Allen Nance

YP: Billion Dollar Marketing Technology Leader

Atlanta’s billion dollar marketing technology leader.  Paint this town Yellow and Black.  Please.  Not only because it would go nicely with my beloved Georgia Tech, but also because we need to celebrate this company, partner with them, and let them lead.

So who is this billion dollar marketing technology leader?  Well, it isn’t your grandparents Yellow Pages, its a reborn, getting cooler by the day, digital marketing company, who is lead by a world-class team of executives and cut 9 letters out of their name.

YP

Digital To Surpass Print at YP:

– Rock solid executive management team with a vision for digital.

– Over 1,000 sales executives.

– Hundreds of thousands of digital customers.

– 80 Million monthly digital users.

I have had the luxury of spending time with the management team of YP and I continue to be impressed, but I also continue to be shocked that the “martech mafia” running around Atlanta has no idea that all of us combined are a week of YP’s revenue (ok maybe a month) but you get the point.  Can you imagine if YP moved into Midtown (maybe even Technology Square) and opened a campus for a billion dollar marketing technology leader.  It would be game changing.  Until that happens, lets celebrate them, invite them to our events, partner with them, show them what we are working on, and encourage them to take a leadership role.

Here is a great video of David Krantz YP’s CEO talking about the future.

Capital, Competition, Culture, Change

The entrepreneurial journey, have you noticed no one is talking about it.  I don’t get it, why are more people not talking about entrepreneurship, or raising money, or starting a business, or opening real estate to support entrepreneurs?  Of course I am kidding, Atlanta is now officially a GIANT INCUBATOR!

That is not a bad thing.  I am all for more.  This week I had an opportunity to spend a lunch with the SalesLoft team and decided to test drive this blog post with them.  They didn’t boo or throw Chic-fil-a at me, all in all the feedback seemed positive.  The SalesLoft team was the perfect audience for this post because it ties to some new lessons I am sharing with current entrepreneurs seeking to scale their businesses and teams.

Allen and Kyle

Lessons and thoughts:

Capital:  I continue to be surprised by the lack of alignment around an entrepreneurs stated goal and the amount of capital they are raising, or have.  I consistently keep hearing I want to go dominate this market (because that is what you are suppose to say) and I am raising $200,000, would you like to invest $25,000.

Competition:  I continue to be disappointed by the lack of understanding of the competition, and I continue to surprise people by my understanding of their competition.  I hear, no one else is doing this, or that other company – yep, they suck, or worse yet, a complete lack of acknowledging adjacent competitors.  Competition is healthy, we need to understand it better and encourage it.

Culture: I wish more people understood that cultures change.  Teams change.  The best companies adjust as the company scales.  Does this mean core values change, or mission, not exactly.  What I mean is I visit with young startups that have 30 employees, all of which are members of the exact same fraternity or sorority, and they are all best friends.  That will change if you scale your business.  Ten years from now those same team members will look completely different (well a few won’t change and be that dude that is just a little too old to be up in the club, you know what I mean).  How will your culture adapt to families, children, and the general assault of life?

Change: What got you to $1 million of ARR or $3 million, or even $5 million will not be exactly the same as what it takes to get to $10 million, or $20 million or $100 million.  Change will come.  Building a team that is proud of the past but focused on the future is key to scaling.  Challenges will come, I promise, they will come, be ready to change and attack the new opportunity in a new way.

Building a business is really hard.  Be proud of just starting and being employee number one, be proud of any little success, determine the right capital structure to build the type of business you want (there isn’t right or wrong answers, but there are right or wrong structures to support a stated goal), understand that you do have competition, acknowledge your culture will be different in the future, and change is required.

In Relationships : Do you Add or Subtract?

In relationships : do you add or subtract?  Today’s blog post comes from several interactions I’ve had recently where people have commented both negatively and positively on my business methods.  OK, maybe business methods isn’t the right statement, honestly, it is difficult to separate my business and personal styles.  For better or worse (as they say) to me they are one in the same.  If you meet me in a meeting, see me speak, read my blog, do business with me, have a drink with me, or watch me coach my daughter’s basketball team, you will notice one simple thing: I am always the same.

funny-laugh-smile-trust-Favim.com-638388

So, do you add or subtract, where did I start with you?  This question is an important one!  Before you answer it let me explain: when you first meet someone do they start at 100% and you subtract or are they at 0% and you add.  This is not a right or wrong type question, it is really a style question.

