Saturday, February 16, 2008

Thinking about startups

I just saw a new post by Paul Graham on Reddit today. After I read it, I went back through the archives and re-read Why to Move to a Startup Hub. And this got me thinking.

As far as I know, KC does not have a lot of tech startups. Admittedly, I could be wrong, as I don't know a lot of the local geeky types here, but that's the impression that I get. We're certainly not Silicon Valley or Boston, the two hubs mentioned in Graham's essay. And that's fine. I like KC just as it is, wacky government follies (Inez Tenenbaum and the whole thing with the commissioners of police being appointed by the state legislature), urban flight, and all.

That said, somebody tell me why KC can't be a startup hub. We've got cheap housing in the city (I'm paying $600 for a 2-bedroom place, for example). We've got all these neat-o limestone caves that make for a great place to put a datacenter. We've got great coffee. We've got barbecue out the proverbial wazoo, and lots of vegetarian options to boot. I don't know how conducive Kansas or Missouri law are to forming startups, but I'm sure someone knows - and laws can always be changed.

So let's not accept SF and Boston as the country's only startup hubs. Let's show the world that there's more to Kansas City than jazz and barbecue. Let's show the world just how many smart people are here in Kansas City, and who are going to stay in Kansas City. I don't want to bring Mohammed to the mountain. I want to bring the mountain to Mohammed.

To that end, I'm proposing a hack day - a day for smart folks to get together, share ideas, and work on those ideas. You don't have to be a programmer, or even a computer geek - those are just skills, skills you can learn. Just bring yourself, bring your brain, and bring all the ideas you have; the crazier the better. Let's set the date for a month from now, March 15, and place and time yet to be determined.

Come on, folks. Let's show the world what KC is made of.


mamagotcha said...

Hiya, Kit. I've been here 4.5 years, and I'm a professional journalist and editor married to an research scientist in evolutionary biology. While there are some perfectly lovely things about KC, it will NEVER be a startup hub. Have you spent any time at all in either the Valley or Boston? There's a very good reason bright ideas spring up in those places: because they create a fertile ground to grow them. Intelligence, logic, reason and creativity, all things that are necessary for geeks to thrive, are NOT valued here. The history of light-rail opposition, stem cell hysteria, lack of support for education, the homophobia and racism and poverty, lack of tolerance (and sometimes deadly hostility) towards bicyclists and pedestrians... these are only some of the examples of skewed priorities that create a poor environment for geeky prosperity. Also... there's a horrible lack of 24-hour businesses, and no geek worth her salt would live in a place where you can't buy power tools, gourmet food, toys, books or a full power breakfast at 2am (when, as you well know, the geek is wide awake and rarin' to go).

Hate to be such a wet blanket, and I'd love to be proven wrong. We'll see about coming to your meetup, and good luck with the job hunt!

Amblin said...

You should do a BarCamp or maybe look into CoWorking

Kit Fenderson-Peters said...

@amblin: Those are both excellent ideas. I will look into making the Hack Day a BarCamp, if not for the first one, then the second one.

@mamagotcha: Never say never. I have hope that we can get enough interesting folk together to make this happen. As for 24-hour businesses, I've got some time. I'll start working on a list of 24-hour places and post it here.

Clint said...

KC is great (but still a very tough market) if you want to start up a restaurant. The rest of the country sees KC as just another NASCAR town.

Gotcha has it right on the money -- until KC stops being a small little redneck racist town in a city's clothing, it's never going to be more than a good place to be from.

Even the Kauffmann Foundation can't foster startups in KC.

Way too much Jesus, way too little infrastructure, bad geography (north of the river vs south, joco vs dot, everyone vs belton, etc), and that's to say nothing of the utter laughing stock that is the KC school district. Are they even accredited again?

Kauffmann and Stover (and maybe MRI) are the best things KC has going for it, and I think if they had to do it all over again, at least Stover would have picked somewhere else to plant themselves.

KC is great for a lot of things -- cheap housing, temperate weather, good and cheap food, good road layout (if you dont mind crappy roads). But for anything involving reason and learning and requiring sophistication? KC is not the place.

Kit Fenderson-Peters said...

