Omaha is on the brink of massive change – 1 year progress check

One year ago today, I wrote this post titled “Omaha is on the brink of massive change“. It explored my thoughts on Omaha’s tech/entrepreneurial community. Apparently people thought it was interesting because in the next 3 days after posting it, my blog received more traffic than the rest of the year combined. Today, I am revisiting the post to see if I still agree with what I said one year ago (I recommend reading the original post before moving on though so it’s easier to follow along).

Below are the 4 points I made 1 year ago. This time though, I touch on how much Omaha has progressed in these areas.

1. Omahans are warming up to the idea of taking risks: I still think this is true, but I feel like the change is happening slower than it should be. Big Omaha 2012 did sell out all of their tickets in less than 10 minutes total. That is a great indicator, but the best indicator is the number of people from Omaha who are actually actively trying to build something that scales. Something that can reach large amounts of people. I think Silicon Prairies News is doing a particularly fantastic job of getting the word out about the tech and entrepreneurial scene in Omaha and it is definitely great to know that if you do build a product that is interesting, they are there to help amplify your voice and help get your message out to a broader audience. The problem is that I am not seeing enough companies pop up and take a leap to see if they can build a product that people want. I’d love to see more Omahans give it a go. Even if they fail. I just want to see people try. I’m even trying to practice what I preach. That is why I’m currently working on a new project. I’m hoping some others take the leap as well.

2. Investors are starting to take notice of companies in our area: Again, we are growing slower in this area than I would like to see. The same three companies I highlighted last year (Dwolla, MindMixer, Zaarly) have all received more funding since then. But again, there isn’t much that’s new. I don’t count Xuba/ either since they came in with founders who were well-funded from the start because the founders came from Hayneedle. If there are other companies in Omaha who have been funded, I am not aware of any.

3. People are starting to realize that it is much cheaper to find talent in the Midwest: I’m not sure how much progress has been made on this front, but I think people are still becoming more and more aware of how hard it is to get good talent at your startup if you are working in some of the bigger startup hubs. This becomes extremely taxing on startups because they have to pay larger salaries to try to compete. That subtracts from the bottom line of the company. In Omaha though, there are a decent amount of people who want to work at a startup. The attendance of the startup job crawl put on by SPN is evidence of that. Since there are less tech startup companies in Omaha, in theory, it should be easier to attract smart, talented people to work in your company. I think more people are realizing that but again, I am not 100% sure since I haven’t had to hire anyone for my company.

4.The tech community here wants to see everyone succeed: I think this is the area where Omaha has made the greatest progress. Omaha’s Startup Weekend had lots of participants, the SPN meetups have had great attendance, Big Omaha sold out in minutes, etc. There is no shortage of people in Omaha who want to be involved in the tech/entrepreneurial community and Omaha has always been fantastic when it comes to having a sense of community. As far as I’m concerned, the community is by far Omaha’s strongest asset and I think it always will be.

With all of this being said, I’d give Omaha a solid C+ for progress on the “massive change” front. The strength of our community is fantastic, and cost of doing business here is also good, but we really need better progress on points #1 and #2. More specifically, we really need better progress on #1. Without people trying to build new companies/products, all of the other points our moot. If there are no new companies, then we don’t have an entrepreneurial scene. I am still super bullish on Omaha though. This city can and will produce some awesome shit. I’m just not sure when that shift is going to happen but my guess is that we are still on the brink. We just need a couple more catalysts to push us over the edge so go out and build something.

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No One Has Ever Told Me I Wasn’t Good Enough

A lot of people seem to cite their doubters for their success. Being told they can’t do something becomes motivation for a lot of people. I get it. No one likes being told they can’t do something. I am just confused as to where all of these pro athletes, mega pop stars, and uber successful business people were hearing all this criticism from. Tim Tebow has a commercial that has him listing off all of these things that people supposedly said about him. I realize he has quite a few critics now, but did people really tell him he couldn’t be a high school quarterback? And who the hell told him he couldn’t get a D-1 scholarship? The dude was the number 1 ranked dual threat QB in the entire country coming out of high school. Do Tim Tebow and other people with some obvious talent just hang around with naysaying assholes? I’m confused…

For me, I have never been in this situation. I don’t get it. From my outside perspective, it seems like all of these successful people say that naysayers motivated them because it seems like a good story. Everyone wants to try to depict themselves as an underdog and that they overcame a bunch of adversity to get to where they are. Don’t get me wrong, I know this happens, but I can’t believe it’s nearly as prevalent as everyone makes it seem. No one wants to say “Everyone believed in me and I went out there and did it”. It’s just not as good of a story.