With me, everyone’s at 100%.  I don’t really care what someone tells me about you, or I read about you, or honestly what you even tell me about yourself.  I start at 100% and subtract.

I have seen both styles work successfully.  Again, it is not right or wrong, it is style.  My personal style of relationship building is extremely personal and trusting, with me, everyone starts at 100% then I start subtracting.  There are admittedly pros and cons to both styles – on a personal note, an investor in New York once conducted a pshycological profile on me (I failed the test) and it came back with one really big concern.  The profile said I had a “warm, trusting, almost politician like feel”, then went on to state the biggest concern for them, “you can meet with Allen, leave, say to yourself, that meeting went perfect, he loves me, and right after you leave, I say, that meeting was terrible, I never want to meet that person again”.

I don’t view my style as a bad thing, I love that everyone starts at 100%, regardless of what that profile test said, I am going to keep making people feel important, listen to them, do what I say, and be a good team member, it has worked so far.

Unicorn Sighting in Technology Square

Unicorn sighting in Technology Square.  For one of the most blogging towns in America I have been surprised to not see 10 blog posts from the technology leaders in Atlanta about the recent news regarding Technology Square.  Every time someone asks me what is missing in Atlanta’s technology eco-system I always have the same answer, “a billion dollar technology company as the anchor, with a big building and flags flying out front (I always wave my hands like a flag), that all the engineers graduating from Georgia Tech want to work at and is the aspiration of startups”.

Unicorn TechSquare Mascot

I can literally hear the cash register ringing:

– NCR was founded in 1884, based on today’s entrepreneurial frenzy measurements, it is a startup!

– NCR IPOed in 1926 (interesting it took 42 years)

– NCR built the first bar code scanner in 1974

– NCR was bought by AT&T in 1991 (interesting I didn’t know that, 1996 became NCR again)

– NCR spins out Teradata (big data) in 2007

– NCR moves to Atlanta, Georgia in 2009

– NCR acquires Digital Insight in 2014 (Atlanta is a big online banking innovator)

– NCR moves to Technology Square in 2018

This is game changing.  NCR will become the anchor of the Atlanta technology community and their selection of Technology Square sends a clear message, it is a special place, worthy of a $280 million dollar investment.  I have blogged about my thoughts regarding Technology Square, and my feelings continue to grow.  The more time I spend at the corner of 5th and Spring the more I fall in love.  Technology Square has all the ingredients and I predict it becomes a “named location”.  You know what I mean, you are in another part of the world and someone says “TechSquare, yeah, I’ve been there”.

While I was writing this blog post, Urvaksh posted this!

Final thought.  Technology Square needs a mascot.  I vote for a Unicorn, in a Unitard, on a Unicyle.  How long until someone actually does this? Go.

Old Tricks New Dog

Old Tricks New Dog, or Old Dog New Tricks?  Happy holidays from the coast of South Georgia.  As I spend time relaxing and enjoying being disconnected from the hustle of my normal days I did what it seems we all do – reflect, measure, and ponder.  I do love this time of year – not because of the excessive purchasing but because I seem to be driven by “new”.  New challenges, new adventures, new obstacles, and new lessons.

photo-7 copy

I will share again a simple formula for focusing your 2015 Goals: Dream Big, Work Hard, Learn Constantly and Enjoy Life.

So, why old tricks new dog?  A little over a year ago, actually about 16 months ago, I committed myself to becoming more “technical”.  Why you ask, well, as I discussed in this Ondoers Episode, I simply think the world is becoming more technical and I don’t believe for a second that technology is commoditized.  The engineering challenges we face in the future will be harder then anything we’ve ever accomplished – and I want to participate.

What has this new focus on being more technical meant for me personally?

1.  I’ve resharpened my technical skills using Code Academy and enjoyed every minute of it.  I have always enjoyed computers and simply drifted away from it.

2.  At WhatCounts we have completely rebuilt the engineering team, and my ability to help them paint a picture of the “Future of Email” is helped by my sharpened technical focus.

3.  My partnership with Paul Judge, well, simply would not exist if I wasn’t committed to being more technical.

4.  I get to interact with the technical minds solving complex problems at Ionic Security, Pindrop Security, Springbot, Monsieur, Rescour, StackfolioCheckDroid and InsightPool : and I am keeping up, I can feel their appreciation for me asking real questions about the technology.

