The Real Atlanta Startup Community

The Atlanta Startup Community You Don’t Know About

So the “Atlanta Startup Community” has got its underwear in a bunch because three paragraphs on the second page of a Forbes blog denigrated our city. I’m kind of pissed I’ve got to write this because it takes mental energy away from valuable content that gets our software in front of future customers. But here goes because it’s needed.

I don’t know Jeff Haynie, but I respect his track record and success. However, the real Atlanta Startup Community doesn’t give a damn where Jeff Haynie moved and built his company. I’ve never met him, but I’m sure he did what’s best for his company, his family, and him…more power to you Jeff. You left for a reason and the most talented Georgia Tech hacker was still in high school when you moved. The Atlanta Startup Community has moved on — literally. While the older generation of startup aficionados might get worked up over a few paragraphs, we don’t.

I can’t pass judgement on your decision for the move and I don’t know the ticky-tac details that obviously rubbed some people the wrong way. I don’t care, but I do care about where we are and where we’re going as a community.

The Truth As I See It
Belaboring on three points exposing the shortcomings of Atlanta ain’t going to get this post far, but I would be remiss if it wasn’t addressed briefly. Three reasons were highlighted as the major deficiencies in the Atlanta’s Startup Community, the first being too many valueless events.

I started going to events in 09’ — Meetups, happy hours, tweetups, social media gatherings — you name it and I was there. And you know what, you’re right, because I stopped going to them. Most were whack and added little value to my goals or educated the community. Unfortunately, Atlanta still has this problem. We lack serious “value-add” events. The type of events that educate while simultaneously informing folks on cool happenings in the scene. We’re fixing this.

Second, is a lack of awareness about the tech scene. That is hilarious because it’s spot on! I grew up in Atlanta, went to elementary, middle and high school in the city and you’re on point. Atlanta is known for it’s real-estate moguls, the doctors who run the Emory/CDC, and traditional industries like banking and insurance. Nothing has changed here since your departure. The elite are chilling poolside at Piedmont Driving Club or striping it down the fairway at Capital City and that’s okay because those activities are fun. However, nothing written here screams innovation or technology. The solution is complex. Matching the money that doesn’t know the industry or opportunity takes significant education. There is tons of money in Atlanta, unfortunately technology is just a blip on its radar.

The last point hits home. It’s not that that people aren’t helpful or willing to help, there’s just not a conduit to facilitate it efficiently. In 09’, guys like Glenn McGonnigle, Reggie Bradford, David Cummings, etc. all took “cold meetings” with me. I’m extremely grateful for their time to this day. I can’t think of one power player in the city that doesn’t want to give back, there’s just very little opportunity where they can give back in an efficient manner — see point two on zero-value events. During our summer at TechStars Boulder, the biggest difference was the “give before receiving” mentality. There was an unwritten code of generosity. When it was broken, you weren’t upbraided, you just weren’t included in it any more. It’s a very simple concept, if you’re helpful, the community embraces you, if not, peace be with you.

That was tough to admit. Moving forward.

The Real Startup Atlanta Community
It’s still very hard to build a company in the Atlanta Startup Community. We can’t exit off hype, a good idea doesn’t mean a damn thing, talented students at Tech want to work for Facebook, and nobody is in your fan club until you’ve made it. It’s a blessing and a curse. Our companies are bootstrapped, lean, and quiet. Most of them are in industries where you leave the conversation saying “man, that’s a lot of work.” They’re in healthcare, IT security, marketing — rarely in the flashy consumer world. We’re scrappy and our customers fund our growth. Instead of Four Season brunches we’re downing $2 dollar sausage biscuits from the Waffle House (which recently opened in Tech Square…sweeeeet!).

Progress is our Focus
Since 08’ we’ve had tremendous traction. Detailing major exits like Vitrue and Blinq or the boot strapped profit machines like Pardot and MailChimp doesn’t really matter at this point. What does, is the real Atlanta Startup Community’s attitude and optimism. All the ingredients in this city are here: organizing it, connecting the talent, navigating influencer egos, and focusing on what matters is where we’ve gone astray.

It’s probably tough to decipher but not everyone in the Atlanta Startup Community is a badge wearing, Anti-Valley enthusiast. Actually we’re quite the opposite — a better way to put it is we’re the Anti-Anti Valley generation. My time spent at TechStars Boulder taught me the importance of embracing talent, building relationships outside of our city, and providing opportunities for tech influencers to come in Atlanta and share their unique perspectives with us. We’re hungry to learn; our raw talent is competitive to any other city. We just do a poor job of funneling it into the startup community.

