My friend Michael Tavani has launched a video blog called On Doers. On Doers is devoted to the the founders the startups. The people that make things happen. The doers. The first episode is with David Cummings of Hannon Hill, Pardot, and now Atlanta Technology Village fame. Interesting stories behind the story. It is embedded below.
A little behind the times here but David Cummings seems to be the frist of the three guys I wrote about in my last post to make his next move.
David is starting Atlanta Tech Village by throwing down $12.5 million of his gain from the sale of Pardot to ExactTarget. With his investment and "mission to help grow the Atlanta startup community into one of the top 10 in the country" David is certainly setting the standard for successful technology entrpreneurs staying involved in and giving back to the technology community.
Lots of acquisition activity in the Atlanta startup world recently.
Vitrue purchased by Oracle for a reported $300 million (too low).
BLiNQ Media bought by Gannett for a reported $90 million (too high).
Pardot gobbled up by Exact Target for what seems to be an accurately reported $95 million (about right).
Nice wins for all. Three nice wins for the Atlanta marketing technology cluster. Major props to the entrepreneurs that started these ventures and the teams that made it happen.
In his article announcing the Pardot deal, David Cummings talks about the importance of culture fit in acquisitions. He is right. Many acquistions fail for lack of culture alignment. They also fail for lack of integration execution and other more preverse motivations that come into play.
I am fairly confident that Reggie, Dave, and David are going to do everything they can to make these deals a success for the companies that acquired them. I am also fairly confident that they and some of their early employees will be exiting in the not too distant future. From what I hear some maybe sooner than othes. Truth be told entrepreneurs and people that work for startups don't get along real well in 1,000 employee companies. If they did they would not have been working at a startup in the first place.
It reminds me of the advice that I used to personally give to every entrepreneur.
If somebody offers you a lot of money for your company you take it. You take the money and you leave. Leave as soon as you can while sticking to your commitments to the acquiring company and the people that work for you.
Build something of value. Leave when someone buys it.
So about five years ago I heard about Startup Weekend and reached out to Andrew Hyde to bring the show to Atlanta. Andrew was willing and able and with the help of a lot of folks Atlanta Startup Weekend was born in the fall of 2007. I ran it for three years before passing the baton to Jason Ardell and company who morphed it into StartAtlanta in the Winter of 2011.
My startup sista Jen Bonnett made things happen in the Spring of 2012 cranking back up Atlanta Startup Weekend. This weekend the event is back where it belongs. In the Fall on the weekend of a Georgia Tech away football game.
Statup Weekend, it is an intense 54-hour event which focuses on building a web or mobile application that could form the basis of a credible business over the course of a weekend. The weekend brings together people with different skillsets – primarily software developers, graphics designers and business people – to build applications and develop a commercial case around them.
If you have any semi technical chops and want to get involved in the early stage Atlanta startup scene this is the place to be. I count the folks I met at the various Atlanta Startup Weekends as some of my most valued advisors/contacts/friends. Living through a weekend intensely focused on launching forms strong bonds.
There is still time to register for Atlanta Startup Weekend. This Fall I am skipping out on most of the fun as I am fully engaged in a growth stage company but intend to make it on Sunday night to judge the outcome.
So on Wednesday I wandered down to the big fish tank for Venture Atlanta. A fine event. One of the best of startup things a guy, or gal for that matter, can do. I was there as the non-paid entertainment, pitching Half Off Depot as we gear up for our Series B in 2013.
And I gotta tell you the truth it was a little surreal. I skipped Venture Atlanta in 2011 as I was running around the Southeast expanding our business. But before that from the year it was formed in 2007 through 2010 I attended the event for the lack of a better term, an observer. I was not pitching and I was not investing. I was coaching the companies that presented. It's a fun job if you can get it and it's always easy to be a critic.
And it started out the same way as it always had. At some point or another I had coached six of the first ten early stage companies to present. They did great.
But coaching and doing are two distinct things and I was slated as the second venture company to present right after my pal Braxton of Clearleap. I had not stage pitched my own company since 2005 and the last time I did something as big as this was when Venture Atlanta was known as ION and somehow I got elected to pitch CipherTrust. I got elected again.