I am not giving up on sales and marketing, not at all, I am simply realizing that a focus on technology, product, and innovation is a better place to start, then sell and market the sh*t out of the solution.  It has not been easy, it is has been trying at times, demoralizing, and ego-checking – but I won’t stop.  Just in the last two months I have seen that look from developers when they realize I completely understand the technology, or that once a month high I get when I say something and Paul Judge gives me that look (you know, that ok smile).

Have you ever been playing golf or actually playing any sport, and hit that one “great” shot, that keeps you coming back.  Well, just the other day I was sitting with Adam Ghetti and the investors from Ionic and I explained how I thought Ionic worked – SILENCE – fell over the room (ok, just kidding), but in all seriousness I could see that look on Adam’s face, “is Allen really about to do this?”  I explain it, through an analogy, moved my hands as little as possible, and everyone in the room gave me that look (you know, that ok smile).  It was just enough to motivate me to keep playing.

Being more technical isn’t a new trick, some of the greatest companies in the world have been built by highly technical minds, so I say I am a New Dog.

Should Everyone Learn to Code

Should everyone learn to code?  I have shared that I am making a concentrated effort to become more technical, yes, part of that is taking Code Academy classes online.  Am I planning to build a product, no I am not.  So, why am I learning to code, simple, I am convinced it is the “language of the future” (actually, today).  Have you ever wondered, why do Americans only speak English (mostly), and other parts of the world speak multiple languages and specifically they speak English.  Why does everyone take US Dollars?  Stop rolling your eyes, travel outside the country to any modern or emerging market, they speak English, and they take dollars.  Why?  For the last 100 years the United States economy was the primary driver of the global economy, making English the language of commerce.

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 4.15.01 PM

So I ask again, should everyone learn to code?  Recently I had a chance to watch Paul Judge deliver a speech at the Platform event held in Atlanta, Georgia and during that speech he says, “I’ve never seen a basketball player who doesn’t dribble”.  He was making a point that “coding, programming, hacking” is the language of our time and the future.

Here is a decent list of languages spoken:

1.  Chinese/Mandarin

2.  Spanish

3.  English

4.  Hindi

5.  Arabic

I started thinking, if coding was simply thought of as a spoken language how would we answer the question, should everyone learn to code?  Should everyone speak “computer”?

Here is a report on how many developers the world has.  So we have 20,000,000 people who speak the language of the future, doesn’t seem like nearly enough.  Honestly what worries me: speaking computer becomes the primary divider between those that have opportunity and those that don’t.  The same number of people speak “Napli (.25%) – language of Nepal” as speak computer. What’s the difference, Nepal has never driven the global economy!

A Look Inside TechSquare Labs

Do you want a look inside TechSquare Labs?  Lets call this an update post.  Lots of progress has been made since my last post about TechSquare Labs in Atlanta.  I have personally loved the learning process.  I already blogged about what I have learned in the process, so this post will be more update and thoughts.

TSL-exterior

Atlanta has all the Ingredients:

I can’t go to another meeting where someone tells me the one missing ingredient in the entrepreneurial eco-system is the one thing they have on the next slide.  Ingredients are one thing, baking a cake is another.  I have not spent one minute worried about our ingredients, I’m just focused on baking the best cake possible.  Atlanta has 15 Fortune 500, 27 Fortune 1000, over 250,000 university students, tons of smart people, a proven track record, and plenty of amazing companies.

Technology Square is the Perfect Oven:

The more time I have spent in and around Technology Square (5th and Spring) the more I see how visionary it truly is.  I laugh because people forget that it was parking lots and drug deals until 2000.  People also forget that 2000-2003 was not exactly a booming time in technology (Dot-com bubble).  What a bold move.  Following the dot-com bubble, Georgia Tech and a group of visionaries built what is today 700,000 square feet of research, academic, accelerator, incubation, and labs focused on technology innovation – oh and a Starbucks + Wafflehouse combo!

TechSquare Inside

A Look Inside TechSquare Labs:

Paul Judge and I were given the rare chance to purchase a free-standing building (I believe the last remaining) in Technology Square (an old Office Depot building) and we jumped at it.  The location is perfect, the building is perfect, and we are excited to redevelop it into the future home of TechSquare Labs.  Check out the new website.  The facility will open in March-April 2015 and include flexible space for innovation, company building, and corporate labs.  Of course if you are interested in learning more, just visit the website.

