Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Thoughts for Students Thinking About the Startups


Another critical group in the startup community are students. For today, let’s stick to college students, but we are seeing some great programs that are bringing high achieving high-school students into the startup world.

Students: Why should you care about startups.

The first one is pretty obvious: you need a job.   On the other hand, you may have the itch to start your own company. If you can’t stop thinking about it, have a great team, and can get in a program like Startup Semester or Flashpoint, then you should definitely go full throttle. If you are on the edge and have a feeling that one day you may start a company, but you don’t have the idea just yet… no problem. Just go hang out in the community. Being in the right place, surrounding yourself with the right people, will only make it easier when the time comes.

Students: How you can get involved most effectively in startups.

First, start reading your ass off. You need to subscribe to a few great VC blogs (Feld and AVC to start) and of course follow the top bloggers in the community (

Second, get a job with a startup or tech teen company (aka large and well funded startup like AirWatch or Mailchimp). Plain and simple.  If you are an engineer, just get in and start helping build things. Learn how teams work to build things in the real world. Learn how to balance quality with GSD.   If you aren’t an engineer, the absolute best thing you can do for yourself is to get a job in sales. Learning how to sell stuff is the most valuable and widely applicable skill you can acquire.  You may absolutely hate it as some new grads do… if that’s the case, then try to commit at least 10 months to selling. At the 10 month point, if you are going to be successful, you should see the light at the end of the ramp-up tunnel.     Just remember that taking a job in sales doesn’t mean you’re committing your life to selling used cars or telemarketing. You are committing to learn.  When you do go start a company, you will look back and realize that any amount of time you spend in a sales job is the most valuable thing you can do for your chances of success learning a startup. Sales solves all problems.

Students: What you should expect to gain.

The most important thing you need in your early career is a strong network of deep relationships.  Getting involved in the startup community is an adult thing to do.  It requires follow-up and discipline. When you go to events, get business cards, ask to have lunch follow-up meetings with people you meet.  Ask entrepreneurs to mentor you.   If you do these things right, you will start to form an impressive network. Once you have a network, you will find that next steps in your life journey will come easier for you than your peers.

Career services will be the last place you will look to find a job if you know the right people.



Thoughts for Startup Service Providers


I couldn't resist at least one lawyer joke in this post...

I couldn’t resist at least one lawyer joke in this post… I promise, I’ll be serious after this photo. Ok, I’m done. Seriously.

My first post in a series about Players in the Startup Ecosystem.

Service providers have an interesting relationship with the startup ecosystem. They play a critical role, however and many startups don’t appreciate the true value in the right providers.   I for one certainly did not appreciate early in my entrepreneurial journey the importance of having the right lawyer, banker, accountant, HR people, and real-estate brokers.  It’s not that my service providers did anything wrong, it’s just that I didn’t intentionally select providers that were active in the community and could add value to my company beyond their scope of work.

Some service providers don’t get startups and don’t ever have any intention of building deep relationships to add value beyond their invoice.    As a community grows and entrepreneurs become more aware of the value of tight relationship networks, they will continue to place value on an informed, connected, and proven service provider.   Providers on the outside of the ecosystem may find it hard to get in. Here are some thoughts.

Service Providers: Why you should care about startups.

First of all, it’s not because you can make a ton of money. Working with startups is going to be an expensive pain in the neck. They will be low margin for you. They will negotiate every chance they get, and they will demand the highest level of service you can or can’t provide.

The thing is: startups don’t stay startups forever. If they do, dump them as a client. If they don’t, they will become your best success stories. Helping them grow is rewarding and powerful for your business. They also are typically led by entrepreneurs who will become involved in future businesses and community leadership organizations. Those long term relationships are not forgotten.   The ones who help us when we need it most are the ones we feel closest to when we are the ones offering the help.

How you can get involved most effectively in startups.

