Ep. #953 - The Grooming Project
It’s day two of putting a spotlight on social impact ventures.
In today’s episode of Startup Hustle, Andrew Morgans shares the mic with Natasha Kirsch. Our guest is the executive director of The Grooming Project. Together, they walk through the ins and outs of the welfare system. And how the program transforms people’s lives for the better in the pet grooming industry.
Covered In This Episode
Social impact entrepreneurs win when everybody wins. And that is the idea that Natasha had when she started The Grooming Project. Luckily, she became one of the founders welcomed into Keystone Innovation District’s Social Venture Studio cohort and gained access to the support so many early-stage companies need and deserve.
So she shares her story with Andrew and you, Startup Hustle listeners! Natasha lets you know more about the program and what to look forward to in the future.
Discover more insights from this Startup Hustle episode now!
- Natasha and her journey to entrepreneurship (02:33)
- How did Natasha get into the dog grooming business? (04:32)
- The challenges encountered while setting up the program (08:27)
- On getting mentorship and proper funding (09:54)
- Launching The Grooming Project (11:55)
- Investing in education programs (13:50)
- On how changing the mindset poses a great challenge (17:55)
- What’s the story behind The Grooming Project? (20:52)
- Living in two separate worlds and learning life skills (22:37)
- On being street smart (24:22)
- The vision for The Grooming Project’s expansion (27:24)
- The need for a revenue stream even though the business is a non-profit (29:02)
- Assessing the student’s needs to gain some stability in life (31:42)
- Making connections with workforce training programs in Kansas City (33:09)
- How to get in touch with The Grooming Project (39:07)
The idea is that we’re providing some of the jobs because we pay higher wages, have health care, and all that fun stuff. But then, also, those partnerships, we’ve got 250 partners in Kansas City employers that want to hire our students.– Natasha Kirsch
It’s a number of attempts, and a number of doors knocked before you get that yes. And, you know, you perfect your pitch by the nose. Like why did this person say no this time? What did we not share? What story do we not share? That’s something that’s not easy for a lot of people that have a cause. And you’re like, why don’t they understand what I’m trying to do?– Andrew Morgans
I feel like, as a country, we spend almost a trillion dollars a year trying to solve the poverty problem. But we’re just doing it wrong.– Natasha Kirsch
Growing the KCMO community is the ultimate goal of The Economic Development Corporation of KCMO (EDCKC). That is why they fully support entrepreneurs in and around the city. The organization pioneered helpful programs, such as LaunchKC and Social Venture Studio. So if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur with a great idea, check out how EDCKC can help you.
The EDCKC is also a long-time supporter and a Startup Hustle partner, together with other organizations.
Following is an auto-generated text transcript of this episode. Apologies for any errors!
Andrew Morgans 00:00
Hey, what’s up, Hustlers? Welcome back. This is Andrew Morgans, founder of Marknology, here as today’s host of Startup Hustle, covering all things e-commerce, startup in Kansas City, scaling businesses, you name it. We can really cover anything here. Super excited about today’s guests. We’ve got a local Kansas City. And before I jump into who she is, what she’s representing today, and what she’s going to talk about, I love to give a shout-out to our sponsor that’s made this whole thing possible. The Economic Development Corporation of KCMO is proud to support the dreamers and doers in our great city through a variety of programs, including LaunchKC and KC UP. If you’re in and around the Kansas City area, learn how they can help you launch by visiting EDCKC.com. I’ve been involved in various ways throughout the years. It’s an amazing program, and I’m thankful that they’re here today to sponsor our show. So, without further ado, Natasha, from the grooming project. Welcome to the show.
Natasha Kirsch 00:57
Hi. Thank you for having me.
Andrew Morgans 00:59
Yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve had a Kansas City local, and I’m super excited. I love supporting our businesses around Kansas City. And like my listeners would know, I love starting out with just getting to know you and helping our listeners get to know you, Natasha. And then, we’ll talk about The Grooming Project, but I would love to know, you know, obviously, we’re talking about pet grooming and animal grooming. How’d you get into the business? It’s your first one, like kind of where did you start in entrepreneurship? Or where did this passion come from? Was it like, you know, out of school, and you knew exactly what you’re going to do? Is it something you grew up with? Anything you’d like to share would be amazing. You know, a lot of people say like, you know, when I was young, I knew I always wanted to do this. For me, it was never that way. I just kind of found myself in business by accident, but I would love to know how you kind of got the passion for starting the business and the passion for business in general. Oh, well.
