On his 99th day in office, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens sat down with the founder of Calendly Awotona stop for a conversation and reflection on Atlanta’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
It was a fitting way for the Tech Mayor to mark such a milestone. An Atlanta native, Georgia Tech graduate, entrepreneur and elected official, Dickens has seen the city and local tech ecosystem transform over the past decade.
Dickens was asked by the event’s host, the co-founder of The Gathering Spot Ryan Wilsonto put this moment in Atlanta’s history in perspective for audiences.
“This is the day after graduation day in the life of Atlanta,” Dickens told the crowd. “We went through the toddler days, we went through high school and we graduated. We are now here as a fully-fledged adult city with a real ecosystem, a real economy and a place on the national stage.”
Calendly played an important role in maturing the city’s ecosystem.
Long before the multi-billion dollar valuation and cover of forbes, Awotona saw Atlanta as a unique place to develop an early idea. Awotona said he was drawn back to Atlanta in the mid-2000s to begin his entrepreneurial journey as the tech scene was already gaining momentum.
IBM (where Awotona started his career) acquired Atlanta-based ISS for over $1 billion in 2006, and he’s already looked up to Mailchimp and Pardot.
“In the early days of Calendly, there were already many examples of people doing it here in Atlanta,” Awotona added. “And in the early days, people asked me when I was going to move to San Francisco. And for me that was a stupid question. I had already seen some good examples of success here in Atlanta.”
Dickens recalled that when he was studying chemical engineering at Georgia Tech in the late 1990s, “post-graduation computer science talent flocked to the shore.”
“But Atlanta has held up well enough to get there now and have critical mass of an ecosystem. Now Atlanta has a resume,” added Dickens.
LESSONS IN SCALING IN ATLANTA
While Atlanta was “graduating,” Dickens was quick to add, “We know ourselves, but we need to know a lot more about ourselves.”
Like all recent graduates, Awotona and Dickens both recognize that working through doubt is an important part of growth. Both men shared their personal experiences of what doubts looked like when scaling early-stage companies.
“Sometimes people doubt you, and sometimes you quietly doubt yourself. But it’s an emotion meant to move through you,” Dickens said. “If you stay in that emotion for too long, it’s problematic. So when doubts arise, you have to let them flow through you and pass you by. And you have to get that across to people who might have doubts about you… You have to get those people to get over their doubts about you.
Dickens spoke about building his furniture business, City Living Home Furnishings, and the valuable lessons learned from hiring the right team members to drive success. That’s a lesson he brought to City Hall.
For Awotona, doubts that crept in during the trip were used as an opportunity to bring clarity.
“I think first of all, if someone has doubts, there’s probably some truth to what they’re saying,” he said. “And so I’m trying to understand what I know they don’t know and what they know I don’t know.”
“Doubt is just an information gap,” Awotona added.
So what should Atlanta focus on in its “postgraduate” phase? Dickens and Awotana agreed that it’s about nurturing and retaining local talent and building “cross-functional capabilities” to help someone turn a great idea into a scalable one.
“There’s a lot of capital for seed and Series A companies, but there’s a slowdown in taking the deal from idea to the first $100,000 or so of sales,” Awotona said. “This is one of the most difficult phases for a company. If you pull through this, there is plenty of support and capital to help you scale.”
“We must be inclusive in our excellence,” added Dickens. “If we tap all the way in… that’s something that generations will be talking about in the future.”