Bold strategies helped lead BacklotCars to one of Kansas City’s biggest-ever startup exits, said Justin Davis, and ultimately brought the lauded founder to the stage Wednesday to accept one of UMKC’s Entrepreneur of the Year honors.
“Taking ‘no’ for an answer wasn’t an option,” the co-founder and CEO of BacklotCars, a web-based, dealer-to-dealer automotive platform, told a crowd gathered at Plexpod Westport Commons. “I remember when I told my idea to people, and they laughed at me because it had never been done. And what did I do? I — with my team — proved them wrong. … It’s important to zig when others are zagging and it’s just so important to think differently.”
Davis was named the Kansas City Entrepreneur of the Year during the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Henry W. Bloch School of Management Entrepreneur of the Year awards, which also included honors for an international and student winner, as well as an award for social entrepreneurship.
”Don’t ever give up even though people will tell you you’re wrong and you will fail,” Davis said, “But you won’t.”
He founded BacklotCars in 2014 with Ryan Davis, Josh Parsons, and Fabricio Solanes. In fall 2020, BacklotCars posted a then-record $425 million exit, selling the Kansas City-headquartered auto platform to KAR Global.
Click here to learn more about BacklotCars’ exit.
Davis has had a lot of practice with not taking no for an answer, his father, Bob, pointed out in a tribute video. The honoree started doing it when he was 3.
“Anyone that knows Justin well knows that there is one thing about Justin and that is he doesn’t like being told ‘no,’” his brother and co-founder, Ryan, concurred. “Justin’s the type of guy who — when he’s told ‘no, you can’t do that’ — he goes and does it 1,000 times over. I think, in the context of this award, that’s what really sets him apart.”
To be an innovator, not an imitator, Davis said, you have to be willing to fail fast and learn faster.
“It’s not always making the right decision on the first move,” he explained. “It’s about how fast can you fail and learn from those mistakes and then course correct and make another move.”
On top of boldness, Davis said, teamwork is also important.
“I think entrepreneurship is about bringing an unlikely group of people together and building something special and being vulnerable and putting it all on the line,” he explained.
He made sure to first thank his family and friends, his BacklotCars team, and investors.
“While I’m the leader of BacklotCars, it’s really about teamwork,” he explained. “I think it’s so important to have a community that supports you.”
Kansas City, Davis continued, is a growing and maturing entrepreneurship community.
“I challenge us, as people in the community, to continue to support entrepreneurs and young business owners, to push them outside of their comfort zones, and start something great,” he said. “Because great things can happen and the support of the communities is really, really needed.”
Also during Wednesday’s event, David Steward, founder and chairman of St. Louis-based World Wide Technology was honored as the Henry W. Bloch International Entrepreneur of the Year; Jay Coen Gilbert, Andrew Kassoy, and Bart Houlahan, co-founders of B Lab Global were given the Marion and John Kreamer Award for Social Entrepreneurship; and Tate Berry — a senior in business administration and jazz studies — was named the UMKC Student Entrepreneur of the Year.
Click here to see past winners.