Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Scheduling Serendipity

 

Unless you haven’t heard of the Atlanta Tech Village yet, you have probably heard us talk about engineering serendipity. What we are realizing is that planning and executing the development of an ecosystem of innovation isn’t possible. It’s not like executing a single company. It’s much more complex. Thus, we have to focus on making sure random, completely chaotic things happen.

One thing that I struggle with is my schedule. Most of my days are scheduled wall-to-wall. I seem to never have unscheduled time.

When I do find the random unscheduled block, I try to avoid the natural instinct to sit down and catch up on e-mail. E-mail can be done at home before the kids wake up.  Instead, I take advantage of the environment and walk around the Village to “just chat.” Maybe it’s annoying to some folks when I do this, but it’s such a rare opportunity for me to just wander aimlessly. It’s like a mini-vacation in the middle of the day for me.   The cool thing about this is this: every time I wander around and chat without an objective, I get into some productive and meaningful conversations. Stuff happens! Serendipitously!  This is the magic that the high desnity, high energy environment is all about.

I’m going to make it a goal to put some time on the calendar to hold as unscheduled time. It’s no fun to tell people I can’t get a schedule time for 2-3 weeks out, but this supply/demand of schedulable time issue seems to be a permanent fixture of my current chosen trajectory, so I’ll continue dealing with it the best I can.

 

Forbes Article on the Atlanta Tech Village – by Victor Hwang

 

Forbes.com article headerLast month I was honored to be interviewed by Victor Hwang for his column on Forbes.com.

I won’t put the whole article here, but here is the opener and I encourage you to check it out.  I love the opening of the article:

Atlanta’s New Startup Hub Is A Rainforest, Literally – Forbes.com

Some lucky authors get their books turned into movies.  Others get television series.  Or maybe amusement rides.

Me?  My book is being turned into an entire building.  That’s right, 304 pages of text transformed into 103,000 gleaming square feet of awesomeness.

Yeah, I think it’s pretty cool.

How did this happen?  Earlier this year, Johnson Cook reached out to me over Twitter.  He explained that my book, The Rainforest, had inspired the way he was designing his startup hub, Atlanta Tech Village.  The book provided him a useful framework on how innovative ecosystems thrive, how startup communities excel.  So Johnson decided to become the “Chief Rainforest Evangelist” (his phrase) in Atlanta.  He wanted to apply the Rainforest model as a roadmap for growing the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

That’s where most people would be satisfied.  A few weeks later, however, Johnson came back to me again.  This time, he wrote: “I have a new idea… a big idea.”  

Read the full article here.

 

Atlanta Ventures Accelerator – Kick off Stats

 

Since we officially launched the Atlanta Ventures Accelerator 3 weeks ago, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Here are a few quick stats as of last week, so a solid two weeks of data. No doubt there is an early adopter spike and we will see the numbers fall off and stabilize, but it has been fun so far.

In the first two weeks over 40 applications have been received and reviewed.

We held in-person pitch meetings with ~50% of these.

Of the meetings:

- 50% weren’t a fit

- 30% could be a fit, but need some more time

- 20% were good enough to schedule a second meeting (7% of total applications received)

I believe we’ll have 2-3 additional companies in the Accelerator within 30-60 days. It’s a fun time in the Atlanta Tech Village!     The metrics are great so far and much better than we expected.  Talking about the resource rich ecosystem is one thing, but those who know me, know that what I really like is playing in the dirt with these startups. I’m excited to see some awesome companies built in Atlanta in the next 5 years.

 

 

Entrepreneur Profile – Craig Hyde, CEO of Rigor

Continuing my occasional series of successful entrepreneurs sharing their thoughts on personal questions about how they build the person that builds their business, we have a good one.     Craig Hyde is the CEO of Rigor.com – a rising star in web performance monitoring companies on the Atlanta tech scene.   I have the pleasure of seeing Craig’s face every day in the Atlanta Tech Village.

What is your exercise routine?
I work out early in the morning (5:30 or 6:30am) before I start my day, otherwise I won’t get to it at all. I aim to get in the gym at least 3x a week and do CrossFit to pack as much into a workout as possible. [Insert plug for Dan MacDougald and CrossFit Atlanta.]

What gives you the most personal energy?
Any challenge. As an entrepreneur, I love when we beat the competition. On the technical side, I love figuring out hacks and workarounds for difficult problems. I also get all pumped up whenever my team mates, Hubert and Kyle, show off their new Rigor creations.

What do you avoid because it drains your personal energy?
Negativity and status quo.

