Monthly Archives: August 2012

I put on for my city yeah billboards everywhere
See me before your flight land, see me before your bag claim

I put on for my city, on on for my city
I put on for my city, on on for my city

– Young Jeezy “Put On”

The Atlanta Tech/Startup brand is non-existent.

You know what community has branded the city better than any other community? The hip-hop community. Aspiring writers, producers, and rappers flock to our city because they know, when music is created in Atlanta, there’s a greater chance of success. The platform developed is huge.

How did Atlanta become successfully branded as a hip hop community and what can the Atlanta Startup Community learn from it.

This is best personified by Atlanta resident, Young Jeezy on his lead single “Put On.” (entire lyrics and meaning here). Watch below as his Grammy nominated performance with Kanye West conveys his allegiance and credit to his city.

Regardless if you like the music, Young Jeezy does 3 things really well in one song to promote Atlanta:

Builds a great product:  Young Jeezy and Kanye West took this song global, were nominated for a Grammy, and had many remixes.
Credits Atlanta: The magic behind this songs is not so much that he talks much about Atlanta, but he promotes how everything he does is for his city.
Partners with big names: Young Jeezy had a great product. However partnering with an international superstar like Kanye West open bigger doors and took the single places it never before could have with just Jeezy. After Kanye was on the track, artists from around the world wanted to be on the remixes.

Young Jeezy is not alone. As the success of Young Jeezy proliferates, others also rise…because they collaborate. The combination of Young Jeezy, T.I., Ludacris, Outkast, Usher and many more, create hip hop neighborhood and talent density that the Atlanta Startup Community should aspire to.

The Atlanta Startup Community Brand

Just about every person i talked to this past summer in Boulder couldn’t recall one tech company from Atlanta. Big bummer, but true.

Most of them asked “does Atlanta even have tech?” I slowly gulped before answering.

Little do most people know, Atlanta is one of the most wired cities in the world and it has more talent in a 75/85 traffic jam than most cities could ever dream of.

Unfortunately, Atlanta has no brand when it comes to technology. Brands are lead by successful businesses, colorful personalities, and folks who help craft the conversation.

Ways to promote Atlanta’s Technology brand using Young Jeezy’s Strategies:

  • build great companies that promote Atlanta as their origin
  • blog: join the conversation and get our smart ideas and energy out to the world online
  • expose the city to technology power players. There should be more tech leaders coming to our city. We’ve got to keep Atlanta and Georgia, as Ray Charles put it best, “on my mind.”

Last week, i was in the unofficial headquarters of the Atlanta Startup Community (TechSquare Starbucks) and ran into Director of GT’s Venture Lab, ex-Apple/Yahoo guy, and super smart AI expert, Keith McGreggor. He was helping a pair of students with their startup over a cup a joe.

After his meeting, we talked briefly about the Atlanta Startup Community and ways it could be improved.

Starting small is essential and one very easy way to start small is blogging.

The exact words I mentioned to Keith: “Keith you’re one of the smartest guys in the Atlanta Startup Community, you’ve just gone through the most advanced and comprehensive training programs to train entrepreneurs to be successful. Why don’t you share it online? We want you to blog, we want to get more of your thoughts”

Keith is very active on Twitter and has lots of compelling exchanges with numerous folks, but those exchanges get lost in the instancy of Twitter.

I look at Keith as an extremely valuable asset to the Atlanta Startup Community, but we’re only getting exposed to him in little, 140 character clips.

Value of Atlanta’s Thoughts Leaders Blogging:  

– Promotes the city of Atlanta.
– Formalizes the thoughts and opinions of experienced entrepreneurs.
– Provides a platform for community members to connect with leaders outside of Twitter.
– Informs the community of what thought leaders are doing and thinking.
– Facilitates connections and relationships difficult to manufacture on Twitter or offline.

I respect Keith and write this post because he prodded me to prod him about blogging. But I challenge more leaders in the tech community — folks in the Venture Lab and Venture Catalysts at the ATDC — to blog their experiences and share their insight. There’s only one entrepreneur that comes to mind when you think of Atlanta, technology, and blogging…that would be David Cummings.

In the midst of building great companies, the Atlanta Startup Community should blog more. If you say it can’t be done, look at other cities with great startup communities and then ask the same question again.

Kevin on the left talking shop w/ Hypepotamus visitors

I was in a conversation & didn’t say a word for 20 minutes. People who know me, know that’s uncommon. But I was totally engaged.

I was talking with Heath HynemanKevin Wallace & these guys have one of the best entrepreneurship stories I’ve ever heard, I’m going to try to tell it here:

So Kevin & Heath started a business in ’02. They had the rights to distribute NCAA football game audio over a cellular network. This was a huge opportunity but to make it work required a good bit of network infrastructure, so they went out to the Atlanta technology community to raise money and find supporters. But the Atlanta tech community was no help. They found no interested investors, advisors, or helpful entrepreneurs. Atlanta tech failed.

They were left with the choice: pay a 3rd party for their infrastructure. Things were going smooth but when the 3rd party saw their potential, they threatened to pull the plug if Kevin and Heath didn’t deliver them $100k within a week. Without the support of investors and the community, they couldn’t make the deal and were forced to shut down. They lost their business, their confidence & their startup mojo.

Weeks later Heath was considering going to work in the construction business. He had sworn off startups and the Atlanta tech ecosystem. He was about to be driving a truck for a living, delivering toilets to newly built homes when he started to inquire on the economics of building supplies. He learned the economies of scale for buying in bulk…and discovered there was an online vendor making $60k per day selling supplies online. This company’s website sucked and they weren’t leveraging online marketing.

So Heath & Kevin tried again.

