Twenty startups picked to live in a house — competing in a series of entrepreneurship games for a reality TV show — could’ve been a nightmare, said Jonaie Johnson.
But the bootstrapped creator of a KC-built smart dog crate was up for the challenge, she said.
“Spending a week in a mansion with a bunch of entrepreneurs I didn’t know wasn’t as bad as I thought. In fact, it was the complete opposite,” Johnson, founder of Interplay, told Startland News as the 17-part, Kansas City-filmed docu-series “The Blox” premiered Thursday on The Blox app. “I created bonds and relationships with some people on the show that will last a lifetime.”
“The show reveals the struggles entrepreneurs face behind the scenes that often go unseen,” she continued. “Being able to come together with other entrepreneurs to work through the struggles was an eye opening experience for me. I’m forever thankful I had the opportunity to be a part of it.”
Click here to learn more about “The Blox” and how creator Weston Bergmann is working to evolve the reality TV genre.
Johnson — one of Startland News’ 10 Kansas City Startups to Watch in 2022 and UMKC’s Student Entrepreneur of the Year in 2020 — was among the standout competitors on “The Blox,” said show creator Weston Bergmann, noting she represented Kansas City well.
And the behind-the-scenes camaraderie Johnson described was felt by other startup founders as well, he added.
“It’s fair to say a lot of these startups — and any entrepreneur for that matter — constantly feels alone; whether that’s physically in our spare bedroom/office, or emotionally because our friends have normal jobs and don’t understand what we do,” said Bergmann, also the founder and lead investor at Kansas City-based BetaBlox, an exclusive school for startups. “With ‘The Blox,’ they were constantly surrounded by other like-minded startups; like quite literally, they shared breakfast/lunch/dinner together — every waking hour.”
“A lot of them left with validation that they weren’t actually alone, nor were they as crazy as their friends, family, and society sometimes make them feel,” he continued.
Click here to binge The Blox for free.
Among the startup founders featured on Season 1 of “The Blox”:
- Amanda Leavitt, Cerulean Tides (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) — Acrylic manufacturer for small businesses and hobbyists.
- Amber Gifford, Shorely (Lahaina, Hawaii) — Platform for helping entrepreneurs launch swimwear lines.
- Andrew Zhao, Throwlights (San Diego) — LED glove products & platform to showcase lightshow artists.
- Brad Martin, DM Sliders (College Park, Maryland) — Food truck featuring sliders
- Danielle “Dani” Gormley, Hello Puddin’ (Denver) — Organic on-the-go chia-based pudding
- James Soules, Underground Burrito (Bluffton, South Carolina) — Heat-and-eat burrito manufacturer
- Jon Schoen, Trunkdrop (Minneapolis) — On-demand courier
- Jonaie Johnson, Interplay (Kansas City) — Smart dog crating
- Juliana Buonanno, Techslice (Baltimore) — Medical software development
- Keith Maynard, Maynard CPA (Waco, Texas) — Bookkeeping and tax prep firm Maynard CPA
- Kristine Reiner, Cash Cow Co-op (Sioux Falls, North Dakota) — Online directory for farmers to sell directly to consumers
- Lance and Brit Coffman, Focus Building Inspections (Tulsa, Oklahoma) — Commercial real estate inspection
- Llacey Simmons, Cool & Dope (Gaithersburg, Maryland) — Non-profit focusing on bullying
- Lynzie Smith, Independent Beauty Pros (Steamboat Springs, Colorado) — Platform for entrepreneurs in beauty industry
- Olguy Songolo, The Difference (Boston) — A heel-less shoe brand
- Ryan Jamison, REI Pro+ (Tulsa, Oklahoma) — Platform for empowering real estate investors
- Stephanie Johnson Wild, Shea + Coconut (Nashville) — Line of skincare products
- Victor Keise, Stop, Drop, & Rolls (Woodbury, Minnesota) — Egg roll manufacturer
- Zach Hatraf, Anchor Rides (Tampa) — Tech platform connecting people with yachting experiences
Zach Hatraf’s startup, Anchor, is another prime example of a founder bringing an unexpected idea to “The Blox” with a willingness to grow, Bergmann said.
“Anchor connects people that want to charter boats with the boats themselves, and the captains. What sounds at first like a small-to-middle-sized market isn’t. It’s massive, and they’re crushing it,” he said. “It helps people monetize their boats, while also helping people that want yachting experiences without the investment of owning one. It’s the sharing economy, but on water.”
Whether a company is pre-launch or already generating millions of dollars in revenue, Johnson said, founders can learn from fellow entrepreneurs and industry experts to take their businesses to the next level.
“Sometimes people who are outside of your company provide the best advice and ideas since they have no biased views,” she said. “Coming on the show, I already had a plan and a vision for how I was going to continue developing Interplay and prepare for launch. After being on the show and going through the accelerated Blox programming, I was provided with a ton of clarity and new ideas that took my initial plan for Interplay to the next level.”
“In a way, it was like upgrading my plan from a Honda to a Corvette,” Johnson added.
Click here to watch a trailer for “The Blox” or learn how to view the whole series now.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.