How are you involved in the community?
I’m involved in too many community organizations to count. Keeping a peer network of others who are working on similar things is invaluable to me. A few organizations that I am involved in include:

  • EO Accelerator
  • Atlanta Tech Village
  • Atlanta CEO Council
  • ATDC Select
  • MIT Forum
  • TAG
  • Peachtree Toastmasters

How do you find ways to help others and give back?
I’ve gained a lot from others over the years, so I make it a point to pay it forward when I can. Here are some recent activities I’ve been a part of:

Paying it forward has the added benefit of helping me reflect and better learn from past experiences.

Do you have written personal core values, what are they?
Now I do:

  • Be optimistic
  • Never burn bridges
  • Give first and expect nothing in return
  • Work harder
  • Have fun
  • Get better

Do you have a personal mastermind group? Can you describe how they give you energy?
I’ve got a number of them – All of which are invaluable. Most notable are the connections that I’ve made are through Georgia Tech, EO, and the Atlanta Ventures team.

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’ve carved out a niche for myself by learning how to bridge the gap between people and technology, where most people focus on one or the other. Also, I tend to aim high in life, and occasionally I’m lucky enough to hit my target. Dream big!

 

 

Executing an Introduction

 

I introduce people to each other every day. Most people handle these introductions with grace but sometimes I notice areas for improvement. Here are some tips when you are introduced to a new contact. This is mostly framed around startups being introduced to mentors, investors, and potential first customers, but applies for most meetings.

- Face-to-face meetings are far better than phone calls for first meetings. Assuming you are both in the same metropolitan area, do your best to meet in person. It’s super hard to build rapport over the phone or even video chat.

- Assume the other person has more to offer you than you have for them. I always try to assume that a new connection can help me more than I can help them. Occasionally I’m proven wrong with folks trying to sell me hard or push for a job, but I think it’s better to assume the opposite and wait for the evidence otherwise. This pays off by putting you in the right mental state of humility and an open mind.

- Be yourself. When meeting someone for the first time, it’s especially important to be authentic. Don’t exaggerate your success, traction, or awesomeness. Just be real, open, and direct. This is refreshing and helps accelerate a connection from “contact” to “relationship.”

- Connect the dots yourself!  In the Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO), there is a culture of only speaking from experience and not giving your peers advice. Assume that new mentors and connections will do the same. Be ready to connect the dots and learn from their experience.  Occasionally, you may want to ask for direct advice on your specific issue, but 9 times out of 10, the person on the other side of the table can’t possibly know all of the details of your situation. You can receive more value simply asking for their experiences in the area and extract your own actionable data from that experience share.

- Go out of your way to meet on their terms.  Be flexible. If they prefer to do coffee instead of lunch or beer instead of breakfast, do your best to meet on their terms.

- Follow up, follow up, follow up.  First, follow up with the new connection. Don’t let action items get away from you.   Be sure to thank them for their time.   Also, follow up with the connector. Thank them for the introduction, but also tell them something meaningful that came from the contact. Perhaps there is another connection that can be made for you based on what you learned from this connection.

Introductions make everything go faster. I encourage entrepreneurs, investors, and job hunters to simply meet more people. It’s very simple advice.   Each time you meet someone, ask them for an introduction to another 1 or 2 people you should meet. If you do this right, you can accelerate everything in your world in a very short period of time.

 

 

 

How to Get Hired by a Startup

 

As Allen Nance says, Tech is the New Hollywood, so naturally the tech startup scene is attracting lots of talented people. However, not everyone is a naturally born entrepreneur. Or even if they are, there are many who are self-aware enough to realize that working with/for a tech startup team is a wise  Act One of their tech career.     Today I will share some tips for anyone looking to join up with a tech startup.

Do something awesome on your own. The core team of a startup must all be entrepreneurial to some extent. The best way for someone to learn that you are entrepreneurial is to SEE you being entrepreneurial. Start a meetup. Throw parties.  Write a blog. Build things for non-profits. Build things for yourself. Just because you aren’t going to start a company single handedly doesn’t mean you can’t show off entrepreneurial traits.

Be patient. This is a boring one, but it’s so true with startups.  Timing growth is the trickiest aspect of building a great company.   Timing growth = when to hire.  That’s 90% of timing growth. If they hire too early, they burn too much cash. Hiring too late means missed opportunities. You need to be extremely painfully sensitive to the fact that startups need to act on their own schedule, not on yours. You need to be there waiting patiently, yet visible.  Forcing a timeline on a startup that ends up hiring you too early is ill advised.