Natasha Kirsch 01:53
Um, so I actually thought I was going to be a lawyer when I was a kid due to human rights law. So I always wanted to, you know, help people support people that were, you know, the vulnerable, I guess. But, you know, after college, I ended up running a daycare in DC. I actually started it and ran it out of my house when I was 23 years old. Just because there was a huge need in the market for it. I had a small child, and I knew how much money they made. So that is actually probably my first step into what I’m doing right now. Okay, probably doesn’t make sense for a lot of people. But I do run a daycare, so I had to get licensed. And I learned so much about early childhood development and how important those first five years of life are. And really kind of shaped how I think about parenting and parents and supporting them so that they can do their job and raise kids.
Andrew Morgans 02:58
I love that. Okay, so 23 first business, running a daycare. And honestly, someone that’s a new dog, dad, you know, I would Adobe’s he’s 18 months. I know what you guys do. But like, for me, he has, like, been kind of like a mirror into, like, young, like probably a young child, in some ways that he’s very intelligent. And just like, you know, it’s been a learning experience. For me, I have always had dogs growing up, but I wasn’t the one in charge, so to speak, you know, I was not the one doing the training or the one like, you know, taking him to his bed appointments, or the one take him to the groom or any of those things. It was like mom’s dog and, you know, the family dog. And we did it. And this has been a big learning experience for me, especially with a dog that’s like 90 plus pounds. You know, and I have no kids on my own. So for me, it’s been something very enjoyable. But also just learning every day. It seems like you know how to do it better and better. So I can definitely relate. So back to DC, go school. You’re in DC. Start with a daycare. How long did you do that for
Natasha Kirsch 04:09
A daycare for about six years. And I actually bought a house, one big enough where I could run it out of half of the house. And we just charged a ton of money and had really good quality instructors there. And then, you know, we moved to Kansas City, and in Kansas City, I was able at that point to do a lot of volunteer work. My kids were young, they were in preschool, I only had, you know, three or four hours off a day. And that’s when I started working with homeless families. And I really learned how impossible it is for somebody born into poverty to get out of poverty. And it was one of those days when I was driving home from work. You know, I had just met with several moms that would sit outside of my office and wait for me to get to work so that I could help them find jobs. But with criminal records, or you know, reading that second-grade reading level, it was just impossible to try and find something for them to do, where they could actually make enough money to get off of welfare and take care of their kids. So, that is where the dog grooming piece comes in at. Because, yeah, I’m driving home from work one day, racking my brain, how do I fix this, and my mom called from Iowa, and she said, I’ll take any more somebody who walks through the door and train them. And my mom was a dog groomer. And I actually, you know, I grew up with dogs, but I never really liked dirty dogs. So. So I didn’t like to help my mom and our business, but I would do her marketing and her bookkeeping from wherever. Yeah, so, and I thought about it, I’m like, I know how much money my mom makes. She was able to flex her schedule around our schedule as kids, and the dogs don’t care if you have a felony on your record. So I just kind of mash the two things together, went back to graduate school to figure out how to actually run a nonprofit, and then and then we got started.
Andrew Morgans 06:09
I love that it’s an amazing story. And your mom sounds like an amazing woman, in my opinion. It’s not. It’s not an easy thing. Just for like, you know, storytelling sake, I grew up as a missionary kid in Africa till I was 16. And this is a long time, this is not a long time ago, but you know, before social media and these kinds of things, my parents were teachers. So as I was raised around people in like, the lowest of, of poverty, you know, as far as American Standards go, they were technically like a fourth World country in Congo, at the time, so you just see, it was very hard coming back, and even myself, being raised in Kansas City definitely was, you know, lower middle class, to say the least. And you know, and it is a challenge. Now, it’s my first time getting a college degree. And, you know, that’s not poverty by any means. But you know, it’s just, it’s a climb there, even as a white male, you know, to get out of that routine to get out of those thought patterns. And to get it out of that scarcity mindset. And, you know, all the challenges that come with that, and have made it a goal of mine, and honestly work with a lot of companies that have like, even like prison rehabilitation programs, and things like that, where they’re able to teach them trade skills, so highly commend, you know, what you guys are doing, and it’s not an easy path forward. What did day one look like for, you know, coming out of school with a master’s degree in a nonprofit and saying, Okay, now I’m ready to put this to work where you guys are already operating kind of at that point? And were you like, shipping people to Iowa? Like, you know, that word? How did that work?
