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ATL entrepreneurs and the spaces they call HQ
It's no secret that Atlanta is quickly cementing its position as a tech capital and a hub for startups. Just take a quick survey of all the co-working spaces that have been sprouting up around town, housing this new generation of business owners from Downtown to the Old Fourth Ward, Midtown, Buckhead and beyond and you'll see that our city is in a prime position to claim the mantle of "Silicon Valley of the South."
And it's not just the number of new companies that's worth taking stock of it's also the kinds of companies we're growing in the ATL. The entrepreneurs in our fair city are creating businesses that are infused with creative energy and built on a foundation of art and culture, as well as commerce. So much so, that we decided to turn the spotlight on a handful of locally based startups to learn about their organizations and the workspaces they've come to call home.
To make this piece happen, Creative Loafing teamed up with the folks from Hypepotamus, the leading startup and technology-focused publication in the Southeast. Working in conjunction with Hypepotamus, we're presenting the interviews in this article, and there's even more content and perspective on its website, Hypepotamus.com. It's our hope that together we can help spread the word about leaders who are hustling to develop new products, disrupt staid industries, drive change and make our city stand out.
Tallia Deljou, co-founder and president, Mavenly + Co.
Operating out of Switchyards Downtown Club since 2016, Mavenly + Co. works to provide women with the tools and resources to design a career, and a life, with purpose. Co-founders Tallia Deljou (who serves as the company's president) and Kate Gremillion do this by providing one-on-one coaching and by hosting retreats, workshops and events that are crafted to empower women to confront challenges on the road to career satisfaction.
What is your role at Mavenly?
I am a positive psychologist. Essentially, I help women find what it is in their careers that really lights them up to give them some kind of path to follow when they might feel stuck in that first stage of figuring out what they really want to do.
And how exactly would you describe positive psychology?
My master's [degree] is in positive organizational psychology. And positive psychology as a field has done years of research on human flourishing and how to optimize our experiences specifically at work. So it's a lot of research in how to optimize our creativity, motivation, how to feel more positive emotion in our work, how to feel engaged with what we're doing.
How did Mavenly + Co. come to be?
We both met after traveling for a year to about 50 universities total as leadership consultants, realizing that so many of the women we were meeting with, especially in their senior year of college, were not having the conversations they needed to be having about what life after college looked like. You know, you just spent four years of your life and a lot of money at Harvard and you're getting straight A's and you're valedictorian and if someone asked you what you wanted to do, it was still the hardest question to answer.
For us that was a big red flag and when it came to life design and career design. Why were these things that people weren't getting in college? Kate initially started writing about her experience, getting into her dream corporate job, hitting that wall, hating it but not knowing what to do next. Sharing her experience online brought a lot of readers to the blog, and people started sharing their own experiences. And then one thing led to the next and a podcast grew out of the blog. I ended up going to grad school. Researching, studying, learning the psychology behind all of it. Kate and I reconnected and decided to build out a curriculum that would lay the foundation for our coaching, for our workshops, for any of the events that we were gonna do. But really it came from seeing how many people struggle with the answer to that question, "What do you want to do?"
What's it like working at Switchyards?
We did a search for all the spaces in Atlanta and went to visit, I would say, a majority of them. Switchyards was one of the last ones Kate found. I think what grabbed her attention initially was the focus that they have here on helping you build your business and all the resources they provide. They're clearly doing a lot to keep the community strong and provide opportunities for you to connect with other people, for you to learn from other people, for you to teach other people. They're community focused, and their mission to help you build your business was what attracted us at first. And then once we came to see the space, it was a no-brainer for us. The culture is very clearly communicated the minute you step in. You know whether or not it's the place for you.
What's the biggest obstacle you're currently trying to overcome?
It's hard to think about long-term strategic planning when you're running a business and so involved with the day to day. We've been working on finding time to step away a bit so we can focus on the future.
In terms of forecasting, what does the future hold for Mavenly?
We want to be spending more time doing the corporate work, helping companies become better workplaces and work environments for millennial women. We recently came across a list of the top 100 workplaces for millennial women. Our goal is to help companies get on that list.
Women face very different obstacles in their careers. Mavenly + Co. isn't really directly addressing the glass ceiling, but we want employers to understand that there are things they can do and should prioritize internally. Things like helping women build confidence in their skill set, clarifying their career path within an organization, giving them control and ownership over the work that they're doing, and a connection to the company's larger mission.
Zach Pousman, founder, Helpfully
Helpfully is a startup that helps startups and helps large companies act like startups. It's a research and development consulting collective that founder Zach Pousman launched in 2015 after a career working in agencies and as a UX designer. Pousman assembles custom teams on an as-needed basis from a pool of more than 20 private contractors and currently operates out of the Ponce City Market-based co-working space, Industrious.
What is Helpfully's elevator pitch?
We custom-create teams around a particular kind of business problem. For a funded startup, we could staff product people, but we could also staff marketing people, or technology people. Maybe you need a UX person. Maybe you need just a few weeks of a graphic design team or of a branding person. The teams are very flexible based on the client's business needs. And we can do that every time because they're not my employees.
How was the company born?