Arrogance is nauseating.   Joining a startup team is like going on a long road trip together. You will be stuck with each other, and only each other for quite a while. An attitude of “I will help these poor saps finally get something done” is the worst attitude.  Even worse, I see this attitude most often from large company execs (EVP of Something and some Fortune 50 company) saying: “I ran a team of 1200 engineers building the worlds most sophisticated widgetApp and generating billions in revenue, so working with these two guys who have no revenue will be a cake walk.”  First, you are wrong.   Second, you won’t get hired by a startup that cares about the right things.   Humility is a much more valuable hiring asset than arrogance.

Stand on your own two feet financially. Let’s be honest, even if a startup is squeezing out enough revenue to pay you a salary, things could go south at any time. Even a funded startup can run out of money. Whether you make it known or not, I advise people to have their own financial runway just in case. If you need to skip salary one month or take some equity as a tradeoff for a lower salary, you have so much more freedom to do what is right for the company.  This freedom will give you the confidence to make sound decisions, no panic, and know that the worst case scenario is manageable.

Be involved in the community. Most startups recognize the value in solid relationships with other startups.  Not just founders and CEOs but sales guys, engineers, and marketing folks, all realize the value of community and relationships.  We all learn from each other. You can be much more valuable to  any startup if you are involved in the community as well.

Get connected. The first batch of customers for most startups typically comes from first and second degree relationships. In Stage 1, before a startup has reached a predictable repeating sales process, relationships are the top of the funnel. The more close relationships you have, particularly in the industry of your desired startup, the more value you will add out of the gate.

Working in a startup team is an awesome experience. It isn’t for everyone, but the ones who have been there understand how rewarding it can be in the end!

Now, if you’re looking for some startups to meet TODAY you are in luck: this Monday, the Atlanta Startup Village is at 7pm  get out there and shake some hands.

 

 

Atlanta Tech Village – Summer 2013 Construction Update Prezi

 

Today I walked through the floorplans for the planned renovation of the Atlanta Tech Village. Lots of people asked me to share the Prezi, so here you go.

(If the embed player doesn’t work, you can see the Prezi directly here.)
By the way, this was my first live use of Prezi and I loved it! I will never think about slides again, and I encourage you to try it out for any presentations or even mind-mapping ideas.

Automation For Real.

 

0001-KITT-InteriorWe are entering an era of awesome automation.  Now that the world is largely operating via the internet and Big Data is starting to give us the ability to make real-time decisions and predictions about our macro and micro universes, true automation is becoming a reality.

Startups thinking about automation are thinking in the right direction.  You just need to remember that in order for automation to achieve maximum value, we need it to fit into existing workflows instead of creating more work. Aside from one-time setup tasks, if an “automated” tool causes even one extra click or login, I don’t consider it fully automated.

Some great automation examples:

Aria by Fitbit  My smart Wifi scale is what got me thinking about this. This thing is so awesome because other than 20 minutes to set it up, I don’t do anything different. I just stand on the scale every morning like I always have. But now it stores it automatically, including BMI, and I  always have a history.

Streak  my gMail based CRM.  Yes, I have an extra step if I want to log e-mails, but the step in the right direction here is that the entire interface is within gMail.  It’s essentially an interfaceless platform. My boxes and stages fit right into the gMail interface and I never have an additional login or click out to another site.  Even better, the mobile app for Streak pulls your inbox into the CRM. So you’re using email inside the platform that manages relationships. It’s a new way of thinking about integrated platforms, but it is so simple and ultimately makes perfect sense.

- Smart Alarm App – I am now hooked on this app for my iPhone that measures and tracks my sleep cycles (by movement) and will only wake me up at just the right time between cycles. Nothing new to my process– I still set an alarm when going to bed, I still plug in my iPhone, and set it down. The only difference is that I set it on the bed beside my pillow face down instead of on the night stand. Now I feel so much better when I wake up and have awesome data about my sleep quality.     (PRO TIP: It does actually record all the noises during the night and you can play them back on a timeline. Good if you need evidence in a “how loud you snore” discussion with your spouse but not so good if you don’t want your pillow talk recorded!)

Nest  I don’t have one yet (hint, hint, click, click, hint, hint). But this is the “learning thermostat” for your house (Or my house?). You just adjust your temperature for a few weeks to be comfortable and it will eventually do it yourself. If you’re like me, you already adjust your thermostat constantly (even if you have a schedule set on it) so with the Nest, after you do it a few times, you will realize you don’t need to anymore. It will think for you.

