Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Atlanta Tech Village Design Process and Story- Planting a Forest in Buckhead



One of the fun parts of building the Atlanta Tech Village has been working with Gensler, our design firm, on the renovation and creating the story that the building we want to tell with the physical facilities.   It has been exciting to see that the idea of the Rainforest as an innovation ecosystem has really fueled the creative folks working on the project. We recently had the presentation of the schematic design and it was awesome to see how the ideas of a startup ecosystem could be translated into architectural design.

The concept is that the building is a 5 story building with a basement level and rooftop terrace and the vertical programming of the building will be designed around the vertical story of an actual rainforest.   This legend shows our building levels on the right and the rainforest layers on the left:

Atlanta Tech Village - Building Layout

  • Atlanta Tech Village Club Level RenderingThe basement / club level – the root system -   will be the foundation of the building.   Gyms, locker rooms, showers, massage room, a video production facility, and a small server room.   The textures, colors and fixtures will be designed to show that the root system of a technology building are humming with life to deliver the fuel that the forest needs to thrive.
  • Atlanta Tech Village Community Center Concept RenderingThe first level — the Forest Floor layer — the community center, coffee shop, event center, 400 seat auditorium, plaza park, lobby atrium, patio dining area. This floor is where the highest volume of serendipity happens. This is where, in the rainforest, the “litterfall” lands as it falls from the canopy.  Basic building blocks are broken down and recycled. Accidents happen.   Ideas, talent, and capital find each other in exciting ways. Atoms run into each other just as people run into each other and new life is formed… weeds and all.
  • Atlanta Tech Village - Offices RenderingThe second floor – the Understory Layer — coworking desks, unreserved desks, conference rooms, small glass offices for 2-4 people, and soft seating for quiet collaboration.   In the rainforest, this is where young trees begin. Vines begin to gain traction and shrubs thrive.
  • Levels 3, 4, and 5– the Canopy Layer — private suites, shared community centers, conference rooms — varied lease terms for more established companies. In the rainforest, this is the main layer with thick density. The branches overlap commonly to share resources, but they are firmly attached to established trees.  The canopy layer retains moisture of the forest floor.   Just as the canopy layer does for the rainforest, these established, growing companies are a critical component of the ecosystem.
  • Atlanta Tech Village - Buckhead Rooftop RenderingRooftop Terrace —  The Emergent layer — Select trees will rise above the canopy. These are the exceptions that inspire us, just as the Atlanta Tech Village rooftop experience will inspire all who visit. The emergent trees produce seeds with wings, myst be adapted to a bright, open, and changeable world… only a few will reach this level of growth.

I underestimated how fun it would be to go through this design process. I was expecting nothing more than repetitive, tedious line drawings of floor plans and desk arrangements. And yes, while we’ve spent 80% of the process on those floor plans and desk layouts, designing the story of the building has been very exciting.

I hope that what we build here will be the place where my children decide to start their tech companies in 20 years.



Tips for Assessing Fit on the Front End


My favorite saying from mushy success guys is this: “Your success trajectory over the next 12-months is 99% determined by two things.  First by the quantity and type of books you read, and second by the people you meet.

With this in mind, are you intentional about who you meet, and how you spend your energy helping others?   I’ve found that I can’t help everyone.   Some folks don’t fit my personality or my high-energy MO. They don’t align with my core values or they drain my energy.   Given this law of the universe (that everyone isn’t a fit) combined with a calendar that stays overbooked, I now assess fit on the front-end of a relationship.

Here are some tips that work for me.