Natasha Kirsch 07:47
Well, so my mom and I actually started writing the curriculum for the school. And we got to be a state-certified school. But the big, the hardest part was finding money to get this thing started, like I’m not independently wealthy. And donors had a really hard time trying to think about what I was trying to do. And it took three years of me knocking on every door and begging for money before we got our first really big, you know, we got $100,000 from the city. And that was kind of a fluke. But that’s when things started to actually snowball.
Andrew Morgans 08:27
Okay. There are a lot of entrepreneurial lessons in there, I’ll tell you that much. Just from you know, pitching and its attempts, it’s a number of attempts and number of doors knocked before you get that yes. And, you know, you perfect your pitch by the nose, right? Like, you know, it’s the number of noses and saying, okay, why did this person say no, this time? And what did we not share? What story do we not share? You know, that brought this home? And, you know, that’s something that’s not easy for a lot of people that have a cause, and you’re like, why don’t they understand what I’m trying to do? You know, I actually pitched them to a pitching coach at UMKC for the Scholars Program. And, you know, sometimes the look on people’s faces when it’s so clear to them what they’re pitching or selling. And then you’re giving them feedback that you’re like, I don’t understand exactly. And they’re like, Well, what do you not understand? Like, it’s, you know, but you’re the one with the heart, or you’re the one that I felt the need and, you know, obviously went to school, which is a lot of work to just be in that position in the first place. And so it was actually the KC government. It was the KC gov that, like, honestly, was the first to say yes. It surprises me like it just does. Was that a connection for just a while? Was that a wild Chase? It was like it was a connection.
Natasha Kirsch 09:43
It’s funny. I’ve been meeting with Doc Worley, who actually started the Kansas City Business Journal. Yeah, he was the church that adopted us, and His Church and I met with him once a week for eight months. You know, he was kind of mentoring me and All my stuff. I gave him my business plan, trying to help me find the money. And one day he calls me, and he says, and one day, eight months later, he calls me and says, Hey, this is a really good idea. I think this might actually work. And I was like, talk. We’ve been working on this every week for eight months. Why have you said, change your mind?
Andrew Morgans 10:21
Yeah. Did you not think it was a good idea at first?
Natasha Kirsch 10:25
He’s like, well, I finally read your business plan. And, and then that’s when he started introducing me to people. And because of his credibility, they would meet with me. And that’s actually how we got our first little pot of funding.
Andrew Morgans 10:39
So huge. Thank you, Doc, you know? Yeah, I remember when I first actually met the host of the Startup Hustle, Matt DeCoursey. You know, the original founder, I joined in 2020. But Matt, of course, he was one of the first people in the city to kind of say, like, hey, like, you know, a mentorship was formed essentially, like after probably a year of knowing each other was like, officially became a mentor of mine. And you know the difference, you still have to go and knock on the door, and you still have to pitch and you still have to be ready. And you still have to have, you know, everything dialed in. But the power of the network is crazy.
Natasha Kirsch 11:14
Let’s talk, it’s the most important thing.
Andrew Morgans 11:17
Yeah, absolutely. I don’t know Doc, personally, but obviously, you know, the KC Business Journal. So the grooming project, like from then what date was out of that you guys officially like we’re like, okay, we can make this thing ago.
Natasha Kirsch 11:32
So we actually it was about a year before we opened, we opened in 2016. That’s when we finally got like JE Dunn came aboard. And they did all the renovations, we found a building that the city leased to us for $1 for 10 years. And then and so that’s really when the momentum started. Granted, when we opened in 2016, I still only had like two weeks of cash in the bank to actually pay grooming instructors. And there was like, you know, two and a half people working and I was one of those. So yeah, but we opened the first class with only six people. But we failed pretty miserably. And we figured out what we needed to change. And so after we opened, we paused for three months, made some corrections. And so the biggest failure that I actually had, when I first started, was that I assumed that we could take homeless people and train them in dog roaming for six months, and then my job would be done. They would go make a whole bunch of money take care of their families, everything you find, obviously doesn’t really work like that. Yeah, so I got everybody employed, but they all lost their jobs in two months. And it was because we didn’t teach them the other potentially other things. Yeah, yep. So that’s what we added, we added now we have a six month school, and then we have an 18 month Bridge Program, which is everything from emergency cash assistance, to unemployment coach to housing and case management.
