Taking a Chance: Be Your Best Self

"Mediocrity is the worst enemy of prosperity." - Henry Ford

By: Evan Park

My decision to take a gap year was one that didn’t come easily. I decided to give up a year with some of my closest friends, for an outside endeavour that I believe to be worthwhile. I discussed the matter with some of my mentors, closest friends, and family. The response I received from them was an unanimous ‘yes, you should go for it’. And the more I pondered the subject matter, the clearer the truth became. They were right, I should ‘go for it’, and the biggest reason being: you get one shot at this life, and you don’t have time to second-guess yourself. You do what you feel is right, and makes sense of each situation by weighing all the given variables.

I was given a choice between two paths:

Path A led to an absolute life in which the outcome was predictable. I would go to school, study hard, get some summer internships, and use the connections I had to land a job at an investment bank on Wall Street. I’d be confined in a set boundary, and forced to live a life which I will define as being ‘mediocre’.

Path B was undefined. And the outcome? Unpredictable. This would mean I would be paving my own path, and doing something that’s never been done before all in pursuit of creating something that’s bigger than me.

Both paths have their appeals, however, there’s only one right choice.

A life in which I can do what I love while providing value to others in a meaningful way, now that’s the dream for me. I’ll chose Path B 10/10 times.

My advice for others who aren’t sure of which path they should take:

If you dare to do the hardest thing you can conceptualize - there’s no more practical pathway to success.

But you need to have an aim.

You have to be able to organize your emotions and your motivations.

Because if you actually want something - you can have it.

There are just 3 simple steps you have to take:

  • Reorient your life in every possible way to make the probability that that will occur as certain as possible.
  • Be deadly serious - you're perfectly capable of thinking, as well as immense feats of imagination.

  • And most importantly: cut the B.S

Opportunistic Thinking and Inexperience: A Match Made in Heaven

By: Joe Porter

I have been interning at companies around Kansas City for the past five weeks, and the more I learn about business the more I realize that I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m a teenager trying to grasp four years of college education and ten years of business experience in a two month span, which sounds even more impossible when I type it on paper. I’ve dealt with this challenge by being open to trying anything within reason. I pursue every opportunity I can because the only way for me to find out how useful it will be is to reflect on it after the fact.

That logic has guided me through my high school career, and it has led me to some incredible opportunities and connections. I co-founded a slam poetry club at my school and became their first ambassador to the KC Mental Health Coalition because I kept my eyes open for opportunities to spend my days trying new things. Similarly, last week YEP KC and the KC Startup Foundation hosted an Entrepreneurial Bootcamp day. It was an event where students gained exposure to Kansas City’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem and learned from a handful of local entrepreneurs. I attended this event along with a crop of other motivated students. A common idea expressed by the entrepreneurs was that their opportunities came in all sorts of forms. From a paralyzing injury to quitting a dream job, these entrepreneurs took whatever life threw at them and turned it into a lifestyle.

My biggest takeaway from the Entrepreneurial Bootcamp and my time in YEP KC as a whole is that nothing happens at a “convenient” time. Always be prepared for an opportunity to present itself, and don’t be afraid of chasing an opportunity.

 

On Adapting to New Environments & the Entrepreneurial Spirit

By: Catherine Franano

As my fourth and final week of interning at biometrics company Zoloz comes to an end, I am both sad to leave and excited to start at a new company. In four weeks, I learned every detail of the work that Zoloz does and completed increasingly complex tasks for the company. I feel integrated into Zoloz and have developed a daily routine which includes making a morning coffee and chatting with the engineering team, sitting at my desk in the Research and Development corner, meeting with my supervisor to outline my tasks for the day, and getting updates from the other interns about their projects, etc. However, entrepreneurship is not about developing a routine. Entrepreneurs must be ready to respond and adapt to any challenge that the day brings them. While I am comfortable at Zoloz because I have figured out the inner working at the company, I know the challenge of starting fresh at a new company, while daunting, is going to be a great experience and a test of entrepreneurial spirit.