How can you help?  If you are a technical founder, reach out to us.  If you are interested in working inside TechSquare Labs in the spring, reach out to us.  If you are an enterprise and interested in corporate innovation and lab facilities, reach out to us.  I will continue to blog updates and we truly appreciate all the support we have received – we look forward to welcoming you into 859 Spring Street.

Employees Acting Like Owners

Employees acting like owners?  Who doesn’t want a team of entrepreneurs who are driven, motivated, focused, and acting like owners?  This was a recent discussion I found myself in with a group of investors.  It was actually a simple question I asked, why doesn’t everyone act like an owner, and I got a really simple answer back (honestly, it was kind of a back handed slap – what do you call that again?) — everyone isn’t an owner.

a-employee-cartoon

This got me thinking.  What is it that motivates me, the management teams I work with, and specifically the amazing teams I get a chance to spend time with?  I explored my specific motivations and found that what drives me is:

– Always being treated as a professional

– Not being micromanaged

– Trading complete flexibility for almost ruthless accountability

– Being an owner

Over the last 15 years that I have built my current career (I say current because there is so much more to do) I’ve never been into the beer keg, video game, college culture environments that seem so popular today.  Let us not forget I lived through 1998 – 2001 so the current “cultures” are not new to me, it didn’t motivate me in 1999 when I was in my twenties anymore then it motivates me now.  What motivated me in 1999 and what motivates me now is: being treated as a professional, never being micromanaged, having complete flexibility with my schedule as long as I always deliver, and of course being an owner.

This brings me to the reason for today’s post.  Leaving that meeting (discussion) I committed to myself to never be involved in any business that didn’t map to what motivates me – but – I had a challenge.  WhatCounts was a 14 year old business that at one time everyone was an owner, but that was no longer true.  Yes, I was the founder of a company that candidly had moved away from my primary motivators.  Through a series of acquisitions, rounds of financing, and new benefits packages the “everyone is an owner” got lost.  Let me tell you, that isn’t easy to fix 14 years into a business.

Urvaksh Karkaria of the Atlanta Business Chronicle published an article entitled “Invasion of Tech Giants Forcing Up Salaries”.  He asked me to be interviewed for the article (yes, that moment I realize he only puts me in articles that are published on a Friday following Thanksgiving, so I know you didn’t see it).  In this article I shared that I will never be involved in a business where every single team member is not an owner – and I am proud to say this is now also true for WhatCounts.

The next time you are with me, and I ask a simple question, just slap me, and give me the simple answer, I am a good listener.

Lessons from 6 Weeks of Angel Investing

Lessons from 6 weeks of Angel Investing.  Interesting question from Mr. Cummings.  I was up the other night straight hating on my own blog and this question popped through.  It is a good question, but I’m still trying to rethink my blog and would appreciate any thoughts on that.  It’s not just the writing – I enjoy that, it is getting bored with it, which interesting enough relates directly to today’s question.  What have I learned in the last six weeks of angel investing?

Angel Investing

Six weeks ago covers all of September, so I reviewed my calendar, Evernote, and checkbook:

Lesson One: Being more Technical Makes me Better

I just finished the Ruby classes on Code Academy and I can tell you without question it has made me a better investor.  My thought processes are now more product centric – balancing my natural sales and marketing instincts.  I had a tendency to think I can sell anything which is actually useless for investing.  At least three times in the last six weeks I’ve thrown bullshit flags at entrepreneurs related to their solutions (meaning it straight up didn’t work) but I’ve also helped (I think) several make their products better.

Lesson Two:  Opportunity Lies in Dark Scary Corners

On a regular basis Paul Judge and Adam Ghetti scare the living Sh*t out of me.  There are days I truly think “ignorance is bliss”.  Being around Ionic Security and Pindrop Security has been a tremendous learning experience.  Atlanta is clearly an InfoSec hub, and now I know (just) enough to understand the opportunity.  The Internet is not safe, far from it – and there are tons of opportunities in making scary places safer.  (side note: I have openly admitted passing on Social Fortress, well another opportunity presented itself and I jumped at it – I’ve always believed in Adam, I just didn’t understand it, now I actually do understand it and Adam would have been proud watching me explain it last night).

