A Locally Known, Country Wide Problem
I know the frustration.
“How’s the tech scene in Atlanta?” “Do you guys even have startups?” “What’s the biggest B2C success from there?” Just another lazy question from someone who only visits the South on Delta layovers.
It’s hard for me to muster up a response. I’ll mumble “Georgia Tech” somewhere in a sentence and an ounce of credibility is extended.
It’s true, coming up with Atlanta’s elevator pitch on past technology success is tough. Really tough.
This questioning of Atlanta has played out hundreds of times from Menlo Park to Madison Ave with Boston, Austin, and Boulder in between.
It’s doesn’t matter if AirWatch just sold for a billion and a half dollars — very few consumers know about it. On the other hand, SnapChat’s rejected $3B offer and everyone knows about it minutes afterwards.
Is a sexy, name brand B2C startup the answer to getting the respect Atlanta deserves? Is there a company in Atlanta’s future where those employees will automatically be the most popular guy/gal in the room, get all the ladies/dudes at the bar, and have the aura of success around them just because of the company they work for?
I hope so.
The 123‘s of B2C In Atlanta
This past week, entrepreneur and Atlanta tech leader Michael Tavani, likely got that dreaded “What startups are in Atlanta?” question too many times at SXSW.
Rightfully so, he is doing something which I’m looking forward to taking part in.
Disclaimer: Tavani is my dude. There are few respected Bulldawgs in Atlanta’s tech scene and my school loyalty presides over some B2C vs. B2B discrepancy. So in the words of Hova: “this is not a diss song.”
B2C in Atlanta hasn’t ridden the wave of other areas including San Fran, Silicon Valley, New York, and San Fran.
Yes, we’ve had some success: Mindspring back when I was in elementary school, and if you want to make the stretch to Coke, Home Depot, or Delta, I ain’t gonna judge.
The myriad of reasons B2C technology hasn’t thrived in Atlanta are too many to list. The top hypotheses include lack of investor risk, Georgia Tech’s corporately engineered culture and the subsequent student diaspora post graduation as a result, and finally the lack of prior success which just brings up the never ending chicken versus egg conversation over and over and over again.
But dammit something has to be done. Tavani’s first step is it.
The B2C Disconnect
B2C is a wide term for a few very niche markets. Which companies are really B2C? Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram?
Investors didn’t throw hundreds of millions at these companies for charity and no expectations of a return?
Brand name B2C successes like the ones mentioned above are traded on the NYSE: the enterprise-y of all enterprise-y places. Where bankers are shorting and straddling the stock of these former sexy B2C startups in between $2,000 nights with models and bottles at Lavo.
Even truly B2C consumer application hit the “enterprise.” LinkedIn has over 2000 sales reps and Twitter’s inside sales team is known to be very streamlined and efficient.
Terms like “sales,” “enterprise,” “PE ratios,” “IPO’s,” on now the rage about successful consumer apps like Twitter and Facebook. If B2C legends such as Twitter and Facebook have sold out, what is a B2C startup?
When Tavani tweets, “ATL needs 5-10 consumer exits at $100-200m to be a real startup town. If there was a small hack wknd (only doers) to create them, who’s in?” what type of startups is he craving?
There are three types of consumer apps: one is retail. Retail is about as consumer focused as you can be. ScoutMob is a great case example in Atlanta. Folks like me and many of my friends from New York, L.A. and San Fran buy curated items from their ScoutMob Shoppe. It’s excellent.
Two is gaming. Think Zynga, Angry Birds, and more. These are a separate beast with a business model I’m not informed enough to write on.
Side note: there is only one investor in Atlanta who’s has the cojones to drop real money on a B2C gaming app anytime in the last 5 years.
The 3rd consumer startup is a business that starts with the consumer. Think Facebook, Twitter, etc. These enterprises flip the traditional B2B perspective on their back. Instead of focusing the product on a business pain of another enterprise (traditional), these “B2C” enterprises prioritize user experience, design, and product all in one sole goal to increase that app’s viral coefficient. Anyone with an ounce of artistic interest would love.
