Gene Kansas

Gene Kansas is the founder and CEO of Gene Kansas | Commercial Real Estate, where he has spent 23 years protecting, conserving, and caring for Atlanta’s cultural spaces. Gene also founded Constellations, a civic and socially based shared workspace, in 2017. 

1. Why are you passionate about this work?

I believe who we are as kids is who we are as adults. As a kid, you may have loved playing with Legos, splashing around in the mud, tinkering in a shop, or baking cookies because it brought you joy. The good news is passion is a transferable quality. This is important because if we love what we do, we'll typically do more of it better. If we're fortunate, we get the opportunity to apply the same passion we enjoyed as children to our careers and, in the process, find greater purpose in our pursuits. 

I've always been a writer and an entrepreneur with a love for exploration and adventure, someone who seeks out good stories and helps create connections through them. Today, as a historic preservationist and cultural developer, I get to explore Atlanta and share stories through the built environment – the spaces and places that make up our city – by utilizing the landscape of our lives as my primary medium for composition. 

Through my work, I develop cultural narratives by utilizing design and humanities-based programming to help connect people with the neighborhoods they love in meaningful ways that — hopefully — create civic, social, and historical value. In short, I get to "play," make a positive difference, and enjoy the adventure of it all. You can do that too!

2. What was the most challenging aspect of starting a business, and how did you overcome it?

Wow, where do I start?!  At different times in life, we experience assorted challenges in a variety of ways. For example, in college, we struggle to balance the pressure of finding a job with ideally enjoying an important and exciting time in our lives. When you start a business, you no longer have the pressure of finding a job. Instead, you have the pressure of providing jobs to others and the responsibility that comes with it. Both school and business require us to challenge ourselves while being challenged. To overcome those trials, it's necessary to be incredibly honest with ourselves. 

The most challenging aspect of starting my first business — a publishing company called Bad Hair Day — was having a focus and staying focused. One day, I'd want to publish humor titles, the next print up Mardi Gras-themed temporary tattoos, and all the while, I was freelance writing. It was fun until it wasn't. It wasn't smooth, efficient, or profitable, and as a result, I created compounding challenges for myself and others. Focus is paramount to success.

The way I overcame my "lack of focus challenge" was by getting beat up, badly. The key to evolution is adaptation, and the general rule is you either adapt to the specific environment you find yourself in or become a dinosaur. Learning the importance of focus through hard times impressed upon me the significance of it, and I made a change. With more focus came more success. What is success?

I've learned over many years in business that success exists on a spectrum: cultural, spiritual, financial, cosmic — whatever works for you and others. Preceding the profit necessary to persevere, for me, it's incredibly important to include joy, fulfillment, and giving back in the definition of success. I was never fully successful when I was led by money, even when profits were good. When I put passion and others first, that's when I realized true success. Understand this now, and I promise you will be much more successful.

3. How does your company use technology?

People don't work for our company; the company works for people by delivering a support platform to help them accomplish their goals, missions, and dreams. Platforms are nothing new. Take Uber; the driver is not hopping on Zoom with marketing. However, thanks to technology, Uber drivers enjoy sales, marketing, and legal operations that provide independence, flexibility, and upside for them — all from the comfort of their car. We leverage technology in the same way.

Specifically, we built a culturally focused real estate business model on top of, allowing brokers, owners, developers, writers, designers, architects, and engineers — Go Jackets! — to use tools, resources, and programs to support individual work and work with others. This approach allows for focus, joy, and success. 

For example, we recently came together to spark a dialogue about the long overdue representation and recognition women have been denied throughout history. To encourage conversation, we led an effort to bring to life the District V "Honor Mural" — a fifty-foot-long work of public art in Sweet Auburn, the birthplace of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement — celebrating Roslyn Pope and the accomplishments of her fellow scouts as both Atlanta's first Black Girl Scout troop and as heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. 

This effort brought together many collaborators, including the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta, muralists The Loss Prevention, writer Jamie Allen, designer Brian Simons, and our own Gold Star Scout, Helen McGaughy. Our platform made it possible for everyone to work together with happy success while supporting some incredibly worthwhile causes.

My time at Ivan Allen College was instrumental in creating the platform and, more importantly, in seeing how to combine liberal arts, science, technology, and business to benefit the community.

4. How did your IAC degree help you succeed?

Growing up in New Orleans, I gained a love for music, food, festivals, art, film, dance, theater, and architecture. In college, I received an amazing business education at the University of Arizona, earning a BS in Entrepreneurship. Today, I own a commercial real estate company with a cultural focus where we share stories through the lens of history and context of community by utilizing technology and the built environment as mediums for success. 

At age 40, I decided to return to school and continue pursuing a love of learning. I wanted to broaden my knowledge and chose a humanities-based master's program where I received an M.S. in Digital Media. Ivan Allen College was ideal for me from day one. I got an incredible education, and my experience was one of rigor balanced with care and insight matched with world-class professors who rely on data and intuition. The greatest lessons I learned involve how to research, think, abstract, and apply knowledge in a cultural manner. 

The melding of technology with science and the liberal arts is the historical cornerstone and profound future of society and business. On my first day in the School of Literature, Media, and Communications, in my first class, the first sentence I heard came from Professor Janet Murray. She said, "You're not here to build the next website." What she meant was we are at Georgia Tech to help inspire and inform mediums for new generations. This way of thinking propelled my success, and it's also why I am so honored to have joined the IAC Advisory Board and give back to an institution I love. 

The opportunity to work side-by-side with great leaders and forward-thinking leadership to help students, the institute, and the world is one I accept with reverence and optimism. If you want to learn more about programs that can help improve the human condition and bring joy through the liberal arts, please let me know. I'd love to learn about you and share what we're up to.

5. What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs at Ivan Allen College?

Do what you love, and have a good plan. That's my advice. It's vitally important to follow your passion and have a business plan. Passion keeps you interested and committed to your goals, missions, and dreams. Creating a plan increases the likelihood of reaching your destination. By nature, creating a plan brings up lots of questions. The more answers you have — before it costs you lots of time and money — the better. Spoiler alert: As soon as you're done with the plan, the world changes, and so will your plan. Herein lies the challenge. And, again, that's why you need passion!

Challenges manifest in many ways. We have recently seen a global pandemic upend the way we gather, we've witnessed social and cultural shifts reinvent the way people work, now there is a looming recession that will adversely affect millions, and then there are the contests of personal bandwidth, elections influencing indecision, and any number of other hills to climb. What I've learned over the years is that a principled approach to business is a great way to navigate any situation. Principles guide us, and just because the world and your plans change that, it doesn't mean what is operationally and constitutionally important to you needs to alter. 

The fundamental principle of our company is to "Demonstrate what's possible." Everything we do — including contributing to this publication — keeps this principle in mind. If we can succeed in endeavors large and small, then we hope others will also want to get involved. It may seem odd to encourage competition, but we think about it as just introducing more people to the party, and this party is one where the more cultural success we all have, the more culturally rich our city becomes. That's a good thing. Follow your passion, make a plan, leverage the liberal arts, and join us!

Gene Kansas graduated with an M.S. in Digital Media in 2016. See more profiles of our alumni founders!

Profile Type
M.S. Digital Media
Job Title / Employer
Founder and CEO, Gene Kansas | Commercial Real Estate, Founder and CEO, Constellations