Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s alone.
The dude is amazing; the dude is a legend. He rocks a mustache and his name is Rick Vaughn. If you don’t know him, it’s too late. He’s already gone.
Well, not quite gone; this isn’t an obituary. Rick is just retiring from Mid America Angels as of Monday, Feb. 18 and I wanted to take a moment to honor him. Rick is one of the many people who helps make Kansas City a thriving entrepreneurial powerhouse.
I know this because our company, ClaimKit Inc., would not exist without Rick. Back in 2014, I was lucky enough to participate in the Pipeline program in Kansas City. I was introduced to my Pipeline mentor, an affable gentleman with a trademark moustache; it turned out he was also the vaunted leader of the Mid America Angels. Rick took me under his wing and helped me understand how to navigate fundraising in Kansas City and the Midwest.
While running Mid America Angels, Rick handled a difficult job with grace. He figured out how to organize rich, retired (and sometimes not retired) Midwesterners and convince them to spend their hard-earned money on some fledgling startup instead of the tried and true stock market.
Go try it. It’s a herculean task.
I’ve heard the naysayers talk about Mid America Angels. But I can tell you two things: Mid America Angels can get a deal done quickly and they are great for follow on rounds. Rick was directly responsible for making this happen.
In retrospect, it seems like the only times I was in Rick’s office was if something had gone poorly with our business, or I was picking up a check (after something had gone poorly and I had to raise more money). Each time, Rick would invite me into his office and talk with me for 15 or 20 minutes in his friendly manner. Each time, I would leave Rick’s office feeling better about my business than I deserved.
I wish I had spent more time with Rick. Frankly, I wish I spent more time with everyone interested in our business, those people that are willing to help. I wish I could spend more time at 1 Million Cups, and WeWork and the Kansas City Startup Foundation and at all the other crazy startup events going on. But I’m like most entrepreneurs; I am selfish with my time to the benefit of my business and the detriment of everything else.
I’ve met people just like Rick all across Kansas City. There are so many people willing to help out startups. Try this test: Pick out a random CEO, track down the correct email, and contact him or her. I bet the CEO responds and takes your meeting.
Need a jump start on who to talk to? First, I would recommend Rick’s colleague and successor, Laura McCoolidge. She joined Mid America Angels in 2018. I can tell you Laura is smart and can help you navigate the fundraising scene. She previously ran the Nebraska Angels and helped ClaimKit secure funding. However, be warned: Laura knows startup financials better than almost anyone I have met.
The second person to connect with is the one and only Adam Arredondo, CEO of the Kansas City Startup Foundation. I told him recently that I didn’t know what to make of him when I first met him – I do now. The guy gets it. He’s in this for the long haul to help grow the Kansas City entrepreneurial ecosystem. Someone recently described him as Mr. Rogers’ entrepreneurial love child and I couldn’t agree more. Adam is also ridiculously connected and can point you in the right direction.
Neither Laura nor Adam can rock a mustache like Rick, but they can hopefully work to fill his shoes.
Thanks Kansas City.
Chris Cheatham is CEO of RiskGenius, software firm that helps people understand their insurance policy language and policy data faster. RiskGenius was selected as one of Startland’s Kansas City Startups to Watch in 2019.