Technology, WeTheCitizens

WeTheCitizens Corporate Web Site Live!

My company, WeTheCitizens, just launched our new web site. It represents our launch into the 2008 election cycle. With all the buzz over Obama‘s Social Network, and token offerings from John Edwards and Hillary Clinton, we’re in a great spot to bring our evolution of social networking to campaigns across the country.  It’s clear that social networking and media will play a significant role in our next elections.

I’m planning to post a roundup/review of the social networks that the candidates have in place thus far, but for now, check out our new site – it does a good job of explaining what we’re all about.


SoCon07, Day 0.5

Atlanta’s social media (un)conference, , got underway this evening with the networking dinner and reception. I sat at one of the 4(!) tables centered around digital serial entrepreneurs, where the topics ranged from social networking, a couple of startups launching this weekend, appropriate technology stacks for web 2.0 startups, the funding landscape here versus California, and a tangent on the ethics of using real money to get ahead in MMORPGs. Great turnout, great event.

The evening was refreshing in the way it was intended to be, I think. How refreshing to sit and talk startup and new media with other intelligent local technologists and new media advocates! These conversations can be had around the office, but there are few occasions in Atlanta where such folks encounter each other randomly outside the office and talk shop. Though most of my friends are in technology, few of them would feel at home in these conversations – much of Atlanta’s techology community is in IT, consulting, branches of national/global companies, and the companies that succeeded from the bubble era.

As much as it was refreshing, there were also indications of how much work remains to be done in building a cohesive community. There are several “families” of startups in Atlanta – I’ve worked in companies in several of these families, and known or know of executives, management, and leaders in a lot of the related companies. Yet from that large pool of folks that would add a great deal to this conversation, I saw only a few of them. My first take on it is that our community isn’t connected enough yet, that lots of these folks didn’t hear about the event, and that we can do even better next year, especially building on the success of this year. Other explanations are possible – are our technology leaders looking to safer pastures for their next job? Are our startups more focused on the pragmatic, “solve the problems of a particular vertical market” companies that Georgia Tech grads seem disposed to conceiving?

Any of these issues can be solved as we start having these conversations and increasing the opportunities and connectedness in Atlanta. I’m definitely looking forward to the full day of sessions tomorrow!


Atlanta Tech Community Reaches for Critical Mass

Some recent rumblings in the Atlanta tech community are raising my hopes that the city can build a vibrant technology community. We have great clusters of technology, some great angel and VC groups, some excellent entrepreneurs, great user groups, incubators, technologists, and even good schools cranking out good engineering talent. Yet for some the Atlanta tech community hasn’t really developed into any sort of cohesive community, and there’s a definite feeling that the opportunities aren’t here for startups that exist in other major metropolitan areas.

Tejus seems to think that the problem and solution is that we’re not fostering enough collaboration and entrepeneurship in local schools like Georgia Tech and Emory. Instead of staying here and starting companies, our best new technologists follow opportunity to cities across the country. There’s some merit in this argument – my senior design project at Georgia Tech was essentially a hardware-based encryption/SSL accelerator, well before any such products were commercially prominent. Never did the thought cross our minds to convert the project to a commercial enterprise – the concept wasn’t even recognized as particularly novel by any faculty who saw our project report. Half of our team has moved on into leading Atlanta-based startups, so you can’t say it was for lack of drive….

Jeff suggests it’s because we don’t support our own, giving the example of the Technology Association of Georgia potentially looking outside of Georgia (outside the U.S., even) to have a directory of Georgia-based technology companies. The subtext seems to indicate that they’re doing this because TAG wouldn’t know where or how to engage local companies to get the job done. Jeff and some other local entrepreneurs are working to improve on this through events like SoCon 07 and PodCamp Atlanta.

Hannon Hill CEO David Cummings just posted reasons why Atlanta is a great place for startups, and while most of his rationale is spot on, the attempt to turn a negative into a positive, “Do I need a small amount of capital to be successful?”. The low cost of living, decent weather (especially compared to NYC and Boston), a strong labor pool, and international travel connections are all great, but what good is any of this if you can’t get enough funding to launch certain ideas into startups, what good are the other benefits?

Unless Atlanta can rapidly become the center of the Web 2.0 universe (unlikely), this is only half of an answer. We can’t gain ground on other technology centers by building our fair share of low-cost startups and abandoning anyone with significant capital requirements. The startup culture that is strong in other places seems to be a product of both a self-supporting community and the availablity of necessary funding. Until someone finds a way to make the VC/angel markets more efficient, less location-dependent, these are the prevailing winds.

Even in this situation, I believe Atlanta has a real chance to turn the corner. Over the past year, ISS, CipherTrust, Scientific Atlanta, JBoss, Harbor Payments, Digital Insight, and the list goes on, have all been sold, and successful exits create a strong regional reputation, entrepreneurs available to start their next venture, and more affluent technologists to invest in angel and VC funds. Coupled with the momentum of this current push for a stronger community infrastructure, there’s a legitimate potential for the Atlanta tech community to reach critical mass, creating a self-sufficient cycle of innovation and growth.