Quantifying Local Startup Impact

When talking about the virtues of entrepreneurship for local communities, my two favorite benefits are transference of personal growth and high quality job creation. The faster people grow at work, the more abilities they have to help their community. The more high paying jobs, the more taxes and economic impact to help their community.

Startups have much greater opportunities for personal development, being growth focused organizations at their core. Fast growth translates into more leadership training, more pushing the limits personally, and more overall personal growth. Values and lessons developed in the startup spill over into the local non-profits, community organizations, and religious organizations. The faster people grow personally, the greater everyone around them benefits.

High quality job creation is a real challenge for most communities. Large companies, like the Fortune 500, are the business of doing more volume with fewer employees, and have seen their payrolls shrink. Alternatively, startups, while having a high failure rate, also create a tremendous number of jobs when they hit the growth and scale up stage.

Take for example a startup that’s created 100 jobs. In the non ultra expensive parts of the country, a growth stage startup might have an average salary of $125,000. At a 6% state income tax, that’s $750,000 of annual tax dollars to the state. Add in all the other regular expenditures like food, housing, transportation, local sales taxes, and it’s likely that the startup is contributing $6+ million to the local economy (e.g. half of the total salaries). Hosting a Super Bowl is estimated to bring $100 million of local impact, depending on who you ask. Only, a big event is a one-time impact. Startups persist indefinitely and contribute to the economy year after year. Put another way, adding 20 different 100 person startups to a city is the economic equivalent of having the Super Bowl every single year.

Quantifying local startup impact is difficult. Identifying areas like the benefits of greater personal development and general economic impact begins to outline the value of the startups in local communities.

Home, Sweet Home

This year, I’ve had the opportunity to visit entrepreneurs all across the Southeast, both in Atlanta and their hometown. Seeing the different entrepreneurial communities, and hearing success stories from each city, continues to grow my optimism for entrepreneurship as a force for good. In addition to an optimistic outlook, it also helps me appreciate what we have in our own startup community — great entrepreneurs, great talent, and great programs.

Yet, it wasn’t always this way.

In late 2008, Adam and I flew to Silicon Valley to pitch the full partnership of a Sand Hill venture capital firm (not one of the A-list firms that typically come to mind) on investing in Pardot. One of the senior partners really liked us and was working to convince the partnership that marketing automation was going to be a big market (most VCs thought the addressable market was too small — hah!).

Toward the end of the pitch, which had flowed smoothly, another senior partner, with a professorial look about him, shot out a question, “Do you have any software engineering talent in Atlanta?” Naturally, I offered him my best chamber of commerce response about Georgia Tech and the great engineering schools across the Southeast with heavy representation in Atlanta. Without even internalizing my response, he said, “Why don’t you just move to Silicon Valley?” To him, with a close-minded view of the world, there was no way to build an important startup outside of a 20 mile radius around his office — nevermind that his firm had just invested in an Atlanta startup earlier that year!

Thankfully, the partner who made that comment wouldn’t be the lead on our potential deal (we never raised venture capital), but that question and comment has already stuck with me for a decade, and I won’t forget it. Never criticize someone’s hometown or make them feel inferior to yours. Never.

John Howard Payne’s famous line came to mind:

Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home

With that, we flew home, turned down their expression of interest to keep moving the process forward, and continued building the best company we could.

Encourage entrepreneurs.

Don’t belittle their hometown.

Celebrate the startup journey, regardless of location.

Practice Gratitude – Life Comes at You Fast

About 10 years ago, things were really humming. Family life was great with a little toddler at home, Pardot was taking off nicely, and I had my eye on a used Corvette on eBay Motors. After going back and forth with the seller — a police officer in Palm Coast, Florida — we had a deal. Anxious to pick up the car, I booked a plane ticket to Daytona Beach, Florida the following weekend and couldn’t wait to go get it.

The weekend rolled around and I was on the first flight out. At the airport I was met by the officer and we talked cars while he drove me 30 minutes to his house near the coast (no Uber back then!). We pulled up to the house and he opened the garage revealing the shiny black Vette with red interior — beautiful.

Once the paperwork was signed, I was in the car off to hit the open road in Florida.

Life was good.

Family, personal, and professional couldn’t be better.

I thought I was indestructible.

After being on the interstate for two hours I called my Pardot cofounder Adam to catch up on a few things. With the countryside rolling by and the cell phone pinned to my ear it happened like slow motion in a bad movie.

A large tire tread peeled off the tractor trailer in front of me and headed right for my newly acquired car. After glancing the front of the hood, the tread smashed into the windshield directly in front of my eyes. Now, there was a hole the size of my fist in the windshield four feet from my face. The tractor trailer didn’t stop; no one was around to see it or help. I quickly told Adam I gotta go and hung up the phone while pulling off on the side of the road.

I was taking things for granted.

I wasn’t practicing gratitude.

Life was going well and I thought I was on top.

I needed to slow down. I needed to be thankful.

Ultimately, everything was fine. I wasn’t injured, the car was repaired, and life continued along.

Only, I was different. I was more grounded. I was more thankful.

