“It’s hard to convince people that their babies are ugly,” laughed Tammy Camp about founders and their companies at last week’s fireside chat with 500 Startups at Tech Square Labs.
Camp, a partner at the global venture capital seed fund and startup accelerator, understands most of the (harsh) realities of startup life. Her journey to entrepreneurship started at 21 as a GSU student traveling abroad – a stop on the way from her upbringing in Norcross, GA, to Silicon Valley. Now, through 500 Startups, she invests in emerging companies, helps their portfolios grow, and serves as an advisor to startups in the security, consumer Internet, SaaS and financial technology fields.
“I grew up in Atlanta and it is really nice to see how this ecosystem has developed over the last ten years,” she said to a packed room of startup hopefuls. “I started my first company here, and 14 years later, I look back and realize that it was a really lonely place for me because I didn’t have or know where the community was. Now, it is so awesome to see Atlanta building something new.”
Before landing in Georgia last week, Camp spoke to Hypepotamus about entrepreneurship, 500 Startups, and Atlanta’s growing startup scene.
You grew up in and around Atlanta and became an entrepreneur at 21. What’s your story?
I was born in Buford and graduated from Norcross High School. Then I went on to GSU. I am born and bred in Atlanta through and through. Definitely Southern all the way. I barely finished Georgia State. It wasn’t the best environment for me. I started my first company as a senior and launched it on September 10, 2001, the day before September 11.
I was doing affiliate marketing for companies like Expedia. I found that there were more domain extensions than .com. while abroad like .uk and others. I didn’t know that world. I had a very US-centric focus coming from the Southeast. Yet, when I went traveling in Europe, and got stuck in London, and couldn’t figure out how to buy a ticket, someone explained to me the different extensions like expedia.co.uk. I was so naive back then, it was really funny. After that, I established my business to make it easier for Expedia and companies like that to get more exposure. I would drive sales to sites housed abroad, and it went really well.
After I graduated, I moved to Florida because of the direct response ecosystem there. In Atlanta, I felt alone in terms of the ecosystem and didn’t know how to reach out to everyone. GSU was more conservative and less entrepreneurial, even now. I recently asked them if I could talk to their business students, share my experiences and tell them more about the Silicon Valley ecosystem and how it could benefit the Atlanta ecosystem — and still they were unsupportive and denied my request. I often wonder how my life would have been different if I would have gone to a more progressive school like Georgia Tech. I imagine I would have had more support as an entrepreneur. But those paths just didn’t cross for me back when I was in school. I was very lonely when I was young and running a business. From Florida, I eventually moved to Silicon Valley, where I felt like I belonged. I am now among my people.
You graduated with a non-technical degree from GSU. What’s your advice to those with varied backgrounds who want to get into startups?
Now, there are so many online resources available to people who want to start their own companies from when I was starting. You can learn to code in four weeks. Y Combinator has a “how to start a startup series”, and we have a startup marketing resource. To start, you just have to have the motivation to do it.
500 Startups has funded over 1,600 startups. What are the criteria that make a growing company competitive?
Seed investing has changed. You can no longer say that you have a great idea. Great ideas are a dime a dozen. It is all about execution. You have to have a product already done and have product market fit. That’s usually when we invest. Typically companies already have $10K in revenue per month when we invest. We are here to accelerate the growth of their startup.
Honestly, the last time I went to Atlanta and went through the companies, I realized that the ecosystem has become so rich, so much more developed. There were a lot of good startups when came back last time.
In what ways do you think that Atlanta can become more competitive as a tech or startup hub?
What makes the Silicon Valley unique are three things — access to talent, access to venture capital and our culture. Starting with access to talent, we have great universities like Berkeley and Stanford with strong STEM programs all within a 100-mile radius. In regards to access to capital, over 50% of venture dollars comes from the Silicon Valley area. Lastly, Silicon Valley is culturally an open ecosystem, where everyone is helping one another. The mentality here is that is okay to fail. Failure is good. ar wounds are positive things that show your experience. Those three things really drive Silicon Valley to be as what it is.
In Atlanta, there are some great schools with computer science and business programs, principally, Georgia Tech. Emory and University of Georgia are also strong schools. There are good schools in the Atlanta area, and now top tier venture firms have noticed and have started opening satellite offices in the Atlanta area. In terms of culture, Atlanta companies still seem a bit risk adverse, but I definitely see a shift happening and I feel confident Atlanta is on it’s way to being one of the top startup hubs in the United States.