Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Inventing Deal Pipeline Boxes for Atlanta Ventures


Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailGiven that we are relatively new at this quasi-institutional investing with Atlanta Ventures, we have had the opportunity to do the same as most startups and that is learn how to invent our own wheels. How to find deals, how to evaluate them, and how to manage the workflow and tracking.

It may help startups raising money to understand how we’ve setup our pipeline so you can understand the process.  Here’s what our deal pipeline looks like.  (By the way, we are using Stream CRM to manage this right now. A free CRM that is a Gmail Plugin by a YCombinator company that seems to be on a rocket ship.)

  1. Lead – the holding area for every possible lead, no matter the source.  After evaluating tons of tools (including DIY), we have finally determined that F6S is the absolute best tool for startups, investors, funds, accelerators, and incubators.
  2. Want to Pitch – if the startup looks good on paper, the founders have some visible domain expertise and it’s an area not completely foreign to us, they go in the want to pitch. Usually this means Lindsay will start working to schedule a first meeting with myself or one of the team.
  3. Pitch Scheduled – sometimes meetings take a while to schedule so these can be in this bucket for 30-60 days.
  4. Want Second Meeting – After a first meeting, if we like what we see, we typically will assign some homework. We ask startups what they will accomplish if/when we get together in 30-60 days. The second meeting is largely a test to see their ability to follow-up and deliver.
  5. Need Outside Input – Many times, we like the founders and the idea but it’s a little outside of our team’s expertise, so we introduce the entrepreneurs to other investors and entrepreneurs whose opinion we trust for feedback on the idea.
  6. Second Meeting Scheduled –  During this time between first and second meetings, we like to stay in touch with the entrepreneur to get a feel for what it’s like to work together. Communication styles, etc…
  7. Term Sheet – Once a term sheet discussion starts, we move them here.   Surprisingly to me, we have only closed around half of the term sheets we’ve negotiated this year – a lot can happen in the time that it takes to negotiate a deal. Life happens, success happens, failure happens, valuations change, other investors happen. So it’s another reminder to everyone at the table that a term sheet isn’t a closed deal.
  8. Monitor – The 2nd largest end result is this bucket. It’s for teams that we like with pretty good ideas, but the timing isn’t right or there are a few pieces of the puzzle still missing. We want to keep an eye on these and if they request another meeting in 3-12 months, we want to be sure to take it to follow up and see the progress.
  9. Unlikely – I don’t like the terms that are absolute… so internally, we like to be open to amazing things happening down the road. But the bottom line is that we’ve told these teams “We are not a fit.” so we aren’t stringing anyone along.
  10. Worked and Passed – This is where the term sheets go that don’t close.  This is the category I don’t like. It means a lot of energy was spent on something that didn’t happen. My operational goal for us as an organization is to keep this as close to zero as possible.
  11. Signed! – Ahhh, the good stuff.   This is when the fun begins. This is what it’s all about. NOW we get to help Atlanta entrepreneurs build companies.


Hot Hot Themes in B2B SaaS Startup Opportunities


Following up on the post from Sunday about types of businesses I like the best, I’d like to share some more forward looking ideas about startups that I like.   In Atlanta Ventures, we have a solid strength in B2B SaaS, and within this opportunity area, there are some themes that we see and love.   I wouldn’t consider these the same as Foundry Group’s Investment Themes; meaning, we aren’t limiting ourselves to investments in these areas. But these just get me extra fired up.

Automation. Sure marketing automation is hot, but there is so much more automation that can happen now. With tools like Kevy now connecting our data, business processes that are still done manually can no be automated to a level never before possible.

Predictive.  This are of Big Data is definitely bleeding edge of SaaS — but I think it’s about to explode. Given all the data we have now and the simplicity of connecting, evaluating, and leveraging it, making predictions about things we’ve not normally tried to predict is a huge area.

Data ownership.  Big Data is the new awesome wild west. There are now new opportunities in a whole new value chain. The collectors of data. The aggregators of data. The ideas of what to do with data. The services to implement the ideas. Obviously, the person with the most value potential in this chain is the person who owns the data. Whether it’s collection, gathering, generating– the ownership is key.