Who would want to come back and speak to our community when you’ve got people talking trash on Twitter. I know I wouldn’t…so much for all that Southern hospitality. The real Atlanta Startup Community isn’t like that. We’re inclusive, we don’t need to complain on Twitter, we’re too busy focused on our companies. If we do decide to enter the fray we’re going to do it in a manner that’s constructive, positive, professional, and orderly…you know, like in a blog post or preferably a Forbes article.

Jeff, trust me when I write, the real Atlanta Startup Community doesn’t care where or why you moved, we’re focused on our customer and if you ever decide to visit home, we’ll have a room full of entrepreneurs and students — the people who build companies — eagerly waiting to listen.

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7 comments
  1. Well said!

    I consider Jeff a friend of mine, and am incredibly proud of what he has accomplished. I also think that at the time he made the move, it was the right decision for him. But as you pointed out (and others), this is a different Atlanta now. A different community – one that I am proud to be a part of. Things are more vibrant now than ever.

    While the “Haynie Moves to the Valley” bit got old a long time ago, we do have to be fair, Jeff didn’t write the article himself. It could very well be that the author just wanted to bring focus on the fact that other entrepreneurs move to the valley to give things a go there, and to take advantage of their community. Believe me – I am the master of being quoted out of context and getting in trouble …. (*snicker*). Sometimes the printed word can be a terrible conveyor of one’s emotion and true intent.

    Oh, and I hope I’m not part of the “older startup generation” in Atlanta. Ha! I’ll leave you now, as it is Friday night, and I have some cosmic anomalies to scan down in EVE Online. (ya see!) 🙂

    Cheers.
    Scott

  2. Jeff here. Good post, great comments.

    I didn’t write the article.

    The author was trying to talk about the silicon valley startup commons concept which is quite popular idea these days here. The concept of social good, giving back to other entrepreneurs and trying to help “all boats rise”.

    He was contrasting the reasonable differences between SV and anywhere else in the world. Of course my history is from Atlanta thus he focused on that contrast in trying to explain the SV commons concept. I believe he wasn’t trying to make an indictment on Atlanta, he was simply trying to help people understand why the valley is so special and hard to replicate. While its easy to read his words or my quotes as an commentary on how bad Atlanta is, I believe he was merely trying to explain why it is so different and special.

    I have personally helped well over 10 Atlanta companies here in SV in the past 4 years. I’ve angel invested in one startup in Atlanta SINCE I left. I will continue to help. I believe in that.

    I hate that people still want to talk about this since it’s been so long ago and I have no clue (outside of my friends who keep telling me and new entrepreneurs who seek my advice) whats happening in Atlanta. I vowed after the HuffPo article to refuse any more interviews on the subject. This article was not about Atlanta – at least that wasn’t his premise when he interviewed me. I fact in the hour long interview, we spent 55 minutes at least on silicon valley and things happening here.

    I’m sure Atlanta is improving and hope that I can continue to help in some small way – even from afar because that’s where my heart is, in helping entrepreneurs just like you and me.

    Best of luck! Look me up if you’re ever out this way.

  3. Well, since I’m the only one I know who literally wears a badge that could be interpreted as “Anti-Valley”… let me make sure people aren’t misinterpreting.

    I have lots of friends in the Valley (and SFO). I have multiple investments there. I’ve made a lot of money there. I have nothing but respect for what they’ve accomplished there.

    But we’re not the Valley, and we shouldn’t pretend, and we shouldn’t complain. Just stick to the hard work of making the Atlanta startup community a little bit better every day. That’s what I’ve been doing for 17 years, and I expect to keep doing it for the next 17.

    Details in my post from three years ago: http://academicvc.com/2009/07/20/not-the-valley/

    I suspect Jeff and Jonny and I all agree on that.

  4. I promised myself I wasn’t going to wade in these waters but here goes.

    Jonny – well argued post. I would, however, like to add that while this community has certainly evolved over the last 14 or so years that I’ve been a part of it (and in many respects, for the better), it does suffer from, amongst other things, a lack of awareness both within and without.

    As you so rightly pointed out, we have people who want to help but don’t know how because of the absence of simple ways for them to do so.

    We also suffer from a terminal case of modesty. We lack of an organized but loosely affiliated band of ambassadors who can evangelize the unique strengths of our community to those beyond. Why is this important? Because sometimes, before A community can believe in its own abilities, it takes a few vocal but respected members of the community to sing it and 3rd parties to acknowledge it.

    I was at an event last week in which a prominent entrepreneur response when asked what’s good about Atlanta (and why he chose to keep his company here) was a noticeable pause before citing cheap cost of doing business and talent in specific industries as reasons. While the order in which he listed his reason isn’t ideal, more bothersome was the long pause. If successful entrepreneurs can’t sing Atlanta’s praises to a friendly audience, who can?

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