At Zoloz, every day presents new challenges which a skilled team of engineers, researchers, and lawyers respond to efficiently and creatively. Not a day goes by at Zoloz where I do not witness employees from different departments working together to draw out a problem on the whiteboard and brainstorm solutions or teaching each other new skills in order to improve their knowledge of the industry. Employees at Zoloz are constantly facing challenges that the fast-paced tech environment throws at them and adapting in order to solve them. It is this mentality of collaboration and constant learning that drew me to entrepreneurship and experiencing these qualities at Zoloz is one of my favorite parts of my YEP KC experience. Although Zoloz is now a branch of Ant Financial, and technically not a startup anymore, the entrepreneurial spirit clearly flourishes in their office in the crossroads.

As I move to a new company, I will carry what I learned at Zoloz about adapting to new environments and learning on the job. It is challenging for a high school student to parachute into a rapidly growing technology company for a month and make an impact. That being said, I have taken an oar where I could and tried to push the boat forward just a little bit faster. I appreciate the opportunity that YEP KC has given me and my fellow interns to gain experience working in an entrepreneurial company and seeing how entrepreneurial leaders work. I encourage the other YEP KC interns and anyone who reads this to face new environments and situations with an open mind and a desire to learn everything they can. In entrepreneurship and startup environments, new challenges are always thrown at you but it is how you handle them that determines success. I am confident that the YEP interns will leave a great impact on their first company, and will adapt well to their new workplaces, bringing a fresh perspective and a desire to learn.  

Risk

By: Sajni Saravanan

READ TIME: 4 MINUTES

A risk in my definition is taking an opportunity with high probabilities of an unfavorable outcome. From the executives to employees I’ve met through YEP KC, I’ve seen that they’ve taken some risks that haven’t paid off, but I’ve also seen risks that have. What I’ve learned is that you have to take those risks to get somewhere, whether they’re big or small.

I’m interning at Stackify (stackify.com) for my two sessions at YEP, a small but exceptional company of developers who create software to help other developers. Each internship at YEP is different, some are more active and will have you running around. Others will have you sorting 404 site links in an excel document at your desk. Mine was the latter, and it wasn’t until I went to the Alumni Panel at our weekly Friday meeting that I realized I would have to break out of my comfort zone, and the zone assigned to me, to ensure I made the most out of my internship. It all really picked up from there - here’s a quick list of risks I took in the following week that really paid off.

1. NOT FOLLOWING THE FLOW

“When given a choice between two opportunities, always take the one where you’ll learn and grow the most” - Craig Ferril, COO, Stackify

   YEP KC Interns were given the amazing opportunity to tour Dimensional Innovations (if you haven’t heard of them check them out - they’re an innovative company on a mission you don’t want to miss). During our time in the engineering branch, we were briefly introduced to an engineer whose background was in industrial design. Industrial design being something I was interested in, I took a chance and asked to slip out of the tour to chat with the engineer. Here’s the great part about YEP: they want you to break and remake the system, so of course they granted me permission. I might have missed touring the rest of DI’s mechanical shop, but I gained an invaluable conversation, a contact, and insight into industrial design that I didn’t have before.

2.   ASKING TO DO SOMETHING MORE (EVEN IF YOU’RE NOT SURE HOW TO DO IT)

“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and don’t try to please everyone else. Do what you feel is right/best and don’t let outside opinions stop or hinder you from taking risks” - Alex Doller, Account Manager, Stackify

   Each intern at YEP wants to make the most of their internship. For me, that meant learning as much as I could and really making an impact on my company. While learning about SEO and fixing links on Stackify’s blog taught me a lot, I wanted to take it up a notch and do something more. The people at YEP KC really push you to stand out and be the best you can be, and at that point in time, I felt like I wasn’t living up to that expectation. I took a risk and mentioned I had experience in Illustrator and Photoshop. Soon enough I was asked to create feature images and banners for the blog. Considering I’ve never published an image and I didn’t understand the vast majority of the coding terminology in the blog, it ultimately paid off. I was able to contribute more meaningful work during my internship.

