Editor’s note: KCultivators is a lighthearted profile series to highlight people who are meaningfully enriching Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. The KCultivator Series is sponsored by Plexpod, a progressive coworking platform offering next generation workspace for entrepreneurs, startups, and growth-stage companies of all sizes.
A spoonful of sugar couldn’t help Kathryn Golden stomach the oddities she found living on the East Coast after college, she recalled.
“I moved to New Jersey, sort of on a whim, to be an Au pair and couldn’t quite figure out how to make New York City work without strange roommates,” Golden chuckled, revealing the experience ultimately led her to take a corporate trainer position in Kansas City — her first of two stints in the metro.
“Eventually, in one of the downturns, I was laid off — which sort of started a long pattern of often being downsized … which is sort of amazing,” she said with a fondness for the experiences that shaped her early and fluid career.
“From there, I moved to St Louis and was working at a tech consulting firm and ran their training division,” she said. “I went to a trade show in San Francisco, and decided to stay.”
Golden, now programs director at the Enterprise Center in Johnson County, thinks her leap-of-faith move to the West Coast was just the right amount of risky — a character trait that has made her a great match for Kansas City’s growing startup ecosystem and a friend to founders, she said.
“I just woke up on my birthday that year and thought, ‘I’m gonna quit my job today,’ so I went in and typed up my resignation and turned it in and spent two weeks selling everything I had and moved to the Bay area,” she said.
Golden in Golden Gate City, San Francisco proved to be a crash course in startup exposure for Golden — who found herself calling the shots as an entrepreneur after working for a handful of West Coast companies and tackling everything from software and education to venture capital, she said.
“I decided to buy a neighborhood market … which was kind of random because I’d never even worked retail in high school, but somehow I thought it’d be cool,” she said, laughing.
Just another gamble, Golden set her sights on creating something trendy out of the market, which had previously been shuttered.
“It really became kind of a community center and a lot of non-traditional things, neighborhood engagement stuff that other markets don’t do. … [Then] it got robbed at gunpoint in the middle of the day … and I decided that wasn’t how I was going out,” she recalled.
Forward focused, Golden figured there might be renewed opportunity in Kansas City and headed back to the metro in 2012 — just as the impact of Google Fiber began to ripple across the City of Fountains.
“I did all of these very diverse things, either starting my own thing or working for someone who had done that and I moved back to Kansas City and I worked kind of carrying on the customer implementation stuff for a couple of different places,” she said, noting her affinity for the creative side of life played a role in her biggest claim to fame — founding PorchFestKC in 2014.
Click here for information on PorchFestKC 2019, scheduled to return Oct. 12.
“I started creating things,” Golden recalled of the way she approached her return in the early days of the Kansas City Startup Village, when companies like PayIt were in their infancy.
“I never have [boxed myself in.] There’s things I’m good at. I’m a good writer. I’m a big picture thinker … [but] I worked with quite a few different startups or somehow always connected to startups,” she said of her attraction to building and supporting entrepreneurial experiences from coast to coast.
Startland News talked with Golden about the intersection between reality television and friendship, deep fried crickets and embracing the absurdity in life. The KCultivator Series is sponsored by Plexpod, which reimagines a workspace model where businesses share resources and grow together.
Hometown: Chillicothe, Missouri
A historical figure you wish you could follow on social media and why? I would say Amelia Earhart, if she was on Twitter. I love travel. I think she’s a rebel. I think we would call her now a #boss, doing the things that she is “not supposed to do” … adventurous, you know, bending the arrow in a way that others hadn’t. I think her storytelling would be amazing.
Weirdest thing you’ve eaten: Deep fried crickets in Washington D.C. in the 80s. It was more psychologically damaging than taste.
Best thing you’ve eaten in Kansas City: There was an Italian, now a Sushi restaurant that was closed down a couple of years ago and it had cheesecake that was the best cheesecake I’ve ever had.
If you could go to any concert what would it be: I’m known for jumping on airplanes to see a concert or taking trips for random things. I think more than a particular band, I would go to festivals. I would go to Europe — all the big festivals in Europe. I love an outdoor festival. So it’s [for me] more about the experience than it is the individual act.
Why do you call Kansas City home: People ask me, often, why I moved back from San Francisco. You know, it has always had a sense of home to me. I lived here for six years in my twenties and I developed some really strong relationships that I still have today … even though some of those people have moved to other places. It all kind of started here. It’s kind of where, I guess, I grinded my teeth on adulthood. … Now I’m back, continuing some of those relationships. I thought I wanted to own a house, which you can’t do in San Francisco. I wanted to get on my mom’s nerves a little bit before she needed help as she gets older. And I like the idea of driving and parking where you’re going, which is never easy in San Francisco.
What startup do you find most interesting right now: I’m a big fan of the guys at Erkios. … I really hope they can pull it off in a big way. I think that they are underestimated in terms of people’s perceptions. [Co-founder] Shawn [Null] certainly doesn’t fit the Midwest stereotype of a startup guy very much. But I feel like those guys are really sharp and driven and focused and I love the energy they have together. They bicker like siblings but always come together in the end. I am just a big fan of those guys.
What word or phrase do you hate the most? Because of the industry we’re in, this answer is not going to be popular. “Influencer.” What a self-absorbed, ridiculous term. I just … [it’s] so symbolic of where we are as a country right now.
Biggest accomplishment: I would answer that two ways. Coming from a small town, farm, — where no one in my family went to college — and so we just took very different paths, I did something extremely different with no roadmap for doing so. So I think just big picture, their life paths and the choices I made are very different. The specifics I would say, my music festival is my largest, most visible accomplishment.
Who in your life inspires you: That’s a really big word. When I lived in San Francisco I knew this woman named Nancy. She was someone who sort of appreciated joy, somebody I knew through personal relationships and just wanted to be around her. She could tell you about a salad and you’d just imagine it was probably the best salad ever. She had this radiance that sort of came from her core and you just wanted to figure out what she drank and you wanted to drink it too.
You have a time machine and can travel anywhere in the past or future. Where and when do you go? I would probably go back to a point in which I would want to go back to college, which is far, far gone. And I would like to kind of redo my career and I would like to [study] industrial streetscape design. That’s kind of an area that you have to go to school for, which I’m not going back to school. It’s just an area that I’ve always been fascinated by and that I didn’t know even existed until it was past my interest in returning to school.
Favorite travel locale: I haven’t been to as many places as I would like. So the next place that I want to go is Portugal, which I keep talking about. In terms of places that I’ve been, my favorite place that I’ve been probably is Amsterdam. And in terms of where I most frequently go, it’d be back to the Bay Area.
Your mantra or motto: I feel like I can find the lightness in anything and by “lightness” I mean the humor. Everything has an absurdity into it and even in kind of the rockiest spots, if you can find sort of this humor — absurdity in people and situations — it gives you a perspective that’s really healthy, I think.
Guilty pleasure TV show: I only fairly recently bought a television and I have no services. I don’t have cable, Netflix, Hulu — none of those. But a friend of mine in San Francisco lets me use his login and he and I, together, watch “Married at First Sight.” It’s the only show I watch, so it’s not just my guilty pleasure. It’s literally the exclusive show that I ever watch. So I watch it on delay and we text about how stupid it is and it’s a little, silly thing we do.