Lesson Three:  Unicorns need Trillions

TechSquare Labs has it’s first home grown deal ready (I can hear Urvaksh calling Paul).  The process of watching that idea come together has shown me that if you have any chance of creating a Unicorn (baseball speak for Big Ass Company) you need to being looking at problems that currently have billions if not trillions spent on them.  I will blog about this new business once it is fully ready to present, but the lesson is that the idea surrounds a space that already has nearly a trillion dollars worth of transactions in its current state.

Lesson Four: Technical Founders Rule the World

This was one of the hypothesizes I had over a year ago, that technology wasn’t getting commoditized like everyone thinks.  Meaning just because I can code a little now and spin up something on AWS (Amazon Web Services) or say MVP 10 times that doesn’t mean things are less technical or easier.  I truly believe that the world is getting more technical and the big problems need engineering minds to solve them.

Quick summary, the last six weeks has taught me a lot, and included three stock certificates: one in mobile applications, one in information security, and one in banking.  The group includes a Ph.D student, a current undergraduate student, and one no college.  All lead by technical founders.

TechSquare Labs review of HackGT

TechSquare Labs review of HackGT.  So, this weekend I had a chance to take my newly honed Code Academy skills down to Georgia Tech and watch in amazement as a group of students at Georgia Tech played host to 800+ hackers from 40 different universities.  As I have shared over the last year all of this is Adam Ghetti’s fault.  Not really but I am clearly in deep technical waters (I wonder if he thought I would do it).  A new partner, new coding skills, and a new focus on technical founders all lead me to HackGT.

Opening

The event started on Friday at 5PM with an opening ceremony on campus in the Ferst Center.  I can’t bullshit you, after running around town and raising money from sponsors I was nervous “will anyone show up”.  I kept having this vision of a party, DJ bumping, and I’m the only person there, why, because Paul Judge scared the hell out of me.  Then I turn the corner on campus and a line was already forming for registration (sigh of relief) – not only did people come – a ton of people came.

The student team at HackGT did an amazing job with the opening ceremony.  They were confident, in control, even when all the buses got stuck in Music Midtown.  To fill the time one of the directors started beatboxing and a Rap contest broke out (I threw in a $100 prize).  At that moment I said to myself, I don’t care if anyone can code they are rapping, did you hear me they are rapping.

Next up everyone moved over to the Klaus Building and got settled in for two full nights of building, hacking, and dream chasing.  As I walked around the building I couldn’t stop thinking – this is exactly what TechSquare Labs is all about.  Technical founders creating something from nothing.

Expo

I didn’t go over Saturday during the day, that is my kids soccerthon.  I did head back over on Sunday morning for the Expo and the Closing Ceremonies, Paul Judge and TechSquare Labs was giving away a $50,000 first place prize and I didn’t want to miss it.  Over 100 teams presented during the Expo and I was blown away by what they built in a single weekend.  One take away I had was, with all the tools available now, a good coder can make any product look amazing even if the idea is terrible.

Following the expo a group of sponsor judges selected the Top 10 that would present on stage at the closing ceremonies.  The top 10 included a hologram machine that brought Tupac back to life, a CPR machine to save 68% of us, a framework as a service to make coding easier, a file syncing service built on ONEDrive (who knew Microsoft had a storage offering), an app that lets you pretend you are popular when you don’t have friends, a decision engine to help you make life choices, an app that detects your mood and takes you to a bar, technology to bring sign language to your phone, a web app that gamifies recommendations, and lastly analytics for android users.

PickMeUp

My personal favorite was of course the hologram machine, come on, they brought Tupac to life right on stage, it was fire.  In fairness what do you do with that?  No idea.  But it was amazing they built that in a weekend.  The winning team was from PickMeUp.  They had a demo, but really what they had was the best “big idea”.  Can we add emotional intelligence to our technology?  Will our phones and apps know our “mood” in the future – once I saw it, I have to admit I said “yes”.  On top of that the team had all kinds of swag.  Congrats to the HackGT team, congrats to Georgia Tech, congrats to the hackers, congrats to the Atlanta community, and lastly congrats to the dude in American flag pants that is holding that big check.  I learned a ton, and I truly appreciate being a small part of this amazing event.