Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Atlanta’s Startup Ecosystem Limiting Factor – The Number of Full Time Entrepreneurs


When talking about Atlanta, startups, tech, and becoming a top tier tech startup city, the first question is: “What do we need to add for the ecosystem to go faster?”

My answer: Atlanta needs more full time entrepreneurs.

We have a lot of hobbyists. These are folks who are living off their spouses income, showing up to every startup community event, active in social media, blogging even… but they are in the same place with their startup that they’ve been for the last 2 years. They say they aren’t able to raise money or they justify it by saying there isn’t enough capital in our city.  I consider these folks hobbyists.

We have a lot of wannapreneurs. Sadly, I see at least one of these per day.  It’s the guy (and yes, most are guys) in the corporate job, hooked on the crack salary – with a mortgage, club membership, car payments – and isn’t willing (or able) to make the dramatic changes that need to happen to do something meaningful. These guys are miserable in their job, climbing the ladder, have the skills needed to be a startup entrepreneur, but aren’t able to pull the trigger.   Often they come to me with this sad argument: “If I can just raise money, then I can afford to go full time on my startup.”  Every time, they almost pull off the surprised face when I tell them that they won’t be able to raise money until they are in full-time.

We have lots of one-hit wonders.  I think this is the most promising group of potential full-time entrepreneurs. It’s the original team members of great Atlanta startups. They jumped into a startup 10+ years ago, stuck with it to make it wildly successful and now it’s a big company. Now they have their stock options and big salaries but often have the itch. These are the people who have done it before and can usually do it again.   Mindspring, Pardot, ISS, Airwatch, Mailchimp,, Firethorn, CNN, Radiant Systems… the list of successes in Atlanta is long, and the founding core teams are often still around with the skills to do it again.

We need to recruit outside the state. This is something admittedly, that I need to do better. We all need to make an effort to attend the events like Southland in Nashville and other regional events to promote the amazing resources in Atlanta for tech startups and full-time entrepreneurs.

I know with all the excitement we are moving in the right direction, but it’s important to acknowledge our biggest limiter: the number of full-time entrepreneurs.  Not ideas. Not capital. Not talent for the growth team. We have plenty of those.


  • Ben Dyer says:

    With respect to your last point, I have come to appreciate how much SXSW Interactive has done to attract talent, including motivated entrepreneurs, to Austin. Since about 2006 it has exploded in scale and continues on a great trajectory. Atlanta would benefit from a strategy to get better exposure at SXSW, perhaps led by you folks at ATV. Growth is now so rapid that people are suggesting replacing the slogan “Keep Austin Weird” with “Please Don’t Move Here.”

    Also, hosting a cycle of DreamIt in your facility per my earlier intro would draw from across the country. They’ve been followed now by TechStars inside Capital Factory, yet more attraction of talent to Austin.

    Ben Dyer

    June 19, 2013 at 4:11 pm
    • Johnson Cook says:

      Great input Ben, thank you! There are some smart people in Atlanta working on bringing more SxSE-type events to Atlanta. We have a large event called the SuperNova being planned throughout October. Venture Atlanta will be a centerpiece of it, but many other events being planned before and after.

      The Accelerator question is tricky… More and more comments about “Yet another accelerator pops up…” out there, so we’re looking at ways to innovate the model slightly yet still get the benefits of bringing higher volume of companies to fruition at a pre-seed stage.

      June 20, 2013 at 1:44 pm
      • Stephanie Katcher says:

        I can say from my years in the Silicon Valley as opposed to those in the greater PNW, there is certainly a different level of performance and energy that full-time entrepreneurs put out. It is a culture that thrives independent of networking events, while thoroughly dependent on the ability to stomach the risks of the fast paced and unknown (a residual trait of the “wild west”).

        Perhaps our biggest hurdle in the south-east is identity. SxSE events are one way to draw touring entrepreneurs together, but since when has rehashing someone else’s big success paid off in dividends?

        Solutions? We wont really know until the tipping point, however I’m betting on Georgia’s ability to leverage it’s hospitable nature, deep business roots, steady cultivation, and the full-time entrepreneur’s hunger to have it all. Bait the hook boys! You don’t invite everyone to your favorite fishin’ hole, just the one’s you want to break bread with.

        June 21, 2013 at 6:55 pm
        • Johnson Cook says:

          Great points about rehashing success. Also it’s a fundamental that we’re seeing that bringing people together on big, awesome, fun meaningful events is a no brainer and so far has worked well. Atlanta Startup Village,, Venture Atlanta, Startup Lounge… all are doing great and huge for the community.

          I think that another angle is to keep our heads down and keep doing what we’re doing. We are creating amazing companies. Really fast. I’m seeing it every day. The VC’s are approaching things in a new light in Atlanta. The startups are getting more savvy. And we’re blending all of that with solid fundamentals of building sustainable businesses.

          Ecosystem growth, could just be like personal growth. Focus inward instead of outward. If we keep our s*** together and do the right things, the world will start coming to us in big ways.

          June 22, 2013 at 1:18 am
          • Stephanie Katcher says:

            Well said. By all means there is no need to recreate the wheel when it functions; the modifications and application are what make it yours. Pair that with solid performance and people take notice.

            June 22, 2013 at 3:02 pm
  • Kevin Sandlin says:

    I agree with the premise that what ATL is lacking is more FULL-TIME entrepreneurs; however, you neglected to ask the real question: WHY? Why are all the people you listed above not full-time entrepreneurs? Answer? Money. I didn’t say investment capital, but money. The hobbyist hasn’t figured out how to sell or raise capital. The wannapreneurs are hooked on a salary and don’t have the savings to take the leap. I can only assume that the one hit wonders are putting their money in things other than startups, theirs or someone else’s.

    The solution isn’t how we attract full-timers from elsewhere but how we build the startup ecosystem in ATL to the point that most of the aforementioned would-be entrepreneurs get at it full time.

    June 19, 2013 at 4:52 pm
    • Johnson Cook says:

      That’s an interesting view and I agree with the fact that the hobbyist needs to learn how to sell and (sometimes) to raise capital. The biggest need is to learn how to sell: IF they aren’t going to raise capital, then the only option is to learn how to sell. Just pick up the phone and start selling… SOMETHING… an MVP, or a manual version of their product. There is nothing more impressive from an entrepreneur asking for capital than the guy who is already dialing for dollars.

      June 20, 2013 at 1:47 pm
  • joseggonzalez says:

    Love it to death !

    June 21, 2013 at 6:31 am
  • joseggonzalez says:

    Very well !

    June 21, 2013 at 6:59 am

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