3.  REACHING OUT

“Breaking the comfort zone” - Tony Tran, Developer Support Specialist, Stackify - in response to “What’s a risk you took that changed your life?”

   I’ll be honest - feeling out how a workplace works and discovering how different it is from a regular school environment threw my balance. However, when I started reaching out to other people at Stackify and YEP, I found that I was surrounded by people who genuinely wanted me to succeed. When you initiate those conversations, it really shows that you, in turn, are willing to put in the effort to succeed as well. YEP alumni have taken this concept to the next level by keeping in touch with mentors who have helped them get jobs, contacts, and additional internships across the country.

   These opportunities to grow yourself and take risks are part of why I’ve really enjoyed YEP KC. My advice is if you’re bored this summer, or want to plan ahead, take the risk and find an opportunity to challenge yourself.

YEP KC 2018 Has Begun

By: Kathryn Tanner

The second year of YEP KC has just begun.  This summer the YEP KC program has selected 19 of Kansas City’s brightest high school students and given them the opportunity to partake in two spans of one month internships. The internship will take place at one of KC’s startup businesses.  I am one of those fortunate students!  When I first heard about YEP KC I was told that the selection process was brutal, and that they only picked the top candidates.  I did some research to learn more about YEP KC .  I was intrigued,  so I sent in my application even though I had doubts that I would be chosen. After submitting my application in February, I went through three months of waiting and interviews.  Finally, at the beginning of May I got the acceptance letter!  I was elated, I could hardly believe that I was selected out of the 300 plus student that applied.  I would meet the entire 2018 class of YEP at orientation.  In the days leading up to the event I felt nervous about meeting my peers, but at orientation, I was pleasantly surprised  that we connected so well.
 
For the first month, I will be interning at C2FO with their marketing team.  I am so glad I was granted the opportunity to participate in a program like this. I’m thankful the first company I’ve been placed with is very welcoming to the interns.  Although I’ve only been at C2FO for a couple of days, my team has done an amazing job at fostering me into their work environment.  I am grateful for the experience the YEP program is giving me.  In the upcoming weeks I am certainly looking forward to expanding my knowledge on local startups in Kansas City. 

Thoughts: From Kevin Daniels, CPO of C2FO… along with my take on it

By Kusalwin Kularatne (with content originally appearing on The Caesura Project)

READ TIME: 5 minutes

On identifying a high-growth startup during its early stages…

“Look to see if they have signed on a marquis client. For C2FO, when I saw that they had closed big brands like Costco and Amazon, I saw potential there.”

For me, there were two “light bulb moments” with blooom. First: they’d closed Cerner, and had been managing 401ks for the employees there. The second: blooom was the fastest roboadvisor in the world to reach $1B in AUM (assets under management), destroying the competition by years, and doing so at a fraction of the capital needed.

On hunting for the next big IPO…

“Two things to look out for are to see if A) they have at least a $100 million in revenue, and B) if their growth is predictable.”

When Snapchat had their moment in the spotlight back in March with the IPO, people began to take the company more seriously than a simple social media startup. Granted, I probably know next to nothing about stocks and investing; but I’d still keep my eyes peeled on the palette of Kansas City startups that are growing fast.

Why we both like startups that haven’t scaled yet…

“As a company tends to grow bigger and bigger, you start to lose some of that initial energy and culture that brought everyone together - it gets more and more diluted.”

During my time at YEP, I interned at Dimensional Innovations (a 25-year-old design engineering firm with more than 250 fantastic employees) and blooom (a three-year-old financial advisory with 25 equally awesome employees). While DI was great, blooom was my calling. I like the fact that I know everyone’s names; that I can have a cup of coffee with the CEO while he gives me tips for running my own company; that I can prank call scammers with the CPO over lunch; and that we celebrate life’s moments together as a team, whether it’s a wedding or someone becoming a new mother. But hey, that’s just me...

On keeping company culture, even as the company grows…

“There’s no textbook answer to that question, it’s extremely case-by-case, and is inherently difficult to crack. But you can look to those who’re doing it well and take some lessons away. Google has their 20% time policy, where all employees can spend 20% of their time working on their personal projects, and Facebook has built a fantastic campus that’s just mind-blowing to see in person.”