Andrew Morgans 13:10
I understand that even with Marknology now we’re a team of 40 or so. And one thing that I’ve mainly learned along the way is a lot of the skills, you know, they can learn Amazon skills or marketing skills or photography, graphic design, you know, supply chain, you name it, whatever we plug them into pretty quickly. And it’s rarely those skills that are the ones that we’re refining. You know, so we have, we’re like, you know, we don’t, we don’t have the ability to put them through a, you know, a two year program, but it becomes immediately like, Okay, how to structure business emails, and how to, you know, we’re having book clubs to cover certain subjects about communication. And you know, because they learned certain things in school, or they can learn certain things on the job. But there’s so many other things that come into place like communication or organization, or you know, how to stay organized, how to be on time, you know, these different skills that you’re like, I never had that in mind at all, when I like started this business and didn’t know that it would be needed. So unless you’re getting a, you know, an older, professional, that’s been a professional for a long time, you really have this, like, baseline of skills, that, you know, they want to be taught, and my thing, at least at my technology has always been, you know, if you move on from here, you know, we’re branding and creative agency, etc, is like, I want you to be obviously better than when you came. But secondarily, you know, you’re an extension of us in the team and our brand and Marknology. And so for me, that also includes all these other things like your ability to communicate and your presentation of yourself and you know, the way that you the way that you do one thing is how you do everything or whatever that that thing is, you know, but it was definitely something that we’re still working on without a shadow of a doubt. But it’s not something that you have that an employer thinks is within your scope of work to make that happen, but it’s actually the most important and so it’s whether it’s sink or swim. So I guess I was gonna ask a question and thank you for sharing that early failure, because I think we learned the most through failures, right. And anyone listening is a podcast by founders for founders know that. You know, but it’s, it’s, it’s reiterate, reiterate, reiterate, it’s reiterate try again. So they went through the program just fine. Right, but then it was getting them into the job. So I guess your curriculum worked fine. You know, you had them all graduate. Do we have 100%? Graduation? The first class?
Natasha Kirsch 15:40
You know, we had six out of seven graduates in our first class. Yeah. Then. Yeah, all got jobs that graduated. But yeah, it was just like you were saying it was all of that kind of mindfulness, the pause before you speak, you know, don’t hit your neighbor type of thing. So there was just a lot that we learned that we really didn’t think that we were going to have to teach.
Andrew Morgans 16:06
Yeah, I think that’s, I think that’s super awesome. Was that like, did you guys hit? It sounds like you came up with a solution right away, right out the gate, like, Okay, this is obviously what we need, we’re gonna set this up. And you can’t use the same course and curriculum that you and your mother had prayed for the first time. Like, how did that come about? I guess, or like, how did that program come together as a team?
Natasha Kirsch 16:29
Well, actually, yeah, we are grooming curriculum, we’ve been, you know, we’ve been kind of changing and making it better year after year, but we still largely use that what we added was like, So now instead of growing Monday through Friday, we grow Tuesday through Friday, and Monday is life skills classes. So that’s budgeting, emotion regulation, parenting classes, banking classes, anything that you know, that they need in life, that if that stuff starts to fall apart, that they’re going to lose their job, you know, so we want to make them as stable as possible. So that when they do get employment, they can continue to grow and have, you know, buy houses, and you know, pick out where they live and stuff like that.
