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Where Are the Women’s Liquidity Events?

I shared my excitement about where Atlanta is headed in this post over the weekend. I’m excited to see numerous founders complete eight- and nine-figure liquidity events. I’m even more excited that they want to give back and help emerging founders. And I keep thinking about this founder group.

From a race perspective, Atlanta is unique, and I love that. A group of diverse (non-white) founders have sold their companies or raised funding rounds of eight or nine figures. That’s huge and a testament to what makes the city special. I personally know some of these founders, and it’s an amazing thing to see up close. They’re inspirations to so many other founders of color not only in Atlanta but around the country. In Atlanta, they help provide much-needed proximity to success for diverse founders. I have no doubt that their success will lead to many others being successful.

It struck me, though, that I know of only one female founder who’s exited or raised eight or nine figures. I can name a few men who’ve done it in the last eight months, but women? One in the last 5 years. I reached out to an investor and founder to find out if I’m missing something or just out of the loop. They both confirmed this is likely accurate (although a few women have raised seven figures—I commend them!). Atlanta is full of amazing female founders, so this realization is extremely disappointing.

People way smarter than me have put in years’ worth of groundwork in Atlanta to address this problem, and I salute them for those efforts. I’m looking forward to being part of the solution as well and can’t wait until Atlanta’s female founders are experiencing eight- and nine-figure acquisitions or capital raises!

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A Safe Space Helps

I chatted with another investor who’s also a former founder. We shared our founder experiences and how the cities we lived in affected them. In doing so, we discovered another thing we have in common: though our journeys were different, they were both shaped by safe spaces with good people in them.

I was a nontechnical founder building a tech company who didn’t know what an API is. I needed help! And I found it. Through my relationships with technical founders, I began to understand technology and the possibilities it could unlock. Meeting those peers was great, but that alone wasn’t the game changer. Being able to interact with them in a safe environment was the real boon. Everyone could let their guards down because we knew we wouldn’t be judged for not understanding something. A deeper level of knowledge sharing than I’d ever experienced was possible. There were no dumb questions. People just shared all they knew in hopes that it would help someone else be successful.  

If you’re a current or aspiring founder, consider looking for a safe space where you can learn from other founders. You’re more likely to succeed if you can learn from others who’ve done something similar!

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Some Founders Build to Belong

Why founders start businesses always intrigues me. I’ve paid attention to this question over the years so I have insight into what motivates people, and I can tell you that sometimes it’s not for the reasons you would think.

I’ve connected with two founders with amazing success stories who’ve sold their companies. They don’t know each other, but they were motivated to create by the same thing. They knew problems existed that they wanted to solve. They felt like they didn’t fit in at traditional organizations because they didn’t go to Ivy League schools or have unique relationships. They felt strongly about solving these problems in environments that welcomed them. Such places didn’t exist, so they set out to create them.

Fast forward to now. One founder’s venture capital firm manages over $500 million on behalf of its investors. The other founder’s company has hundreds of employees and annual revenue approaching $100 million. Both were built from scratch.

I love both of these stories. These founders were motivated to solve problems they were passionate about and to do it in places that were more open and accepting of them and others like them. You could call that a win–win.

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Empathy May Help Reshape How We Work

I spoke with a close friend about her work today. She’s in corporate America and is rethinking where she works. She’s in an extremely expensive city with no family nearby. Three years ago, her boss asked her if she wanted to stay there or move back home. Her response was that technology would allow her to live and work from anywhere. She said moving home and working the same business hours as her colleagues would be ideal. Her boss looked at her like she was crazy. She was frustrated, but she understood. To stay in her role, she would have to remain in the expensive city far from family.

Fast forward to today. She may propose the same remote work arrangement to her boss again. She’s confident that this time it would get serious consideration. The pandemic has been tough on everyone, and we’re ready to move past it. For all the negatives, I think one positive thing will come from it: empathy. Large segments of the workforce experienced the same things at the same time: working from home and a lack of community. Suddenly many of us have reason to understand what others are going through and how they feel.

We’re at a pivotal point in how we work. Remote work is mainstream and company leaders have a high level of empathy for their employees. I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but I think this period will shape how we work for the foreseeable future. I’m hopeful that more people will be able to do their dream job from the location that’s best for them.  

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The Best Is Yet to Come, ATL

In the last month I’ve had an opportunity to speak with a number of tech investors outside the Southeast. Some well along in their careers and others just starting. I’ve noticed a consistent theme: they’re all paying VERY close attention to what’s happening in Atlanta. Some are even looking to relocate here. One seasoned investor at a reputable firm said he and his team think Atlanta is a top-five city for tech startups.

I’ve lived in Atlanta a long time. I’ve been watching the tech startup landscape evolve. I’ve always thought Atlanta is special and a great place for entrepreneurs. Now outsiders are taking notice. I think Atlanta is at a tipping point and a convergence of factors will make the city the mecca of startups and entrepreneurship (if it isn’t already). The city has logged some big fund-raising rounds and exits in the last few years. That’s putting capital in the hands of employees at local startups, who can angel invest in more emerging local companies. It’s also increasing awareness among the national investor community, who want to invest in local startups.

