The band is back together. Atlanta’s startup dynamic duo Michael Tavani and Dave Payne are officially in cahoots to build Switchyards, a center of gravity for consumer startups in Downtown Atlanta. If you’ve been following Switchyards (with bated breath like we have here at Hype) then you already know Tavani has been scheming to build a consumer and design focused hub for the past year and a half. Now the building is secured, renovations are under way, tenants are lined up to move in mid October (almost at capacity), and Tavani’s long-time business partner has just been named Switchyards’ co-founder.
Switchyards will be Tavani’s and Payne’s third project together. Their first company was Skyblox, a hybrid Wi-Fi/marketing company, that delivered business and community happenings as a portal over aggregated local restaurant & bar Wi-Fi hotspots. (Fun fact: Skyblox became the first company to ever raise financing via Twitter).
Then, at the height of the Great Recession, Tavani and Payne redirected their local restaurant relationships into a half-off deals site called Scoutmob. Scoutmob drove the last nail in the coffin of major deals players like LivingSocial and Groupon – where food and service packages were sold to consumers at a deep discount, long before they were meant to be redeemed. Scoutmob provided a similar service (with panache) for free, convincing establishments to offer tantalizing deals to get hungry, deal seeking customers to come in immediately. Not only did Scoutmob quicken the flow of the deal market, but also approached branding in a new way- sparking instant likability by creating a personality and distinctive look around the brand. “In the beginning we were talking about the importance of the brand and people looked at us like we were crazy,” recounts Tavani. Instead of solely focusing on sales and tech their first team members were design and brand focused folks.
Their unique approach earned Scoutmob a list of accolades: one of the top apps in all categories by Wired and Mashable and one of the country’s most promising companies by Forbes. It was also ranked by the Museum of Design in Atlanta (MODA) as one of the city’s top 25 designs of the last 25 years along with the 1996 Olympics branding, The High Museum and the BeltLine.
Most deal sites have gone the way of Beanie Babies and fax machines, but Scoutmob is still going strong. In 2012, Scoutmob launched Shoppe – a heavily curated ecommerce arm that focused on locally and independently made goods. Ecommerce sales have consistently grown (as deals shrunk) since then, and now it’s the sole focus of the business. In the summer of 2014, the company downsized to their ecommerce team and Tavani left to build Switchyards. Now Dave Payne is ready to take the plunge as well, stating that Scoutmob “has gotten pretty big, is still growing, has new capable leadership, and I’m more interested in building at an early stage.” Paul Heerin, the company’s CFO will step into the CEO role.
Scoutmob is a rare B2C success story in a sea of SaaS, payments, and B2B marking companies in Atlanta. That’s why Tavani and Payne feel that they are well suited to lead the consumer and design focused movement here. As Payne puts it, “we’re in a perfect spot to be the guys that galvanize the community.” Like any startup, the chances of success are higher with two complementary leaders at the helm. “In the earliest days of a new business our personalities just mesh,” states Payne ” Michael is really good at rallying an audience and I’m a planner and organizer. We complement each other really well.” Michael chimes in with “it’s valuable to look at this whole thing together,” which makes sense because taking on seed funding, services, incubating companies, and running a space that includes co-working and events, is a lot to chew off.
Like a moth to the flame, Payne is most excited to be surrounded by incredible local talent and flex his early-stage muscle, adding that “it’s a special moment in time for startups across the country, and I want to operate at a higher level and have a higher impact.”
As the opening of the building creeps closer the guys are more willing to discuss their plans. “What Switchyards will be known for isn’t the building, it’s everything coming out of it,” promises Tavani. Their main focus will be Switchyards Studios – their incubator in-the-works which will include space, services, and a seed fund. Tavani tested the model with his accelerator project Startup X Month late last year. “We want to combine those elements in a way that no one else has,” explains Payne who knows B2C pain points well from his own work and role as an adviser to startups around town like VacationFutures and Gather.
Stay tuned for the inside scoop on Switchyards Studios, and be sure to congratulate Dave on his new position.