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Cover Story: Atlanta Startup Q&A: David Cummings

Atlanta Tech Village’s founder reflects on the scene’s past and what needs to happen next

It’s been a hectic year for David Cummings. The Buckhead serial entrepreneur, who sold his marking automation firm Pardot last October for around $95 million, has gone from being seen as simply a shrewd businessman to one of Atlanta’s most revered startup leaders. Much of that has to do with the rise of Atlanta Tech Village.

Many people see Cummings’ investment in the startup scene as a model for Atlanta’s successful entrepreneurs. Cummings has been working to foster the kind of community he felt was missing when he first moved here 11 years ago. From his fifth-floor Atlanta Tech Village office, where several of his companies currently operate, he talked about his early days in Atlanta, how Pardot influenced Atlanta Tech Village, and what Atlanta’s startup scene needs to do moving forward.

How did you originally end up in Atlanta?

I grew up in the South. I enjoyed the way of life, the weather, and the people. Growing up in Tallahassee, Atlanta was the big city we would go to for a Braves game, Six Flags, shopping, or to use the airport. I was comfortable with Atlanta. When I graduated from college, I wanted to go to the biggest city in the South. ... I got a little apartment right across from Phipps mall and then subleased office space from one of our clients in the Monarch Tower. My apartment was as close to the office building as possible. It was 200 yards away.

What was the character of Atlanta’s startup scene like back then?

Back then, there really wasn’t a whole lot going on that was easy to get into as a newbie. There were groups in town that were more of an old boys network. Once you had raised venture capital or gotten to, say, a million bucks in revenue, then there were a number of things available. But they were all invite-only ... it wasn’t nearly a level of community that we have today in Atlanta.

When did you first start to notice that change? What do you think was the reason behind that change?

Twitter really did wonders for the Atlanta startup community to be able to better assemble itself and to better meet new people and sort of cross paths with like-minded people.

That’s 2008 or 2009. At what point did the idea of starting something like Atlanta Tech Village come to mind?

It’s something I’ve had for a long time and it really stemmed from my personal desire to have a community of entrepreneurs around. When I was building my first software company, I wanted to be around other startups, other entrepreneurs. I couldn’t find them, let alone work in the same building as them.

At Pardot, we would always rent more office space than we needed, knowing that we were going to grow into it. I had a number of startups come to me and ask if they could rent a desk or two inside of Pardot. It showed there was demand both for flexible office space as well as demand for community around the startup scene. I’d always wanted it, selfishly, to be around other entrepreneurs.

I didn’t have the resources or the time to do anything about it. After selling Pardot in October 2012, I started looking for buildings right away and bought this building in December 2012.

What have been the biggest surprises in opening Atlanta Tech Village?

The surprise has been just the amount of community support. We have over 100 different companies and over 300 paying members already. Compared to any of the other office space options in town, there’s really nothing else. There’s co-working space, but there really isn’t office space. With the Tech Village, there’s tons of demand out there for this type of creative space.

Atlanta Tech Village hosts a lot of events. Which ones are your favorites?

There’s one called the Atlanta Startup Village. It’s basically five startups giving a five-minute pitch and five minutes of Q&A from the audience. ... The Technology Association of Georgia does a TAG entrepreneurs and ATDC Atlanta Technology Development Center does an entrepreneur’s night. I like the more entrepreneur-oriented events.

What do you think Atlanta’s startup community needs moving forward?

The best thing we can do is to create more successful startups. The more successful businesses we have, the more jobs created, the more buildings occupied, the more exits created that generate wealth. I think a focus on building real businesses is what we need right now.

We should focus on our strengths. I’m not worried about having a flashy consumer startup. I think having B2B startups and being the best place to build next generation business applications is a great thing.

What do you think needs to happen for that to continue? Some people say there’s a lack of investors here. Do you think that’s an issue?

I don’t think capital is an issue in this day and age. It costs so little to get a business off the ground. Once you have some traction, capital is really immovable. For Pardot, we had investors that wanted to invest from New York, Boston, California. We could have raised tons of money from anywhere. From an Atlanta point of view, it’s not that we need more capital here, we just need more modestly successful businesses.

What’s your definition of “successful” as far as companies go?

We need to focus on helping more startups get to $1 million in revenue as a really succinct, concise goal. Then all kinds of stuff happens. You can raise money from wherever you want. You can pay some salaries and create more jobs. You have enough momentum that you can keep growing organically.