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.

18 Ideas to Accelerate the City’s Entrepreneurial Trajectory

Last week I put out a tweet to collect ideas for accelerating the entrepreneurial trajectory of Atlanta, and received a number of excellent ideas. Now, none of these ideas are limited to Atlanta and most are needed in all cities.

Here are 18 ideas for accelerating entrepreneurship in a city:

  1. Run a billboard campaign highlighting local startups
  2. Provide free training and courses for local founders
  3. Develop and support free/subsidized office space for startups like the Atlanta Tech Village
  4. Organize an accelerator program like Y Combinator
  5. Launch a YouTube video channel of local startup stories
  6. Connect local mid-to-large companies with startups
  7. Get large companies to commit to working on their procurement process to accommodate a certain number of startups
  8. Drive a public relations campaign to spotlight local entrepreneurs
  9. Coordinate an “after hours” program for entrepreneurs that have full-time day jobs
  10. Facilitate formal internship programs across startups
  11. Engage with local K-12 schools and get kids involved in entrepreneurship at an early age
  12. Run speed dating events between entrepreneurs and angels
  13. Partner with the local universities to help more students build businesses while in college
  14. Educate potential angel investors so that they feel comfortable investing more
  15. Bootstrapping programs to help startups do more with less
  16. Curate entrepreneurs-in-residence that help startups
  17. Find local mentors that want to help startups with no ulterior motive
  18. Acquire housing options for startups

Wow, that’s a great list. I’m really excited about the ideas and eager to help accelerate the entrepreneurial growth in our community.

What else? What are some more ideas to accelerate a city’s entrepreneurial trajectory?

The Simply SaaS Forum – Network and Learn from SaaS Pros

Next month we’re hosting the first of many Simply SaaS Forums in the Southeast. Taking a page from Jason Lemkin and SaaStr Annual, we’ve set out to build a community for SaaS entrepreneurs and professionals that want to network and learn from other experts. The faster you learn, the faster you grow.

As for the structure, it’s a 4.5 hour event from 1-5:30pm with an optional dinner afterwards. Being in Atlanta, we have direct flights and short drives for more than 80 million people in the Southeast whereby you can travel here in the morning, get a tremendous amount of value in the afternoon, and be home that night without having to even get a hotel room. We understand the grind and are providing a program and format to take actionable insights across a variety of functions for SaaS pros.

As for the program, we’ve broken it out into sales, marketing, product/engineering, and people/culture followed by a founder discussion on scaling from $0 to millions in recurring revenue. Here’s our first lineup:

  • Tonni Bennett, VP of Sales at Terminus – Tonni will share her lessons learned as a sales leader growing Terminus from $0 to tens of millions in ARR.
  • Tami McQueen, Co-founder of 31south – Tami McQueen, formerly of SalesLoft, will share marketing lessons learned when growing SalesLoft into one of the largest sales engagement platforms on the market.
  • Hubert Liu, Engineering Lead at Atlanta Ventures – Hubert Liu will share experiences from his time as CTO at Rigor about what it takes to grow a product from $0 to Inc. 500.
  • Karen Houghton, VP of Atlanta Tech Village – Karen has been with Atlanta Tech Village since the beginning and will share lessons learned on building great culture for startups.
  • Craig Hyde, CEO of Rigor – Craig is the founder/CEO of Rigor and was recognized last year in the Inc. 500 as one of the fastest growing companies in the United States.

Overall, we’re on a mission to connect the Southeastern SaaS community with great content and programs to ultimately increase our quantity and scale of success. Please join us on our journey.

Here to Serve Entrepreneurs

Early on in life I was lucky to find my true passion: being an entrepreneur. Everywhere I looked there were opportunities to create new products and solutions; most of my ideas failed but a few succeeded. As I developed my passion for entrepreneurship, I also realized my passion for helping other entrepreneurs.

In college I started an entrepreneurship house course called Internet Startups and Entrepreneurship with an amazing faculty sponsor. Over the course of three semesters I had the chance to teach — really, learn with my peers — some of the things I’d already been working on for years.

At Pardot, we started an accelerator for idea stage startups called Shotput Ventures where we hosted the entrepreneurs for a weekly dinner, speaker, and idea sharing. It was a labor of love and a great learning experience. After Shotput, we incubated a number of startups in the Pardot office to help the next generation of entrepreneurs. Some of those startups included Clickscape, Rigor, and SalesLoft.

After selling Pardot, we dreamed big and built the Atlanta Tech Village. At 103,000 square feet and over 1,000 people, it’s one of the five largest tech entrepreneurship centers in the United States. There, we helped launch Calendly and Terminus.

Now, with the launch of Atlanta Ventures, we’re serving SaaS entrepreneurs through community, content, and capital:

  • Community – Regular events and programs for SaaS entrepreneurs ranging from idea stage meetups to curated SaaS forums to exclusive scaling SaaS dinners
  • Content – Fresh stories and lessons learned from some of the fastest growing SaaS companies in the country
  • Capital – Investments from $100,000 to $2 million in idea, seed, and growth stage SaaS startups

We’re here to serve entrepreneurs; it’s what we do. Nothing less, nothing more.

Please reach out and let us know how Atlanta Ventures can help.

Endeavor Atlanta’s First Class of Entrepreneurs

Endeavor Atlanta just announced its first class of entrepreneurs. Endeavor, as mentioned before, is a global non-profit organization that seeks to help entrepreneurs maximize their potential and grow the entrepreneurial communities around the world. Endeavor is especially powerful for entrepreneurs that are looking to expand to other countries as well as get plugged into a worldwide network. Atlanta’s own chapter of Endeavor opened earlier this year and we’re excited to announce our first cohort of Endeavor entrepreneurs:

  • Dave Keil / QASymphony – Dave and his team at QASymphony have quietly built one of the fastest growing software quality assurance platforms (think software to test software). They’re at the forefront of the trend where most companies are moving away from traditional waterfall processes to agile processes (more iterative and responsive to customer feedback).
  • Hatem Sellami + Bahadir Ustaoglu / Cognira – Hatem and Bahir, along with their team, have built a retail analytics platform that helps large retailers get more value from their data. The platform is centered around customer insights, forecasting, and generally using data science to deliver better business outcomes.

Congrats to Dave, Hatem, and Bahir as Atlanta’s first class of Endeavor entrepreneurs!

Know an entrepreneur that might be interested in Endeavor? We’d enjoy meeting them and sharing the vision of Endeavor.