Working from home has more people rethinking where they want to live. Atlanta offers a unique mix of characteristics that makes it an attractive place where people can see themselves putting down roots. Working from home has also removed geographic limitations on investment. Founders in Atlanta and investors outside Atlanta no longer have to get on a plane to connect. They can meet and close deals on video. There are a ton of other factors too, but these are some big ones.

Atlanta has always had scrappy founders who’ve done amazing things. I think local founders will continue to see the resources and knowledge available to them expand as the profile of the Atlanta ecosystem continues to increase. This can only accelerate their success and allow them to pursue bigger and bolder ideas. I’m excited to see all this come to fruition!

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365 Consecutive Posts

Today marks my 365th consecutive day of sharing my thoughts. Exactly one year ago, I began posting because of a friend's challenge. Little did I know the impact that decision would have. Our sixty-day challenge has gone on for a year and counting.

Thanks, Ethan, for encouraging me to share more. I never would have gotten to this point without your suggestion. I’d also like to say thank you to everyone who’s read any of my posts. Your time is valuable, and I appreciate your spending some of it with me. I hope they were helpful and added value to your life.

Posting over the last year has been one of the most challenging, but also fulfilling, things I’ve done in a long time. It’s become something I look forward to and plan to continue!

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Community Lead Growth

I recently spoke with a founder who shared an interesting vision of the future of community. He believes community lead growth will be a way for companies to acquire and retain customers. Companies will create digital communities where people of similar interests come together. The company will support each community and provide resources to help it thrive. It will become the go-to place for people interested in its topic. People will go to not only learn but also share their expertise. Users will become loyal customers and evangelists for the community, the company, and the company’s brand. It will mushroom— more people will contribute to the community; the company will get more customers. There’s more to it, but you get the gist.

I’ve shared my thoughts on community before. The world has evolved so much in the last year. People are seeking digital communities focused on the things that matter to them. I think providing them is a huge opportunity. I like this founder’s idea, and I see it as a way for companies to connect with people in an authentic manner. I’m interested to learn more about community lead growth and how technology can support this movement.

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Outlander Demo Day

Today I attended Outlander’s first-ever demo day. All the presenters were Outlander portfolio companies. They’re tackling interesting problems and are great representatives of Southeast start-ups. Here are the demo day companies:

  • Talli – An IoT device and software that provides one-touch, mobile, and hands-free logging for infant care, senior care, and home health.
  • ChipEleven – An open-source chip-building ecosystem that will spur hardware innovation just like Linux did for software.
  • Barometer (formerly Vericrypt ) – AI-based software to help companies analyze, identify, and score bias in their writing.
  • Spaceship – A continuous-delivery platform that helps companies deploy software faster.
  • Strapt  – Cashless and contactless IoT dispensers that drive new brand engagement and insights for brands through free product sampling and actionable consumer data.

I personally worked with some of these founders to prepare for demo day and couldn’t be prouder of them! They did a great job and I’ll be excited to watch their continued success.

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Working Remotely – But Not Always at Home

Today I had a great conversation with an old friend. We talked about working from home, and he pointed out something interesting. He’s mostly working from home, but he feels a need to go to the office some days. Pre-pandemic, he enjoyed working from home occasionally because it was peaceful and he wouldn’t be interrupted. Today, though, his children are doing virtual learning and his home is rarely quiet. He can do without his commute, but he still needs a space where he can focus. Currently, that’s his empty office building. He wishes there was a quiet place he could work closer to home.

I doubt that most companies will go back to requiring employees to be in the office five days a week. It’s clear that people can be productive working remotely. I also doubt that most employees will want to work at home five days a week. Some sort of separation between home and work is helpful for many of us. So where does that leave us? I think we’ll end up with a hybrid situation.

People will go to an office periodically when it makes sense—say, to meet with their team or clients. When people aren’t in the office, they’ll work remotely. Not necessarily from home, though. “Remotely” means outside the office. People will work from their community or neighborhood or somewhere else that works best for their life. I can see local coworking spaces becoming very popular. Large coworking spaces like WeWork will continue, too. And companies will begin contributing to the cost of employees using these spaces.

Historically, people had to go where the work was. Because of technology, that’s becoming unnecessary for more and more people. We’ll see a trend of people working away from the mothership in the communities and neighborhoods where they live. I’m just not sure when.

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Building the Support System Southern Founders Need

When I spoke recently with an investor in a medium-sized city in the Southeast, I asked him about his tech ecosystem. He thinks his city is moving in the right direction, but it keeps running into a couple of major barriers:

  • Nontechnical founders – He comes across excellent founders regularly, but they can’t build a technical product. They struggle to find technical co-founders. If they don’t give up, they hire a development shop. His portfolio companies haven’t had great results with outside development shops, even when they have strong founders.
  • Funding – The community has wealthy individuals and families. Their wealth derives from legacy industries that have historically been economic drivers in the city (not so much anymore). Founders struggle to raise funding because people who have the means to invest don’t understand tech start‑ups. It’s gotten better, but they’ve got a long way to go. They’re actively organizing a network of angel investors so people can educate one another.

I was happy to hear that this investor is working hard to help tech start-ups succeed in his city. Our conversation reinforced something I’ve thought for a long time. The South has talented founders, but to succeed they need support. Funding is a big piece. So is community to help them connect more easily and form well-rounded founding teams. I’m looking forward to working with this investor and others across the South to help founders reach their full potential!

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