- IFTTT – (Stands for: If This Then That) Of course all techies know this as the ultimate personal automation app.  It allows you to set triggers and build automated actions between the apps you use. I have it set to copy photos in my iPhone Photostream to my Dropbox (since I consider this my “master” for photo storage), and I have it set to download photos I’m tagged in on Facebook to my Dropbox as well. I’m only dabbling so far compared to the true power of IFTTT.

One bad automation example:

My Infiniti JX can almost drive itself. It won’t rear-end another car, it will pull you back into the lane if you drift. It will even stop and start acceleration through rush hour traffic maintaining perfect distance behind the car in front of you using radar cruise control. However, big failure point—- you have to TURN ON all those great features with a button the steering wheel. They are neat features, but they aren’t truly helpful automation just yet because when I need it most will undoubtedly be the time that I forget to turn it on. (And no you can’t set it to be on by default, a big problem).

I love automation. I can’t wait to see the things that are automated for us over the next 10 years.

 

Fewer KPI’s Please

In Atlanta Ventures portfolio and accelerator companies, we are big believers in having and following a quarterly One Page Strategic Plan (OPSP).   One of the parts of the OPSP is the quarterly goals. These are the numbers and KPI’s section of your plan. Of course, SMART goals are important, but this post isn’t about what the goals are. Instead it’s about how many of them you have.   Our preference is that you have as few as possible. Here are the top goals we like for Year 1 of a startup. Usually startups should choose 3 to 4 of these.

- A Revenue or Users Goal– if you aren’t charging yet, a simple goal of how many users are on the product. If you are charging, then MRR is the no-brainer goal to focus on.

- A Product Goal– this is typically a product utilization goal (how are the users maximizing what your tool can do for them), but can also be development goals (number of springs with 100% completion, etc..)

- A Marketing Goal– web site visitors, twitter followers, demo signups, whitepaper downloads, etc..

- A Culture Goal– be creative with this one: X service projects completed together, raise money for a non-profit, run a half marathon together

When you set these goals, one of them should be explicitly stated to be THE most important goal of the quarter. Typically this is the revenue or number of users goal.

I know that some folks challenge having a revenue goal when you’re funded, saying that getting free users is more important to the value of your company. That may be true if you’re Twitter, but I don’t know any Twitters in Atlanta. In Atlanta, to make this thing take off, you need revenue. So focus, and go get it.

Woops, I digressed… I promised not to talk about WHAT the KPI’s are, yet I couldn’t resist getting that plug in for my favorite KPI.

 

 

 

Team Dynamics in Investor Pitches

 

It’s no secret that investors seek the right people more than the right ideas. We invest in hustlers who understand their market and share our core values.  It’s pretty simple.

Most entrepreneurs pitching know that “people matter” and are smart to be sure I understand the background of each co-founder when they pitch. Sometimes it’s on a slide deck, occasionally it’s full resumes of each team member (please don’t, by the way), and other times it’s just a great story in the first meeting.   Yes, the individuals do matter and this information is important. However, there is another element that too many teams miss.

The dynamic of the team is just as important as the credentials of the individuals.   How does the team get along?  Do they generally appear to enjoy each others’ company?   It should be obvious that you must L-O-V-E your team in a startup. When doing a startup together, you’re about to spend a ton of time together.  It is 100% likely that you will disagree on something and have to deal with it. Here are some team dynamics I’ve observed:

Laughter.  There’s nothing better than genuine laughter in a meeting. Teams that have fun together and connect with others are awesome.   Other times, laughter is a nervous reaction, fake, and forced. It’s so obvious when it’s not real.

*How* you Interrupt each other.    I love the teams that finish each others sentences. These are the ones that are on the same page and it shows.  Then there are the teams who interrupt each other without grace and even show that the person who was interrupted is frustrated. If you can’t pull it together and polish your shtick in an investor meeting, your team that you’re about to build will surely see the friction too.

Correcting each other. Some details are ok to have wrong.  My personal preference if your cofounder is in a pitch meeting and says something incorrect is to just let it go.   Correcting someone is a delicate social maneuver.   My suggestion is to only correct a team member in a pitch meeting if the incorrect data is vitally important to the conversation.

Naive followers of an overly optimistic leader. Many CEOs are rockstars and their team is on board with them all the way and they are in tune to each other.  Other times, I’ve seen a CEO who is a great salesman, who has obviously made big promises to the team, and from the outside, it’s plain as day that what they’ve promised isn’t going to happen. This one is hard to watch, but it’s obvious to investors.  If you are a CEO be humble enough to find out how your team feels about you and the mission. If you’ve joined a CEO and have some doubts, be brave enough to voice them with the CEO before going into an investor meeting. It will be a healthy for you and if you decide to stay, the critical step forward will be noticeable.