What an exciting time with all of this. I feel like a B2B SaaS MacGyver could really make a ton of money right now.



Adventures and Lessons in Commercial Real-Estate


The first photo of the future Atlanta Tech Village Event Center

The first photo of the future Atlanta Tech Village Event Center

I hope I’m not bursting anyone’s bubble about us with this post, but if you didn’t know already, for those of of us at the helm of the Atlanta Tech Village … this is our first venture in world of commercial real-estate development.  It has been a ton of fun, and already I can start to see the lessons learned that will make the next project even more fun.

A few of the top lessons learned and surprises from my first year in CRE:

There are few fixed processes.
This was the biggest surprise to me. With an industry so old, with so much history and money, I really expected there to be more questions that are answered with: “This is just how it’s done.”  But the truth is, things can be done however you want them done. Each project is unique. Every relationship is unique.  Every contract, every price, every process is unique to any given project.  This surprised me, but it has been fun to navigate.

There is an opportunity to be creative around every corner.
A year ago if you told me that a real-estate developer is successful because he/she is more creative than those around him, I would have giggled.   Building + tenant. How creative can you get?   I couldn’t have been more wrong!   To develop real-estate takes a TON of creativity. You have to find ways around, in, over and under things… from regulations, to fixed laws of physics, to financial arrangements, to personal relationship building, negotiations, and especially vision.

Teams must be managed differently than in a startup.
Unlike in tech startups where you can recruit a team to your own culture and can build around core values, this doesn’t work quite the same in CRE development.  The biggest difference is that you are outsourcing everything. You aren’t going to have a rockstar architect, general contractor, permit expeditor, urban planners, audio-visual experts, mechanical engineers, structural engineers, cleaning crews, equipment rental, etc, on your team in-house.  You are forced to use a team made up of 95% contractors. Culture is different here. Where a startup team can and usually should be left to make ton of assumptions for you, this can’t happen with this much variety of personalities at the table. You have to work hard to get what you want and keep on everyone.

The constant challenge— forward motion.
Given these contractors and the nature of their business (that they have other clients besides you), keeping your project in motion is the most difficult thing I’ve discovered. There is always one hand waiting on another hand. Getting the hands to transfer information and requirements from one to another is challenging.

Details are exhausting.
Now that we are finally in all out construction mode at the Village, I’m starting to develop a twitch and lose sleep.  Now we are seeing the culmination of 10 months of planning, almost a million dollars of design and prep work, and thousands of people hours come together. Now the “What if” questions are non-stop for me. What did we miss?   Did we remember power beside every conference room for the iPad apps? Did we discuss the automation enough? What about the elevators? Light switches are where?  Are we clear on the security systems? And on and on… Staying on top of the details is what separates the awesome buildings from the mediocre ones and we plan to be nothing less than awesome.

Everything takes longer.
Ok, so this is true in software too… but no, in the world of CRE, it REALLLLLLY takes longer!!

More factors are out of your control.
This is the last big surprise for me. So much of the process is out of your control. Of course things can be “influenced” (and that’s part of the forward motion challenge), but controlling these elements is a lot different than influencing them.   Neighborhood planning units. Design review committees. City planners.  Building inspectors. OSHA inspectors. DOT officials.    The outside interactions that you have to navigate are far more intense than anything else I’ve done in my life and admittedly it does take lot of the fun out of the process.

Overall, this has been an awesome journey and now that glass walls are starting to come up and our work is starting to show visible rewards, it’s getting even better.   Give us a few months and if things go according to plan, we will have a gorgeous building to show off where people are doing amazing things in an amazing space.


An Opportunity for More Media in Atlanta Tech Scene – Dare I Propose More @Urvaksh?


Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the value of media players in an ecosystem. We (Atlanta) are finding our stride when it comes to events.   We are getting the “community centers,” or “clusters” or whatever you want to call them in high gear.   We also are tracking the right things to measure our progress.   One key part that I think we need to focus on is the importance of the media.

People need to know what is going on.   Knowing about the events. Knowing about the progress: exits, fundraises, product updates, big hires, new markets…. getting the word out is important.