  • Respect to the calendar process – I use several tools to manage my calendar. When someone complains about their inability to schedule a meeting with me, they often sound as though I should apologize for having a busy  schedule.  This is a huge indicator of patience, respect, and seeing things through others’ eyes.  I can’t help these people because I wouldn’t be willing to introduce them to my network, because of the risk that they would treat them similarly.
  • Mode of communication – I hate the telephone. I prefer face-to-face meetings. For information transfer, e-mail is my preferred mode of communication.   Without debating the value of the phone, etc… It is important to note that different people prefer different modes of communicating, and when I’m building a relationship with someone, I like to know that I’ll be able to communicate with them in my own style.  It’s hard to build a relationship of value when two people prefer different modes of communication.
  • Attention to detail – When people show up the wrong day, week, or MONTH to their scheduled appointment with me, it’s a major red flag. DUUUHHH!   Sadly, this has happened most often when I’m meeting with college students to help them find career connections.  For some reason, kids are not taught to use a calendar.   I keep a large stick in the Village that I can use to bang them squarely on the head and suggest that to get a job, the first lesson is to learn how to manage your own schedule.
  • Aggressive WIIFM – These folks reek of selfishness like the sales guy at the conference who stayed out drinking until 6am reeks of booze.   They want to be sure I run through the checklist of things I can give them before our meeting so that I have everything lined up and ready.   It’s sad to see.  And yes, you can see (and smell) it coming from miles away.
  • Obvious stepping stone abuse – These are the folks who have looked at my LinkedIn profile, found a few VIP connections and want to spend an entire meeting asking me how I know so-and-so and what they have to do for an introduction.   To quote my favorite Monday Night Football saying: C’mooonnnn MAN! 
  • Negative Online personality – You will love this one. If you aren’t sure about someone, take a look at their twitter stream or Facebook posts. Count how many of their status updates are positive and how many are negative. This ratio will give a great read on someone’s personality type.

I proclaimed in the beginning of the year that my New Year’s Resolution for 2013 is to provide meaningful value to every person I meet with this year. So far, I feel that I have done a good job of this.  However, I’ve learned that not everyone can be helped at the same level. These front-end filters have been valuable in thinning the herd to the meetings where I can add real value.


Don’t Force It


Sometimes blog posts flow from my fingers like schmoozing from a politician’s lips. And sometimes they don’t.  This morning, I was stressing about a lack of queued up thoughts and ideas for the blog and I was fortunate enough to have a Duh moment where I told myself “Don’t force it.”

There’s no rush on most things we’re working on. Getting that next big client. Raising the money from the investor to take it to the next level. Finding that perfect portfolio company to invest in.   Everything we do becomes easier when we take 10 deep breaths and remind ourselves: “There is no rush. Don’t force it.”

Achieving this clarity in the heat of battle is powerful.

And sometimes, this clarity will even yield the thing you were trying to force in the first place. In this case… it yielded a blog post called “Don’t Force It.”   ;)


Stages of Entrepreneurship and Swinging for the Fences


Chipper Swining for the FenceAfter SxSW this year a blog post emerged from Austin’s Brett Hurt entitled “The State of Tech Entrepreneurship in Austin.”  I recommend all those in and around tech entrepreneurs to read this post. It’s not just about Austin. It’s about the stages of entrepreneurship, what it means to truly swing for the fences, and the challenges that many cities face (not just Austin) in growing this attitude.

Here are some of quick notes from the post.

  • The best way to bring the Valley mentality to your city is to send your best and brightest to the Valley. It’s an attitude and a way of doing things that can only be learned by being there. These folks will bring it back to your city.
  • There are stages of entrepreneurial businesses:
    • First stage – consulting or services. The most obvious, the easiest to launch. Limited potential to create economic impact on a large scale. Most first stage businesses in Austin (and Atlanta) are 20 people or less.
    • Second stage – a product based business, almost always investor backed. “Second stage businesses are far more valuable than first-stage businesses under almost any scenario. And if you care about creating a lot of jobs and economic ripples as an entrepreneur, you should focus on thinking bigger than the most obvious business opportunity in front of you…”
    • Third stage – a product-based business that has returned it’s investor capital and then some and is in a long-term phase of Growth. In Austin, Dell and Whole Foods are examples of third-stage entrepreneurial companies.  “These entrepreneurs represent the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – self-actualization – and numerous books are written about them.”
  • Hurt is convinced Austin is stuck in a first-stage entrepreneurial mentality. He shares the story of an entrepreneur who pitched him his plan to fund his product company with his successful consulting/services company.  He points out that none of the great product companies that impress us today were started with funds from a services business.   (In Atlanta, however, I have to point out that Mailchimp is exactly that– a great product that came from a few guys who were funding it with their consulting services.)
  • On going for a second stage product based company:   You have more energy in your 30’s than you will in your 40’s… and if you are this age, now is the time to “park” your first-stage ambitions for lifestyle and personal cash-flow  and swing for the fences.   If you miss the window to change gears, you will enter the vicious cycle where you need to sell more consulting business to fund your growing need to pivot to a product business and that will make you even more defocused.

