Lance Weatherby of ATDC and Socialytics wrote a post today entitled Nobody Told Me where he ranted about how there are too many startup activities in Atlanta and not enough people "creating products, getting customers, and building companies." After writing a long comment which his blog wouldn’t accept for some reason I decided now would be as good a time as any to start blogging again. What follows is the comment I originally wrote for Lance’s blog:
As someone who started a monthly Atlanta Web Entrepreneurs meetup back in Jan 2007 I feel like this post paints a target on my back. Hopefully that was not your intention?
What may not be obvious is I have been agonizing over the issues you described for over two years but not sure how my efforts could evolve to help. At the end of last year I finally realized how my efforts could positively affect execution and as such I made the changes to AWE that I did, i.e. renaming AWE to Atlanta Web Marketers and also launching Startup Atlanta.
First, one thing that I obviously wasn’t able to make clear to you (and others?) was that Atlanta Web Marketers is NOT targeted at Startups and listing it in this context is doing it a disserve. AWM is targeted at small and medium sized businesses, non-profits, government agencies and replicative entrepreneurs, NOT on innovative startup entrepreneurs with a goal of helping them market their products and services better on the web. FYI, there is a huge demonstrated need for people who are effectively operating their organizations to learn how to better market on the web and that’s the market need that AWM is targeting. AWM meetings is all about execution those people in those organizations, and by focusing on that target market it becomes a business itself and running the events are execution. So please take AWM off your list of Atlanta Startup events, as it’s not.
Next, Ignition Alley events are for the most part not startup-specific events either. Some are but most of them are targeting the same market as AWM events. It’s as unfair to list Ignition Alley events as being part of the glut of startup events as it it is to blame people who live and work intown as being part of the metro Atlanta’s rush hour traffic problem.
Continuing, there is Startup Atlanta and it is NOT an event; it is a (soon-to-be) non-profit who mission is to study the ecosystem, identify how to grow it and as much as possible be a catalyst help others execute on on advancing the ecosystem. Yes Startup Atlanta will run the #OnStage event monthly (which I think you misnamed as "OnStartup" in your post), it will run roundtables, it will run task force meetings, and it will probably run other events. However, unlike the former Atlanta Web Entrepreneurs events all of Startup Atlanta’s activities will be measured by how well the activities focus startup entrepreneurs on executing and/or growing the ecosystem support needed by startup entrepreneurs to execute and not providing new ways to waste time.
Specifically let’s look at #OnStage. It’s modeled after the NY Tech meetups that according to those I’ve spoken with in New York has been very effective in driving startup execution in the New York area. It’s an event that can give some local entrepreneurs exposure for their startup rather than how most have toiled in obscurity. As a requirement for presenting at #OnStage startup entrepreneurs must demo their offerings somehow (NO powerpoint) so all those who haven’t executed well enough to have something to show won’t qualify. In addition #OnStage allows the audience 10 minutes of rude Q&A forcing presenting entrepreneurs to be well prepared with a viable business model or to come across looking rather foolish to the community. Finally #OnStage rewards startup entrepreneurs who are doing the best job of executing by selecting winners and getting those winners more exposure which hopefully will mean more customers, partners and/or investors.
Beyond that, Startup Atlanta will only be promoting events that have as a goal to either advance the ecosystem or help startups execute better, and we’ll be focusing on metrics as much as possible.
And while Ben Sabrin and those like him may know all they need to execute well without outside help not everyone who could otherwise execute successfully knows everything they need to succeed. And that’s where targeted, smaller events come in including some we plan for Startup Atlanta. I’ve also noticed that ATDC has a plethora of such events which you didn’t mention including "Circles", "Brown Bags", "Open Coffees", and more. While they too add to the glut of events I actually expect they are of the type that will help startups execute better (well, maybe the first two named and possibly others; though not sure about Open Coffees.)
But while I think while your criticism would have been very well placed about this time last year today it’s a little late because we as an ecosystem have evolved. For example, I understand that StartupChicks is doing some really fabulous events focused on execution for their constituents (but as I lack the requried chromosomes I can’t give a firsthand testamonial.) Capital Lounge has renamed to StartupLounge Atlanta to refocus, according to my memory of my discussion with Scott Burkett, on execution rather than on raising capital. And Startup Gauntlet is focused on perfecting a pitch; again, execution and not something you can repeatedly attend. StartupRiot is as I understand it in large part focused on both getting local attention for startups and gaining attention from investors outside of Atlanta who actually write checks, and that is something many local startups badly need to execute as well. I believe most of these evolved because their organizers identified a need to focus more on results and execution.
And some of the other events you mentioned are industry or technology specific too, not startup-specific. So you do Mobile Monday, AWsome Atlanta, SoCon, and ProductCamp all a disserve by listing them here. (As an aside, you didn’t mention ATLRUG; it’s inline with AWsome so why not? As for ATDC/TAG Entrepreneurs and Venture Pipeline I don’t have enough experience with them to comment.)
So Lance please do get to know the value each event and it’s associated organization has to local startup execution and learn which events are startup-related and which are not. Casting doubt on the value certain activities bring may end up harming the creation of products, the gaining of customers and the building of companies more than it helps.
P.S. Personally speaking, I spent 2007 through 2009 getting to know people in the Atlanta startup community and to build relationships both as an event host and by attending as many related events as I could. I had never done this locally during my prior two decades and my ability to grow my business beyond $12 million annually greatly suffered because of it (and I expect others who rarely or don’t create relationships in the community suffer an inability to execute as well.) But my New Years resolution for 2010 is to focus my event hosting and attendance on only those events that will help achieve the execution goals I’ve set for Startup Atlanta, for AWM, and for myself. To your point Lance, I’d recommend startup entrepreneurs do the same.