The New Force of Good

As I mentioned toward the end of February, Force of Good was due for a facelift. It is here.

The number one objective was to move to a single column design. That seems to work best for mobile. We accomplished that objective. The other half of the we being Blake Perdue.

Give Blake a little direction and he is able to run with it. Blake not only cleaned up the design he also moved Force of Good from Typepad to a WordPress instance hosted on DigitalOcean. I have toyed with moving off Typepad for years. It just seemed to be too much trouble. Blake made it a breeze. I want to thank him for making it easy on me and getting it done.

I made some content changes to the about page and added a subscribe page to make it a bit more obvious on the various ways you can subscribe to a feed.

My guess is that some things are not working right, kind of rushed this out due to the Typepad outage. If you find anything wrong let me know in the comments and I will get it cleaned up.  Still wrestling with the best way to handle nav but hope to have that finalized soon.

If you have any thoughts, bad or good, on the redesign we would love to hear those as well.

April 22, 2014  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Weblogs

Advice For Good

Today Jeff Hilimire introduced Advice For Good, an idea that blossomed out of the time demands of offering coaching and counseling to budding entrepreneurs. Interesting concept. Pretty simple too.

You donate at least an hour of your time to a non-profit or other charitable cause and then blog about your experience on this site, and in exchange you get to meet with one of the Advice for Good advisors.

To fuel the charitable fire Advice for Good is also getting into the event business. A few times a year there will be event where advisors present at a selected non-profit’s location and after the talk all the attendees will spend a few hours helping that non-profit. The first event is kicking off on April 29th at the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Sanjay Parekh and Ed Trimble are the speakers. You can sign up here.

It will be interesting to see if this gets legs. Color me a helpful and hopeful skeptic. 

April 3, 2014  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Networking, Presentations, Too Many Events

TechSquare Labs

So the big news last week in Atlanta was the launch of TechSquare Labs. Artfully announced in the Atlanta Business Chronicle TechFlash the day before one of it's founders (Paul Judge) gave the keynote during the VIP lunch at the ATDC Startup Showcase, the new effort became quite the buzz. The other founder, Allen Nance, cleared up any confusion on what TechSquare Labs is all about on his blog. 

Having known Allen and Paul for a bit it is pretty clear what they are doing. They are coming together and institutionalizing what they have been doing for a number of years. They formed a company to create companies. They formed a company to do the same thing they have been doing with the likes of Pindrop Security and Springbot.

TechSquare Labs. It's not an accelerator. It's not an incubator. It's not even a fund per se. It's not about the number of startups served.

It's focused hands on very early stage management to provide capital, coaching, product development, and team building expertise. It's for technical founders. It's for deep IP. It's to build big, meaningful companies. It's a welcome addition to the ever growing Atlanta startup landscape. 

March 31, 2014  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Accelerators, Angels

MBAs and Startups

From time to time the subject of MBAs and startups seems to raise its head and did so again recently by a few of my fellow inhabitants of Atlanta Startup Village. First John Melonakos mentioned how Business School is not Street Cred for Startups and then Kevin Sandlin followed on with why Getting an MBA is Stupid.

Personally getting an MBA was one of the best investments I ever made. My MBA enabled me to understand at a very deep level business in general, finance, and marketing. When I joined a startup that went into hyper growth mode I was able to apply this theoretical learning and build upon it in a very practical way. 

Regardless, most technology entrepreneurs seems to hate MBAs for good reasons. But what really took me aback was the quote John pulled from the article Could a Harvard Business School Degree Hurt More Than It Helps?:

"For venture capitalists who pray at the altar of pattern recognition, it would be hard to ignore how few massive tech successes have been founded by entrepreneurs with MBAs on their resumes."

The first two startups that I joined were founded by MBAs. Both had successful exits. One a billion dollar market cap public company. The other a $275 million acquisition. The above quote did not align with my personal experience. It appeared biased to me.

So I went digging around. A good place to start was the Harvard Hurt article itself. To quote:

"It’s possible to turn to research conducted by Aileen Lee for her viral list of ‘unicorns' – slang for the 39 tech companies founded since 2003 valued at $1 billion or more by private or public markets. Only 12 of those 39 companies had co-founders with MBAs…"

Only 12 of 39? That's 30%. I don't know how many MBAs there are in the USA but it is no where close to 30% of the general population. The degree is over indexed in the sample set. Seemed like a positive pattern.

So I decided to do a little more analysis closer to home. I went through Paul Judge's recent list of most valuable or promising startups in Atlanta. There are 25 companies on that list. I looked at the educational background of the current CEOs of these companies using simple internet searches and LinkedIn. 

I was not able to ascertain the educational background of three of the CEOs (at least one is a college dropout). Of the twenty two that remained nine have a masters degree in business and fourteen do not. Or but another way, 41% of the CEOs from the list of the most promising startups in Atlanta have a graduate business degree. There was no other degree held by this group of CEOs that was even close to this percentage. I was somewhat surprised to see that science and technology grads only account for six (27%) of the CEOs. There were four that have undergrad business degrees (bringing the total that studied business to nearly 60% of the total), two liberal arts majors, and one that studied law.