Andrew Morgans 17:16
Yeah, there’s this like, I don’t, I feel like I can speak to this even from experience and not being from poverty in regards to like, this is a joke, and I know, we’ll get some laughs on this. But like, I legitimately watch the show Friends to understand how to be an American, like when I moved here, I, you know, my, my dad was sick, my parents were like, taking care of him for the first two years, so imagine 16 days, he’s fine now, but like, he was very sick. That’s why we came back to like 16 to 18 in high school. You know, I don’t come from poverty, I still didn’t know how to interact with the world as it was in Kansas City as a kid, and understand pop culture. Going to school for, you know, eight to nine hours, I was used to being like, homeschooled or else in an embassy school is a little bit different. More like a meritocracy program, I didn’t have to ask to go to the bathroom ever before, you know, or like simple things like that, that just like got me in quite a bit of trouble trying to figure these things out on my own, and definitely made, you know, assimilation, I got us into society quite a bit harder for me, I didn’t have an older brother. You know, it’s just out there just trying to figure it out. And you know, I can understand why for so many. That would be such a difficult thing. You just think like, hey, get your job up, start getting a roof over your head, you like you know, start eating well, or getting something to wear to work and off you go. But there’s honestly so much to learn as it’s put, it’s made me who I am today. And then I started to get just this curiosity about everything. Because I knew nothing. I knew a lot about different things. But you know, a little bit of street smarts and a lot of street smarts, which is like intuition and being able to like, you know, read situations and being able to adapt quickly and things that can make you very successful in the workforce. But, you know, you take me to a nice dinner or like, just different things like that. I’m like a fish out of water. You know, until you kind of have somebody that helps you, you make that friend or something that’s like, let me show you how the lunch line works. And like, you know, simple things like that. But, you know, my sister and I have worked with my sister specifically, Veronica runs our creative department at Marknology. And she worked with immigrants in Tampa, when she was going to school there at USF two different groups there where she created the curriculum for little girls coming into school and like, you know, how to like how to be ready for public school now that they’re here and what to expect for that. You know, something that wasn’t easy and something that took a lot of work. And that was really the question. I was asking when I said, you know, who kind of put that curriculum together with the banking and the lifestyle lessons and things like that.
Natasha Kirsch 19:55
Yeah. Yeah, so I mean, a lot of that though was what I knew coming in, we just didn’t have the structure in place yet. So our students really helped build that structure. Because we were learning from them just as much. So like, you know, the reason why I started this program was because I was working with homeless families, and they educated me, you know, on it, you know, it’s so funny. One day, this woman had to do community service for me, it was either that or she had to go to jail. And she came in and I said, Well, what are you good at? What do you want to do? And she’s like, I don’t know, but I’ll do anything. And I just started to realize, like, you know, she couldn’t use the computer at all, you know, couldn’t send an email, I think we got lost. She came in one day and had her daughter on her hip, and our daughter was a year and a half old. And I was like, how do you? How do you get here today? And she’s like, well, I drove and I said, Do you have a car seat? And she didn’t, you know, she didn’t even know that she needed a car seat. And so it’s like, things that I assumed that everybody just knew, weren’t actually true. And the really interesting part, though, was, she was so smart. So she would teach me I mean, we’re working on a really bad part of town. And I was naive, like I, you know, didn’t understand the bad things that happen out there. And she would protect me, you know, she would like if I remember, there was a time when we went outside, and there were some homeless folks that had some mental health issues. And one of them approached me, and she came up and knocked that guy down and drove me back in the house. And after that, it was, you know, she takes me through McDonald’s, and it’s like, you always lock your doors through McDonald’s, make sure that there’s a car length space between you and another car on Troost. And it was just so fascinating that we were both the same age, but grew up in completely different lives. Yet, we both needed each other so much to survive in the worlds that we were trying to live in, it’s completely different.
Andrew Morgans 21:57
And honestly, like, there’s no way to really know until you’ve been there doing it, you know, watching a movie, or reading a book, seeing stuff on TV doesn’t get it done, you know, and when, when people are operating their lives like that they’re just fight or flight mode or survival mode, there just isn’t time, you know, to learn some of those things, those skills that you need, you’re not sitting there learning French, you know, when you’re, when you’re worried about your next meal, or you’re like, you know, the people walking down your street, I remember growing up in Africa, we had our I probably had thieves in my house a dozen times, you know, through my childhood, and, you know, then I moved to a place like Liberty where they leave the door unlocked. You know, at that time, this is like, you know, and the door would be unlocked. And I just, I didn’t understand, like simple things like that, that it’s not something that just comes out, it’s like, okay, you’re back. And let’s, here’s your training manual for like, you know, how these things go and just being like, okay, these people here have no real understanding