Early in John Thomson’s entrepreneurial journey, the PayIt co-founder realized no one had all the answers, he shared; and anyone who waits until they feel comfortable enough to start a business will be waiting forever.
“We’re all imperfect, certainly fallible. You’ve got to keep going and not worry about perfect. Perfect is the enemy of progress. … There’s no right time — it’s just time to go, and go confidently knowing you don’t have the right answers,” shared Thomson, who also serves as CEO of Kansas City-built GovTech scaleup PayIt, at the 2022 kickoff celebration for Global Entrepreneurship Week – Kansas City.
Serial entrepreneurs, supporters and future business leaders gathered Monday at Chicken N Pickle in North Kansas City to formally commence the annual, weeklong GEW KC event series.
India Wells-Carter, founder and owner of Fresh Factory KC, and Toby Rush, co-founder and CEO of Redeem, joined Thomson for a fireside chat during the kickoff event. The trio discussed their unique experiences in creating a business from the ground up, as well as the tenacity that unites entrepreneurs.
“Some of you may have heard me say this [before], but I believe it to my core: do it scared, but do it anyway,” Wells-Carter said. “If you’re shaking in your boots and your heart is pumping and you’re sweating bullets, I take that as an indication that this is the right thing I’m supposed to be doing because it’s very uncomfortable.”
Support systems provide reality checks
Entrepreneurs are destined to make many mistakes, but it’s important to separate the highs and lows of the company with the successes and failures of the founder as a person, said Rush, who has been a part of five startups — three of which he has founded.
“Some of the harder lessons I’ve had to learn repeatedly,” Rush said. “Being able to differentiate where I get my identity from what my purpose is one of the hardest things for me.”
Global Entrepreneurship Week
Global Entrepreneurship Week is an international celebration of the makers, innovators and job creators who launch startups, bring ideas to life and advance entrepreneurship. Founded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in 2008, GEW has since expanded to more than 180 countries.
Click here to learn more about Global Entrepreneurship Week.
If founders attach their identity solely to the company, it becomes easier to get detached from reality, Rush continued.
“Then when the company does start to take off, you become more worried about the facade of what people think about the company, [rather] than the company making progress day to day, or who I am as a person,” Rush said. “There’s been multiple times when my spouse or friends will say, ‘You’re too concerned about what the world thinks about the company and letting that reflect you as a person; when in reality, you and the company are two separate things.’”
Building a loyal support system of other individuals — in and out of the entrepreneurial ecosystem — is crucial for success, all the three founders said.
“I’ve always believed that you need a really strong board of directors,” Rush said. “Because you need people who will speak the truth and that can hold you accountable.”
Strangers can become some of one’s biggest supporters, Wells-Carter added, noting that she has been able to tap into various resources and groups within Kansas City.
“There’s a lot of strangers who have been part of my support system,” Wells-Carter added. “They are no longer strangers…They believed in my vision. They have been my backbone and champions and cheerleaders throughout this entire time. I’m definitely supported at home, but also here in what we now call our entrepreneurial ecosystem — so shout out to Kansas City!”
Solve problems first, innovation will come
Entrepreneurs do not innovate for the sake of innovation; rather, they create inclusive solutions for problems that have not yet been addressed, Thomson said.
“[At PayIt], we’re very much a mission-driven business to simplify access to government for people,” Thomson said. “… We just think about building a great company with really good products that drive extraordinary value in the market. Then it happens to manifest itself in the form of some pretty innovative, technical solutions.”
For Wells-Carter and her selfie studio, she thinks of innovation as a way to keep the customer experience fresh and novel, she shared.
“How do we let them know that they are the world when they walk in here, and experience something that they might not get anywhere else,” Wells-Carter said. “Innovation takes the form of, how do people feel? Do they feel inclusive and valued and remembered in our space?”
Including as many team members as possible in conversations will also lead to more diverse, creative solutions, Rush added.
“If you included just the executives or the leadership team, you miss out on so much,” Rush noted. “I’ve often been surprised with people who throw out ideas I would have never thought of. So wherever possible, including everybody in the journey really instills that innovation.”
Pursuing entrepreneurship is a difficult path, the trio of founders shared. It will take tenacity and ambition, but it will be worth it, Thomson said.
“If you’re thinking about [starting a business], do it. Stop thinking about it and just start doing. This community is so welcoming and supportive, and there’s so many people yelling for you in the front row,” Thomson continued as attendees cheered. “Literally and figuratively!”
Click here to check out the schedule for Global Entrepreneurship Week.
Check out a gallery from the GEWKC kickoff event below.
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.