While MBAs are not for everyone (I have advised many proteges to skip the degree and get their learnings in more practical and potentially lucrative endeavors), a good percentage of the people that run high potential startups have the degree. Getting an MBA may not be stupid at all. It's fine. Just don't be an MBA. What matters is what you do with the degree. That is what will earn you street cred.

March 27, 2014  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Business, Entrepreneurship, Startups

How To Pitch Workbook

A while back I wrote an article inspired by a Canaan Partners SlideShare deck on how to pitch. Having recently been asked to help out a few startups in the TAG/Venture Atlanta Business Launch Competition, I revisited the article only to discover that the embed was bad. 

Seems Canaan updated the deck. It is below. 

Once again the outline provided starting on slide 10 is golden and a great format. It is basically what I used to help two startups make it to the elite eight of the business launch competition. Might be worth taking a look at if you are in pitch mode.
March 25, 2014  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Entrepreneurship, Presentations, Venture Capital

Startup Genome Survey

Today in the Atlanta Tech Village newsletter (sign up here) the Startup Genome Survey was mentioned. Startup Genome and the Kauffman Foundation have teamed up to conduct research on the Atlanta startup community. Taking the survey is quick and easy. At the end there is a link to this nifty startup map that is quite interesting if you play around with it.

So go ahead. Take the survey.

March 20, 2014  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Accelerators, Entrepreneurship, Startups

Startup Defined

Google "what is a technology startup." When you do this article I wrote back in 2009 will most likely show up as the second result right below the Wikipedia entry. The Wikipedia entry is a little more interesting to me at the moment than what I wrote five years ago. This is what it says:

"A startup company or startup is a company, a partnership or temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model. These companies, generally newly created, are in a phase of development and research for markets." 

The first sentence of definition was authored by Steve Blank. I have the utmost respect for Mr. Blank. His book The Four Steps to the Epiphany literally launched the lean startup movement. His bookThe Startup Owner's Manual: The Step-By-Step Guide for Building a Great Company and Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers by Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur are required reading for anyone looking to found a startup for the first time (and maybe certain serial entrepreneurs as well). I am a fan. However I strongly disagree with the above definition of a startup.

Here's why. It does not pass the reasonableness test. If you were to ask members of a startup community if certain companies were or were not startups they would more often than not classify companies that have repeatable and scalable business models in place as startup companies.

For example as I write this I am sitting in the offices of SalesLoft at the Atlanta Technology Village, a building specifically built to to support and inspire technology entrepreneurs. Salesloft participated in TechStars in 2012. Just a year ago Salesloft had no revenue. Now it is seeing high product demand. The company is growing fast. Both revenue and people. They have found a business model and a market. By the above definition they are not a startup. 

Does Salesloft sounds like a startup to you? It sure does to me. The CEO and all the employees think they are a startup. But by the above definition they are not. The definition is wrong. The definition intentionaly excludes execution. That makes it too narrow. All successful startups execute. They execute to scale.

And this all may be a matter of semantics within Mr. Blank's own diagram of the startup process the act of scaling the company is included in the startup cycle.

Scalable Startup

Going back to my Salesloft example they have conducted customer discovery. They have customer validation. They have a repeatable business model. They are in the process of creating customers and scaling the company. They are a scalable startup but not as defined by Wikipedia.

When it is all said and done I think the Wikipedia definition of a startup just needs a little wordsmithing to something like this:

"A startup company or startup is a company, a partnership or organization designed to search for and scale a repeatable business model.

Moving around a few words enables the definition of a startup to include companies such as Salesloft (which it should). It makes the definition of a startup include early execution (which startups do). It makes the definition of a startup pass the reasonableness test (which it must). 

This refined definition defines startups better. And that would be a better thing.

March 19, 2014  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Entrepreneurship, Startups

Update: Most Interesting Atlanta Startups of 2010

Yesterday Micheal Tavani started a conversation on Twitter about this list of 20 most interesting Atlanta startups. The list is over three years old. I thought it would be interesting to go in and provide an update. Here it is.

BLiNQ Media
Sold to Gannett. Depending on your source it was either $40 million or $92 million. I know the number. Take the average and you are close enough. 

Raised a total of $3.2 million, graduated from ATDC, and moving into their own digs off Piedmont Park.

Most recently raised a $20 million Series C and seem to have found traction delivering their TV everywhere platform.

Out of business (OOB).

Cloud Sherpas
Continues to grow revenues like Kudzu. Added Salesforce and ServiceNow capabilities. Spun off technology into BetterCloud. This is going to be a big winner.

Have not heard much from this hosted PCI solution since their $3 million raise in 2010. Appears to be dead.

Endgame Systems
Endgame raised a $29 million Series A and $27 million Series B from folks like Bessemer and Kleiner Perkins. The company is now headquartered in DC and the founders have all moved on. I am fairly confident they consider the venture to be successful and are on to bigger and better things.  