of like, what is like, even 20 minutes away, you know, into the city. And, you know, it is crazy what you can learn from someone that hasn’t spent all their time learning these other things, these societal norms, right? It’s quite a bit different skills. And that’s the reason why like, as I progress in business, I think I’m able to think so much outside the box, then, you know, a lot of other people that comes more naturally to me, if that’s one of the skill that I have is because in Africa, you have to make use of what’s there, you have to see what’s in your environment, how do you make use of it? And, and how do I apply this and, you know, the, the things like going to Walmart, and replacing this with something is not an option, you know, you don’t have you know, you don’t have all those resources at your fingertips. And so even understanding that here in the US, you know, we have the very, very same thing happening, you know, in a different way, but very similar way. And that, that street smart spot, that street smart aspect of a lot of people that come from poverty actually have a greater ability, in my opinion, to be creative, to be outside of the box to be problem solving, critical thinking, even without the education because, you know, they just their their brain is developed in different ways. And it’s super, you know, I honestly see it as almost a secret a secret sauce, in a lot of ways, or at least how I’ve repurposed mine and can see that and others, it’s like, this is a secret sauce where we might not be formally educated, that can come right that can that can comment if you get that support and that help. And I sold out in my own personal life with a big the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, and you know, seeing the difference and even a year’s time with a little that’s just been around just being around, you know, different people and seeing a different kind of lifestyle, how it can change their perspective about everything. I didn’t mean to take that long, but it’s something I’m just extremely passionate about. And something that you know, a lot of people as a white male, you know, like, we’re perceived a certain way we don’t have a lot of understanding about a lot of things. But just that you have to almost get in there and get your hands dirty to really under First, and you know what that is? So, you know, I want to ask a couple questions about, you know, the future and vision for the project, and where do you guys plan to go and even some of your needs, maybe. But before I do, I want to give a shout out again, for our sponsors, it’s made this happen. And it starts with let’s grow KCMO is the Economic Development Corporation of KCMO, is the tagline. And it represents how we work with businesses large, small, and just starting to locate and grow in our great city, learn more et Cie KC.com. And its small businesses and products, just like the grooming project that honestly make some of those types of things happen. And there’s a brand we work with that makes it their warehousing and fulfillment and almost their entire workforce is you know, is a is set up to help people coming out of prison assimilate, because think about technology, I’m in the technology business, I’m in Marketing on Amazon and eCommerce, this didn’t even exist. If you’ve been in, you know, in prison 10 years or incarcerated for 10 years, you’d come out and not even understand what a smartphone is, or how to call, you know, an Uber, how to get the phone number was face recognition. You know, these things we take for granted that the younger generation can whiz around with an iPad. You know, you feel like, okay, I can’t even take that job. And this is something even at my company, I didn’t understand I was having problems with a couple employees doing their work. And I knew that they were hard workers. And I just, they wouldn’t admit to me and I didn’t understand that, that drafting or creating an email and spelling and some things like that were a challenge for them. I just saw their work ethic, I saw what they did, how fast they could learn on their feet. And what was actually holding them back was simply how to draft an email, you know, and it wouldn’t have been something I would have brought up. Right. So if they’re not bringing it up to me, it’s like an assumption, like you mentioned. So, you know, that being said, let’s talk about the grooming project, like we talked a little bit before the show, and I know that expansion is something that you guys are super excited about. What’s in your vision for expansion? Is it more, you know, more programs within KCMO? Or KC K? Or is it, you know, trying to take this across the state or internationally or nationally? You know, What vision do you have?
Natasha Kirsch 27:13
Well, right now, we’re in the middle of a capital campaign to expand here in Kansas City. So we’ve purchased a building that’s just like one building over from us right here. But we’ll be able to triple the size of our grooming school at doggy daycare at a market rate grooming salon for graduates that want to learn management skills and start their own businesses. But the idea really is that this could be done anywhere. We’ve talked with regional directors for Petco and PetSmart. And they’ve told us to throw a dart on the map, we need you everywhere. And we’re realizing I mean, you know, the pet industry is booming, when we started, it was a $60 billion industry. Now it’s around $100 billion. And it keeps going up. And we love that because our graduates make, they can make anywhere from 40 to $100,000 a year. And you know, you don’t have to have even a high school degree to make that happen. And you need that to be able to support your family. So our our goal right now is to really, like you know, figure out what we’re doing write it down, I feel like we’ve made all of our not all of our mistakes, I’m sure, but a lot of our mistakes, and have a pretty good solid program now and work to increase our earned revenue, because I think that’s going to help us get into other markets. We are a 501 C three nonprofit, but having that earned revenue stream is just so critical.