We do a fairly good job of what I’ll call “internal” knowledge. This mainly comes from a handful of active bloggers and now a healthy Twitterverse conversation.   But what strong media companies can do is so much more powerful. It’s about bringing new people into the community that aren’t already participating.

One example.
When I was on the Atlanta Tech Edge TV show in August, a local Atlantan saw the show and learned for the first time about the Atlanta Tech Village.   This guy happened to be Joe Gebbia Sr., whose son, Joe Jr. is the co-founder of AirBnB  A San Francisco based startup recently valued at $2.5 BILLION (!?) and has 650+ employees, now in only it’s 6th year.     Joe Sr. called the Village to say that his son will be in town and he’d like to bring him by to see the place and maybe even speak to the community. He did, we hosted him at a Startup Chowdown, and his stories about AirBnB and his personal journey from $200/week existence to riding one of the hottest rocket ships around inspired a ton of Atlanta entrepreneurs. I still hear today from folks how that little chat fired them up.

This is a great example of how broad reach can bring meaningful traction to a community. I think Atlanta Tech Edge and the Atlanta Business Chronicle are doing a great job, but I think there is much more opportunity to tell the story of the Atlanta tech community than just these two organizations can deliver.

Mark my words, there’s an opportunity here somewhere and Urvaksh can’t be everywhere… nor do we really want to clone him. :)




Ingredients and Indicators of a Startup Chances of Success


Today I will share what I believe are the top indicators of a startup chance of success for very early stage companies.  Some folks may disagree with this breakdown, and there are of course cases that prove otherwise. That’s cool. This is from my own experience. I specifically want to focus on the top variables that are in an entrepreneur’s control in Stage 1 and Stage 2 of a startup.

Here’s the high level breakdown:

  • 20% of startup success is your Idea
  • 30% of startup success is You
  • 50% of startup success your Team

startup success

20% Your Idea – Painkiller Index

  • Is your target market big enough, do you know it well enough, are they ready for your solution or do you have to convince them that their pain hurts so you can sell the pain killer?
  • Your execution – Is your solution is clunky, have too much friction to use or acquire? Can you create an easy to use solution that buyers need, and can you deliver to the level they expect?
  • Your Timing – believe it or not, timing is a discussion in the idea of startups. I don’t mean trying to time the market in the traditional way the term is used (often associated with the stock market and is something that is next to impossible to do)… instead, as far as a painkiller goes.   I may have a pain of needing a more efficient route algorithm, or colder cocktails to enjoy in  my driverless car, but the timing of these painkillers isn’t right.
  • Focus – Is the idea small enough that you can accomplish it as a startup, with the world against you?

30% Yourself

  • Your intentional life balance – Starting a company is brutal. If you aren’t geared up to handle it in your life, things can go sideways quickly. Are you healthy?  Are you intentional about where your time goes? Do you have a bigger picture view of the world, spiritual or otherwise? Are you giving back to those around you in order to better learn?   Do you have your priorities and your s**t together?
  • Your confidence – Confidence is often the biggest difference between a kickass entrepreneur and one who is mediocre and spinning his wheels.   Finding the thin line between extremely confident and overly arrogant is a tricky challenge, but one that can make or break you.
  • Your discipline – Back to the intentionality: can you hold the line?  Can you keep going even when you’re exhausted?
  • Your abilities – Do you have the knowledge and experience in your market?

50% Your Team

  • YES, I propose that the team you assemble is the largest variable in your control over your chance of success.  So this means if you score low and put the wrong team in place, your odds of success are painfully slim.  This is the top takeaway, I hope you’ll see from this post. The team is the biggest chance you have for success.  It doesn’t just mean the co-founders, it means everyone around you. Your Investors, Directors, Advisors, Employees, Managers, even Vendors.    Get the first two right, but even if you screw up a little on the Idea or Yourself, having an amazing team can carry you through these.



Reasons of Success (so far) of the Atlanta Tech Village


I’m on a plane traveling to Omaha to give a presentation this evening to the mentors and teams in the Straight Shot Accelerator about the Atlanta entrepreneurial community. It’s awesome that communities like Omaha are looking to Atlanta as a success story and asking what they can learn from great projects like the Atlanta Tech Village.

