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.
So I became a Startup Riot ambassador. Mainly because I believe that it is one of the most important events on the South technology scene. Startup Riot is growing and branching out. They have started MAKE which is essentially a startup weekend like experience and it is good to see someone picking up the ball there. But the big gathering is Startup Riot SHOW.
SHOW is an all-day pitch event that highlights 25 startups giving three minute pitches. If you want to see the latest early stage stuff this is the place to be. The prices are low, ranging from $30 to $70 for the day and it is free to present.
This year SHOW takes place on February 22. Registration closes on February 8. The registration to pitch has passed but if you have it going on you still might be able to make the stage. Drop me a line.
So Half Off Depot is looking for a social media/community manager. I am the hiring manager for the position and have been having a bit of a struggle in finding the right person to fill the role.
Last night I took the matter into my own hands. I went into my Twitter account and started going through the list of people that I follow. There are about 300 or so of these folks. I follow folks that I think are interesting, fun, and smart. In some way we have a shared interest.
I started looking for people that I follow that have a shared interest in social media and fit the profile of what Half Off needs. I found five that I thought would be good candidates. I sent them direct messages.
The result. Two meetings setup for this weekend (I like people that are willing to meet on the weekend and set up such meetings via social messaging) and two more in the planning stage.
Twitter can be a pretty effective recruiting method.
The competition takes place over the period of four months, and qualified applicants receive publicity, mentors and the opportunity to present their business plans on several occasions to groups of judges comprised of influencers and investors in the community. If you want to get hooked into the Atlanta technology startup scene this is a great way to do it.
I participated back in 2006 as an entrepreneur. It was a great experience that forced me to meet some milestones in the business. For the past three years I have been heavily involved with the competition as a member of the task force and leading the screening team. This is a great program.
The competition culminates with a final competition where the three or four companies will present their business to a panel of seasoned entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and angel investors from around the country. The winner walks away with $50,000 in cash and $150,000 in a personalized suite of services.
You can read more about how to apply here. Preliminary applications are due February 17.
On Friday night about 110 people in a geek dominated crowd walked through the doors of ATDC. About 50 entrepreneurs stood up and pitched their concepts in 60 seconds. This was whittled down to about 25 for a second round from which 12 projects emerged. Teams were formed and after a weekend of coding, food, beverages, and more geek humor than one can stand, the team leaders got up to talk about their applications and what they accomplished. Here is a quick run down in the order they took the podium.
C4 Atlanta. A rogue project that did not pitch on Friday night. C4 is building an arts service platform to empower artists and arts organizations. They built an app store for artists over the weekend. You can take a peek at a special version with some of the applications of the Start Atlanta companies here.
Minglle. An opt-in sms-based meeting utility to make new connections based on common interests. Stealing from Stephen Fleming, it's FourSquare meets LinkedIn. Presentation started out great until the demo blew up.
Ask One Question. Simple one question email/sms surveys with instant feedback. Great design. Nice demo. Reasonable business model.
Reach Me Later. A sms-based mobile application auto-responder to prevent driving distractions, with analytic capabilities. Concept was the brain child of Georgia Tech third year senior (which means it only took her two year to become a senior) Joy Buolamwini. This is not a make in a weekend app but they did a nice demo.
ConnectMe. A Facebook dating application that connects people based on their rich profile preferences. Liked this one when it was pitched on Friday night. I sat with them a bit as they were building this thing. The info that an app can pull out of your Facebook profile is astonishing.
Swipemotion. Painless gesture based publishing for enterprises. Nice concept.
JayTalker. Netflix behavior pushed to Facebook and Twitter. App is live. And yes there is a business model.
TripLingo. Mobile/web application that generates custom linguistics platform for specific destinations. Entrepreneur Jesse Maddox is going full-time on the project.
Cineminder. Application to remind you when movies that you want to see hits the theaters, DVD/Bluray distribution, Netflix and the like. Application is live. Concept from Tim Dorr who sold A Small Orange for a big chunk of change.
FindTime. Serverless iOS app that integrates with calendar apps to automatically assign time to complete tasks. Got the app to live demo.
Mark It Eight Dude. A Smartphone app to capture bowling statistics with numerous external variables including alcohol consumption.
Repulicious. Another rogue project. A searchable listing of reputable designers, developers, and marketers for your startup projects.
The projects did darn well. Five have a live product of some sorts and there were four demos. Good stuff. Atlanta knows how to do a weekend startup hackathon. TripLingo won the vote for best startup. Cineminder earned my vote.
The quality of the people walking in the door to participate in these weekend marathons increases every year. More people that can contribute are making the scene. That is not too surprising. What was surprising was the effect a tweak the StartAtlanta team made to the weekend.
They invited mentors. I am going to tell you something right now, it is really difficult to get a bunch of people driving toward a launch to sit down with a mentor.But it happened. And the mentors, which in some circles is code for angels and those that are connected to angels, hung around or came back for the Sunday night presentations (something that has not happened much in the past).
And guess what? The angely mentors liked it. They liked it alot. Requests for StartAtlanta to happen more than once a year. Interest in follow up advising roles. Talk of investing. Good stuff. We are building bridges and mixing the types. Kudos to the StartAtlanta team. They succeeded in their quest of "building something even better." Passing the torch was the right thing to do.
What started back in 2007 as an effort to build Atlanta's technology startup community is evolving. After four years it seems to not only be taking hold but building momentum. With that momentum things will continue to change. Perhaps change into something that is much more than a weekend community building experience.
Now that Hothlanta is firmly behind us and our climate is returning to its more Kashyyyk like norm it is time to get out and network.
A good place to start is at ATDC's Entrepreneur's Night. Entrepreneur's Night is a new monthly event that will take place the third Thursday of every month from 6 PM to 7:30PM. The format is a half an hour of networking with beverages and food followed by an informal presentation by an ATDC entrepreneur. This month Chris Rouland of Endgame Systems is the featured presenter.
I think Entrepreneur's Night is sure to become one of the best networking events for Atlanta startup entrepreneurs. The event is free to ATDC entrepreneurs but you are requested to register to attend.
The event is on December 6 from 11:30am– 1:30pm. The format is a simple five minute pitch using 10 slides or less. Eligible startups are must be based in Georgia with a product release under their belt and actively engaging with enterprise customers. To be considered you must submit a one to two page executive summary over at StartupLounge.
Not quite as interesting as the LinkedIn graph of yesterday. My Facebook network is purposely more limted than that of LinkedIn. On the lower left are my high school friends and my family is right above them. The little cluster at the top is the Kelly School. The big cluster in the middle is MindSpring with the rest of my Atlanta connections clumped off to the right. Notable are the relative lack of connections between clusters and the number of folks within the network that are only connected to me.
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