I personally have never had someone tell me I couldn’t accomplish a goal I set for myself. I am not sure if it’s because I hang around people who are too nice, too stupid, I have super easy goals, or if I am genuinely awesome at everything (the last one is highly doubtful). For me, having people believe in me (or at least pretend to believe in me), is what motivates me. Having someone expect you to accomplish something is a big motivator. Have you ever heard people say that “That guy had so much talent but he never accomplished insert accomplishment here because he was lazy/quit/didn’t take it seriously”? Well I have and if someone said that about me, I think that would weigh more heavily on me than anything anyone could say about me.

In my opinion, having people believe in you is more motivating than having detractors. If people say you aren’t good enough, you have a built in reason to fail. You aren’t letting anyone down if no one thought you could do it anyway. It’s kind of like an episode of Modern Family (yes I am now looking to sitcoms for motivational wisdom) that aired late last year called “Phil on a Wire”. Phil is trying to learn how to walk a tightrope because it’s his dream to learn to walk a wire. He starts by stringing a tightrope between two platforms that are only a foot or two off the ground and he keeps falling and makes little progress. Then his normally stupid son says something pretty brilliant. He said something along the lines of “Maybe you keep falling because part of you knows that you can fall. Maybe if the wire was much, much higher you wouldn’t fall”. They end up raising the rope to a much taller height and Phil successfully walks across the rope.

phil on a wire

That is how I look at people who believe in you and your abilities. If someone says you suck and can’t do something, and you end up failing, it sucks, but you met expectations from the outside party and no one was harmed (other than your ego). Now imagine if someone really believes in you. Not only do you want to succeed because you want to prove to yourself that you can do it, but you also want to succeed because you don’t want to let other people down. That’s twice as bad as failing in front of someone who doubts you. You are disappointed and someone else who believed in you in now disappointed. That sucks.

So all in all, my belief is that if I don’t succeed at something, it’s not because I wasn’t good enough. It’s because I didn’t work hard enough at it.

I’m currently work on a project called with a couple of other guys and haven’t had one person tell me that we won’t be successful. I’ll take that as some motivation that people think I’m good enough to make something out of it so we’ll see what happens.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, motivation, risk | Leave a comment

Why most managers suck

One of the most common complaints you hear from an employee at any company is that their boss just doesn’t “get it” and for the most part, a large portion of employees with this complaint actually have a valid point.

This past week, I was reading a book called The Lean Startup and it briefly touched on a key principle that is used by Toyota in their manufacturing process (a process that is considered best in the world by many standards). That principle is called Genchi Genbutsu and it loosely translates to English as “Go and See”. Essentially it means that problems need to be observed and understood where they are actually happening. No amount of reports or 2nd hand communication will substitute for this. This means that a manager sitting in their office all day cannot possibly understand their team and their problems to the extent they need to. So this got me thinking, why do so many people think their managers suck? Here are my observations:

1. Managers who are hired from outside, rather than being promoted from within,  tend to be disconnected from the team and have a hard time truly knowing what it’s like to work in their subordinates shoes day in and day out. This comes back to the Genchi Genbutsu principle. Managers who haven’t been on the front lines with their team in the company they are currently working in, only know the high level details of the needs of their team. The manager most likely won’t ever be fired for this type of disconnection from their team, but they also won’t be a great manager or supervisor either and in many cases, it may lead to instances of resentment from your team. Think of it this way, would you really respect someone telling you what to do if they had never actually done it themselves (doing it at a different company doesn’t count since there are some many unique challenges from company to company)?

2. Some managers get a big ego when they get promoted and think their days of doing “dirty work” is behind them and now that they can tell others what to do, the first thing they do is dish out the dirty work that they don’t want to do.  People who get promoted and immediately start dishing out dirty work to others are often met with severe resentment from their new team. That’s a great way to start off on the wrong foot with your new team.

