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.
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.
It was a fun night. First and foremost Jim Flannery is doing a bang up job of building a startup community in Athens. It was interesting to see what is happening there and will be even more interesting to see how the community evolves.
While we were not technically road tripping, you put a few people in a car for three hours they are going to talk about stuff. Jacqui told me I had to write about my musings during the trip. Here they are.
Growth Hacking Is A Joke It is just another way to say customer acquisition marketing. And don't even get me started on viral marketing. The transmission of viruses does not typically happen through choice.
So Is Customer Discovery I love The Fours Steps to the Epiphany but I have to tell you that customer discovery is simply the first step in marketing. Marketing defined by the man who literally wrote the book on it:
"Marketing is the science and art of exploring, creating, and delivering value to satisfy the needs of a target market."
The science and art of exploring. Exploring and discovery are such closely related words they are almost synonyms. Customer discovery is just another way to say market research that is a little less intimidating to geeks. The term customer discovery makes marketing research approachable by non-marketers and that does have significant value.
My personal definition of marketing is a bit more straight forward. Figure out what people want and create it. The figuring out what people want is pretty hard.
And a big by the way, the problem with marketing is that most marketers stray from the purpose of the discipline.
Do Things That Don't Scale Somehow or the other we got on the subject of the recent purchase of Jim Beam by Suntory.
A long time ago Jim Bean was one of my customers. So was Maker's Mark (which should be the preferred bourbon of the maker's movement). Maker's Mark in beautiful Loretto, Kentucky. Maker's Mark that sells over a million cases of bourbon a year. Maker's Mark with demand is so high they considered reducing the alcohol strength of the whiskey (it takes a long time to build supply) so that they could keep up with demand. Maker's Mark with the trademarked wax seal.
You know how they apply that wax seal? The bottles are hand dipped by people at the end of the production line. I am sure they could automate the wax application if they wanted to do so. But having those people hand dip is part of the heritage. Part of what makes Maker's special. Part of why I am talking about it now when I observed it more than half a life ago.
Delight does not scale. Sometimes it is better to do things that don't scale. While I have developed my own thinking on this over the years Paul Graham has an excellent essay on the subject.
Atlanta Has Management Talent Someone made the comment that Atlanta has no management talent. I called BS. I could name at least 20 people that are capable of scaling and running a technology business in Atlanta. What Atlanta lacks is viable startup concepts. The city needs better ideas.
Atlanta Has Money If you have a viable concept and a decent entrepreneur or two you can get funded here. I bet we talked about 20 companies that are in the process of raising funds. To be quite frank I seeing things funded here at a stage and valuation that were never seen five years ago. If you want to raise money in Atlanta and can not do so you have to look no further than the mirror to understand the reason why.
Last night at the end of the work day I walked down the hall at Atlanta Tech Village to a The Founder Instituteinfo session. I did it primarily because I wanted to hear what The Founder Institute was all about.
It's good stuff. The Founder Institute rightly positions itself somewhere between Startup Weekend and tech accelerators such as Atlanta Ventures and Flashpoint. The group is set up to help gainfully employed thirty or forty something corporate director/VP types that have an itch to strike out on their own.
They take the folks that are accepted into the program, charge them about $900, and put them through a rigorous curriculum. A curriculum that gets them to the point of either stopping or to graduation. In order to graduate a founder needs their concept validated by program mentors, a business plan of some sort, work done toward a funding event, incorporate a company, and complete all the program assignments. Basically get them in a position to quit their day job.
During the meeting I was asked my thoughts on the program by an entrepreneur. My honest assessment is that their positioning is spot on and if someone has not started a company before this program seems to have the expertise and rigor to increase the odds of success.
If you have an interest you can apply here. The initial application can be completed in less than 30 minutes.
Last night I braved the weather and traffic to attend the GigaOm Mobility Meetup at Opera (partially owned by tech entreprenuer Dave Williams). Maybe about a third or so of the 600 registered attendees managed to make the event and those that decided to stay dry missed a good one.
While the show started late and I had to jet early for a rendezvous with my SO, there was some good networking and high quality discussion from the stage.
The thing about the event that stood out to me is that there were three tech startup accelerators supporting the event and in the crowd. ATDC, Atlanta Tech Village and Hypepotamus. That is about two more then you would have seen two years ago. Progress.
Atlanta has a strong mobile technology cluster and GigaOm a big focus on the sector. Despite the weather the event was a winner and I hope to see our friends from SF stay commited to the hosting a series of these events.
I was joined at the front of the room by VillageDefense which I regret to say I don't fully understand cause the demo had some technical issues; DudeRanch, a TripAdvisor for wannabe Cowboys and an interesting domainer story; Sidewalk District, which is going to need some serious UX work to to work; and Ionic Security, fresh off a $10 million Kleiner/Google Ventures round.
Mr. Cummings claims the meetup is the largest startup event in the South. Mr. Bird claims I am OG, which I think is a compliment. Regardless it is worth a trip if you want to see the new edge on the Atlanta startup scene.
Nice video from the Metro Atlanta Chamber highlighting the 2013 ATDC graduate companies and the strategic benefits of that technology hub. Great to see companies like BrightWhistle, KontrolFreek, PatientCo, and Urjanet, which I helped in some way, growing up.
While Atlanta Tech Village seems to be getting all the attention these days ATDC continues to be an important node in the Atlanta startup ecosystem. Kinda interesting that the fourth 2013 ATDC grad company, AccelerEyes, is now my neighbor at ATV.
This move came about shortly after David Cummings announced his plans for the Village. I reached out to him, told him we were about to sign a lease, and wanted to see if there were a possibility for a company of our size to get some space. The reply was "we have a perfect suite" for you. And they did.
While not a big fan of Buckhead (I have spent the vast majority of my time in Atlanta working within two miles of 14th and Peachtree in Midtown), we decided to make the move for four reasons. It was less expensive then our current cost and the Midtown options we were considering. The lease was shorter in duration. There is more flexibility if our space needs expand beyond expectations with the option to rent co-working spots and pay in advance additional offices in the building. Finally, like ATDC (which nCrowd is a little mature for) the ATV setup promotes serendipitous interactions.
The Atlanta Tech Village was a pretty easy call for me. David and his team were both flexible and easy to work with to get the deal done. To give you an example the lease was only four pages long compared to the twenty one page version that was provided by an alternative building. Our employees that have seen the space love it and are looking forward to the move.
In a short time ATV has created a second hub beyond Tech Square for technology companies to consider. Looking forward to being a part of this new community.
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.
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