Dave Williams, one of Atlanta’s leading entrepreneurs, is an expert in online media, social media advertising and SEO. He is the the founder of BLiNQ Media, which has been awarded Fastest Growing Company, Healthiest Company, and one of the Best Places to Work. Before BLiNQ, Dave co-founded 360i in 1998. In 2005, 360i was acquired by Innovation Interactive, which was later acquired in 2010 by Dentsu for $275mm. Dave won TAG‘s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010, was a Metro Atlanta Chamber Small Business Person of the Year Finalist last year, and is a regular columnist for Ad Age. We talked to Dave a few weeks ago (read our coverage here) and recently followed up with him to get his take on the Atlanta startup scene.
What do you see as the major strengths of the Atlanta tech scene?
Its geographic location as the commerce hub for the Southeast, low cost of resources, and access to smart people and clients.
1 – It is a great place to start and grow a business due to the low cost of capital.
2 – Because it is off the radar, and in the shadows of the more dominant cities, it is easier to be a big fish in a small pond. Atlanta is a place where you don’t have to be the founder of a Google, Facebook, or Uber to have made it in the tech scene. People and resources tend to rally around our successes no matter how big or small.
3- We have carved out some niches where we have experienced successes, such as in Security, Ad Tech, Health and other industry categories.
How can we build on this strength?
For Atlanta to thrive as a technology hub, I think there are several things that we need to do a better job at:
1 – Focus on the big opportunities and industry niches where we have proven success and talent.
2 – Greater consolidation of talent. The tech scene is too fragmented which dilutes our efforts.
3 – Education and transportation are two things that Atlanta needs to invest in more significantly to best staff companies and make doing business easy.
4 – Invest in, provide incentives, and recruit startups/entrepreneurs that are a good fit the Atlanta tech scene and industries.
5 – Create a technology incubator hub of Georgia that is green and provides low cost work/living space where people can congregate to work, play and live. Right now, the tech scene is too dispersed and there is not enough real-time collaboration at all hours of the day and night.
1 – Too many startups with no funding or foreseeable path to profitability, causing our talent to be too dispersed. We need to fail faster and then get out if it is not working. The low cost of capital here in Atlanta can lead to slow deaths which is not beneficial to anyone.
2 – Commuter city where work hours are 9-5 with off site lunches. When I go visit the incubators, I am surprised by the work hours. We have a low work ethic compared to that of other major markets and this needs to be a culture change that needs to happen quickly. If you don’t work hard, you will not win. Hard work and long hours as teams will be at the foundation of Atlanta’s success.
3 – Not enough big exits where not only the investors, but execs and employees profit significantly. Very few people in the Atlanta tech scene have truly experienced a life changing liquidity event and there are too many shareholders that have had low value options. This leads to people losing confidence in the startup dream, and thus get lulled into a 9-5 work mentality.
4 – Not being an entrepreneur/startup destination such as San Francisco, causing a talent drain.
5 – Lack of high intensity startup energy from all levels within a company, especially at the more junior levels.
We continue to hear that Atlanta’s Fortune 500 co’s need to partner with early stage tech companies to fill the venture capital gap and help push innovation. What can early-stage tech companies do to get in front of the larger companies, land the deal, and thrive in the partnership?
Relying on the Fortune 500 companies of Atlanta to drive entrepreneurial success is a slow road with no real end in site. At the end of the day, if there is an opportunity, the two will connect. But, Fortune 500 companies aren’t entrepreneurial and generally are not good places to start a company or inspire. Did Google, Facebook or Uber rely on Fortune 500 companies for their early stage successes? This seems like very backwards thinking to me. Mostly, what I have found locally is that the Fortune 500 companies use the local startups as low cost alternatives and tend to take advantage of our local entrepreneurial tech scene instead of driving it to succeed in any meaningful way.
Do you have any advice for a company looking to land the right mentor?
1 – Choose someone who is highly regarded in your industry.
2 – Bring them on as your first mentor and ideally investor.
3 – Connect with the mentor through a connection of yours.
4 – Plan to give before you get, as it is not all about you. Once you have found the mentor, keep them up to date on your personal and business progress with a formal monthly report to them, a planned face to face quarterly meeting, and periodic calls, emails, etc. as needed.
5 – Invest in the relationship by working on connecting with the mentor around key passion points that far exceed your business and make an investment in the relationship personally.
What are some of your favorite Atlanta-based entrepreneurs/ startups?:
I have watched these four entrepreneurs grow up in the Atlanta tech scene and have been very impressed with their hustle, enthusiasm, passion and never-die attitudes, as well as many others over the years. I have a strong passion for entrepreneurs that have bootstrapped their way to success.
Do you agree or disagree with Dave? Let’s talk about it. Connect with us about your opinion of our local startup ecosystem.