1. Make a lot of bets.  Unless you can magically see the future, it is unlikely you can pick one or two startups to work with and have a giant success story. You need to place a lot of little bets. If it takes creating a standardized services package that startups can afford, then try to do that. If it takes giving away time, maybe that’s worth a try as well.  No VC has ever made money in early stage companies by picking only a couple of investments.

2. Help them with the things they need most.  In my experience, the things startups need the most that service providers can help with are: customers and talent.  Refer customers as often as possible. Perhaps your other clients are potential beta users of a startup’s product. If so, get involved and make it happen.   Talent is easy as well. Never hesitate to send good people to a startup. Even if they aren’t hiring, entrepreneurs love meeting with smart people.   Good entrepreneurs are always looking to build new relationships.

3. Manage your expectations.   It’s hard work building startups, and it takes a lot of time. Remember that most will fail. Remember that many times failure is not spectacular crash, but it’s rather stagnation after a certain point.  Be ready for this and work through it with your clients.

What you should expect to gain.

Service providers who figure out the startup formula have a world to gain by being involved in such a fast paced, constantly changing ecosystem of innovation.  Aside from the benefits discussed above, you will also very likely be considered cutting edge in your own profession.  I’ve seen lawyers, accountants, and marketers become “startup experts” in their field and start to win over their colleagues and entire industries.

Cracking this code isn’t easy, but once you get involved, there is great satisfaction from helping create companies from thin air as a service provider.


How You Win


We spend a lot of time painting the picture of the ideal entrepreneur. We talk about what you should focus on, how you should prioritize and sling around advice constantly.

In the end, the ultimate goal of all this is to win.

Winning means beating the odds, building a company, making a few bucks and along the way having thousands of little wins. It takes a lot of winning to build something.

So then all of this advice that we sling around is all about “how to win.”

However, if you ask the question “How will I win?” the answer will probably not be something you read on a blog. The answer is unique to you.

You will win by being yourself, and being the best at being yourself.  You have a very specific set of skills. These combine to give you advantages that the other guy doesn’t have and can’t develop.

Figure out what it is, embrace it, and go nuts.

Liam Neeson - Skills


The Surprising Diversity of Organizations that Play In the Startup Ecosystem


Village Atrium @ 1 yr Anniversary. In Full Construction Mode.

We just passed the one year mark of the Atlanta Tech Village inception. What a great year!

Looking back, there are two big surprises that neither David or I expected.   The first surprise: the soil is rich and the demand for community, connection, and density is far greater than we expected.

The second surprise: the startup ecosystem as we perhaps inappropriately label it, is far more diverse than we expected.   What we are doing touches many organizations and people, much more than just the startups. The system is not closed: many people that are not in startups are impacted and involved.

In thinking ahead, I’ve enjoyed doing an exercise for myself, that I will share over a few posts. I’m taking a look at each of the main categories of organizations and people we’ve encountered in the Atlanta Startup Rainforest and evaluate why they care about startups, how they can help the ecosystem, and what they should expect to gain from the ecosystem.

Here is a list of some of the types of organizations who are playing in the startup ecosystem:

- Students.  (Not just technical, but MBA’s, liberal arts, and more)

- Universities.   (From research teams, economic development, and career services.)

- Community Organizations. (Chambers of Commerce, Entrepreneurs Organization.)

- Startup Service Providers (Lawyers, Recruiters, Accountants, Insurance providers)

- Investors (Angels, VCs, Private Equity, Institutions)

- Local Government (Municipalities, County, State organizations)

- Large Enterprise (Home Depot, Turner, Cox, Georgia Pacific, Georgia Power)

- Tech Enterprise (Google, IBM, Amazon,, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter)

- Teenage Startups (AirWatch, Mailchimp)

- Tech Startups (duh)

- Non-Tech Startups (an interesting delineation I will discuss later)

 I look forward to sharing thoughts and observations on each in the coming month.

Register for the Race


I have enjoyed thinking about health and exercise from the perspective of establishing a system, thanks to Melonakos’s blog about the subject.   As I hear people talk about getting healthy in the New Year, I encourage them to do the same thing that worked for me to finally get my lazy butt in gear.   Pick a race 3-6 months out, register for it, and bite the bullet to get training.   Looking this far out makes any goal less intimidating.