3. Some managers are just dicks. There’s not much you can do about it. If your boss is an asshole to everyone and anyone, then that sucks. I suggest making snarky comments behind his or her back to your coworkers to make yourself feel better (j/k, this probably won’t work).

While I think all of these things are reasons why employees may dislike their managers (or at least the decisions their managers make), I really am intrigued by the first one. Why is it that so many companies allow this sort of thing to happen? How could you argue with the fact that being in the trenches on occasion makes you a better manager? You obviously aren’t going to be in the trenches all the time since your job entails more strategy and planning, but there is no way in hell that you can tell me that perfecting your strategy and overall plan isn’t leaps and bounds easier if you really understand your workforce. I sure wish more managers would realize that their job is not to tell others what to do. Their job is to lead the team do get a job done and that means they have to get their hands dirty as well. It’s the only way your team will respect you and you will become a great manager.

Posted in management | 3 Comments

I’m working on a new project

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Jordan and I were playing a game of ping pong and discussing and idea he had for how we could easily track the games we played and surface some analytics behind those games to really get a better understanding of how good or bad we were performing and how we stacked up against others. After several conversations about this idea, we both decided it was something we were pretty excited about even if we were the only two that used it. So not so long after that, we started work on simple prototype of what we were envisioning in our heads (and by we, I mostly mean Jordan).

So anyway, we are currently working on the site. Jordan is doing the development work and I am tasked with getting some people on board to help us test and getting the word out in general. We are pretty excited about it and we aren’t really sure where we are going with it yet. Our goal is to get a minimum viable product up and running pretty soon and starting to get feedback and additional data to help shape our future roadmap. With that said, we would love for people to sign up for the waiting list so we can give them first access when we are ready to launch. If you are interested in helping us out, please sign up for the waiting list at the link below:

Thanks in advance!


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Why I quit on my team during Startup Weekend

This past weekend was the first Startup Weekend that I ever attended and I was extremely excited about it. Unfortunately, it didn’t end up as magical as I thought. But in a weird way, it ended up being an extremely good learning experience.

So here is how everything went down. I apologize in advance for the length of this post. Feel free to turn back now.

Pre event preparation

Prior to coming to Startup Weekend Omaha, I had an idea I had been tossing around for quite awhile. It was a mobile couponing app that I thought was a great idea (I actually still think it’s a great idea).  It was an idea that I was passionate about partially because of my personal love for personal finance. But ideas don’t mean shit unless you execute on it and I realize that. I was bringing this idea to Startup Weekend because I was hoping that I would pitch the idea and would get a team to work on it with me and help bring this thing to life. I had actually done a pretty decent amount of prep work in regards to idea so I knew most of the areas we needed to work on during the weekend from both a tech and non-tech side of things. I also watched a lot of pitches from other Startup Weekends and practiced my one minute pitch quite a bit in the week leading up to the weekend, so I was feeling pretty good about my idea and pitch by the time the event started.

Pitch time

The Omaha Startup Weekend had just under 110 attendees. Just before the pitches started, the organizers told us that 12-15 (I don’t remember the exact number they told us) of the top ideas would be picked to work on based on votes from the attendees. Of the ~110 attendees, roughly 50 people pitched an idea.

Since there were so many people pitching, I came up with a small plan to try to give my idea the best shot of being chosen. I waited until the majority of people pitched and then I jumped up to do my pitch near the very end. My thought was that this would mean my idea would be fresher in the minds of people by the time it got to voting time. Also, as I was sitting in my chair, I didn’t personally hear many ideas that I thought were very good. Some of them were definitely interesting, but were definitely not viable businesses. A bigger percentage of them were neither interesting nor viable businesses, so I figured it would be really easy to beat those guys.

When it got time for me to pitch, I went up there and tried to show some enthusiasm, explain how my idea solves a problem that a huge number of people have, and what kind of team I needed to help solve this problem. I think my pitch ended up going pretty well although I would have to see a video of my pitch to actually know for sure. That one minute goes by really freakin quick.

Needless to say, after the pitches were done, I was feeling pretty good about my chances.