They put together a website & optimized their SEM. The next thing they knew they had to shut down the site every few hours because demand was so high. They turned this startup into National Builder Supply, a $40 million/year badass e-commerce business…without investors, without support of the Atlanta Technology community.

+1 Grinding

But now they’re back….with a vengeance.

They want to build this community so that entrepreneurs with ideas don’t have to suffer like they did. And they are starting off with a bang.

Kevin & Heath created Hypepotamus. It’s not a coworking space or an incubator…it’s a community donation. They’ve paid for a year’s worth of space, utilities & their time in the Biltmore building, midtown Atlanta. And it is badass. Entrepreneurs are free to come and collaborate, build, design & create. I’ve worked there and love it.

These guys are not leaving Atlanta to chase tech opportunities. They’re building the tech community for us, for their kids, for the future. I urge you to get down here & support them.

Today, I had the pleasure to work out of Atlanta’s hottest co-working space: Hypepotamus. The place is awesome. Housed in the basement of the historic Biltmore hotel in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s got the right vibe for creativity, productivity, and fun.

Photo courtesy of Kyle Porter (@kylegport)

Other companies working out of hypeptamus include Badgy, We and Co, and N4MD.

The only thing missing are more dedicated people building and selling cool stuff. This is a developer’s playground (ask Rob Kischuk). It’s located blocks away from the Klaus Computing building. Perfect. The big question is how do we inform students this gem is right next door to their classrooms?

One idea: hold an informative session showcasing something amazing the community has built.  Show people it can be done and that people are doing it now. It could be a product, company, or game. Invite all the allstars like MattsTech and co to experience the place and its great vibe.

The Atlanta Startup Community has improved dramatically in the last 3 months since we left for TechStars Boulder and it’s only going to get better.

David Cummings wrote a blog post that opened the topic of interns in the Startup Community.

Brief Background

I spent two years in the ATDC building a product for students by students at OpenStudy. We recruited over 15 Georgia Tech interns during my time there. I spent countless hours in Klaus talking to students about internships, picking their brain on what would attract them to startups, and how to convince them to join something greater than the lucrative Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, opportunity.

Think it’s easy? All those companies pay more, have a better reputation, and the student’s parent’s want them to take the “unbelievable opportunity” at the established company.

In spite of Georgia Tech being a talent machine located right in the middle of our city, the intern scene for the Atlanta Startup Community is weak sauce.

But it’s a better life on the side of a startup. For real.

The ATDC Weakness

Ask me, then Kyle Porter, and we’ll be the first one to tell you we’re bread by the ATDC. We love that organization just as much as anyone in the city. Just check out KP’s twitter handle profile “mentored by the @ATDC.” It’s the truth, and our success at TechStars directly correlates to the mentorship we’ve received from the ATDC.

However, if I had to share my thoughts on the biggest weakness of the ATDC, it would be the lack of student involvement. Survey the junior class of this year’s College of Computing and I’m confident less than 15% have even heard of the ATDC. This is the ATDC. The place where technology companies incubated for greatness are unknown from the brilliant minds 4 blocks (country) away.

The Solution — “Brad Feld Style”

In Brad’s most recent book, Startup Communities (which this whole blog is based around) he writes about the benefits of universities:

“There is a strong conventional belief that for a startup community to be successful, it has to be located close to a major university…Universities have five resources relevant to entrepreneurship: students, professors, research labs, entrepreneurship programs, and technology transfer offices. The first two resources, which are people, are much more important than the last three, which are institutions.”

The people are the most important.

There are 3 ways to bring students into the community.

  • Invite them to the startup events.
  • Focus the “entrepreneurship center” toward the computer science and engineering departments (the people who can actually build stuff)
  • Put power in the hands of the students. Share the truth: they go and work for a name-brand company, their impact will be minimal.

“Universities, especially departments within universities, too often see entrepreneurship programs as a near term cash solution in an era of declining state support and rising tuitions. This generally a mistake. Instead, universities need to see themselves as preparing students to be players in dynamic industries that require entrepreneurial skills. There is no better context for this than startups.”

“There are challenges that generalize to any university environment: (1) entrepreneurial engagement is not rewarded within the faculty incentive structure, (2) lack of resources for entrepreneurial programs, and (3) cross-campus collaboration is not in the DNA of a university.”

BFeld and CU faculty member Brad Bernthal provide solutions to each of them in his book.

We, as the community need to embrace the student community at Georgia Tech, Emory, Morehouse, and Georgia State. Creating innovative ways to bring them into the community will benefit everybody and most importantly, keep them here.

Rob Kischuk has once again delivered a thought-provoking piece on his blog titled: Startup communities are neighborhoods, not cities. Rob rocks because he’s writing about the Atlanta Startup Community. He’s also engaging major thought leaders and it’s all for the good of the community…erm, I mean neighborhood.

His post is a great start but let’s dive deeper into the neighborhoods. I view Atlanta having three different startup neighborhoods.

One: Tech Square – undoubtedly the biggest in the city. It’s proximity to Georgia Tech, ATDC, Venture Lab, TAG, provide the best density in the city. The Starbucks Tech Square is one of the most exciting places to be in Atlanta tech…anytime.

Two: The Westside – definitely the hippest tech neighborhood in the city. MailChimp and Scoutmob employees can be found grabbing lunch at Toscano’s and Sons, Bell’s Burritos, and WestEgg on the regular. Definitely a more creative side of the town that also contains art galleries, design studios, etc.

Three: Buckhead – more specifically Atlanta Plaza. David Cummings continues to build a mini-neighborhood of great companies in the top floor of the Atlanta Plaza building with numerous companies. It’s an awesome environment with free food, smart, positive people doing great things.

– Are we missing any?
– How and where do we create the density Rob and BFeld speak of?
– What areas provide the most serendipitous connections?

Great post Rob, keep writing.