities. Take New York. Although they might have a higher number of creative people there. You don’t have the tools necessary, and it’s also far more expensive. Whereas in Kansas City, everything from labor to lease rates are far cheaper than the space they use there. It’s far easier to take the risk opening a coffee shop downtown here than in another city.
New technology that you’re most excited about: Self-driving cars. I think we will lose a lot of time on the roads. It’ll get rid of accidents and create less traffic.
What you would do if you weren’t in your line of work: Probably be having far less fun in finance.
What pisses you off: People who are not self-aware, or aware of how their actions affect others. Whether that’s pulling out in front of someone, or taking too long in a line or with socio-political things.
Biggest failure: I tried to learn Mandarin in college, and that was one of the first times I realized that I cannot do whatever I set myself to do. I tried pretty hard, and struggled through a semester and a half before admitting defeat. It was kind of a tough blow.
An inspiration in your life: I’d go back to Barack Obama. I think his intuition is really incredible in the way that he realizes that there are some battles that he can fight, and some that he can’t, and he’s very smart about picking which ones are going be worth it. I think he did a very good job navigating those waters. I just have a lot of respect for a person who can holistically digest a situation and figure out the best way to navigate it.
You can’t save it — how would you spend $1 million: A pyramid of experimental gifts that I would allocate based on the most creative ideas. I think recipients would all have to be under the age of 18, and it would be very important that there’s no criteria for whom you give it to and how they spend it. Then it’s just rewarding certain people by giving them more in subsequent rounds.
Man crush: I’m trying to think of someone other than Barack Obama. Bernie Sanders? He is incredibly inspiring to me. I think he’s shown an entire generation of people that you don’t have to do what Barack Obama did. So Obama balanced what his progressive values were and the system in which he had to live. I think Bernie Sanders is one of the very few examples in American politics where those are the same. He doesn’t really have to sacrifice his values for the establishment or the infrastructure in which he has to operate.
Girl crush: Michelle Obama.
Favorite travel locale: Italy. I think they have fantastic food, wine, fantastic art, amazing history. It’s beautiful. The people are beautiful.
Your mantra or motto: Done is better than perfect. We often try to keep moving forward rather than fixate on one thing that could trip us up.
Hidden talent or ability: This isn’t a talent, because I’m not that good, but I was on the bowling team in high school.