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.