Andrew Morgans 28:44
So yeah, I understand that growing up, I grew up in more of a religious nonprofit, you know, as a missionary kid, but understand exactly how that is. And regardless of the mission, there was still that pressing need for you know, income and to be able to stay there and do the work that they were doing. For us it was teaching English and understanding, you know, being able to speak good English in those countries was a difference in getting employment or not. You know, so we were French missionaries teaching English. Simply being able to speak, you know, was the difference in getting that job. And I’m sure the case is even now being able to like, you know, talk to customers, so I guess that’s where the arm of like maybe the daycare side and those other services are where earned revenue can come in and help support that kind of the idea there.
Natasha Kirsch 29:32
No, we’ve got a grooming salon and Lee’s Summit where we’ve got seven of our graduates working there. One one of our graduates runs the place. She’s actually tripled sales from last year already. But the idea is a bit we’re providing some of the jobs because we pay higher wages and have health care and all that fun stuff. But then also those partnerships we’ve got, you know 250 He partners in Kansas City employers that like to hire our students. And I just right now, you know, so we’ve, we’ve graduated almost 100 Students with 100% job placement rate, and the need is out there like we are barely, I mean, we’re working with about 30% of the employers that really want our help, because we just don’t have enough, you know, graduates right now. And that’s just the case around the country in this industry. So having that built-in market demand that already exists, we’re not creating anything, and then pairing it with the social demand, you know, and at the same time, we have figured out how to help families stabilize, you know, and it’s not. And the biggest thing for us is, you know, in the nonprofit industry, there’s like, 7500, nonprofits in Kansas City. But they’re not coordinated, you know. And so like my students, when we get you know, a homeless mom that walks in the door, we’re assessing, okay, she needs housing, change childcare, she needs mental health, does she have dental? Does she need to be legal? Can she see well enough to grow my dog, we have to run through the entire list, to work to get her stabilized. So that she can be in class 40 hours a week for six months to learn, practice those skills, and then stay stabilized enough when she graduates. And then that’s really when we can start to see the turn. So when graduates have been out for a good six months, that’s where we really start seeing them making enough money. They’re losing their benefits, but it’s okay. Because they’ve got that income.
Andrew Morgans 31:44
No, that’s awesome. And it’s just a glimpse, really, probably the struggle that is connecting all those dots between all the nonprofits and all the welfare programs and things that can help. You know, partnerships are not an easy undertaking, especially when they’re, you know, they’re nonprofit and government-funded, versus, you know, being able to just write checks and get those things done. It’s very much, you know, a process so, completely understand that. What, what is the city like, you know, what’s the city’s involvement in, you know, assistance in trying to help, I guess the grooming project, like connect those dots is, is something like outside of like something that’s on your plate, and it’s more of like something another department within the city that you guys are a part of? Or, you know, just for curiosity, sake of how that works?
Natasha Kirsch 32:31
Yeah, no, I mean, right now, it’s, we’re, you know, it’s pretty much just us, you know, our staff is, yeah, forming those relationships with other partners, you know, housing and childcare. Yeah, I mean, ideally, we would love it if you know, because there’s some other workforce training programs out there that are similar to ours, where these things were coordinated, because I think that we could actually make a very big dent in solving the poverty problem. If we, if we did that. I mean, I think about, I think about, you know, for example, when I was going through my divorce, I was so overwhelmed. And so just foggy headed, it was hard to even think because of, you know, the stress that I was under at the time. And that’s the only thing that I can think about when I try to relate to what my students are going through. But they’re probably 20 times 50 times worse with the stress. And so why would we expect a mom or a dad or family to be under such stress, but coordinate these 10 or 12 other things that they have to have just to survive? Like, it’s stupid, it doesn’t make sense. And I just feel like, you know, as a country, we spend almost a trillion dollars a year trying to solve the poverty problem, but we’re just doing it wrong.