I was a little like the President the first time back in the bright lights and a room full of people. Rusty. It really sucks when you can not see how the people that you are speaking to are reacting. Instead of a confidence monitor with the slides they need a confidence monitor with a camera shot of the audience. Regardless I think I got my main points across. We are building a platform that enables local merchants to market online, we have a lots of revenue, we are making money, and with a little more capital we can sell more and make more money. Overall I gave my performance a B. There were better and there were worse.
My friend Taryn of Synkup gets best of show (or at least best of Wednesday) from me. I don't know if she is going to raise any money but that girl can pitch.
The early stage folks seemed much better prepared than the venture companies. I ascribe this to them having more time on their hands.
Presenters wore jeans. We are learnin to relax a bit down here.
Venture Atlanta is a great forcing event. It forced me to create an executive summary. It forced me to create a pitch. It forced me to practice.
The networking time with the VCs was fantastic. Talking to them about our business was more practice. They asked great questions, some for which I had no answers (but I will get them), and I got an offer or two to help.
It was great to spend some time networking with folks that I had not seen in awhile.
Some of the folks that I had not seen in awhile (which is almost like two years) were in the exact same place with their startup as they were two years ago. If this is you stop.
There was one out of town investor that said "all the pitches sucked." Tool.
Sam Williams talks too much. He talks so much the mayor called him on it.
Not sure how many if any checks get written as a result of a conference like this.
If you get a chance to present at something like this do it. It's worth it. And if you do it take the time to do it well.
Update: I forgot one thing. The coach became the player. I benefited greatly from my coaching session. Great ideas for improvement from experienced entrepreneurs and investors that I tried to incorporate into my presentation and slides. You can always learn and should be willing to do so.
My take. It does not matter. Unless your startup has over 50% of the U.S. using it, has raised hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital, went public at a $100 billion valuation, shrewdly maximized the money put in its coffers by pushing its IPO price to the limit, and you have somehow managed to remain CEO while still controling the company. Then it matters. That has happened once in the history of the world. Facebook, like its purchase of Instagram, is an anomaly. It does not matter.
Sure early stage valuations may come down. They should. What Facebook has shown is that private valuations are out of line with public valuations.
That does not mean startups can not raise good money or find good exits. While the argument can be made that the Facebook impact had not worked its way through the system yet, Oracle's purchase of Vitrue for a reported $300 million and Salesforce's purchase of Buddy Media for $689 million are exhibit A and B. Both companies in the social space. Both companies with solid exits for all involved. Both companies valued at north of 10x revenues. Everybody is happy.
For the vast majority of startups Facebook's impact on valuations does not matter. It is an externality that may not impact you and even if it does it is one that you can not control. Go build your business with a focus on getting to profitbility with as little investment as possible.
You do that and everything else will take care of itself.
Over on Quora Paul DeJoe, the CEO at Ecquire (a lead management software company with the tag "data entry blows") and an Entrepreneur in Residence at Fairbridge Venture Partners, posed the perfect response to the question "What does it feel like to be the CEO of a start-up?" Something like 1,200 upvotes. It is republished here with permission. Great stuff.
Very tough to sleep most nights of the week. Weekends don't mean anything to you anymore. Closing a round of financing is not a relief. It means more people are depending on you to turn their investment into 20 times what they gave you.
It's very difficult to "turn it off". But at the same time, television, movies and vacations become so boring to you when your company's future might be sitting in your inbox or in the results of a new A/B test you decide to run.
You feel guilty when you're doing something you like doing outside of the company. Only through years of wrestling with this internal fight do you recognize how the word "balance" is an art that is just as important as any other skill set you could ever hope to have. You begin to see how valuable creativity is and that you must think differently not only to win, but to see the biggest opportunity. You recognize you get your best ideas when you're not staring at a screen. You see immediate returns on healthy distractions.
You start to respect the Duck. Paddle like hell under the water and be smooth and calm on top where everyone can see you. You learn the hard way that if you lose your cool you lose.
You always ask yourself if I am changing the World in a good way? Are people's lives better for having known me?
You are creative and when you have an idea it has no filter before it becomes a reality. This feeling is why you can't do anything else.
You start to see that the word "entrepreneur" is a personality. It's difficult to talk to your friends that are not risking the same things you are because they are content with not pushing themselves or putting it all out there in the public with the likelihood of failure staring at you everyday. You start to turn a lot of your conversations with relatives into how they might exploit opportunities for profit. Those close to you will view your focus as something completely different because they don't understand. You don't blame them. They can't understand if they haven't done it themselves. It's why you will gravitate towards other entrepreneurs. You will find reward in helping other entrepreneurs. This is my email: email@example.com. Let me know if I can help you with anything.