I encourage everyone to read the post by Brett and ponder what this means for your city:



Young Entrepreneur Jon Birdsong, CEO of



Jon Birdsong, is one of everybody’s favorite young entrepreneurs in Atlanta. Having worked for multiple tech startups, gone through the famous TechStars Accelerator in Boulder, CO, and even founded several community organizations in Atlanta, @JonnyBird has taken the leap to start his own tech startup. is a sales process management software that helps drive compention among sales reps and bring better automation to tasks that happen to close deals. It’s good stuff in the works.

What do you do as an entrepreneur to balance your most important personal relationships (spouse, kids, family)?

Call, text, and make time for them. Ben Franklin has a famous line “friendships are always in need of constant repair” Prioritizing a call with a brother, a text convo with a friend is important or brunch with the girlfriend is important

What is your exercise routine?

50 pushups every night before I go to bed.
Then I run three to four miles 3-5 times a week.

What gives you the most personal energy?

Progress and traction. Doing something that works. There’s nothing more that motivates me than going down the right path and getting validation it’s succeeding.

What do you avoid because it drains your personal energy?

People who drain me.

How are you involved in the community?

Predominately two ways:

The Atlanta Startup Community. I write for and co-organize the monthly Atlanta Startup Village.

Families First: They are an organization focused on building families in and around the Atlanta area. Actually, we have a really fun event coming up on February 28th at Sweetwater Brewery. You should come!

Are you involved in a church or other religious organization? How do you think spirituality is important to your entrepreneurial success?

Spirituality is very important to an entrepreneurs’ success. How you build and grow your organization is a reflection of your mental and, I’d even go as far to say, your physical health.

What are your most proud moments regarding your own legacy?

Following a path that’s truly mine and…of course the future!

How do you find ways to help others and give back?

Outside of my work in the Atlanta Startup Community and Families First, I try to just listen. Listen to everybody. People always need someone to talk talk to and bounce ideas/problems/goals on. Listening to folks is a really powerful way to help.

What hobbies are important to you and why do they give you energy?

I try to play golf once every other week. It’s such a great way to apply the challenges and struggles of real life to sport. The bottom line, on every shot, you’ve got to dig deep and give it your all.

Do you have written personal core values, what are they?

I grew up with the Golden Rule being cemented in my head. Thanks Mom.

Do you have a personal mastermind group? Can you describe how they give you energy?

You know, I don’t. Or at least it’s not structured that way. I have folks who’s opinion I significantly respect and when I’m looking for guidance, they’re the first ones I go to. Anyone with energy emits energy — I like to hang out with high-energy folks.

What competitive advantages do you have as an individual that has made / will make you more successful than the guy you are competing against in business?

I genuinely like working with people. There’s nothing more exciting than building a team, tackling a problem, and having a ton of fun in the mean time. One quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower has resonated with me for quite some time: “leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he/she wants to do.”




True Students of Entrepreneurship


pianoIn the last 100 days, as I have been full throttle on studying how we can grow and accelerate the startup ecosystem in Atlanta, it has been a deep-dive observation on entrepreneurship, not just in our city, but in general.  One theme I’m starting to see is the dramatic differences between lifestyle entrepreneurs and serial entrepreneurs.

Seth Godin had a brilliant post recently:

Studying entrepreneurship without doing it

…is like studying the appreciation of music without listening to it.

The cost of setting up a lemonade stand (or whatever metaphorical equivalent you dream up) is almost 100% internal. Until you confront the fear and discomfort of being in the world and saying, “here, I made this,” it’s impossible to understand anything at all about what it means to be a entrepreneur. Or an artist.

In that sense, I’m starting to see that individuals who have a single profitable lifestyle company, generating piles of cash for their families aren’t as similar as you may think to the entrepreneurs who create company after company, after company.

When you think about it, how can they be?   If you have to solve each problem just once, for one particular situation, in one market, with one team, to serve one purpose– you don’t learn about the processes of solving those problems, you just solve the problems.

If you create one painting, are you in the same league as someone who paints for a living?

If you land a plane once, are you now a pilot?

If you learn Chopsticks on the piano, are you a pianist?

