In a business city known for it’s fortune 500 giants, the Atlanta startup community took a massive step forward today.
Atlanta Entrepreneur David Cummings has purchased Ivy Place, a 100,000 square foot building in the heart of Atlanta’s Buckhead district for $12.5 Million. He’s changed the name to the “Atlanta Tech Village”, and is designing the building specifically to enhance the Atlanta startup ecosystem.
The village will be a center point for the Atlanta startup community and will provide flexible space for startups to grow from one founder to dozens of employees. It’s expected to house up to 75 companies, and will include a meeting space for up to 150 people.
From the website, the Village’s plan is to “bring the community together, promote serendipitous interactions, and be a powerful tool for recruiting the best talent. ATV is designed as a campus for all types of people doing innovative things.”
“Too much money is wasted by startups on ill-fitting long term leases and heavy customization” Says Cummings. “The Tech Village will alleviate these pains for startups”
David is committed to investing another $5 million in the building for renovations that should be finished by Summer 2013. Think rooftop decks, patio build outs, large sliding glass partitions, open areas, exposed ceilings and more. It’s going to be the only building of it’s kind in Atlanta that caters directly to the startup community, with pricing and terms unique to the needs of startups.
The Cambridge Innovation Center in Boston was an inspiration in the creation of the Village.
Atlanta has always been known for it’s big business. Companies headquartered here are some of the world’s largest and most influential (Coca-Cola, UPS, Home Depot, Delta, etc), but Atlanta has been overlooked a national scale as a startup community. With the building of the Tech Village and other major successes this year (Vitrue, BLiNQ Media, Pardot, Cloud Sherpas), Atlanta is beginning to change that stigma.
Led by a new breed of passionate, “give-first” entrepreneurs, the city of Atlanta is seeing momentum like never before. Entrepreneurs are taking risks, companies are exiting, and investment is happening. The Atlanta technology community is thriving and ATV is a integral part of the momentum.
In November 2008, T.A.McCann, (or TA) an entrepreneur based in Seattle was getting restless. (We’ll save the Sleepless in Seattle analogy for another story
It was time for him to raise his first round but what kept him up at night was (besides the funding) the board-CEO chemistry. This was TA’s sixth startup, and he wanted to make sure he did what his gut told him – seek out those investors who understand the business and not just bring money. And can stand alongside and support his entrepreneurial roller coaster ride!
TA did not start searching for money and made a few moves that show his entrepreneurial acumen. And a lot of entrepreneurs can draw some lessons from his story – he is one of the few we know who proactively built his board.
TA did his homework well and knowing Brad is an avid runner, asked him via a tweet for some suggestions on places to run in Boulder, CO. A few weeks later, on a cold December morning, Brad and TA, not necessarily dressed in their best attires meet at 6:00 am and head out for a run. Five months later, Foundry Group led a $6.75 million Series A investment in Gist alongwith Vulcan Capital. (Read the WSJ blog on how Gist’s new funding began with a twitter message)
Brad joined the board along with Steve Hall of Vulcan Capital and a classic three member startup board was formed. As we interviewed TA for Startup Boards book, we found a simple theme that governs and creates a good startup board dynamic:
1) Startup boards function like a team: All three were actively involved in all decisions and walked alongside – there was no hierarchy. “It would have been very weird if we had the formal stuff of motions, votes, call to order and such” says TA. We were like a team.
2) No painful board slides: TA would prepared a pithy 2/3 slide presentation where the board would discuss top 3 issues and how they could help. “It was not a presentation in my view but more a framework for discussion – 80% of time was spent in discussing the hard issues —- and yes, it was productive” says TA.
3) Making tough decisions and delivering strong outcomes: The board and TA (as CEO) would often not agree on everything. “For example, I wanted to find a way to get some revenues and the board wanted to push for adoption - we were split straight in the middle on this decision. But we picked a path and the board supported me at every step. I had to earn their trust by my actions – these are accomplished only after you deliver meaningful outcomes” TA says. ”The hardest part for any CEO is to admit I dont know” he adds, but if you build a trusting board-CEO relationship, this becomes easier.
With TA, it was a text book case – a great CEO, a supportive board and good market timing – in late 2011, Gist was acquired by RIM / Blackberry. Three years after the first round of investment, everyone celebrated the outcomes. Read TA views here in his blog How VCs can be awesome board members
As CEO, you need to know how your investors can
(a) function as a part of your team,
(b) how they behave in the time of crisis,
(c) how they can support you when you are missing milestones – rest assured you will miss plenty of milestones.
If you build your board proactively, you can be assured of supportive behavior in tough situations. We all have had our share of bad relationships – screamers and unstable minds who crumble under pressure, or worse threaten to fire / sue / emotionally blackmail you. One CEO we know was threatened of shareholder action after a down round. Entrepreneurs who focus too much only on the money (scoring a high pre-money) and not enough on the board-CEO chemistry run this risk – a non-trivial issue by any means.
In such situations, you get the money but end up dealing with all kinds of unknowns. Its like getting married only for the dowry (lots of cash, a flat screen TV, some gold or even a convertible beemer) and having no emotional connection with your partner. So if you chose to focus only on the money, at least follow the best practices of dowry — ask for a flat screen TV with that term sheet!
I recently wrote a post titled All CEOs Should Be An Outside Director For One Company.
Mark Suster from GRP historically disagreed, saying “I’ve always believed startup founders need extreme focus on only their company to succeed.”
But my post changed his mind and today he wrote an awesome post today titled Should You Really Sit on Other Boards When You’re a Startup Founder?
If you are a startup founder or a CEO, I encourage you to go read each post and think about it, especially the day before and the day after your next board meeting.