Big Kansas City: A Conference to Accelerate Ideas, Connections, and Innovations

Since their first post, Silicon Prairie News had been dedicated to the grassroots building of the startup community on the Silicon Prairie – Omaha, Kansas City and Des Moines. Five years ago, what they thought would be a small meetup of entrepreneurs to talk with Gary Vaynerchuk turned into the first Big Omaha conference.

Big Kansas City Logo ColorFast-forward to today and Silicon Prairie News has feet on the ground in Kansas City, Omaha and Des Moines and has established The Big Series which includes Big Kansas City, Big Omaha, and Big Des Moines.

Tagging itself as “a conference on innovation and entrepreneurship”, the inaugural Big Kansas City takes place March 26 thru 28, at the Charles Wheeler Downtown Airport in Kansas City, Missouri.

Social: IRL spoke with Silicon Prairie News’ Regan Carrizales to learn more.

Could you give a brief overview of Big Kansas City and what makes “The Big Series” such a unique experience for attendees

The Big Series’ aim is to create the most ambitious conference series for entrepreneurship and innovation. Big Kansas City maintains a solid foundation upon which The Big Series events have been built: an all-inclusive two-and-a-half day event featuring a one-track keynote stage with more than a dozen notable speakers.

Big Kansas City is a national conference where you will hear stories of innovation from more than a dozen leading speakers, create lasting connections within the regional and national community, and walk away with an energy to follow your passions–ultimately, it is a conference designed to support the spirit and ambition of the entrepreneurial community.

For those who have attended Big Omaha or Big Des Moines (previously Thinc Iowa), what’s going to be different about the Kansas City experience?

With Big Kansas City, the local entrepreneurial community has stepped up in a BIG way to incorporate all the unique and varied aspects of the ecosystem, but also to demonstrate to all the eyes watching what constitutes the heart and soul of this community. The national scene has been intrigued by what is happening in Kansas City and in the Silicon Prairie – the inaugural Big Kansas City is our opportunity to pull back the curtain and say, “hey, you can and we ARE building great companies here, and by the way, we have this amazing startup scene that makes it a lot of fun too.”

Who should attend Big Kansas City and why?

Hustlers passionate about building their businesses, and community change agents focused on building an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

For entrepreneurs, it’s the opportunity to listen and learn from co-founders from across the country and to connect and build a network that is both regional and national. Also though, and this is the intangible part of conversation, there are those serendipitous moments that happen, that aren’t planned for, yet in that moment can change the trajectory of a person, an idea, and of a company.

A great example is the Brad and Ben story—Ben Barreth, founder of Home for Hackers in Kansas City, met Brad Feld at Thinc Iowa in October. Four months later, Brad Feld announces his purchase of a home in Kansas City Startup Village (KCSV) and launching the KC Fiber House competition.

For serendipitous moments like these to happen, you need the time and space for them to occur– that is what the Big Series is about for the Silicon Prairie– allowing the tears, sweat, passionate and unrelenting drive of entrepreneurs to meet destiny.

Who will be speaking?

Big Kansas City Screen ShotI encourage everyone to visit bigkansascity.co where the entire speaker lineup and biographies can be found. Personally, I’m super excited about a few folks…Amy Jo Martin, co-founder of Digital Royalty which includes Shaquille O’Neal in their portfolio; Bart Stein, co-founder of Stamped, the startup that was later became the first acquisition made by Marissa Meyer at Yahoo; and Dhani Jones, who is a NFL vet now pursuing a social entrepreneurial venture.

Is there an overarching theme of this inaugural Kansas City event?

Our inaugural Big Kansas City event follows in the mold of our events in Omaha and Des Moines with a focus on innovation and entrepreneurship.

Why the investment in bringing this event, and a full time on the ground presence, to Kansas City?

Kansas City was more than ready – we had been hearing from KC for a few years that Silicon Prairie News needed to be on the ground, developing relationships and intimately covering the stories.

We knew that the community here had much momentum and was and is rapidly growing—that is exciting on many fronts, and what excites us most about the inaugural Big Kansas City is that it is an opportunity to help accelerate the momentum that is building businesses and the community….and then we do it again next year. The advancement of the community is ongoing, Big Kansas City is an opportunity to accelerate the ideas, connections and innovations happening on the ground everyday.