Building a team, attacking a market, building a product– lifestyle entrepreneurs learn how do it just for that one company in one situation.   The most impressive entrepreneurs I’ve met are the serial entrepreneurs. They  learn these lessons beyond a single instance. They are true students of entrepreneurship, not just students of one company.

Serial entrepreneurship isn’t for everybody. I am not promoting that you aren’t an entrepreneur if you don’t pursue multiple companies.

What I am promoting are these two morals:

a) as an ecosystem, it is important for us to recognize the different types of entrepreneurs.

b) as individuals running companies, self-awareness of our own entrepreneurial journey will give us the right stuff to improve.





Brer Entrepreneur in The New Wild West


Brer RabbitI received quite a few offline comments back on my post about Insightpool’s ability to automate relevant conversations between companies and individuals. Some were excited; they wanted an introduction to the founders. Others (several) expressed concern about the Minority-Report’esque privacy challenges with social media tools like this.

In the Internet today, we are at the early stages of the New Wild West. The platform is creating new opportunities to connect, learn, and grow by the hour. These opportunities will bring with them new problems and challenges. New grand challenges are food for entrepreneurs.

Challenges mean opportunities to solve them.  Conflict and uncertainty in society are the “briar patch” for little ol Brer Entrepreneurs. (if that doesn’t makes sense to you, shame on you, go here.)

A simplistic example follows, directly from the social marketing automation discussion:

The conversation went like this: “Do I have to assume that everything I say in my online social networks is always going to be available for global consumption? What if I want to have extremely private conversations using these tools?  What if my employer sees me say something that I wouldn’t want them to see? What if an insurance company uses something I say against me?”

The non-entrepreneur, aka common sense answer: “Well just accept that it is what it is and if you don’t want it seen, don’t type it.”

The entrepreneur, “boldly go” answer: “Sounds like you see a problem that needs solving. Maybe you aren’t the only one who sees the problem. Go build something to get you where you want to go and maybe others will see value in it as well.”

As we enter the New Wild West, it will pay to be Antifragile. Entrepreneurship in it’s most awesome, inspirational form is fueled by antifragility.

Oh, and please, please, don’t throw ME into the briar patch!



Automating Relevance – Awesome Startup Insightpool with Inspirational Ideas


I rarely write about specific startup companies on this blog, but lately, I just can’t get this one out of my head, because their ideas are so potentially helpful to so many professionals and businesses.

Insightpool is a startup in the Atlanta Tech Village that is working to crack the code on automating relevant interactions on twitter and other social media.   What does that mean?

I’ll give you some examples and you’ll see why I think they are working on something special.

This morning I heard an interview with Rep. Paul Ryan on the radio and I was really impressed with him. So I decided to shoot out a tweet giving him a plug.  Nothing much happened from that tweet other than a few favorites from my own network.  But what if @RepPaulRyan’s office had a tool that enabled them to listen very closely to the entire twitter-verse for mentions like that, and then not only Follow, and Retweet me, but somehow engage me in a discussion about something relevant to their work.   This is what Insightpool is working to crack.

Or even more relevant — let’s say I decide to start working in the yard tomorrow, and I mention on Twitter that the kids could use a new swing set.   What if @TheHomeDepot could see that (without me mentioning them by name), and shoot me some links to stuff in my local store that I could go pick up on special. Or even hotter– what if they sent me a friendly discount code that is only for me, only for one day, only for the stuff that I need.  Then what if they saw that I used the discount code to buy some swing accessories, followed up with me the next day to ask how it went.  What if they even asked me for a photo of the kids on the new swing set.

That is some cool stuff, and with the work of cool tech startups like Insightpool, we’re headed in that direction. Can’t wait!

ps. If my friends in Vinings over at are reading this and haven’t already reached out to Insightpool, it’s  Happy swing set building!


Raising Money — What I Mean by Venture Energy


Recently, I had a conversation with an entrepreneur about whether or not to raise early stage capital for his business. What I found interesting was that he was only considering an outside investor as a source of money.  In his methodical pros/cons approach, the only upsides he listed to taking money (as opposed to bootstrapping) were related to dollars and economics.

I worked to make the point that he should seek out an investor the same way he seeks out business partners. The right investor can change your trajectory in so many ways beyond your balance sheet and payroll.