It just so happens that exactly 11 weeks from right now is the Publix Full & Half Marathon in Atlanta. Guess what, if you can run/walk 3 miles, then you have time to train to complete 13.1. I brushed it off for years as well, and last year I finally did my first half. It was incredibly rewarding. So I will be chugging through 13.1 in Atlanta on March 23.

Here is what you need to know. A novice training plan, courtesy of is pasted below, along with the dates you need to track for this race.  Look, I’ve done all the work for you.

Register for the race RIGHT NOW.  Use this code courtesy of ITL Coaching to get $10 off.  LGITLPGM14 ($10 off) — Check out what ITL Coaching is doing to help runners set small goals to meet big ones!

Feel free to register along with team Atlanta Tech Village. (I don’t really know what this means, but it’s cool to say you’re with a team.)

Now get on it.   Don’t just start running without a goal and an end point. If you don’t register for this one, register for something.

Dec 30
Rest 3 m run 3 m run 3 m run Rest 4 m run cross
Jan 6
Rest 3 m run 3 m pace 3 m run Rest 5 m run cross
Jan 13
Rest 3 m run 4 m run 3 m run Rest 6 m run cross
Jan 20
Rest 3 m run 4 m pace 3 m run Rest 7 m run cross
Jan 27
Rest 3 m run 4 m run 3 m run Rest 8 m run cross
Feb 3
Rest 3 m run 4 m pace 3 m run Rest 5-K Race cross
Feb 10
Rest 3 m run 5 m run 3 m run Rest 9 m run cross
Feb 17
Rest 3 m run 5 m pace 3 m run Rest 10 m run cross
Feb 24
Rest 3 m run 5 m run 3 m run Rest 10-K Race cross
Mar 3
Rest 3 m run 5 m pace 3 m run Rest 11 m run cross
Mar 10
Rest 3 m run 5 m run 3 m run Rest 12 m run cross
Mar 17
Rest 3 m run 2 m pace 2 m run Rest Rest Half Marathon


Facilities Matter – First Reno Opens this Month


World Gym Fayette - New Lexington Location

World Gym Fayette – New Lexington Location

Last week my local gym opened a brand new beautiful building. I only use it for the pool, but I have to admit the old one was pretty uninspiring as far as facilities go. The new one is amazing.  My first swim was awesome. I won’t disclose my embarrassingly weak workout, but I will say that I did 50% more laps than my normal swim. Something about the brand new pool, super tall ceilings, glass everywhere, clean water, new locker room, and awesome showers just pumped me up.

As I drove away, I was thinking about how in January, we will open the first renovated floor of the Atlanta Tech Village.  Exactly 1 year after we started this project (and 10 months after we naively thought we would open renovated space), the 4th floor, featuring Private Suites and coworking will be finally open.  Just like my new gym, it will feature a ton of glass, an intentional modular layout, all new Knoll furniture, super tall ceilings, fancy-shmancy light fixtures, IdeaPaint everywhere, and large LED screens everywhere.

Thinking back on the office space we rented in my last companies, it never made me excited. We always got the cheapest space we could find and kept it as minimal as possible. We were never in anything better than Class C, and never bought furniture that didn’t come from Ikea or Office Depot.

This isn’t a sales pitch– trust me– but it always was an annoyingly persistent energy drain to be reminded that we were in crappy offices.  It didn’t help for recruiting, and when myself or my team would visit companies that we thought were similar to us but made their home in awesome Class A space, we  went back to our home feeling a little down.  We didn’t admit it, of course, but it’s human nature and unavoidable.

Being a little bit older and wiser, I’m ready to admit that I missed the mark on this. I should have acknowledged sooner that the facilities matter more than we think… and more than we like to admit. The energy of the team can be affected by the pride in the physical facilities of the company.   I cannot wait to start using the renovated space in the Village… and look forward to those long, hard workouts at my new gym too.