"Learn the rules like a pro, but break them like an artist."
As I approach graduating from college I am constantly being approached by peers, family and friends about what my next move is. Many times the questions people ask are: Graduate school? Fortune 500 Company? Corporate training program? When I answer their questions with things like, "work for a startup," "volunteer for a couple years," or "start my own business," I am usually received with raised eyebrows and a sarcastic "good luck kid" attitude. I am not angry or blaming anyone for this response because to most people those options are so out of the ordinary that they sound heinous. However, this week I was surrounded by over 400 people at Big Kansas City who thought these options were brilliant and they challenged me to be more and to do more.
Approximately a year and a half ago, I was so lucky to be introduced to the Silicon Prairie News team. This past January, I joined the team as the events intern and could not be more grateful for the opportunity to work with some of the best movers and shakers. Started in 2008 off an idea and an opportunity, SPN has pushed the envelope on covering the entrepreneurial world in the Midwest of the United States. They encourage start-up "can-do" attitudes to anyone who has ever had the urge to put their business idea into action. SPN has found great success right here in Omaha with their entrepreneurial and innovation conference Big Omaha. Big Omaha has brought in many inspirational and innovative speakers like Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos! and Neil Blumenthal, co-founder of Warby Parker to share their stories of innovation and creativity, and to challenge attendees to define their purpose. With the success of Big Omaha and the newly rebranded Big Des Moines, SPN saw the need for a Big conference in the vibrant start-up community of Kansas City. Being a Kansas City native, I was thrilled to see this exciting action come to my hometown.
Big Kansas City has come and gone, and this inaugural event has set the bar high for next year. Helping plan and prepare for #bigKC has taught me so many invaluable lessons when it comes to entrepreneurship, event planning and building a brand. The amazing speakers made me think about how I am going to move forward with my ideas, and encouraged me to break through the normalcy mold that many fall victim to. My favorite speakers were Scott Harrison from charity: water and Jamie Wong from Vayable. I also enjoyed getting to know the emcee Jason Zone Fisher.
The attendees were definitely the furthest thing from normal, or was the venue since it was at the National Airline History Museum. I connected with so many unique people ranging from software programers to fashionistas to disc jockeys. Those three professions typically would not interact much, however at Big Kansas City it was not unordinary to see them picking each others brains about their latest idea or venture. The energy was contagious and it was almost impossible to have left the conference without gaining new perspectives and new outlooks on business. This was my second Big Series event and I can honestly say that I am a changed person from last week.
Three Large Take-Aways from Big Kansas City
- Introverts are awesome! Being a natural extrovert, I typically do not flock to shy people. However, some of the neatest and most insightful people I met at Big KC were not the typical business folk who "ham" around the parties or conference. I learned to appreciate a calmer and more collective approach to conversation.
- Treat your "business idols" like normal people.I had the opportunity to meet one of my favorite social entrepreneurs at the conference and also had the chance to talk one on one with them for about thirty minutes. When I found out I would be meeting with them, sweat start coming out of every pore in my skin and it suddenly got hot in the room. I frantically texted my sister with the news and was pretty much freaking out. When it finally happened it was not as scary as I thought it would be. I had a great, casual conversation that consisted of many insightful things and great advice. When it was all said and done, I had made a friend and a great connection. Remember, famous people put their pants on in the morning just like the rest of us.
- Know the personal brand you want to portray. One of the speakers ironically gave the advice "to not take anyone's advice" and I definitely had to ponder this one for awhile. I finally realized that many people are going to tell you how you should market your idea, how you should make your money or how to network. Essentially, if you have the drive to do something, it ultimately comes down to your decisions and who you are. When connecting with people at the conference we were encouraged to introduce ourselves and our story before going straight to introducing our business. The speaker who challenged us explained that you will lose your identity very quick if you do not separate who you are from your business idea.
As I move on into the planning stages of Big Omaha and I make plans for my future after school, I know that I will use a lot of things learned from Big Kansas City. I may be unconventional in many peoples eyes, but to myself and the entrepreneurial world I may just be on the right track. Here's to hoping I make it out alive!
Credits: Photos from siliconprairienews.com and #bigKC Instagram