Basic southern courtesy. As a southern boy, this seems obvious. Holding the door for someone.  Silencing your cell phone. Not answering your phone as it rings during your pitch (yes, seriously it has happened).

Team dynamics are critical. This isn’t a tip that is intended to help you put on a better show for investors.  You can’t fake this stuff. Rather, I hope this is a tip that you will use to evaluate whether you’re in the right place. If you are, come see me.

 

 

This Pilot’s Flying Nightmares

 

powerlinesAs a pilot, of course I have dreams about flying airplanes.

Although, occasionally they aren’t happy dreams.  Fairly often I’ll have a nightmare about flying an airplane that causes me to wake up very happy to have only been flying a bed for 8 hours.

I think most people would assume these nightmares are about engine fires, thunderstorms, mechanical failures, and just crashing in general. But turns out, none of these enter into my nightmares.

In my flying nightmares, I usually don’t crash. I normally end up landing the plane just fine and everybody walks away without even knowing there was anything out of the ordinary about the flight.

This is what my flying nightmares include:

I make bad decisions.  Every pilot secretly wants to buzz through a canyon or a crowded skyline… low and fast, impressing everyone on the ground.  In my dreams, every time I do this, I realize how stupid I am to be in the situation and desperately want my altitude back. I want to be far from the ground. I have action movie sequences of heading towards a canyon wall and just not having enough power to pull up at a safe rate and barely missing.   Same goes for power lines that sneak up (hard to see) and even flocks of birds that surprise you.   If I wouldn’t have decided to fly low, I wouldn’t be in that situation. It’s the worst feeling possible.

I include others. The worst part of these bad decisions dreams are the stress that is on me knowing I’ve put my family or friends in the plane with me.

I get behind the curve. This is when things are happening faster than I’m prepared for them to happen. Predictable, rehearsed, and controlled is the way to fly an airplane and survive. It’s the worst for a pilot. You cannot get “behind the airplane,” or it will punish you.

I didn’t prepare. In the most recent nightmare (last night, per the trigger of this post), we had decided that piling in the whole family and some friends in the plane to go somewhere fun was a good idea.  Turns out we were terribly overweight and I hadn’t run the most simple weight and balance calculation that every pilot knows is a big DUH!   I was thus, commanding a plane full of people that weighed more than the poor engine and airframe could pull into the air. The fictional event was survived, but so stupid it left me stressed out when I woke up.

The entrepreneurial metaphor: sometimes the things to be afraid of aren’t what you think or expect.  The dangers certainly aren’t usually spectacular. The things to fear most are the little things that you already know. Preparation and self awareness are the best avoidance strategies for these dangers.

 

 

 

One Thing – Lesson from my Taping at Atlanta Tech Edge

 
WesMoss-Taping-ATE

Yesterday I had a fun experience.  I was on set at the taping of Atlanta’s new show about tech companies called Atlanta Tech Edge.  I’ve enjoyed participating on the advisory board of the show already, but yesterday my involvement went to a new level as I sat down in front of the camera and were interviewed by the show’s host, Wes Moss.

The first thing that everyone says who has gone before me to do these interviews in the WXIA studio is that time goes by so fast.   It’s a 6 minute interview, which, in TV land is a long time, but for an entrepreneur who wants to talk about his all consuming mission… that’s a millisecond.   So a friend who has been PR trained gave me this advice:

Be sure that you decide in advance the one thing that you want to say in the interview, and no matter what question they ask you, just say the one thing over and over, framing it different views. 

DConATEConsidering my “one thing” to say about the Atlanta Tech Village was a fun exercise. After going through lots of iterations, I finally came down to the one thing that I’d want to say about the Atlanta Tech Village is that it’s a place for people who are DOING.

Our tag line is cool people, doing cool things.  I think the verb is the key. Villagers are people who are done talking and have started doing.  How inspiring is that!?   We are about people who just start.  We want to encourage people to start. We want to help those people who start.  So if you’re out there watching the Village from the periphery, my advice to you is to just GO.  DO!

Even though I did a terrible job of actually getting this message across in the interview, I am happy to have a new “one thing” on my mind when I talk about the Village.

The Village show on Atlanta Tech Edge is scheduled to air Sun Aug 25 at 11am on 11Alive/NBC (immediately after Meet the Press).