The Voting

So the pitches were done and everyone was supposed to vote on the ideas they liked the best. We were all given three votes and could put them on any of the ~50 pitches that we wanted. You could put them all on one idea, or you could split them up between multiple ideas if you wanted. We were sitting in the auditorium at UNO and were dismissed by row in order to go cast our vote. When it was time for my row to go vote, I went up to the idea list to see how my idea was doing. I couldn’t tell exactly how many votes I had, but it looked like I was doing pretty well. So I went ahead and voted for 3 different ideas that I thought were kind of interesting instead of voting for my own. I didn’t want to be the douche that voted for his own idea. I would rather have my idea win on it’s own than need my votes to win. So after that, we went out to the hall to mingle with other Startup Weekend participants while the organizers counted the votes.

While we were in the hall, I had a couple of people seek me out to say they liked my idea. I chatted with them about some ideas I had for making it an actual business rather than just a cool app. I also chatted about some of the other ideas I thought were interesting as well. Needless to say, I was still feeling pretty confident that my idea would be chosen at this point.

Ideas are chosen

After the judges counted up all the votes, we were shuffled back into the auditorium. The organizers were putting the names of the top vote getters up on the projector as we all sat there. I saw the first couple names go up and my idea wasn’t on there. I wasn’t super worried because so many ideas were going to get chosen. After a couple of minutes, all of the pitch winners were on the projector. Unfortunately, my pitch wasn’t on there (for the record, I missed by 2 votes). My heart literally sank. I tried to pretend it didn’t bother me very much when I was talking to the two guys on either side of me, but the truth is, I was super bummed. I had been thinking through my idea for so long before the weekend even started and had put in a decent amount of pre-work on it as well, so I couldn’t help but be bummed. I also truly believe that my idea, if executed properly, could help people. At the same time, I thought it could actually be a viable business which I was fairly certain that many of the other ideas could not.

I realized a couple of things after that:

1. Either my idea was not as good as I thought OR my pitch was not as good as I thought…or both

2. Most of the audience were technical people (developers or designers). One thing I have learned from tech people, is that they like working on fun projects. I felt my idea was extremely practical, but it was by no means sexy and that didn’t cater to the audience I was pitching to.

3. I was disappointed by quite a few of the ideas that the audience chose. If you want to start a viable business, it needs to be able to make revenue and sustain that revenue. A lot of the ideas that were chosen, we definitely interesting, but from a business perspective, we extreme long shots to make any money. Now I realize that there is no problem with people just wanting to work on interesting projects, but if more people in Omaha don’t start realizing that you need to make a viable business out of stuff like this, it will not progress the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the area because no one will actually succeed in making these ventures a successful business.

Moving on and choosing a team

After the final ideas were chosen, I chose not to try to recruit a team to work on my app as I realized that would be an extremely uphill recruiting battle at that point. So instead, I decided to join another team that had be chosen from the pitches. I won’t mention what team I joined, but you can probably find out pretty easily with a little investigation.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t in love with any of the other ideas that were pitched. So I just tried to join one that I thought was interesting and see where it went. The team I ended up joining had two people when I stopped by. They both had a little bit of technical skills, but it seemed like it would be difficult to a working prototype with what the three of us could bring to the table. So we all realized we needed some more help. The two guys who were already on the team, went to see if they could recruit some technical talent and I hung out by our assigned work room to see if anyone else would show up. We ended up getting lucky that one technical resource did end up stopping by and joining our team (we had one other non tech guy join as well). So our team was set with 5 people. One developer, and 4 other guys with minimal tech skills who would try to put everything else together.

When the team was assembled, we went into our room and spent the next 60-90 minutes discussing how we thought this whole thing should work. We came up with a basic structure for the website and how we felt the business should work. A couple of us had some basic tasks we needed to complete before we were to meet again on Saturday morning at 7am.

Things start going downhill

Our team was supposed to meet at 7am on Saturday. only one of the 5 of us got there at 7 (our developer). Myself and one other guy got there at 7:15. Another showed up at 8:15 and we didn’t see the final member of our team until after the 9am presentation by Sen. Ben Nelson. We also briefly had another technical resource that I found via on Twitter from the night before. He showed up at 7am, but he left us soon after with the promise to come back but he never did. I have a feeling he didn’t like how disorganized we were and I don’t blame him.