@Clint: So we've got some challenges. They're not insurmountable. I refuse to be daunted. I refuse to think it can't be done. Kansas City is my home, and I intend to put it on the map.

Christa said...

KC used to have a ton of dot-com startups all over downtown. Datacenters were expanding and there were servers under every parking garage downtown (maybe not all of them, but there was tech tucked into every nick and cranny). I was part of the downtown startups and it was an exciting time. This was the dot-com era! When the bubble burst, things grew quiet and we never heard about Silicon Prairie again. We still have the internet backbones, but it seems to be a virtual ghost town for tech otherwise.

How do we change that? We have to change mindsets. We start at home and change the way people dream here, then we have to change the way the rest of the world perceives the Midwest.

I got home from PodCamp MidWest just a few hours ago. I had a great time with lots of really awesome people, but to be honest, turn out was crap. It always is for meetups. It doesn't matter if it is Podcast meetups, blogging meetups, or user groups. I ran a local WebGrrls in the 90s and it wasn't much different. New ideas and new unconferences won't solve anything if people don't start pulling together for the ones that are already there and finding the people that want to build up the community so we can all do it together.

If you don't like it, change it. Few bother to do that here. They just grumble.

There were ample opportunities for conversation at the breakout sessions today at PodCamp to talk about social networking, new media, startups and more it's just too bad people don't show up to contribute to these conversations.

Kit Fenderson-Peters said...

@christa: Thank you! You're the first person to comment who hasn't said, in effect, "it can't be done". Of course, I think a large share of the blame for that goes to me - I asked why it couldn't be done, and people answered.

So now the question becomes "how do we make it happen?"

John F. said...

I think it is an interesting idea and worth investigating. It's amazing how people also forget that some of the businesses that used to be in Kansas City and still exist here draw intelligent individuals to the area. One thing I have noticed about this area is that it is very diverse with many of the residents coming from outside the area. I believe with those individuals around, it at least gives some potential.

Currently there are several large companies that employ some very intelligent engineers and programmers. For example Sprint (minus the recent problems), Cerner, and Garmin all employ a large number of folks in the area. There are also several strong special interest groups around as well that bring people together to talk about ideas and have worthwhile discussions. This could work and could go somewhere. The main question is on how to approach things?

Tech life in Kansas City is actually very good, but extremely quiet and closed off. You have many that work for larger companies that socialize with others from the same place, but not out in the greater area. Most don't meet up with groups like they would in Chicago, San Fran, Raleigh or other places. BTW, you left Raleigh, NC (silicon valley of the east) off your tech startup places.

I think one of the major problems I have seen is some groups draw in some intelligent individuals that can't seem to keep focus. So the topics might start off with Virtualization platform and management tool development and five minutes later end up on "Have you seen that video of the crazy german kid yet?". Structure helps with productivity and a stated intent or purpose helps there too. So it it's about Open Source projects, coding ideas, startup ideas, and tech stuff, come prepared with topics to bring up and make sure others know those prior to discuss. An example of a successful meeting I presented for was solely on Network Installation Manage (NIM) for AIX. The topics on that included how to create a NIM cluster and backup solutions. The hour long presentation concluded with about 45 minutes of question and answer that went a bit long. It included not only questions about the presentation and methods used, but also recommendations, setting changes, and some overall helpful advice to myself or others to create something better. The key there is it was structured. It was only about that topic that meeting and not 100 random things. That is one thing I got from the local KCLUG group here is that they tend to wander off topic and most of the time the meetings aren't about Linux or just revolve loosely around it.

Given the history, background and such of education here, I can understand how people feel they way they are responding. However they also forget that much of the innovation in electronics, circuits used send our astronauts to the moon came from our area. The AT&T Bell Labs chip design and manufacturing facility was in Lee's Summit. The Sprint campus and the Cerner Innovation campus are proof that an attempt to create an IT lifestyle do exist in KC.

Anonymous said...


You'd be supprised. After the Dot bust alot of smaller companies started moving into those abandoned DCs and now it's all full again. There are alot of small tech companies downtown no ones ever heard of.


You may also be shocked at some of the things KC has in the geeksphere. For example, did you know that in the US there are only 3 or 4 free internet exchange points and one of them is in KC?