According to their ads on NPR they have more than 5 million customers. Moving to fancy new digs in Ponce City Market. A privately held tech anchor.

Another company that has been pretty quiet since raising $2.4 million in 2010. Seems to have changed name to RentAdvisor which was acquired by Apartment List.

Acquired by Silverpop. 

Raised a $7.2 million Series C in 2011 and a $26 million Series D in 2013. PlayOn has teamed up with the National Federation of State High School Associations to launch the NFSH Network. It literally is the high school sports network. Their tagline says it all. High school lives here.

The company has been a little quiet since graduating from ATDC in 2012.

The site remains active. It seems the team has moved on to new ventures.

While everyone loves the app and the brand ScoutMob is successfully managing a pivot to a curated ecommerce experience.

Dave Wright has raised $68 million for his solid state storage system. He also moved it to Boulder to gain access to more domain knowledge. Win for Dave. Loss for Atlanta.

SoloHealth has raised $24 million. While they seem to have a solid retail presence a recent boardroom shake up and change of strategy to focus on wellness plans for major employers raises some questions.

From all appearances the company is OOB.

Vertical Acuity
Raised $5 million than sold to Outbrain.

Acquired by Oracle for a sum north of $300 million.


The way I see it that adds up to five companies with successful founder exits, three that had "meh" exits, seven that are too soon to tell, and five that went out of business. I am pretty sure that four of the too soon to tells are going to be winners. That would put my successful startup identification rate in the 45% range. 

Maybe I should be a VC. 

Before I do that I am going to make a new top 20 Atlanta startup list.

Who should be on it?

March 13, 2014  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Startups

More Is Good

If you have been reading FoG for a while you know that I firmly believe that density matters. Denisty is extremely important for startup communities. And with all its sprawl Atlanta has a startup density issue.

The reason I bring this up is that Urvaksh Karkaria set off an Atlanta startup firestorm on Twitter last Friday with his article on how the downtown Flatiron Building could be redeveloped into an entrepreneurship hub. Urvaksh followed up on that article today. Evidently real estate in the technology section creates page views.

My initial take, inspired by a NPR interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson on the new Cosmos series and the gravitational forces acting on Europa, was this. Potential energy is decreased by the distance between gravitational masses. It's just a scientific fact.

Having startup hubs located in Downtown, Midtown, and Buckhead is not optimal. They are too far away from each other to create the kind of density Atlanta technology startups need now. I say this from a somewhat unique viewpoint.

These days I spend about a third of my time in Tech Square working out of the offices of BLH Ventures/KontrolFreek. I took Kyle Porter up on his offer and also spend about a third of my time working out of the SaleLoft space in Atlanta Tech Village. I don't mix Tech Square and Village days. At six miles they are just too far apart. But there are great things going on in both places. It is interesting to see a startup start out in one location and then end up in another. It happens quite often. But once a startup gets settled in one of these places it is seldom that I see it at another. The Atlanta startup hubs are fairly distinct in population.

While on a micro level Downtown, Midtown, and Buckhead are too far apart, on a macro level something very different is happening. A stronger gravitational mass across the city of Atlanta has the ability to increase the pull of other startup resources in the direction of the city when taken as a whole. Resources from other industries. Resources from other parts of the country. The Atlanta technology community is becoming more interesting to those that are currently not involved in it. It is creating more gravitational pull.

Sometimes more is more. In this case more is good. 

March 6, 2014  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Accelerators, Current Affairs

Takeaways From Georgia Angels Meeting

Yesterday I walked down the hall at Tech Square to sit in on a few sessions of the Georgia Angels Meetup. I had a particular interest in the deal flow panel that included Stephen Fleming, Jennifer Sherer, Jennifer Bonnett, Michael Blake, Sanjay Parekh, Katie Elizabeth, and Allyson Eman. Quite the group. And so were the folks in the audience and on the other panels. 

Here are my takeaways.

1. There are a lot of startups in Georiga. The Atlanta Technology Angels (ATA) had 413 companies apply for funding in 2013 and there are currently 470 ATDC member companies. Add in the 175 or so that are members at Atlanta Tech Village and that is a lot of startups!

2. According to Stephen Fleming Georgia Tech alone is producing over 100 startups a year.

3. Due to the tremendous growth of the Atlanta startup community the original mission of StartupLounge has been acheived. Michael Blake, one of the StartupLounge founders, declared mission accomplished. To quote, "there is plenty of Series A funding to go around." I agree. Michael seems to think the issue now is getting a Series B. He also thinks it is a much more complex problem to solve.

4. The ATA funnel looks like this. 413 startups applied for funding. Of those that applied 79 were screened. About 20% made it to the screening. Twelve investments were made. Approximately 3% of the companies that applied to ATA were funded. 

5. Due diligence matters. The rate of investor return increases dramtically when they invest more than 40 hours in due diligence.

The meetup was a good one with more capital in the room than I care to count. Hundreds of millions of dollars looking to find a home in Atlanta startups. Good stuff.

February 26, 2014  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Angels, Venture Capital