After we reconvened following Senator Nelson’s presentation, we started working on some basic stuff like creating Twitter and Facebook accounts for our team, sending our some surveys to help us determine market fit, and getting a logo created for our company. We also decided that our company would best function as a 501c3 non profit as opposed to a normal “for profit” business. Unfortunately, after that, we were all kind of lost on what to do. This wasn’t a sector that any of us had any experience in so we really weren’t what direction to go. The person who pitched the idea (our “CEO”) hadn’t thought through the idea very much so he didn’t really have a vision for how this should work. It was also very apparent that the person who pitched the idea and who was supposed to be the CEO was not taking the leadership role. One of the people in our group was a rather strong personality who had strong opinions about certain things and often came off in a combative manner which I think also caused a bit of a problem when it came to our team dynamic.

So basically we had a couple of problems.

1. Only had one technical resource. God bless that guy. He never complained and was the main reason that anything was presentable at the end.

2. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I personally could have cared less about the type of company we were building. As one of the team members later said, it’s one of those ideas that you think should be built, you just think someone else should build it because you don’t care about it that much. Also, anyone who knows me, knows that money is a motivator for me. It’s definitely not my only motivator (or even biggest motivator), but the lack of financial upside with this company, killed my motivation.

3. We weren’t a good team. The personalities in our group didn’t mesh well. We had a mix of people with extremely strong personalities and extremely passive, non-vocal personalities. Our team also did not have skill sets that complimented each other. One technical guy to four business/do everything else guys. You really don’t need that many “business guys” in a small startup.

I quit on our team

As the day wore on on Saturday, I became more and more disengaged with the project. This was primarily due to items 2 & 3 that I just listed. I simply couldn’t work on a project that I wasn’t passionate about with a team that didn’t work well together. Part way through the day, my friend from work who wasn’t able to make it to Startup Weekend, sent me text to see how it was going. He knew I was super psyched and he wanted to see what he was missing out on. I texted him back that our team didn’t work well together and that I could careless about the project. That’s when it really clicked to me that I wasn’t having fun, I wasn’t learning anything, and I needed to cut my losses.
It took me a couple of hours to actually work up the courage to say how I felt. I was fairly confident that the others on our team felt the same way about our team and it was just a big elephant in the middle of the room that no one was addressing. So around 7:45pm on Saturday, I addressed the team and let them know that I just wasn’t feeling it anymore. I let them know that I thought it was a decent enough idea, it just wasn’t one that I particular cared about. I also said that I felt our direction wasn’t very clear and that I wasn’t going to carry on with the team. I told them I would rather man up and tell them to their faces, rather than just not show up on Sunday morning.  I let them all know, that I felt like a huge asshole for quitting, but I felt like it was for the best. Surprisingly, they were all very understanding. My guess is that they were all feeling the same way. Or I was just not very useful and they didn’t care if I stayed anyway. Needless to say, I appreciated them all letting me say my peace and them being very understanding of it. One of the other guys on our team aired some of his grievances as well but he stuck around for a bit, although I don’t believe he came back on Sunday.

As I got in my car and left Mammel Hall, I felt like absolute shit for a bunch of reasons. I didn’t get to work on the idea that I was obsessed with (and honestly thought would be a viable business), I quit on a team that I had committed to, and I didn’t get the overwhelmingly positive Startup Weekend experience that so many other people seemed to have gotten. Honestly, I just felt like curling up into the fetal position and just listening to “Everybody Hurts” by REM. I was that fucking bummed by how it went down. I went home and hung out with my wife and moped around the rest of the night and most of the next day. It sucked.

From what I hear, the team had more issues the next day as well and almost didn’t present at the final pitches, but they pulled stuff together and the 3 remaining members presented at the end of weekend. I watched the presentation live online and they didn’t do too badly. I think the execution of the company was pretty poor, but it worked out OK because the judges didn’t seem to dig in very much into any of the companies that were presented. On a side note, I was a bit disappointed in the judges. They didn’t seem to dig into the companies very much and they almost appeared to judge more on the actual idea that was presented and not the actual execution which is really the most important part.


Immediately after quitting, I felt like there was nothing positive that came out of this weekend. But as I reflected back on it, I think I actually learned a ton from Startup Weekend. I just learned it in an unconventional way. I found out that I need to be passionate about the project I am working on or I won’t give it my full effort. I found out that getting a team that cohesively works together is arguably the most important part of building a company.

