Allen Nance

Literally the Springbot Napkin

Been a while since I blogged.  Who am I kidding you didn’t even notice.  Thought I would take this opportunity to share some thoughts related to the recent announcement that Springbot has raised an additional $6 Million in financing to accelerate growth after growing their customer base 500%.

Building Something from Nothing is hard, but everyone around the technology (startup) eco-system seems hell bent on finding the acronym or book or better yet the meet-up that will clear the skies and make the path forward seem possible.  Maybe we will all find that, in the meantime, my personal experience is that it is possible but extremely hard.

(Fun Image: I found the restaurant napkin / table cloth from the first time I ever explained Springbot to someone).

Springbot Picture

Lessons Learned (First Three Years):

–  IDEA: The addressable market is more important than the specifics of the business plan, pricing, and customer acquisition model when you first begin exploring an idea.  I have written this before and I will say it again, I worry that Lean Startup means pivot to a feature and by the very nature it is small.  I understand the concept, find Product/Market fit (I get it), but how do you do that and have a clear picture of the big opportunity where the initial product market fit is only step one.

– TEAM: Do you want to own 90% of nothing, or 5% of something big?  I ask this question because recruiting the most talented team to build something from nothing requires sharing the opportunity.  I can’t state enough how important the deeply experienced team at Springbot is to driving the current success and will be the reason the company is successful longer term.  I applaud the management team for making every single team member a shareholder from day one.

– ALLOCATION: The market will change (it always does), but right now, there is seed, venture, and growth capital available.  I am not saying it is a bubble, don’t read that.  What I am saying is that the market is very good right now.  With that said, raising money isn’t what makes a company successful or grow, it is the allocation (investing) of that money.  Think about it for a second.  I often use the home renovation example: you go take out a loan to renovate your house, you do the designs yourself, because you read a book, hire your family member, who just got into the biz, and completely mess up your house.  It is worth less, I promise.

This post is not intended to be everything I have learned from Springbot, or the startup blueprint, just the things I will carry forward with me and really focus on.  There are a 1,000 small things that they do right, and I am sure some they do wrong.  What they did right was: think big from the beginning and paint a product roadmap that stepped them towards the big opportunity, the team is world-class (with experience), and sure they raised money, but they allocate as well as any team I have ever seen to drive growth.

Happy Birthday TechSquare Labs

Happy Birthday TechSquare Labs.  Amazing its been a year.  A year of dreaming big, working hard, learning constantly, and enjoying life.  I hate “Year in Review” formats, they are entirely about looking backwards, and feel like a pat on the back or drinking your own kool-aid.  I am not flexbile enough to pat my back, and I don’t like kool-aid.  Yep you read it right, I don’t like kool-aid.  Now my addiction to Diet Coke, that is another topic.

Pic TSL

So, happy first year, and now onto the second year:

Dream Big

It required a big dream to even start TechSquare Labs.  Yes, it was and is a startup.  Creating something from nothing isn’t a slogan, its a way of life.  We are currently helping build seven businesses ranging from information security, marketing automation, hardware, real estate software, and banking technology.  They each have a big dream and a big market to chase, but most importantly not a single one is a feature.  They each address a systemic opportunity in a market.  We committed to going big and if you look at who we are working with they each have that opportunity.  I understand they won’t all make it, that’s fine, they are all dreaming big.

Work Hard

Just go ask anyone that is around TechSquare Labs if we work hard.  Seriously just ask them.  You will get at least three examples or stories.  Creating something from nothing is hard work, really hard.  Each team ranging from one hundred employees to three have seen hands on examples of hard work.  Whether it is recruiting a talented team member, looking at some code, hell, setting up a booth, or making a cold call, these companies are grinding.  This past year, Paul Judge gave a speech and said it clearly, “talent is insufficient, preparation is required, and hard work is the differentiator.”

Learn Constantly

I have personally learned so much this past year from Paul, the teams, and investors.  I am even more excited about what I will learn in the future.  The teams are learning from each other and this will only accelerate when we open our physical space.  Everyone has an opportunity to learn and what worked at one company we are quickly sharing with another team, it is all a circle.  What we learn from an investor looking at one of our current companies is immediately useful in helping us evaluate an opportunity the next morning with an entrepreneur.

Enjoy Life

Really?  Do you have to ask.  Do Paul and Allen have fun.  Always, every single day.  Enjoying life is not a vacation, it is a frame of mind.  We enjoy seeing technology, meeting entrepreneurs, negotiating, and everything that is involved with creating something from nothing.

Its been a great year, but the future is what I am celebrating.

REscour : Startup Review and Opportunity

REscour, a commercial real estate data visualization and intelligence platform, today announced the close of a $1.3 million seed investment round. Led by Jason Calacanis’s Launch Fund and AngelList syndicate, and TechSquare Labs, the round also included Mosley Ventures, Tom Cousins’ Nonami Investments, President of ARA Blake Okland, and former CEO of AutoTrader.com Chip Perry. The capital will be used to expand REscour’s engineering team, accelerate enterprise sales and increase awareness of the REscour platform. REscour also announced that Allen Nance, partner at Tech Square Labs, will join the board of directors.”

select_company_logo_0015_rescour

Enough of the press release content.  Just wanted to share a few thoughts about REscour and why I am so excited about this team, this opportunity, and this investment.

This Team:

– Jake Edens the CEO, knows the commercial real estate industry and has a point of view on its future and intends to create that future.

– Chris Lexmond the CTO, knows the commercial real estate data ecosystem and is a product focused technical leader, he wants users to love the product.

– The other team members love working at REscour and you can feel it when you are around them, the energy is contagious.

This Opportunity:

– It is an enormous market.  Not big, not huge, its gigantic.

– Atlanta is a commerical real estate town and the perfect place to disrupt the entire industry.

– Data businesses are great businesses.

This Investment:

– All the investors are committed to going big.  They see the opportunity.

– The investor group includes real estate experts, the Atlanta community, and West Coast support.

– Its a great example of the TechSquare Labs model.

I have said it before, creating something from nothing is hard as shit.  Too many people focus on the news articles and the success, not the work, the process, and sacrifice.  Watching Rescour over the last year has me excited about this team, this opportunity, and this investment.

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.

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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.

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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.