On a personal note, you joined Silicon Prairie News a little over three months ago, taking the role as their community builder in Kansas City.  What attracted you to the opportunity?

I have a bit of a unique perspective because I didn’t come from the startup scene. My previous work was for a non-profit and  included developing a regional collaborative with a focus on entrepreneurship in the Silicon Prairie. …and then I attended Big Omaha and a few months later Thinc Iowa. These two events opened my eyes to what was happening here in the place that I call home. I wanted to be a part of the startup community and the leap to Silicon Prairie News has been the most rewarding work in which I’ve been involved.  The entrepreneurs and others working in the space have made me a smarter, more aware and effective person.

Big Kansas City takes place in less than two weeks time. Final words for anyone who hasn’t secured their ticket yet?

What are you waiting for?!

I’m confident I would go crazy knowing that I was missing out by not being at Big Kansas City – I say this as a two-time attendee of the Big conferences.  Since my first Big Omaha, I have developed friendships that are a part of my support system, expanded my network of individuals—from both coasts as well as throughout the region—and inspired and elevated my level of thinking about how we build entrepreneurship throughout the region.  I can’t imagine not being a part of that conversation at the inaugural Big Kansas City!

Big Kansas City:

When: March 26-28, 2013

Where: Hanger 9 at Charles Wheeler Downtown Airport, Kansas City, Missouri

Registrations: $299 (Entrepreneur/Startup), $449 (General Admission)

Learn More: bigkansascity.co@bigkansascity

Entrepreneurship Isn’t a Profession, It’s a Lifestyle

“If you’re going to go fast enough to succeed, you’re going to make mistakes. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re going too slow and you’ll never win. It’s about how you deal with those mistakes that’s the key” – Dan Levin, COO, Box.

“Entrepreneurs Breakdowns and Breakthroughs” was produced and directed by Debbie Landa, Founder of Grow Conference, and Co-Founder of GrowLab. The 5 minute long video is jammed full of valuable startup insights, advice, and encouragement from some of today’s most respected founders and VCs, including: Sam Zaid, Getaround; Chris Arsenault, iNovia Capital; Ben Huh, Cheezburger; Dave McClure, 500 Startups; Mikkel Svane, Zendesk; Brant Cooper, The Lean Entrepreneur; Julia Hartz, Eventbrite; Scott Kveton, Urban Airship; Dan Levin, Box; Jeff Clavier, Soft Tech VC; Kate Rutter, LUXr.

The video makes for essential and compelling viewing, and provides many powerful takeaways.

HT: VentureBeat

Startup Profile: RAZ Mobile – Helping Non-Profits Better Engage a New Generation of Supporters

RAZ Mobile is setting out to help non-profit organizations better engage with their supporters via the power of mobile and social media.

Their recently launched mobile marketing platform enables any non-profit organization to create a full-featured, customized mobile website in a matter of minutes. The sites integrate seamlessly with social media channels and incorporate secure donation processing.

As supporters move to the mobile web and engage in social media channels, it’s important for non-profits to evolve along with them and pro-actively engage their supporters where they are most active.

Social: IRL recently spoke with RAZ Mobile founders Dale Knoop and Brad Kropf to learn more about their Kansas City-based startup and how non-profits might benefit from using their platform.

You can learn more about RAZ Mobile by visiting their website, or connecting with them on Twitter or Facebook.

Update: Since this post was originally published, we have been pleased to welcome RAZ Mobile as a new Social: IRL sponsor.

Could you please share a little about your background – who founded the company and why?

RAZ Mobile was founded by Dale Knoop and Brad Kropf and they each have a deep background in mobile data services. Among them both are dozens of patents and the idea for RAZ Mobile stemmed from their desire to help non-profit organizations deal with the coming donor cliff. Most donations currently come from direct mail and most of these donors are of an older demographic profile. Our goal is to drive innovation into the non-profit space, help them reach new donors, and ultimately benefit those in need.

 

What is the key non-profit challenge you’re setting out to solve, and what type of feedback have you see as you’ve started introducing RAZ to regional non-profits?

We talked about the coming donor cliff. Nothing beats having a mobile presence when it comes to donor engagement and fundraising.

The great thing we’ve seen in the first month we’ve been in the market is the phenomenal response from causes. They’ve seen their own mobile sites on their phones and, from their own experiences with the sites, quickly understand the need to add more mobile-friendly channels for communication and fundraising.

