The Mentor Network Founder Feature – Joel Johnson

Last week we started the first of a series to do a deeper dive with each of the founders of the 5th Cohort of The Mentor Network. In this series, we explore with our founders to learn more about them as individuals, as well as their entrepreneurial journeys.  They have some great wisdom and experience to share with the rest of the community!

This week, we have Joel Johnson, CEO and Cofounder of MIXTAPE!  MIXTAPE is the song and scenario card game, which aims to bring people together, pairing songs with life experiences.  Joel has been in the KC startup scene for a few years now and has had a lot of traction, all while working a full-time job he’s passionate about!  In Joel’s words, “I was the KofC free-throw champion back in 1988. My Mom voted MIXTAPE best game ever! :)”  Additionally, in 2015, Joel presented on the 1MCKC stage.  Clearly Joel is a character, but he is certainly accomplished!  Read on to learn more.

What did you do before you were the Founder of your startup?

Before, during and after Mixtape, I am the corporate graphic designer and digital strategist for Husqvarna Construction Products.

Why this startup?  A.k.a. what is your ‘why’?

First, it was a product design challenge. Then it was a proof of concept challenge. After watching people play and react positively to Mixtape over the last 2 years, it’s ultimately become about how can we facilitate personal connection in a fun and engaging way.

What was your first milestone/win that let you know that you were on the right track to build this business?

Ten days after the card decks arrived from China, my sister-in-law got a small order placed to have them put into Baldwin and Standard Style over holiday.  They sold 80+ decks.  No one had even heard of it yet.  Also, the local retailer support that carried it and supported us from day one…RAYGUN…MADE IN KC…BUNKER.

Why did The Mentor Network stand out to you as a positive program to be involved with?

There are ordered steps to anything in life.  The Kansas City startup industry is no different.  Having seen and talked to a number of successful startups, it was obvious you had to be involved and participate in the community if you ever expected to be taken seriously.  The Mentor Network was step one for me.  I needed some guidance on a new idea and someone to help me outline step 2. I t’s quite a gift for someone to give you their time and expertise.

What have your big wins been so far within The Mentor Network?

The biggest win so far is the connection my Mentor, Brooke Bobe, has made to Mixtape.  She has recognized my passion for personal connection, listened to ideas for future growth and helped me map out some next steps.  Her professional experience and where I want to take Mixtape next are a perfect match.

How do you maintain sanity in this crazy, insane startup world?

I didn’t quit my day job.  I go to soccer practice and on dates with my wife.  I see my brother and his family at least once a week and I, on occasion, hang out in my buddy’s garage, watching surf videos and drinking Coors Light. That’s my world and it’s pretty grounded. If that world is good-to-go Mixtape is good-to-go.

KC has so many resources and people to help entrepreneurs.  What are we still missing?  What gaps do you think we need to fill?

None. Mentors are there. Opportunities for you to put your ideas in front of people are there. Grant money is there. You just need to put in the time and effort …and knock on all the doors you can.

Regarding the KC startup ecosystem, what has been your favorite service/resource that you would like to share with other founders to take advantage of?

I only have experienced a few. Apply to speak at 1 Million Cups. Apply to be part of the Mentor Network.

If you could go back to the day you started this journey and give yourself one piece of advice what would it be?

True story: Don’t forget to put how-to-play instructions inside the Mixtape box 🙂

Also published on Medium.

About the author: Ari DeGrote