This is why Tavani’s B2C movement is incredible. Organizing as many like-minded people who appreciate the unquantifiable and unexplainable when it comes to art is a cause I can dig.
Yet, don’t be fooled. These type of “B2C” startup are still enterprises. They just show their traditional “B2B” side much later in their company life cycle.
I spent 2 years in a truly B2C startup (the 3rd kind) doing whatever it took to increase our viral coefficient.
The OpenStudy Dilemma
A year out of college, I went and knocked on numerous doors in the ATDC. Literally, I just walked around the halls and tried to figure out which technology companies would take a chance on someone with marketing and sales experience. I couldn’t code 5 years ago so I had to play to my strengths: sales and marketing.
Sitting in the Tech Square Starbucks, I went through 3 interviews with 3 developers and 1 designer, all who are still dear friends of mine today.
OpenStudy was a company I could vibe with and understand. The mission was simple: create the world’s largest study group in the world where students (regardless of location, access, or skill level) could get help or give help in real time.
It’s still up. Go on, check it out. The math section likely has concurrent users right now.
There are 2 things that happen with a “B2C” startup that later turns B2B on us.
One. There is immense success, the viral coefficient sky rockets, marketers and sales reps become obsolete (until a point) and the developers’ brilliance, vision, and overall superiority are displayed to the world via TechCrunch.
Two. The product’s viral coefficient doesn’t sky rocket, feature creep starts, multiple iterations of design mockups occur, and that “next feature” is the only thing stopping you from TechCrunch glory.
This is outcome is demoralizing and worst of all, you can’t blame this “B2C” approach on lazy sales reps. Most B2C startup founders usually turn into a new type of B2C: “Business to Consultant.”
OpenStudy continues to grow at a steady pace. Both founders moved from Atlanta out West and I do hope one day, through gradual SEO and the grace of God that OpenStudy stays up for the hundreds of thousands of students who get help on it every month.
It is a mission I fondly believe in and dedicated my life towards.
Silicon Valley’s Trend Towards Atlanta’s Strengths
Insane amounts of wealth to a select few “B2C” startup employees have generated culture divides, elitism, and more.
The novelty of working for the latest dating app isn’t as cool as making the world more open. (Facebook’s mission).
Today, those who flock to San Francisco in search of finding something cool realize the only thing left that is cool are a few sold out social networks and some niche dating apps where you hope the algorithm is good enough that it doesn’t suggest your 2nd cousin.
Why do Atlantans want to chase Silicon Valley’s 8 year old trends?
Let’s meet them where they are going.
I agree building consumer apps is imperative to Atlanta’s future but let’s build them around where Silicon Valley is trending. Then, companies in San Francisco will use our apps. CEO’s and investors will actually stay a night or two instead of just chilling at Pascal’s in the B Gate while waiting for their next flight.
None of this respect will occur building the latest “B2C” app.
Consuming the Enterprise
How do we leverage Atlanta and the South’s cool with the Silicon Valley trend to the enterprise?
We start by playing their game and to our strengths.
If Atlanta is to gain respect and noteworthy traction, we must flip the business model back on its axis the same way Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn did before selling out to WallStreet.
Major corporations and businesses are growing everyday. As we all command attention for screen time whether it’s through mobile or behind some old company’s Gateway 2000’s.
There are few better ways to do this than by building consumer apps in the enterprise.
As software continues to eat the world, the companies who solve the most challenging business pains through the most user friendly and well-designed way will win.
10 years ago in the enterprise, design hardly mattered. Today, the expectations of a clean interface, seamless integration, and cool experience will be a significant competitive advantage over your competitors.
The proliferation of mini-apps are a perfect example of how to do this quickly and efficiently all while placing the priorities of traditional “B2C” (turned B2B) companies at the forefront.
Unquestionably the person who did this best was Steve Jobs.
Building consumer focused apps in the enterprise may not help us tell Atlanta’s story better, it may not provide the cool desired after lazy questions , but it will provide product users, leverage our creativity, highlight our cool culture all while creating more respect and fulfilling Atlanta’s potential.