While Atlanta hasn’t proven itself as a top tier tech startup hub, we’re on the way. We’re doing, talking, and thinking about the right things.  The dialog is healthy.   The Village, as a leader in the effort, is successful thus far as a community within the community; so I will be sharing with the folks out West why I believe the first nine months have been so successful.

Why the Village is working really well so far (it just so happened that almost all of them started with the letter “C” naturally, so I finished it out):

1. Core Values.

I can’t stress enough that I believe the Village is working because we know and stick to our core values. This above all else, is a huge factor of success and will be our defining advantage. Be nice. Dream Big. Work hard, play hard, pay it forward.   We do everything we do with these values as our guiding light and it just works.


2. Community: “Meeting before membership.”

To join the Village, someone has to know you.   You have to either attend a group tour and get to know the group and the community managers leading the tours, or you have to come in with a good reference. This threshold for membership has kept the quality of the people high. Trust is strong, and friendships are blossoming every day.


3. Collaboration – openness and sharing.

Although it’s not a stated core value, there is a culture of sharing in the Village. When companies question the amount of glass going into the renovation or their ability to protect their competitive secrets, then we tell them they aren’t a fit for the Village. We believe that secrets provide little advantage for any startup and the best attitude is to be fully open and transparent, seeking feedback and advice at every corner.   You aren’t competing with the folks in the building, you are competing with the world.


4. Colossal Scale.

I blogged about this earlier. See it here. Bigger is better for a community.


5. Chaos Line

We believe that letting chaos happen is a great way to engineer serendipity. Obviously, we can’t fully embrace chaos, but our attitude is one of openness and experimentation more than tight corporate control. We push this line every day and are always seeking to find the balance between control and natural community chaos. Somewhere in there is a sweet spot where new ideas are born, new connections are made, and a community thrives.


6. Concentrated- Atlanta only.

I can’t count how many times people ask us when we’ll be launching the Charlotte Tech Village, Austin Tech Village, etc…   The answer is– that we aren’t focused on being a real-estate company for startups. We are focused on making Atlanta a top 10 tech startup hub.  The real-estate is just our tool to accomplish this.    Some coworking organizations that we’ve met with use community as their tool to fill up real-estate.   We are flipping that using real-estate as a vehicle to build community.


7. Control — We don’t answer to anyone.

I cannot tell a lie: It is really, really awesome that we don’t answer to a bank, investors, a Board, or even a landlord. We can do whatever we want. This gives us the freedom to screw up, a lot. And yes, we’ve screwed up a lot already and we fix it and we get better. If we were working towards quarterly Board meetings where our performance determined our next quarterly goals, we would not be as effective in our mission.


8. Celebrity.

Every community needs it. David Cummings is ours.   The name opens doors, attracts high rollers, big players, politicians, and reporters like you wouldn’t believe. Celebrity is definitely a key to our success.  Although the DC-Effect, as we call it, (where people were only joining the Village just to be around David), wore off after about 90 days, David still attracts the buzz and we don’t expect people to forget about his name any time soon.


9. Curated.

Similar to “meeting before membership,” curated community means that we want 80% of the community to be working on a product or platform that is a scalable tech company. We want to limit the service providers.    With everyone being mostly on the same page, you have shared attitudes about raising money, growth metrics, change the world mentality, and risk tolerance. We don’t have lifestyle companies with lots of folks pulling millions off their company and living large. We have scrappy, hungry entrepreneurs, creating products that change the world.


10. Concert.  Synergistic to other projects. (to keep the C’s going, I had to look up synonyms for synergy). :)

This is worth mentioning for other communities looking to learn. It’s an open and honest ingredient that works well for us. Atlanta Tech Village has the advantage of service multiple purposes. Because we have Atlanta Ventures incubated companies as well as the Atlanta Ventures Accelerator, there is a great synergy created by having 103,000 square feet of space that is filled up with 300 other entrepreneurs.   Yes, we would still be doing the Atlanta Ventures Accelerator if we weren’t doing the Village. The Atlanta Ventures portfolio companies all existed before the Village was even a twinkle in our eyes.


I’m sure there are other reasons for our success so far, and only time will tell which of these prove to be sustainable beyond the exciting first year or two of our existence, and I’m looking forward to finding out!