We’ve got some very traditional non-profits coming on board and we were amazed at the speed at which they started talking about tactics for using RAZ Mobile in what they do today.

 

Besides creating a mobile optimized experience, what other benefits does the platform offer non-profits?

In addition to having a mobile optimized experience to share with supporters, non-profits can also process supporters’ donations in a matter of seconds. RAZ Mobile is priced so that causes can afford to experiment with a low cost solution and refine their tactics and strategies. Creating an app is both expensive to build and to maintain. Carrier-billed solutions can cost up to 50% of the donation made and the cause doesn’t know who the donors are. RAZ Mobile was designed to solve all these challenges and make giving easy, secure and quick for donors since they don’t want to pinch and swipe your PC site on their phone. Research says they’ll give up. In the time it takes to even find the Donate button on their PC site, with RAZ Mobile your donation could have been made and a receipt already sent to your inbox.

 

Could you share a little about the technology involved?

RAZ Mobile is a cloud-based solution which uses the browser to render the cause’s mobile site. Under the hood are several hundred thousand lines of code and links to social media like Facebook and Twitter and a growing suite of reporting tools.

We chose RAZ Mobile to be a browser-based solution in order to achieve the largest scale for our clients. We also use industry standard credit card processing technology in order to ensure the maximum speed of donations going to our customers and a high-level of security for the donors.

 

There are, of course, other mobile solutions being offered. Could you tell us what sets you apart? What unique user-benefits is RAZ Mobile able to bring to the table?

RAZ Mobile makes donations super easy and fast for donors making repeat donations. At the end of making your first donation a donor can create a secure PIN to store their credentials for future donations, making all future donations to any cause using RAZ Mobile just a few taps on their smartphone.

The other two aspects that set us apart are a commitment to service to our clients and making sure that our product for both causes and supporters is simple and yet incredibly powerful.

We actually have a client who evaluated several other solutions that are out there now and they chose RAZ Mobile. We are really honored to be selected and we think others will see the same thing.

 

It’s been just a month since RAZ Mobile launched. Could you give us a quick review of initial progress and where things go from here?

One month since launch we’ve got a handful of clients using RAZ Mobile and many more coming. Each of them has significant efforts in other channels like print and digital and they easily see the need to use RAZ Mobile to add the mobile channel to what they’re already doing today.

We’ll have some great stories to share soon and the cool part about what RAZ Mobile offers is an easy way for any cause to educate their supporters on an ongoing basis, anywhere, anytime and when donors give there’s someone in need who will benefit. That’s a great thing to support and we are very excited about the future for causes who are really worried about the age of their donors and the coming problems with our postal service.

We also have some amazing technical enhancements coming that are going to further advance our reputation as the leading innovator in the mobile engagement and fundraising space. We’ll be announcing them as they happen. Some will involve some great partners so we’re pretty excited about what’s to come. We have a full pipeline which includes some patent pending features.

Want beta access to the latest social and mobile apps? Check out BetaBait, a new website connecting startups with early adopters

Today’s post is a guest post from Cody Barbierri, c0-founder of BetaBait, a new website connecting startups with early adopters interested in testing and being the first users of new web, mobile and social apps.  The post continues Social: IRL’s new series spotlighting startups in the tech, social and mobile space. Contact us to have your startup considered for a future post.

A while back I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about how there are so many startups out there that never see the light of day because it’s so hard to get noticed with today’s clutter online. To date, the only real way to get enough exposure to reach the early adopters who can help get a startup off the ground is by hounding reporters and spending countless hours within social media trying to engage people.

We wanted to remove the gate keepers making the decisions on who gets spotlighted and give that power to the early adopters – the people interested in testing and being the first users to many of these startups. With that, BetaBait was born. The service started out as a simple email service, spotlighting the latest startups looking for early adopters. Users could click-through on any startups that were of interest and be directed to their websites to learn more.

After just a few weeks, the response was incredible and we quickly ran into an issue – the email was getting too long with startups. We needed a place to house all of them and still give users a way to browse, share and test. We then launched an app directory online, which segmented the startups into categories, such as business, social, lifestyle and more. The email then only spotlighted the startups submitted from the past 24 hours.

Shortly after launching the app directory, we decided that we needed to give our community more of a voice. These early adopters have incredible ideas and can bring tremendous value to the startups looking to deliver a better product. We then shortly rolled out individual app pages for each startup, which gave additional information, sharing features and a commenting section meant to leave feedback based on the user’s experience and general thoughts on the idea.

