After the successful Startup Riot 2011 on Wednesday much of the Atlanta startup community was pumped-up and excited about our growing eco-system. Dave Wright’s announcement last night that he was moving his pre-revenue company SolidFire, which had just raised $11 million, to Boulder, CO caught many people by surprise. At our Shotput Ventures partners’ meeting last month Dave told of his plans to move to Colorado due to the need for specialized engineers with storage system experience. The Atlanta startup community, much like a startup in and of itself, has highs and lows which are part of the process of building something great.
Monday of this week Mark Suster published a piece on TechCrunch titled Can You Really Build a Great Tech Firm Outside Silicon Valley? where he outlines some of the challenges, and benefits, of building a startup outside Silicon Valley. Everything he highlights about Los Angeles is applicable here in Atlanta. Let’s look at his categories in an Atlanta context:
- Funding is different outside of Silicon Valley – Funding in Atlanta doesn’t take place unless you have (a) a proven track record/pedigree, (b) product traction (generally $100,000 in revenue), or (c) wealthy friends, family, or fools (3 Fs of angel investing). Naturally, with funding restricted to these three items there isn’t much tech investing that takes place.
- “Necessity is the mother of all invention” and drives business outside the Valley – Do you have an idea for a business application that solves real, validated corporate issues? Atlanta works great for those kind of companies (B2B SaaS is especially hot right now). If you have an idea for a consumer application that requires significant scale and network effect before monetization you’re probably better off someplace else.
- Recruiting and retention will be different outside the Valley – Atlanta is especially beneficial in this regard due to great engineering talent from Georgia Tech and throughout the Southeast, combined with low turnover (assuming you have a strong corporate culture), and a limited number of other startups in the area. Salaries and cost of living are also commensurately lower making it a great place to bootstrap or build capital-light web businesses. Did you know you can buy a decent condo in Buckhead, one of the nicest and most affluent areas in the Southeast, for under $100,000?
- There are many strategic assets outside of Silicon Valley – Atlanta has an amazing Internet security cluster, the world’s busiest airport (makes flying more affordable and efficient than most places), and tons of young professionals perfect for building out sales and services teams.
- Communities outside the Valley have matured – The Atlanta startup community is 10x more vibrant and active compared to when I moved here in 2002. If you follow @mattstech (and who doesn’t?) you’ll see that there’s a startup event most days of the week. It really is that busy. The ATDC, truly a strategic asset as well, has become the heart of the Atlanta startup community and facilitates many great events. We have a startup community in Atlanta that’s growing every year. Are we a major player? No. Do we have the right ingredients? Yes.
In the end, the most important thing we can do as a community is build meaningful, enduring companies that employ as many local people as possible and let the results speak for themselves.
What else? What would you add about the startup community in Atlanta? Oh yeah, we’re hiring a bunch of people this year, so please send referrals my way.