Technology Hall of Fame of Georgia

Last week I was honored to be inducted in the Technology Hall of Fame of Georgia. It was an incredible experience and I’m grateful.

Below are my remarks.

How I Got Here

18 years ago I was making what proved to be one of the most important decisions of my life. 

I had recently graduated and was deciding where to live.

In college, I had started a software company called Hannon Hill and our biggest customer was in Atlanta. 

I reached out to get their thoughts on moving to Georgia. 

He offered up a sublease and invited me to come join them. 

It was my first experience of Georgia’s Can-Do Attitude. 

Hannon Hill led to Pardot which was acquired by ExactTarget and then Salesforce.com. This was the catalyst for the Atlanta Tech Village which helped nurture SalesLoft, Calendly, Terminus, Rigor, and a number of other startups. 

I didn’t realize it at the time, but getting that help, community, and office space from our customer nearly 20 years ago was a precursor to the exact Atlanta Tech Village service.

Georgia’s Can-Do Attitude continues to thrive. 

Only, I couldn’t do it alone. 

Thank You

There are a number of friends and family I want to thank. 

I want to thank my dad and Pam, who are here today, for their encouragement. 

I want to thank my wife Erica and kids for all their support. 

I want to thank David and Karen and the team at the Atlanta Tech Village for creating a vibrant community. 

I want to thank everyone at Hannon Hill, Pardot, Atlanta Ventures, and all the entrepreneurs and team members I’ve had the chance to work with. 

I want to thank Tripp Rackley for being my champion here today, and being a mentor over the years.

Our Opportunity

Georgia’s been incredibly generous to me and I’m going to do everything in my power to continue pushing our great state forward.

As an Atlanta region, we have a real opportunity to be one of the 10 most successful in the country for startup success. 

We need more bootstrapped entrepreneurs with scalable product market fit. 

We need more capital invested in the region. 

We need more of Georgia’s Can-Do Attitude focused on entrepreneurs. 

For this, I’m asking your help. 

The next time an entrepreneur reaches out for advice, say yes. 

The next time an entrepreneur wants to give a sales pitch, say yes. 

The more yeses we provide, the greater the chance for success. 

We have incredible momentum and now’s the time to realize our potential.

Closing

Finally, I’m truly humbled and honored for this recognition.

I’m eternally grateful for the communities’ belief in me. 

And, nearly 20 years later, I’m a proud representative of Georgia’s Can-Do Attitude. 

Thank you so much.

Happy 7th Birthday to the Atlanta Tech Village

Exactly seven years ago to the day we closed on Ivy Place at 3423 Piedmont Rd and called it the Atlanta Tech Village. At the time, it seemed like a crazy idea. Why take a perfectly good building at one of the busiest street corners in Atlanta, one that’s full of credit-worthy tenants with long-term leases, and parse it up into tiny offices for unprofitable startups with no leases? Simple: we believe in the power of entrepreneurs helping entrepreneurs to increase the chance of everyone’s success.

Today, the Tech Village has exceeded all expectations. Over 300 companies and 1,000 people call the Tech Village home. Tech Village graduates like SalesLoft, Calendly, Terminus, and others are collectively valued at billions of dollars. The It Takes a Village pre-accelerator program has graduated four cohorts of under-represented founders. Village startups have raised nearly $1 billion in capital.

Ultimately, the Tech Village’s success comes down to the people. David and Karen set the tone internally. Jewell sets the tone when you walk in the door. And, of course, the entrepreneurs make it the vibrant, thriving community it is.

Happy birthday Atlanta Tech Village. Here’s to your first seven years, and many more to come.

More Thoughts on the Next Level for Atlanta’s Startup Community

After last week’s post on Next Level for Atlanta’s Startup Community, a number of people chimed in with ideas. Let’s take a look at a few.

eSports

Ben Alexander highlighted eSports as a high potential opportunity for the region. Between Skillshot Media, Atlanta Reign, Hi-Rez Studios, KontrolFreek, and more, there’s real momentum. To achieve a critical mass, we’ll need 10x that many companies and thousands of employees in the industry.

Inclusive Entrepreneurship

Rodney Sampson offered a detailed analysis in his paper Building Inclusive Entrepreneurship Ecosystems in Communities of Color. Much is to be done in this area and Rodney should be lauded for his work.

B2C

B2C is much more difficult than B2B. Why? Human attention and desires are fickle compared to helping businesses do things better/faster/cheaper. With that said, a major B2C or DTC startup success story would do wonders to help the brand of Atlanta. Consumer products are always more exciting than business products.

Funding

This past quarter Atlanta companies raised $650M across 38 investments — the best Q2 ever — according to PitchBook – NVCA Venture Monitor. While the amount of funding fluctuates on a quarter by quarter basis, setting a new high bar with our best quarter ever is an indicator of progress. Funding is only one piece of the puzzle, but it’s an important one.

Atlanta’s startup community is making real progress, and has much work to do.

Keep the ideas coming.

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.