BetaBait has been live now for almost 2 months and has close to 1,000 startups, 5,000 early adopters using the service, which remains free for both parties. We are currently generating revenue through email sponsors, which are able to create a welcome message to our daily email with a link to their website. Sponsors enjoy being the first thing our community of early adopters sees when they open the email.

In the near future, as the community continues to grow, we will be launching a redesign of the site to make it even easier to discover new startups, share them with friends and family, including a voting mechansim to push startups to the top of the page as well as leave feedback. In addition, we will be offering more sponsorship opportunities online for startups and other advertisers.

If you’re an early adopter or early stage startup looking to use the service, please sign up at www.betabait.com.

Gentlemint. A Pinterest for men. “Manly men”

Like the concept of Pinterest, but prefer more “manly” content? Gentlemint might be the site for you.

Just launched in beta, Gentlemint is a website that evolved from a personal challenge set by two Lawrence, Kansas, web designers Glen Stansberry and Brian Mckinney. Feeling burned out after another project they had worked on together, they set themselves a challenge to build a new website in just 12 hours. They wanted to create something that not only challenged them technically but that they could also have fun with. 12 intense hours later Gentlemint was live.

What started as a personal challenge has grown quickly in to a website  featured by the likes of Mashable, Time, and The Daily Dot, with a rapid growth in both traffic and registrations.

Social: IRL spent time with Glen Stansberry and Brian McKinney to learn more about Gentlemint and had a great time chatting about the original design and concept, how the site was built as an open source project using Django, the obvious comparisons to Pinterest, and future plans for the site. Check out the video of our conversation below.

Want a beta invitation for the site? No need to wait. We have a limited number of beta invitations we can share for immediate access. Just Tweet us @socialirl or send us a message here.

From a personal Twitter project to a “crowd sourced brand” – A look at Lawrence, Kansas, based startup @free

Evolving from a personal Twitter project to a “crowd sourced brand,” @free is a Lawrence, KS, based startup focused on connecting consumers with the best free offers from across the web.

With a mass of “free offers” and incentives pushed at consumers in an often overwhelming fashion, @free aims to stand apart by filtering out the spam and the misleading “strings attached” promotions, and highlighting just the offers they believe to be most relevant and of most genuine value to their audience.

Over a period of just nine months, @free has grown to a Twitter account with close to 50,000 followers, a popular website and Facebook Page, and a 1,000+ subscriber SMS text list.

@free recently introduced a new “Sponsor of the Day” feature, their first step towards monetizing the brand.

We spoke to @free founder and community manager Josh Davis to learn more.

 

What was your goal when you started the @free Twitter account? 

My goal was to take the best of what I had learned about social media, and be able to implement it with a national consumer audience. So I had ambitious goals, but I was also very aware that I might not meet them. This summer after slowly building up an audience, the Twitter account in particular really started to get traction. For me, @free is my investment in what I believe is the future of social media, marketing and communications. A real connection with an audience goes beyond renting their attention for 30 seconds with a TV spot.  It allows brands and businesses of all sizes to form a real connection that can be built over months and years. When you compare that to an individual campaign, you can quickly see how social media and other direct connections with an audience is a literal asset.

 

You’ve seen impressive growth in your audience. Other than the obvious benefit of free offers, what do you feel has driven that growth? What makes @free stand apart?

As you stated, free is a fairly universal concept.  Pretty much since the Internet started, there have been web sites that featured free items.  My approach was to curate those offers so that only the best offers were shared.  If there are 100 free offers available on any given day, we try to focus on the top five.  We always consider whether the item or service has real value, but we also manage expectations. We test all the offers before we send them.

Follow growth has largely been “word-of-mouth”.  People tell their friends both online and off about us, and that leads to new followers.  I remember telling my wife how excited I was the first time someone tweeted that they were talking to a friend about @free in an in-person conversation. Our growth has been increased by running easily spreadable contests as well as doing sponsorships with large up-and-coming social media accounts that I feel are undervalued in their reach.  Many people understand how important social media is in their own life, but they have yet to fully understand how that value can be scaled for their national business.  The main reason @free is offering sponsorship opportunities is that we actually built and accelerated our reach by being the sponsor in similar situations.