This was my silly way to make the point:

Assume you have a startup in the social media space. What if you took a $1.00 investment from one of these guys: Jack Dorsey, Dick Costolo, or Mark Zuckerberg.   You put him on your Board. You put out a press release.  You have him thinking about your company and making, say 1 a minimum relevant introduction per month for your company.  You have quarterly Board meetings where he and others sit in a room and talk about nothing but how to make your company better.

Consider what kind of introductions would he be making.  Consider what that level of PR would do for your business. Consider if you had a problem with XYZ, how much easier, faster it would be to solve it with one of these guys on your team, working for your company. Consider the people they meet with on a daily basis and what it would cost you to have a rep get those same contacts and have a relationship with that network.

This is what I mean when I say that startups should recognize the value of “Venture Energy” beyond “Venture Capital.” The right investor brings an efficiency of the output-to-forward-motion ratio that can make a huge difference. Just be sure this goes into the equation when deciding to raise money and selecting the right investor.




Cade McDonald – Mr. Positive


CadeMcdonaldMr. Positive, as he’s known in many circles, aka Cade McDonald, is another entrepreneur I admire and respect immensely. I have learned a lot from Cade and am honored to call him my friend. Cade is the Founder & Chairman of, an uber successful online retailer of all things that help with allergies. He’s now found another big deposit of entrepreneurial energy and is a Partner in a Venture Capital firm in Atlanta, United Capital.  Following on yesterday’s post, Cade is also a major keystone individual in the Atlanta entrepreneurial ecosystem.   I am thankful to Cade for answering some of the questions that I hope will inspire others as they have done for me.

  • What do you do as an entrepreneur to balance your most important personal relationships (spouse, kids, family)? 
    I am there for my wife and kids unconditionally.  Family comes first for me.  If I have to miss a dinner, a breakfast, or a bedtime routine, I make it up.  I make an effort to be a good example to my kids and my wife by putting my phone away when I am at home.  I do not miss school, church or after school activity functions.
  • What is your exercise routine? 
    I have a bad back from playing golf.  In the warmer months, March – November, I swim 1500-2000 yards 4 times per week.  In the off season I walk / run 2 times per week.
  • What gives you the most personal energy? 
    My positive attitude and other positive people.  Getting things done.
  • What do you avoid because it drains your personal energy?  Negative people, negative situations, inefficiency and latency.
  • How are you involved in the community? 
    I recently accepted a position on the board of EO and hope to have the opportunity to help other entrepreneurs.  I am on the golf tournament committee at my golf club and I am coaching my older daughters soccer team.  From time to time I help my wife teach Sunday school.
  • Are you involved in a church or other religious organization? How do you think spirituality is important to your entrepreneurial success? 
    Yes, my wife and I are members of Peachtree Presbyterian Church.  We also enjoy listening to Andy Stanley’s series at Buckhead Church.  Spirituality is very important to my entrepreneurial success.  First of all you have to have faith that you can accomplish the near impossible.  Second you have to believe and understand that so many things are out of your hands that you can do absolutely nothing about.  Third, attitude is everything.  Through the music, sermons and fellowship at our church I am constantly learning and maintaining my positive attitude.  I am so lucky and so blessed and I know that everything is going to work out.
  • What are your most proud moments regarding your own legacy?  Obviously finding my wife Ali and having our two beautiful daughters are the three best things that have ever happened to me.  To me my happy, healthy marriage is what I am most proud of.  Having someone so supportive and enjoyable to be around in my life enhances everything.  Secondly being a father to two daughters is something I am proud of.  While there is no such thing as perfect parenting, with the help of my wife, our kids’ teachers, our church and our friends we are doing our best to be great parents.
  • How do you find ways to help others and give back? 
    This is an area I can improve upon greatly.  I help steer other entrepreneurs to the best of my ability.  I encourage them to get involved in organizations like EO.
  • What hobbies are important to you and why do they give you energy? 
    I love golf though I do not play much.  It takes too long and the guilt factor of being away from my family or my work.  I am a passionate amateur photographer.  I love photographing my kids and freezing moments in time.  My organizational skills also come into play here, I have almost 100,000 photographs spread across 12 external hard drives.  I love post processing digital images and I love sharing them with friends and family.  Photography gives me energy because I know I can always improve, learn more and become a better photography.  I also love that my five year old enjoys taking pictures with me.
  • Do you have written personal core values, what are they?
    I do not.  If I did they would like something like this.  Do not lie, ever.  Respect your wife.  Do something nice for your wife today.  Dream big.  Make time in your life for your dreams.  Don’t do things you don’t love.
  • Do you have a personal mastermind group? Can you describe how they give you energy? 
    I am blessed to be involved with EO and to have a forum of people who know absolutely everything about my personal and professional life.  It gives me great comfort that I can and have taken things to them and know that I will not be judged.
  • What competitive advantages do you have as an individual that has made / will make you more successful than the guy you are competing against in business? 
    My first job out of college was as a cold caller at a brokerage firm.  That experience taught me that I can have a comfortable conversation with anyone.  I am hyper-organized and hyper-anal and because of those two things, I miss nothing.