Scale as a Key Success Factor


When I give tours of the Atlanta Tech Village, my favorite part is sharing some of the stats about the awesome momentum that has already formed around the idea.

  • We now have over 300 individual members paying for desks, this makes up 105 startups
  • Startup Chowdown is regularly @ 190 attendees – Fridays at noon
  • Suites and offices post-renovation are basically sold out
  • In the last 90 days months we hosted over 120 events
  • Mega-events like the monthly Atlanta Startup Village are attracting 250+ attendees with zero marketing spend
  • Startups in the Village are finding they have a noticable recruiting advantage
  • More investor/startup connections are happening that otherwise wouldn’t have happened
  • Startups are failing and rebooting faster

A common question after all these stats is: WHY is it so successful?  HOW is it so successful?

The first and most obvious answer is that Atlanta has rich resources and we’re simply tapping into something that was already just under the surface waiting to be tapped.   But I think there’s a more tangible answer to the specific success of the Village.

One key is our scale.

Scale with coworking space
For a coworking space, the Village is a massive. 103,000 square feet is simply giant.

For the model to work, with such volatile market, the numbers have to be big, because the margins are tiny.

The programs and events that we do are awesome. But some of them only have 5 people show up. They still get a ton of value. But if 5 of 300 members show up, you start to see that if you only have 50 members, then

Volunteers and Energy
Programs just happen. All the time. Ideas pop up, then they are executed. With so many people in one high density area, there are always volunteers ready to jump in and DO something.

Of course having 8 full time staffers is an amazing key advantage for our mission.  Volunteer organizations are awesome, part timers have plenty of utility but there is an exponential advantage to full time team members, working for a paycheck AND the satisfaction of a job well done.

When we set out on this project, we knew that the building size would be an asset, but we underestimated how it’s a compounding effect of scale to success for a community+ecosystem endeavor such as the Village.


Forget Teaching Entrepreneurship! Can you Teach Wexlering, Birdsonging, Wijesinghing and Portering?


I’ve overheard people say that sales and marketing is in the DNA of the Atlanta Tech Village.  It’s true, have a sales and growth focused culture.   Our community thrives when a smart product-focused entrepreneur starts building a business development engine around a great product.  This leads to a discussion we’ve been having a lot lately:

For a product-focused entrepreneur, can you teach the hungry, scrappy, do-anything mentality that it takes to get customer traction as soon as possible? 

Put another way, can you teach Adam Wexlering, Kyle Portering, Devon Wijesinghing, and Jon Birdsonging?

These 4 guys are the ultra hungry hustlers that every growth entrepreneur should want to be. They are machines. Each one of them has a special way of getting their foot, hand, and well, their whole body in the door where they need to go.   If you could combine them into a single entrepreneurial selling machine, you would end up with something like this:


This is the Devastator robot— when all the Transformers combined to make one giant super robot.


Here are some of the weapons used by the four super hustlers:

Kyle Porter, the master growth hacker.

Kyle Porter, the master growth hacker.

Top skill: Getting masses of people excited about what he wants them to be excited about.
Story: Kyle Porter, of Salesloft fame, is quickly become a professional growth hacker. He knows how to get content on any site, any day of the week and how to get it to pull people back to his own site to sign up for something. He also knows how to plan and execute awesome events like B2BCamp. How many people do you know who can gather 200+ people on a Saturday morning to hear a sales pitch?  Sure, B2BCamp is more than a Salesloft User Group meeting. Sure it is.
Nugget: As Kyle walks down the street, panhandlers give him money.


Wexlerbombing. Happens worldwide.

Wexlerbombing. Happens worldwide.

Top Skill: Getting a pitch with anybody, anywhere, any time.
Story: Adam Wexler (Insightpool) is becoming famous for this. It has been said that when Wexler decides he needs to find someone and pitch them, that he doesn’t sleep until his mission is accomplished. I’ve heard stories of offering to share hotel rooms with prospects.  No prospect is too far. He will fly, drive, even swim. He’s the master of CouchSurfing.  I’ve been at parties 10 states away, invitation only, with presidential security and suddenly Wexler drops in, smiling and asking “Who’s here that I need to know?”
Nugget: The US State Department doesn’t require Wexler to have his photograph on his passport.