I was looking for more impact. I had worked myself up the food chain at this agency and had gotten far away from the work. And I really wanted to have impact on both the strategic and the tactical . ... It was like, how do you build this semi-permeable membrane where people could both work for you in some full-time capacity, or at least you could have access to that person full-time, but then they would, obviously, have all kinds of side-projects and side-work? A lot of people that work with me, they have lots of jobs they're DJs or artists, etc. I love that, because it allows us to cross-pollinate. It allows us to tap into networks that I would not otherwise get access to. And it allows us to bring exactly the right team to a project on day one.
Talk about your working space at Industrious.
It was about wanting to be in the heart of the city wanting to be a part of the Beltline and the energy. Actually, when I started Helpfully, I was like: "We're gonna do it on the Beltline." All these pieces and parts came into focus at Industrious.
What obstacle are you currently trying to overcome?
One of the things that we are working hard on right now is getting teams to gel. Like, getting our team and a client team to work together faster. Say you have six months or a year to work together and build rapport and build communication styles from the bottom to the top. In the hot oven of a startup or startup-minded team, if you have time, all of that will just sort itself out. But because we want to help companies accelerate and get to market faster, we want to compress a year of hanging out into a week. We have some fun things we're designing, like on-boarding experiences, so we can be better at going faster.
What are your plans for the future?
One of the big things I want to do in 2017 is have more impact. When I say that, I don't mean just like, "Oh, I want to do projects that are more complex or expensive." But I want to do projects that go into more people's hands and that affect how those people live and think and work and shop. I want to earn space on the home screen of people's phones, and I haven't done that yet. That's a good goal, right? There's only 20 spaces.
Diamonde Williamson, co-founder, Blossom
By day, Diamonde Williamson is the diversity coordinator for the business incubator TechSquare Labs, and in that role she helps create programs that empower people of color to build technology products. Williamson is also the co-founder of Blossom, a web-based TV network that is working to provide a customized content experience for women of color. Since February 2017, Blossom's six-person team has been operating from WeWork in Buckhead.
How did Blossom come to be?
I was working in television as a producer in reality TV, just to get my foot in the door. I used to really want a talk show like Oprah, [and] working in reality television was my way in. But that got old quick because I realized I was part of the problem with television nowadays. It's very driven by drama. And if my ultimate vision was to create empowering content, then I was in the wrong space. So I came up with Blossom, because I wanted women of color to have the space where we could have content that actually resonated.
So you were done with reality television?
I was fed up. I remember one specific incident there with one of the girls; she was older, she was from a reality show, and she was like, 'How did I do?" Like after a scene, she came and asked us how she did, and I'm like, "Why are you asking us how you did? You just acted a fool. Like are you proud of that?"
Why did you decide to go with a co-working space?
WeWork had a program called Mission Possible, where they award a free office space for six months to startups, and I was one of them. We just needed a place to get into so we could all meet and where we could also meet people. I really like to connect and to be around people. And that's the opportunity that co-working spaces provide you.
What is your biggest challenge right now?
Right now, the biggest challenge is actually having people understand the vision. Because I know we know, my team knows, the vision. My team knows the end goal. So it's tough to explain that over and over because we're only in phase three. Sometimes people can only see what's in front of them. But we know the goal. We didn't know we needed a Netflix until they gave it to us.
What are your hopes for the future?
I'm not here to fight what is. I'm just here to provide an alternative. We can be all obsessed with reality TV and caught up in their lives, but we're not learning anything from them. I'm just here to provide an alternative. Reality TV, I'm not trying to fight it, just trying to redefine what that means.
Javier Santana, co-founder, Launch
Launch is a strategy-first digital agency based out of FlatironCity in Downtown. Javier Santana, his co-founder, David Preiss, and their team work to understand their clients' goals, industry and target audience to identify key opportunities in the digital space before they even "consider breaking out the crayons."
What is the significance of your company's name?
From concept to creation, we get your digital products "Launched" - like Matt Damon to Mars [in the 2015 feature film The Martian].
Well, what is the company's origin story?
After three and a half years at Homedepot.com, I decided to go out on my own. As co-workers, Dave and I found we had a lot of similar ideas, so we started chatting about starting our own company. Once we decided on a UX and Creative-focused nano-agency, we Thelma & Louise'd it onto our new venture. It was only Dave and I for a while, so we quickly became the freelance tag team for some Atlanta agencies. For two years, we were white-labeled to help with pitches and projects for big-name clients. That was fun for a while, but we realized that we lost focus on our own dream and shifted gears.
We wanted to create an agency that had good vibes with a cool work environment so we could attract intelligent people to do awesome work. We persuaded them to join us by showing them our space filled with suitcase boom boxes and a disco ball and treating them to Korean tacos (true story). Today, we have 17 team members and counting.
Can you explain why you set up shop in FlatironCity?
We never wanted a co-working space. We wanted something more than that something different. We needed to find a transitional space that didn't feel like we were in a short-term "rent-a-desk" type of environment. We didn't want what felt like a temporary home with terrible wall art, a bad coffee machine and a remote you need to put in a Ziploc bag, so we took our time to find the perfect space and found FlatironCity.
What are your goals for Launch?
We want to be the best company to work for in Atlanta, hands down. We'll accomplish this by hiring the best talent, which in turn helps us land excellent projects and clients. Within the next year or so, we will be looking at growing the team, with potential expansion to the West Coast.
What's the biggest obstacle are you currently trying to overcome at Launch?
Finding the right talent is always an obstacle. We want people who share our vision, are a good cultural fit and are in it for the long run. So when we recruit, Dave and I end up eating a lot of taco lunches - and travel with a disco ball.