Thanks Cade!



Keystones in Atlanta – The Spark that Will Drive Us Forward


honeybee2Personally, the most exciting idea in the Rainforest book by Hwang and Horowitt is what is shared in today’s post.    This is the “how to” part of a successful startup and innovation ecosystem. This is the meat. Those who know me, know that I’m all about action and movement, and now, if you are here in Atlanta and share the vision of accelerating our startup ecosystem, you will be excited too.

Arguably, the most important player in a thriving startup ecosystem is the Keystone. Keystone species are those like honeybees —  they are a critical part of the ecosystem because they bring together ingredients that otherwise wouldn’t come together.   Keystones are the individuals and organizations that help us overcome the social barriers I discussed earlier.   Keystones are brokers of social trust… an introduction from the right person in your network comes with automatic trust and helps you move the relationship along to productivity faster.

Keystones are able to help put the right people in the right places at the right time. They assemble teams that build companies, they bring the people with capital to the table, they take great ideas and give them the spark that is needed to birth traction.

Let’s evaluate the DNA of keystone individuals. This will help you identify them, seek them out, or perhaps even become one in Atlanta.

DNA of Keystone Individuals

Integrative.  These people are completely comfortable reaching across social boundaries. There is nothing held back for introductions. They aren’t keeping score and they aren’t only playing for one team. They play for the ecosystem.  Keystones are genuinely open, authentic,  and generous.  Because of this, they can operate and function highly in any social circle.

Influential. We know those people who are able to convince people to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do.  In an innovation ecosystem, we know it takes irrational decisions. It takes people on fire. To accelerate innovation, it takes some convincing. There are hundreds of people standing on the edge of the pool, wanting to jump in, but they just can’t overcome the fear.  They know life will be better when they jump, but without some coaxing, it just won’t happen.  (Not just speaking of wannaprenuers here, but also engineers, sales people, and others who want to leave a cushy corporate job to be employee #5 in a startup.)

Impactful. Keystones make things happen. They don’t make intros just for entertainment or political purposes. They expect their intro to turn into business or at least a relationship that matters to both individuals.


Keystone Organizations

In addition to individuals who play the keystone role in the ecosystem, there is also a critical need for organizations to scale the role of connections.   Before we discuss some specific keystone organizations in Atlanta, let’s consider the characteristics of these.  (Quoted directly from the book, because they say it the best).

Characteristics of Keystone Organizations:

- “Facilitate access and connections to people with talent, ideas, knowledge, capital and opportunities by breaking down traditional hierarchies and reaching across social boundaries.”

– “Taking actions that enable greater collaboration between individuals so they can better work on new projects and initiatives together.”

– “Serving as filters for high quality connections which in turn helps them maintain a strong role as a respected hub in the system.”

– “Validating and propagating cultural behaviors [and values] that are conducive for innovation.”

Keystone Organizations in Atlanta

You won’t be surprised that I believe the Atlanta Tech Village is destined to become a huge keystone organization in Atlanta.  Our core values:  Dream Big, Pay it Forward, Work Hard Play Hard, and Be Nice, all fit with the role of a keystone organization. Our mission statement is to accelerate the connection between ideas, talent, and capital in Atlanta.  For me, it’s a luxury that Hwang and Horotiw have so nicely defined the role and characteristics of a keystone organization, because they have provided us at the ATV with our roadmap to our identity.