Also, I have to say, that my experience with Startup Weekend was unique to me (although I am sure a small numbers of others have similar experiences). From what I can tell, the vast majority of people actually have a great time at the event. It wasn’t what I expected, but I did learn a lot about myself and that wouldn’t have happened without Startup Weekend.

I have to say, that the local team of organizers that put together the event did a fantastic job. The event wasn’t without it’s small hiccups, but overall it went very smoothly and that is because of the team that organized it. They did a great job and should be applauded for their hard work.

Lastly, I can say that I am still a strong believer in Startup Weekend. Even though my experience wasn’t the best, I still think this is a great concept and it is a great event for our community.


Posted in Entrepreneurship, Startup Weekend, Uncategorized | 13 Comments

Huge Thanks to Dwolla

It’s been awhile since I posted, but I need to throw a shout out to Dwolla for sponsoring me and 9 other people to go to StartUp Weekend Omaha in September. These guys really “get it” and seem to genuinely want to give back to the entrepreneurial community in the Midwest. I can’t overstate how awesome that is. So again, a huge thank you to those guys.

If you aren’t using Dwolla yet, you should. It’s a great mobile payment company. Better yet, it’s run by guys who do things like this. Paying it forward will definitely pay off for them. Thanks again guys and good luck moving forward with your company. Love the concept and your execution so far.


Posted in Dwolla, Entrepreneurship, Omaha | Leave a comment

Why I am excited about Startup Weekend

I realize the next Startup Weekend in Omaha isn’t until September 16th but I wanted to wanted to document some of my thoughts about it. I’ve never been to Startup Weekend before (I missed the first 2 in Omaha), but I can say that I am genuinely excited about the next one coming up in Omaha for a couple of reasons.

1. It’s a chance to meet people I may have never met before: There are a bunch of really creative people in Omaha with wildly different ideas and skills and all too often, we find ourselves in a bubble of the same people we work and hang out with everyday. I feel that this leads us to think along the same lines that we always do. Meeting new people with different ideas helps us tap into new ways of thinking that we may not be exposed to otherwise.

2. I want to see if other people think some of my ideas are any good: I am pretty sure some of my ideas are pretty good, but I will find out for sure when people cast their votes on what projects they want to work on. If my idea gets chosen, it will be a nice little reassurance that others think the same. If not, then I will try to get some feedback as to why so I can do a bit better the next time.

3. They are making a documentary about it: Hey, who doesn’t want to be part of a film?

4. There is a chance that we could make something really valuable that lots of people want to use: Ultimately, this is the main reason I want to go. Building extremely useful and interesting products is something that fascinates me. Zaarly, LaunchRock, and Foodspotting are just 3 examples of companies that originated at Startup Weekends that are getting some real traction. If there is even a small sliver of a chance that I might be involved in something like that, then you can count me in.

5. I want to see how much value I bring to a small team: I don’t have design skills or programming skills (although I am learning some basic programming), but I do have some Product skills(my actual job is a Product role) and I have some decent idea of how to market web apps, perform easy to understand demos, and an overall understanding of the business landscape in general ( I was a Business major after all). But a lot of that stuff isn’t as tangible as programming/design skills and I want to see how much I can offer to the team. I think I have a lot of value to add, but the only way to tell is to actually go through the steps needed to launch a product and see just how much I bring to the table.

6. The event is in the new business building at University of Nebraska Omaha:
I graduated from UNO in 2007 and I haven’t been back since the new business building opened. I am just excited to see the new facility. I hear it is really nice and it will be nice to do some work back at my old stomping grounds.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, I wanted to document my feelings about why I was excited about attending this Startup Weekend in Omaha. But I left out another reason why I wrote this post. The second reason I wrote this post is because I want other people to get excited enough about Startup Weekend so they will actually attend and participate. One of the elements needed for an event like this to succeed, is a talented pool of attendees. I am hoping that we can get a good number of the technological and creative talent in the area to attend this event to help ensure that the teams end up with a high quality product in the end. After all, the quality of the talent that attends this event will most likely have a huge impact on the quality of the end product that is produced. The better the end product, the better chance that a real tangible business gets born out of this thing. And that is good for everyone. So if you are on the fence about coming, just take a chance and come out and we’ll see what happens. I have a feeling it will be a great experience.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, Omaha | Leave a comment