Growing Endeavor in the Southeast

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to spend a day in Birmingham, Alabama with the Endeavor Atlanta team in an effort to expand the non-profit to other regions of the Southeast. Endeavor, an international organization with offices in 32 countries, is leading the high impact entrepreneurship movement around the world. Think of Endeavor as an organization that supports scale ups (startups post product/market fit in the scaling phase) with mentorship, continuing education, networking, and an all-around high impact entrepreneurship ethos.

In Atlanta, we have eight Endeavor Entrepreneurs building amazing companies. These companies range from lease accounting software to second home rental marketplaces to Bitcoin payment processing platforms. Endeavor isn’t limited to tech companies. In fact, globally, most Endeavor Entrepreneurs aren’t in tech. The key: high impact entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is one of the most powerful forces to help communities through job and wealth creation.

Now, with Endeavor Atlanta off to a great start, we’re looking to grow the Endeavor footprint in the Southeast with regional offices. These regional offices would support their local entrepreneurs and lean on the Atlanta office to interface with the global network. Once a regional office achieves enough scale, they’d then become their own full office. The Southeast, with 80+ million people, is the fastest growing region in the United States and has a tremendous number of entrepreneurs.

If you’re an entrepreneur, or supporter of entrepreneurs, in the Southeast, please reach out as we’d enjoy talking about ways to grow Endeavor in the region.

Growing the Startup Community

One of the more popular questions I get is, “How do we grow the startup community?”

Great question.

While some people suggest things like more risk capital and institutional investors, I’m not convinced that’s the answer. The answer, I believe, is even more challenging.

Here are three ideas for growing the startup community:

  1. More Ambitious Entrepreneurs – Let’s face it: most of the ideas in our community are incremental. While we aren’t suited for moon shots, we are suited for solving harder problems, building mission critical workflow systems, and driving for larger outcomes. Too many entrepreneurs are pursuing nice-to-have products instead of must-have products, and the success rate shows it. We need more ambitious entrepreneurs thinking big.
  2. More Anchor Technology Companies – While we have a number of large entrepreneurial success stories in town, we’re really missing out when it comes to anchor technology companies. Think about Dell in Austin, Amazon.com in Seattle, and other major tech companies that recruit thousands of people to the region, create tremendous shareholder value, and are deeply ingrained in the community. It often takes 20 years to build an anchor technology company — perhaps some are already in the works now.
  3. More Repeat Entrepreneurs – I often tell people that that best time to invest in an entrepreneur is after they’ve had their first full-time entrepreneurial failure and are ready to step back in the arena. Yet, to be a repeat entrepreneur you have to have started your first serious venture. We have a decent number of first-time entrepreneurs but we’re lacking when it comes to serious repeat entrepreneurs. Possibly, it just takes time but to grow the community, but we need even more first-time entrepreneurs so that the cycle starts sooner.

So, there you have it. More ambitious entrepreneurs, more anchor technology companies, and more repeat entrepreneurs are how we grow our startup community in a meaningful way. None are easy; all are important. Growing a startup community is hard, and we’re going to keep working at it.

What else? What are some more ideas to grow the startup community?

Top 10 Atlanta SaaS Startups on the 2018 Inc. 5000

Every year I enjoy jumping in and reading the Inc. 5000. The 2018 awards just came out and there are a number of excellent Atlanta SaaS startups on the list.

When reading the list, always remember that growing fast becomes much harder with scale (doubling revenue every year is hard!).

Here are the top 10 Atlanta SaaS startups based on growth rate:

Congrats to all the winners! Onward and upward.

Growth Connection for Leading CEOs

One of the areas I’ve been interested in for many years is how to help CEOs/presidents of the fastest growing companies. Organizations like YPO and EO are amazing for peer learning and personal development, but don’t have a component for high growth companies. Inc magazine has the excellent Inc. 500/5000, and a corresponding conference focused on these fast growing companies, but it’s an annual thing, not a local, on-going program.

Cities have programs like Leadership Atlanta that connect high potential people across all types of organizations from non-profit to business to government to religious in an effort to build community, and train the leaders of tomorrow. These are important programs, but not focused on CEOs during the most crucial period of exceptional business growth.

Over the years, I’ve hosted a number of dinners for CEOs of the fastest growing local companies in order to build relationships, share learnings, and help grow our community. These are worthwhile, and very fun, but sporadic in nature. There’s an opportunity for deeper peer learning, connecting with more experienced leaders that have already gone through hyper growth, and more structured events.

My brother, CEO of SpanishDict, went through the MindShare program in D.C. and felt it was valuable. MindShare bills itself as “an exclusive forum of CEOs from high growth technology companies designed to foster collaboration and innovation among its Alumni Network.” MindShare has been around for nearly 20 years and has had over 1,000 CEOs in the program.

Some questions:

  • Are there programs like this in other cities? Are they worthwhile?
  • What would be the ideal Growth Connection program? Class size? Meeting frequency and format?
  • Should it be limited to just technology companies or is it better to have CEOs from all types of fast growing companies?
  • How do you define fast growing? Minimum revenue in the millions and trailing three year growth rate over certain amount?

Growth Connection is simply a non-profit idea to help the CEOs and presidents in the community connect, grow, and learn while in the crucible of hyper growth. All feedback and ideas are much appreciated.