Just say Devon. Everyone knows who you're talking about.

Just say Devon. Everyone knows who you’re talking about.

Top skill: Operating in the Atlanta startup world like a mob boss. (A friendly one, of course).
Story: Devon Wijesinghe knows everyone. He has a unique skill of building an extremely high powered network and then capitalizing on it. He goes for the ask early and often. And he does it in a way that doesn’t offend the person being asked. What’s more impressive is that if any of us tried to pull off the asks that Devon drops, we would quickly become the least popular guy on the block. Yet he continues to work his network like a master and his companies are in a constant motion forward because of it.
Nugget:   When Devon drives a car off the lot, it increases in value.


Jon Birdsong, the one and only.

Jon Birdsong, the one and only.

Top skill: Making your feel like he is your best friend.
Story: I am Jon Birdsong’s ( best friend. Doesn’t matter what you say. If he has something for me to buy, I would buy it.  But wait, everybody feels this way about Birdsong. Everybody is JonnyBird’s best friend!  He’s the nicest guy in town. (And yes, JonnyBird for Mayor is something we should all get used to hearing).  What’s awesome about JonnyBird– he knows how to turn nice into contracts.  He may be the fastest product-startup-to-first-paying-customer record in the Village.    Why JonnyBird is a 1% awesome growth entrepreneur: he is genuine. He’s as genuine as they come. If you feel like he likes you, it’s because he really does like you.  What you see is what you get. My favorite Birdsong story is when he was selling to a VP of sales who ran out of time for their meeting in Atlanta and tried to cancel. So Jon offered to meet him at his office, ride with him to the airport (selling all the way), drop him off at the terminal, return his rental car, and catch Marta back to the Village.  Yep, he closed that deal.
Nugget: When Jon dines out, he tips an astonishing 200%.


There’s a lot more to being a growth entrepreneur than the stats of cold calls, demos, meetings. It’s a unique skill set that makes up these guys and I enjoy learning from them every day.     If you have a startup in Atlanta and don’t know all four of these guys, I’d suggest you find a way to get to know them better. Learn from them. The good news is– it’s easy to find them. So easy in fact, that they will likely find you first.




Themes and Mistakes in Pitches for Atlanta Ventures Accelerator


The team and I have really enjoyed the awesome flow of pitches we’ve heard for the Atlanta Ventures Accelerator.  There are some brilliant people in Atlanta thinking about the right things. It’s inspiring and motivating.   That’s not to say we haven’t seen some issues.   Here are some themes that we’ve seen in hopes that when you are pitching to any investor, you can learn from some of these mistakes.

Regarding your idea: the single most important factor about an idea is the Vitamin vs Painkiller index.
This is where we spend 95% of the time evaluating ideas. We need to find that it is a true painkiller for somebody. You are solving a problem that is holding people back and they know it and they need a solution. We can’t afford to be in the business of teaching people they have problems so that we can solve them. We want to sell strong ibuprofen to really achy people.

KIS,S. Don’t do an ecosystem.
Oh buddy, these just make me tired. Many startups think they can build an ecosystem with dozens of inputs and outputs.   On example we see a ton of is Loyalty startups.  It’s cool if you want to solve a pain around loyalty for merchants, but don’t try to create a new currency that every consumer on the planet will use, merchants will trade and see value in it, and the back-end systems look a little more complex that American Express. Simplicity is key. Get traction, then build your ecosystem around it.

Openness to feedback as an indicator.
When companies are accepted into our accelerator the primary value they will receive is the mentor introductions.   One indicator of a good fit is how well the entrepreneurs respond to feedback and input on their idea. We don’t expect you to agree with our ideas and suggestions but fiercely debating that we are wrong for suggesting something is an indicator that perhaps you won’t get the maximum value from the mentors who will be trying to help you.

Really, really hard to scale.
This is a tough one because even if you’re on to something and have a great painkiller for some, but will need a LOT of capital (both money and human) to grow the business, it’s hard for us to get excited about it. With so many capital efficient startups, our tendency will be to avoid the capital-intensive beasts.  There’s a need for that in the startup market, it’s just not our game.