Your job is to create a vision, a culture, to get the right people on the bus and to inspire. When you look around at a team that believes in the vision as much as you do and trusts you will do the right thing all the time, it's a feeling that can't be explained. The exponential productivity from great people will always amaze you. It's why finding the right team is the most difficult thing you will do but the most important. This learning will affect your life significantly. You will not settle for things anymore because you will see what is possible when you hold out for the best and push to find people that are the best. You don't have a problem anymore being honest with people about not cutting it.
You start to see that you're a leader and you have to lead or you can't be involved with it at all. You turn down acquisition offers because you need to run the show and you feel like your team is the best in the World and you can do anything with hard work. Quitting is not an option.
You have to be willing to sleep in your car and laugh about it. You have to be able to laugh at many things because when you think of the worse things in the World that could happen to your company, they will happen. Imagine working for something for two years and then have to throw it out completely because you see in one day that it's wrong. You realize that if your team is having fun and can always laugh that you won't die, and in fact, the opposite will happen: you will learn to love the journey and look forward to what you do everyday even at the lowest times. You'll hear not to get too low when things are bad and not to get too high when things are good and you'll even give that advice. But you'll never take it because being in the middle all the time isn't exciting and an even keel is never worth missing out on something worth celebrating. You'll become addicted to finding the hardest challenges because there's a direct relationship between how difficult something is and the euphoria of a feeling when you do the impossible.
You realize that it's much more fun when you didn't have money and that money might be the worse thing you could have as a personal goal. If you're lucky enough to genuinely feel this way, it is a surreal feeling that is the closest thing to peace because you realize it's the challenges and the work that you love. Your currencies are freedom, autonomy, responsibility and recognition. Those happen to be the same currencies of the people you want around you.
You feel like a parent to your customers in that they will never realize how much you love them and it is they who validate you are not crazy. You want to hug every one of them. They mean the World to you.
You learn the most about yourself more than any other vocation as an entrepreneur. You learn what you do when you get punched in the face many many times. You learn what you do when no one is looking and when no one would find out. You learn that you are bad at many things, lucky if you're good at a handful of things and the only thing you can ever be great at is being yourself which is why you can never compromise it. You learn how power and recognition can be addicting and see how it could corrupt so many.
You become incredibly grateful for the times that things were going as bad as they possibly could. Most people won't get to see this in any other calling. When things are really bad, there are people that come running to help and don't think twice about it. Tal Raviv, Gary Smith, Joe Reyes, Toan Dang, Vincent Cheung, Eric Elinow, Abe Marciano are some of them. I will forever be in their debt and I could never repay them nor would they want or expect to be repaid.
You begin to realize that in life, the luckiest people in the World only get one shot at being a part of something great. Knowing this helps you make sense of your commitment.
Of all the things said though, it's exciting. Every day is different and so exciting. Even when it's bad it's exciting. Knowing that your decisions will not only affect you but many others is a weight that I would rather have any day than the weight of not controlling my future. That's why I could not do anything else.
Way back in August of last year I recieved an email from Annette. It is still in my inbox. The subject line was "Some flattery and a question!" It reads in part:
I recently stumbled across your website and wanted to complement you on a really good blog, i skimmed longer than I probably should have (considering I'm working!) but your posts were so simple and to the point, I just kept going, lol. I was also impressed with your recent recruiting plan, that's pretty proactive and smart but I can't think of many people who would consider scouting through twitter, at least not yet. Anyways, I didn't stumble onto you by accident though and was hoping you could help me out.
I am currently interning with John Greathouse, venture capitalist and 'serial' entrepreneur (aren't they all?), in an attempt to reach more emerging entrepreneurs via his blog, infoChachkie. From the outside looking in, it appears John's content is a really good match for your readers. Please check out John's site. If you agree that his site is complimentary to your readers, we would appreciate it if you could share...
I checked out his site and started following John on Twitter. And over time I discovered that I was reading more and more of John's articles. I started to enjoy his Iconic Advice Series. Bascially startup tips from famous entrepreneurs. Eight Startup Tips From Mark Zuckerberg tipped me.
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