Andrew Morgans 34:04
I couldn’t agree more. As someone going, I can just keep relating because it’s just, it’s something that’s very close to me. But growing up in a very dangerous place, that is Congo, Africa, you know, in the 90s. You know, there’s a lot of small T’s and big T’s as they say therapy, right. And I’m someone that’s just been able to, as my business has grown, be able to afford things like therapy, and I’ve been in several years and learning, you know, quite a bit. And, you know, what, I believe that to be normal for the longest amount of time was just, you actually you’re dealing with stress, it doesn’t feel the same as even probably your stress in regards to just like those things that would, would wreck you on a daily basis or you know, something like a divorce is was just like, this is just Africa. They have a saying that’s called Africa. You know, and so you’re like, This is just the way that it is out here on the streets, you know, No. And so, those stresses are just like, that is life as they know it. And to think anything bigger than that is actually the division. The life that would be without those stresses is nearly impossible. We just, you know, my ceiling for myself for the longest time was just like, you know, it’d be a couple feet up, a couple of feet up, couple feet up, you know, if anyone asked me, it was my like, biggest struggle as an entrepreneur, it’d be, I said, my ceiling too low over and over, and over and over and over again, you know, and so, you know, what was possible. And it’s that vision, I know, at least with the kids, I’ve learned quite a bit about the kids. And for them simply being able to see, I think DC was actually the first, maybe one of the first school districts that really started doing this, or one of the mayors there, I think, and he came to KC’s, I might get my story wrong. But it was essentially like getting a lot of the inner city kids to be able to see lives and careers and lifestyles outside of the hood and outside of the ghetto, so to speak. And being able to see what life could be like without the stressors was actually the difference between them graduating from school or not or being able to chase these things. So you know, being able to not only get through those stresses but be able to see a quality of life that’s different, that then becomes the desire then becomes the manifestation, so to speak of manifesting that life is a bigger challenge than you think. It’s almost like learning a language, like a societal language, so to speak. So I just commend you a lot for what you guys are doing. I know, I’m learning about it in some ways for the first time, but it’s a, it’s an absolutely beautiful program, you know, something that came to mind that I’ll just share here on the show, as we like, get close to wrapping up, I’ve been in the Amazon space, or the e-commerce space for 11 years working with brands, pet brands, you know, skincare brands, all types of stuff, 300 different brands, honestly, since I’ve been in business, and I have zero doubt, whether it be like creating your own product there, the grooming project that you guys then use in the schools or, you know, partnering with brands that they are used in the schools or in training, and being able to help facilitate some of those early needs for the students I think could be something that that is feasible. You know, and getting connections less with, like, maybe that parent company, housing, all those things, and less of a financial, and more so you see it all the time that like, you know, 10% of these shoes, go to go to this or go to that. But essentially using the school to create those projects that they are telling the story that is then because they’re getting into individual households, you know, all over America, they’d be bought, and then bringing those back. You know, it’s definitely something that comes to mind when you’re thinking about partnerships and how to do those. And sometimes it’s much easier to talk to a small brand, that’s got you know, 10 or 15 products that are dog shampoo, or, you know, things like that where those proceeds can benefit or even on even on the human side, right? Like not about the animals or the pet grooming products, but the ones that are like that big checklist of things that have to be done and accomplished. You know, sometimes it’s simply, I know, for the kids, it’s getting clothes washed, and you know, it’d be able to go to school and things like that. So maybe even something we can circle up on after the show. But I think, you know, to anyone that’s listening that might be knowing, learning about the project, you know, thinking about reaching out to the grooming project, if you have a brand that could be involved and, and seeing how you can get involved. I encourage you guys to do that. As we wrap up, like where can people get in contact? Where can people learn more about how to get involved? Where can people learn more about how to donate and all of that?
Natasha Kirsch 38:27
So our website is thegroomingproject.org. It’s all one word. I’ve also got a TED talk. You can just Google on to.com. That kind of explains our model and what we’re trying to do. But yeah, I think there’s a lot of information out there. I love your ideas of possibly partnering with a company out there. That would be amazing. But yeah, I mean, we want to get this thing around the country and anybody that can help us do that. We’d be very grateful.
Andrew Morgans 39:01
Awesome. Where can people find you on social media? Yeah, on social media.
Natasha Kirsch 39:05
Okay, so I am, and my marketing person will kill me because I don’t know. I don’t know our tagline. I know.
Andrew Morgans 39:16
I put you on the spot. But I’m sure people. And I’m sure it’s on the website. So we know where to go. Natasha, it’s been awesome having you on the show. Thank you for sharing your story and the vision of what you guys are doing. It’s absolutely beautiful.
Natasha Kirsch 39:30
Thank you for having me. It was wonderful to meet you.
Andrew Morgans 39:33
Of course. And once again, today’s episode, Startup Hustle, was sponsored by the Economic Development Corporation in KCMO. If you’re in the KC boundaries, you can find out who your business development officer is at Ed. C kc.com. We encourage you to connect with these folks out there, making a big difference. We’ll see you next time, Hustlers. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you.