Other existing keystone organizations in Atlanta are numerous and doing great work. Some of my favorites: Hypepotamus,  RoamEntrepreneurs Organization (EO)Georgia Tech Business NetworkMetro Atlanta Chamber of CommerceMIT Enterprise forumB2BCampAtlanta Startup Village,

There are other big players that serve as keystones that you may not realize in the context of the ones I’ve mentioned, but are vital players. One of the examples from the Valley, that is also starting to have a helpful presence in Atlanta in Silicon Valley Bank (SVB).  Even with a relatively small presence in Atlanta, the SVB folks are already doing a phenomenal job of what they do so well out West and that is: make connections. They understand that helping the ecosystem helps their business. They are truly in the business of helping startups and it shows.

Others include Law firms and Accounting firms.  Our friend, John Yates (aka the “godfather of dealmaking in Atlanta”) and the team at Morris Manning & Martin have served the keystone role for many years and continue to do so in the new day. Other law firms in Atlanta that I have come in contact with through the Village also have great introductions to make for anyone in the startup ecosystem. Just a few include 360 Venture LawFisherBroylesNelson Mullins, and DLA Piper.

Note that I’m not necessarily endorsing these folks as great lawyers or banks (although they all are), I’m endorsing them as great connectors. When entrepreneurs chose their bank, lawyer, CPA, and office space, considering their ability to create connections to customers, talent, and capital must come into the decision process.

Last point on keystone organizations– it’s important to highlight some organizations that are not good keystones. These are organizations that look to place tight control over their connections or their value. The Rainforest book makes the point that technology transfer centers (usually run by Universities and governments) are ineffective keystone organizations because they treat their intermediary role as a permanent one rather than a temporary facilitator.  I would also argue that associations who become overrun with sales folks and service providers lack the ability to effectively connect people because there are too many people trying to feed their families in the room. These people, by nature, aren’t able to act generously and fit in the DNA of a keystone individual of being integrative, impactful, and influential.


Keystone individuals and keystone organizations are in constant motion. I encourage anyone working in or around startups in Atlanta to seek them out and become good friends with them. These individuals move so fast that new connections are formed every day. Help them and they will help you.  It’s the unwritten law of the rainforest.

Go get ‘em, Atlanta.


Kicking Pavlov’s Dog – by Russell Holcombe


HolcombeThis is why I love entrepreneurs.  Russell Holcombe is one of the successful entrepreneurs I planned to feature in this series, and upon accepting my offer to write something, he decided to throw my questions out the window and create his own guest post about entrpereneurial energy.   I love that he decided to stick it to the man… and I’m the man!  I hope you  enjoy Russell’s post… and if so, his first book is featured on my Books page.

Kicking Pavlov’s Dog

We have all heard the story of Pavlov’s dog. He trained dogs to salivate when the bell rang by promising them food. This natural response is wired into our bodies; we all learn to salivate when the bell rings. Unfortunately, Mother Nature wired us for small, frequent rewards.

Ask anyone to make the choice of making $100,000 per year versus nothing for nine years and then receive $1 million in year 10, and almost everyone chooses option 1. After all, if the food disappeared for nine years, most of us would stop salivating and go find a real job. Only the entrepreneur finds joy in the latter journey. We are in the home run business, which means the bell rings every day, we keep salivating, and the reward is delayed until tomorrow. It would drive a dog mad and most other human beings as well. We violate human nature and it leads to many bad habits at home.

Each day of the entrepreneurial journey is dictated by some massive bell ringing without an immediate reward. It is unnatural. And long term unhealthy. The entrepreneur’s mind makes decisions that violate the natural homeostasis of the body with the constant release of stress hormones called cortisol’s. These build up over time and damage the body. When I was writing my first book, Tanya sat me down one night and explained how one more vodka soda was not going to make it go away. She was right and it took some energy to find a new way to handle the anxiety of creating something from scratch. Is it good enough, will it be helpful, can I make people feel what I want them to feel? All of these thoughts are emotionally disfiguring.

I have discovered that talking about it helped me handle it. In one study, patients that spent 15 minutes a day writing about their daily troubles felt better about their prognosis even though their outcome was all but predestined. This is why support groups like Entrepreneur Organization and collaborative workspaces like Atlanta Tech Village and ROAM are so critical to the entrepreneur. Getting it out of our head prepares us to handle the ringing bells tomorrow. Finding a place where someone can listen to your thoughts is critical to health and happiness at home.