Zig when others are zagging — and don’t be afraid of the word ‘no’

Blegacy strategies helped propel BacklotCars into one of Kansas City’s biggest startup exits, Justin Davis said, eventually bringing the acclaimed founder to the stage on Wednesday to accept one of the UMKC’s Entrepreneur of the Year honors.

Justin Davis, BacklotCars, receives the 2022 Kansas City Entrepreneur of the Year award.

“Taking ‘no’ for an answer was not an option,” the co-founder and CEO of BacklotCars, a web-based dealer-to-dealer automotive platform, told a crowd gathered at the Plexpod Westport Commons. “I remember when I told people my idea and they laughed at me because it had never been done before. And what have I done? I – with my team – proved them wrong. … It’s important to be zigzag when others are zigzag, and it’s just so important to think differently.”

Davis was named Kansas City Entrepreneur of the Year during the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Henry W. Bloch School of Management Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, which also included honors for an international and student winner and a social entrepreneurship award .

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​​”Never give up, even if people tell you that you are wrong and you will fail,” Davis said, “but you won’t.”

He founded BacklotCars 2014 with Ryan Davis, Josh Parsons and Fabricio Solanes. In the fall of 2020, BacklotCars made a then-record sale of $425 million and sold the Kansas City-based car platform to KAR Global.

click here to learn more about BacklotCars’ exit.

Justin Davis, BacklotCars, speaks during the Entrepreneur of the Year Awards at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Henry W. Bloch School of Management

Davis has a lot of practice at not taking no for an answer, his father Bob pointed out in a tribute video. The honoree started when he was 3 years old.

“Anyone who knows Justin well knows there’s one thing about Justin, and that’s that he doesn’t like being told ‘no,'” agreed his brother and co-founder Ryan. “Justin is the guy who, when he’s told, ‘no, you can’t’, he goes and does it 1,000 times. I think in the context of this award, that’s what really sets him apart.”

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To be an innovator and not a copycat, Davis said, you have to be willing to fail fast and learn faster.

“It’s not always the right decision in the first step,” he explained. “It’s about how quickly you can fail and learn from those mistakes and then correct course and make another move.”

Justin Davis poses with family members and the BacklotCars team during the Entrepreneur of the Year Awards at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Henry W. Bloch School of Management

In addition to courage, teamwork is also important, Davis said.

“I think entrepreneurship is about bringing an unlikely group of people together and building something special, being vulnerable and risking everything,” he explained.

He first thanked his family and friends, his BacklotCars team and the investors.

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“Even though I’m the leader of BacklotCars, it’s really about teamwork,” he explained. “I think it’s so important to have a community that supports you.”

Kansas City, Davis continued, is a growing and mature entrepreneurial community.

“I challenge us as people in the community to continue supporting entrepreneurs and young business owners, to push them out of their comfort zone and start something great,” he said. “Because great things can happen and community support is really, really needed.”

Also during Wednesday’s event, David Steward, Founder and Chairman of St. Louis-based World Wide Technology, was recognized as Henry W. Bloch International Entrepreneur of the Year; Jay Coen Gilbert, Andrew Kassoy and Bart Houlahan, co-founders of B Lab Global, received the Marion and John Kreamer Award for Social Entrepreneurship; and Tate Berry – a senior in business and jazz studies – was named UMKC Student Entrepreneur of the Year.

click here see past winners.


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