Confidence is good, but don’t act like you don’t need any help.
It’s a fine line between confident and arrogant. Enough said.

Existing business and not hungry enough on the new business.
Believe it or not, we’ve had a good handful of entrepreneurs with an existing business that is doing well and they want to start something new. I fully believe these entrepreneurs have the best shot at success, but only if there are motivated full-time team members on each company. Trying to keep multiple companies going (especially when one is a startup) without a full-time CEO in each one is next to impossible.   Also, entrepreneurs are just like anyone else and will be loyal to the paycheck. The company that pays the bills will always get the most attention… and if attention is subtracted, bad things can happen too easily.

Saturated market with no clear advantage.
If you’re going into a crowded space, you need to demonstrate a very clear advantage. Saying that you will figure it out once you get in, doesn’t work. You need to choose PRICE,  QUALITY, or SERVICE as a competitive advantage and put each competitor in one of those buckets.  Know HOW to attack the market.

Research at least a little, and READ, dammit.
C’mon guys.  The info you need to make a great pitch is out there.  HINT: Atlanta Ventures is backed by an influential investor who is really, really, REALLY transparent and super high-profile. When you come in and haven’t heard of him and haven’t read a single of his 1,500+ blog posts about what makes a good startup, honestly: you don’t have a chance.   HINT #2: It’s not ME!         Last point: read the basic logistics about your pitch. Know what is expected from technology, know how much time you have and manage it correctly, show up on time, just read the instructions. Simple.

I don’t believe we are all that different from other investors. Hopefully these tips will help you go in armed and dangerous for every pitch.




FOMOGASE – A Condition Affecting Atlanta Entrepreneurs, Especially in the Fall of 2013


FOMOIt only takes a glance at the calendars of Hypepotamus, ATDC, Startup Atlanta, TiE, EO Atlanta, MACC, or the Atlanta Tech Village to understand that the Atlanta entrepreneurial community is explosive right now. With the fall event calendars ramping up to hyperdrive, there is a condition I’m starting to experience that you may have encountered yourself.

Fear of Missing Out of Great Atlanta Startup Events… let’s go with FOMO for short.

See if this sounds familiar: You pull up Twitter one evening while you are cozily tucked in watching some good Netflix and you see comment after comment about this great event with rockstar speakers that you didn’t even know about.

Sure, it happens all the time.   In the last 3 months, in the Atlanta Tech Village alone, I counted 121 events on our internal event calendar. That averages to more than 1 per day. And that’s only in 1 venue!

With all this excitement, it’s important to remember balance and fight the natural tendency of FOMO.  Here are some things that are working for me.

- Prioritize events. Remember that your company and your goals come first. Be where your customers are first. Where your investors are second. And the rest of the community should fall into place after that. Also see my post about “In which circles do you want to be famous

- Live intentionally. If you have family, especially kids, ask yourself if missing the recital, art show, or soccer game is worth the event you are attending.   Part of living intentionally includes missing out on some events on both sides of the commute, just remember to be intentional. When you withdraw from one account, you should have a plan to bring its balance back up.

- Pace yourself.  This is the big one for me.  Since I started using SmartAlarm app to track my sleep hours, I see that I’m sleeping 9+ hour nights on the weekends. It’s because lately I’m completely and totally exhausted by Friday. I need to do a better job of managing my pace. Slow down. If I feel myself getting tired, I need to pass on some things and know that it’s for my health, my sanity, and (most importantly in the short term), my productivity.

- Twitter causes you to fixate.   There will always be tweets from events.  There won’t be tweets from the thousands of people who AREN’T at the events who are having dinner with their family or watching a movie and unwinding.  Our attention is drawn to the event Tweets because of FOMO, but refocus– think about what the twitter stream would be for a calm, chill evening at home. There’s nothing wrong with taking chill time, even though it won’t hit the Twitterverse.

Keep up the energy Atlanta, but remember to manage its output intentionally.



Forbes Article on the Atlanta Tech Village – by Victor Hwang article headerLast month I was honored to be interviewed by Victor Hwang for his column on

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 –

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.