Heck if I know.

On the difference between a startup employee and a corporate employee…

“Depends on what stage that particular startup is at, but most of those who go to work at early-stage startups are crazy, passionate, and are comfortable with ambiguity. On the other hand, if you’re career-focused and like security, then a corporate job is your cup of tea.”

Can you believe I actually wanted to be an investment banker back in the day? Not joking. That was a weird phase of my life. More to the point, it took me a while before I became comfortable with the idea of working at a startup and building my own. This conditioning involved watching multiple pitches at 1 Million Cups, several visits to coworking spaces right here in Kansas City like Village Square and the Plexpod, and best of all, meeting a bunch of great people to guide me along the way.

On the importance of data…

“Three steps on interpreting data: 1) gather it all together, 2) organize it, and 3) tell a story. ‘What if I don’t like data,’ you ask? Too bad. Suck it up and learn it.”

To be honest (or tbh, for my millennial/Gen Z readers,) I thought I’d hate sifting through never-ending rows of Excel spreadsheets at blooom, but I’ve actually learned a LOT from doing that, and it’s given me a work ethic that I’m proud of.

How to start a company that can change the world…

“You have to be a bit irrational to do this. I know this is probably a bad example, but the dudes who started Uber never let society’s norms stop them. Getting in a car with a stranger? Who knew that’d be a thing.”

Some C-suite officers are absolutely crazy. I know of one CEO who literally wears cowboy boots to work in 100-degree weather; a CPO who’s obsessed with chugging butter coffee (look it up, it’s a thing); and a CTO who dropped out of a full-ride to KU to run his own business. And I truly believe that each and every one of them can change the world. (No Mom, I know it’s crazy to tie 100 balloons to the dog so he can fly, but just watch this video go viral tonight and the crazy boost in engagement we’re gonna get tomorrow. Think about the brand, Mom, the BRAND).

It’s WHAT you do at school, not WHERE you go

“Blow people away with doing something that’s outside of school, that’s pretty awesome to talk about. When going through applicants for C2FO, I look for the most interesting thing on their resumes. Have a startup idea? Make it. Like a sport or club or hobby? Do it. It doesn’t matter where you go.”

Granted, I was a bit skeptical to hear a guy who got his undergrad at Duke and an MBA at Tuck (b-school at Dartmouth) say this. Then again, my boss and his co-founders went to state schools, and are some of the smartest people I know. People say it so often that I wonder if it’s a cliche - “it’s what you do at school, not where you go, that matters.” But then again, I’m always ready to prove someone wrong, especially if their first impression of me is based on where I’m going to school.

Fast Cars, Freedom, & Cyber Security

By: Paige Maxwell

Last Friday, the YEP KC interns had the opportunity to tour Fishtech, one of the partner companies of the YEP KC program. Fishtech is a cloud-era cyber security company focused on solving digital and security transformations. While a few of us had the opportunity to work at Fishtech, for many of the interns, it was our first time hearing about, learning about and seeing this company up close and personal. We began our visit by gathering in the large, open first-floor of the building, where the owner, Gary Fish, just so happens to keep some cars from his collection. After ogling the cars (which included a Ferrari, Barracuda, Camaro, and Ford GT) we got to sit down and hear more about the company and its owner from some of their marketing and HR personnel.

Gary Fish is from a small town in Illinois. Fishtech is not his first company, but in fact his third. Fish first started FishNet Securities, an internet based consulting agency, in 1996. Through this business, he created FireMon and spun it off into its own security management business in 2004. As he built these businesses, Fish worked with the mindset that they were each apples. He was looking for investors to come take bites of the apple through buying shares of controlling interest. Fish was successful in finding investors to sink their teeth into both companies, and by 2015, he was officially retired. That withdrawal didn’t last long though. Quickly bored with retirement life and missing the industry, Fish decided to start his latest company: Fishtech. Instead of taking the apple mentality, this time Fish used more of a peach approach. Fishtech has invested in three other technology based security companies and hopes to help grow them, along with itself, while partnering to increase the strength of cyber security for customers. In keeping up with the times, Fishtech is a cloud based cyber security company