 

You describe @free as a “crowd sourced brand.”  Could you explain?

Whenever I have a question about the next step the business should take, I always try to ask the readers what they think.  Reader input led to the spinoff accounts we started as well as the decision to focus on SMS text vs email.  Getting feedback is one of the best things that has come with a large audience. We ran a survey last month and the number one complaint from readers was finding offers among all the @messages on Twitter. So we added a web page on our site that lists just the offers so it was easier to find them.  I love to engage with the audience, but I never even considered that all the @messages made it hard to find actual offers when looking at our profile.  We also asked our audience to provide feedback on ways to fund and continue to grow @free.  Including the audience in that decision has result in almost no complaints about sponsored tweets and contests.  I expect as we grow, there will be occasional complaints, but I do feel that if the audience is part of the process and they feel they are getting value, they not only tolerated sponsored promotions but actually embrace them.

 

What type of audience is @free reaching?

Primarily from the U.S. (87%). While we certainly reach some traditional influencers and even a few youth celebrities our audience tends to follow more accounts then they have followers.  Readers tend to be between 18 and 35 years of age.  We actually have a web page that lists some of the highlights.

 

Your mission statement describes providing offers that are most relevant to your audience. Was this the focus for launching additional accounts such as @universifree? Were you concerned that additional account might segment your audience? What has been the impact of introducing these accounts?

Segmentation is actually a goal.  In the case of our free phone application accounts, if I am tweeting about a free Android app, 70% or more of the readers aren’t going to find it relevant. By segmenting I hope to better be able to provide relevant offers more of the time. The biggest issue we have had to address is not to expand to new accounts too quickly. I have a half dozen contributors, selected from over a hundred applicants, helping run the spin-off accounts, but like any business, we want to maintain the standards and goals for the brand.  We frequently get complaints about our offers being focused in the US. While I would like to expand to UK and Canadian accounts, I have had to make those long term goals, as we have more work that has to be done first.

 

How do you decide which offers to feature on @free?

Our account analytics let us look at the popularity of offers by examining over 100,000 clicks and 10,000 retweets. We use that information as the basis for what to promote, and I also rely on my contributors to see what they are interested in. We also continue to try different offers. The best way to learn is to try new things and then see the results.

 

How do you measure the success of a particular offer you’ve highlighted?

We use clicks, retweets, favorites, likes, shares, comments and @messages.  The first five allow for quickly comparing offers at scale, but we highly value the more nuanced feedback when readers take the time to tell us what they think. For our sponsored contest promotions, we track contest entries, tweets, new followers for sponsors and then follow that up by asking sponsors how their sales went and how they feel about the promotion.

 

What have been your most popular offers to date?

Of the hundreds of offers we have promoted, the top five are all food related. People love free food. The most popular offer was when Outback offered a free steak dinner.  National and local restaurants are rapidly figuring out that “free” is a powerful force to get new customers in the door and make them change their purchasing routine.  It doesn’t have to be a free meal. You can read about restaurants offering free drinks and seeing significant increases in sales even months later.

 

You recently introduced the Sponsor of the Day feature. How has your audience reacted to the “pay to play” approach?   

I really value the time our readers give us each day, so I had some reservations going in, but readers have really enjoyed them, and participation levels have been excellent. It just takes a minute to enter one of the contests with the entry being following the sponsor and optionally tweeting about the contest.  Businesses have enjoyed the increase in followers, brand awareness and several sponsors have reported increased sales.  Unlike a traditional ad buy, the benefits continue long after the sponsor’s day. If the business already has a compelling Twitter account, their new audience stays with them. The ability to have multiple touch points is the benefit I hear about most.

 

For brands, there are obvious benefits in connecting with the @free audience. Other than the Sponsor of the Day feature, are there additional promotional opportunities they can talk to you about?

Once brands get the experience of doing a sponsorship, they often are looking for more.  Social media directors have seen how excited their community managers get when they have an increased audience to engage with.  Our readers are used to sharing and communicating, and even established businesses are surprised how much interaction they see from new followers.  Our sponsored contest are a good universal solution at what I consider an excellent price, but the opportunities with a little bit of customization are even better.

 

What can we expect to see next?

Continued focus on our readers. Keeping one-to-one communication as the audience size increases.

We will always work with businesses of all sizes, but I am excited that we are starting to get more national brands interested in growing their relevant audience.