While the company itself is taking a new approach to investment and cyber security, the office space has also gone for an innovative spin on what would be considered a normal office. At Fishtech, there are no assigned desks or offices. Seating is a free-for-all each morning and employees can choose from sit-stand desks, booth-like tables, small work rooms, or one of the dog bone tables designed for collaborative communication. There’s even a patio space where you could work outside! Some other cool features of the Fishtech office: the robot named Pepper, the active glass that switches from clear to frosted, and the napping pod in the corner designed to enhance power naps!

Judging by my own reaction and the reactions of my fellow YEP interns, Fishtech as a company and office space is unlike anything we have seen. One of the best things about the YEP program is getting to tour and experience a variety of companies and their respective cultures. My experiences at C2FO and Indigo Wild have both been very different from one another, and from what I saw at Fishtech, the experience there is different as well. As we learn and gather practical knowledge about different businesses, we are able to use this for our own application in the future. Whether it be learning about how people interact with coworkers and clients, the thought process and approach that goes into a project, or deciding that working in a certain department or environment is not what we want to do, all that we have learned from the YEP experience so far will help us better prepare ourselves for our future, no matter what job our future holds.

 

A New Age of Learning in Kansas City

By: Berit Nuetzmann

As of the summer of 2017 the Young Entrepreneurs Program of Kansas City (YEP KC) has officially launched its debut. This new program, founded by Christine & Sandy Kemper, takes a talented group of local juniors and seniors from around Kansas City and partners them with local startups. This program is intended to introduce students to business and begin developing their individual skills, as well as give them connections to promising startups in the KC area. All of these efforts are done in an attempt to encourage development and talent in Kansas City.

As I’ve gone through high school I’ve seen the push for programs like YEP KC. CAPS programs (Center for Advanced Professional Studies) both in the Northland and Blue Valley have begun to draw students by offering a new way of learning. Instead of sitting at traditional desks with strict schedules and repetitive projects, schools are moving toward providing students with real world knowledge through internships and shadowing experiences. This new learning provides  the students with projects that reflect what they will encounter in the workforce and allows them to experiment with future career options.

YEP KC is set up so a few selected students are placed at two companies in the area for one month sessions. I was first stationed at Fishtech, a cyber security company that focuses on protecting businesses and their data in the cloud. I learned how a startup is run and worked hand in hand with their project manager as well as the head of their HR to learn business techniques and professional skills.  My second session is currently at Dimensional Innovations, a design and build firm that houses everyone from architects, graphic designers, and industrial designers to engineers, hands on workers, and videographers.  They work to create amazing experiences for audiences, no matter where you are. I work closely with their design team and do projects for the rest of the company when necessary so I can learn useful software and practice creative thinking.

My experience with YEP was tailored to fit me.  So my experience is different from the experiences of other students participating in this program. I have learned business and management skills while also coming to more fully understand the role of design and the software that supports it. These are experiences I would have missed out on without YEP KC. Mentorship and guidance in a desired field can really engage students and get them excited about their futures as well as push them to become more competitive.

YEP hopes that by taking a few students each summer to participate in their program they can keep these high performing students in the area so Kansas City can grow through their work and potential achievements. Most of the promising talent tends to leave the midwest and take their ideas to coastal areas that are already developed with large research based universities. By providing connections to promising and successful businesses they hope we will choose to stay here instead.

This program not only gives participants connections to companies but also connects us with the other high performing students in the area that we would have otherwise never have met. In the future when we begin to create jobs and companies of our own we will have the support of a network of friends we made this summer.

While every step towards real world experiential learning in high school is a step forward, YEP KC really exemplifies this style of modern learning. YEP provides one of the best experiences for students in the area and has the potential to impact their future dramatically. I would recommend this program to any student who is ready to start working towards their future and isn’t afraid of a challenge. The work can be difficult but I have never enjoyed anything as much as I’ve enjoyed these past months with YEP.