Entrepreneur Offers Space and Ideas To Grow Brands


Tucked away in Atlanta’s Telephone Factory Lofts is an industrial office space where the biggest brands come to life and creativity is ignited. You won’t find any white fluorescent lights or cubicle walls.

“It’s very open, no desks, no offices,” said Richard Leslie. “I might work in that chair today or at that table the next. It’s nice.”

Leslie is a serial entrepreneur. He’s owned a magazine, a nightclub and an ad agency. His former agency, Trend Influence, grew to a point where overhead was a constant burden, which often had a negative effect on the time and human resources available to create real craftsmanship. After running the agency for more than a decade, Leslie realized that only one part of the ad business sparked his inner flame.

“I wasn’t thrilled with shooting TV commercials or building websites, but I was always very interested in human motivation and brand strategy,” he said.

A new idea – a new business – was born.

Culture is Leslie’s brand intelligence firm. Along with partners Oliver Perrin and Brandon Sutton, he launched it a year ago and they earned their first dollar in January. While the traditional focus of advertising is to tell a story to stimulate a transaction or a purchase response, Culture helps brands align with what their core customers care about and believe.

“We’re a relationship counselor between brands and their constituents,” Leslie said. “We help brands become less subjective, which helps them act in a way that resonates with the core beliefs of their customers.”

So far this year, he’s helped Captain D’s, Arby’s, Coca-Cola and Reebok to improve their connections with their consumers. For example, Culture has helped Reebok understand the core motivation for why people around the world make the decision to be physically fit.

Leslie has a distinct point of view about brands and what motivates people. That’s one reason he works for himself.

“I have control to do what I think is the right thing to do,” he said. “It’s not about financial freedom or making more money because for me that’s secondary. It’s definitely about finding a better way.”

Big, bold ideas can happen anywhere, but there’s something to be said for the right space for ideation. Leslie’s second business, illuminarium, is all about space to think. It’s a collaborative workshop facility he leases to teams to work together to solve problems in a unique environment. Extensive dry erase walls are available in multiple areas of the facility . Unlike when you were a kid, it’s okay to write on the walls there. Culture uses the illuminarium facility extensively because it was purpose-built for exactly the kind of insight and ideation sessions that have become a signature of Leslie’s style, but clients such as Delta Airlines, AKQA, Campbell’s, Coca-Cola, Northstar Research Partners and Atlanta Community Food bank have all taken advantage of the availability of the space. This was a part of Leslie’s original plan. “When we started we intentionally designed Culture and Illuminarium to be mutually-supporting,” he said. “The two businesses reinforce one another and set each other apart. When you’re just getting started it’s important to get the most out of every investment.”

Leslie has the following advice for those thinking about starting a business:

  1. Keep your overhead low.
  2. Be ready to not make money. It may take a while so make sure you have support systems in place so the money stress does not drive your business strategy.
  3. Be flexible and willing to change your strategy as circumstances change.
  4. Manage your cash flow well, a credit facility can be your best friend.
  5. Be likable. People usually have to like you to work with you.

Alan Dabbiere on building and sticking with your startup

One of the biggest lessons Airwatch co-founder and chairman Alan Dabbiere has learned is the importance of people — who you work with, what their passions are and how they can help a startup grow.

“People really make the difference,” said Dabbiere. “One of the secrets of recruiting is finding people who are passionate about what they do. People are really great at doing what they love to do.”

Aside from finding the perfect people to build your startup team, Dabbiere says the most important quality an entrepreneur must have is tenacity and patience.

Before he saw success at Manhattan Associates, his first Atlanta company, it took him five years to grow from a startup to a company of 30—and from there, three years to get to a staff of 800.

“Your first idea doesn’t have to be your only or your last idea, you just stick with it,” he said.

Terry Allen on marketing, design and civic projects in the tech space

A twenty-year veteran of the design, development and marketing industries, Terry Allen recently joined Atlanta-based startup ShootProof as director of user experience. A formally trained product designer, he oversees the design and user experience of the online photo proofing service across all platforms. Allen is also co-founder of Govathon, local organizer for the Interaction Design Association, and chair of Random Hacks of Kindness Atlanta.


Terry Allen, director of user experience at ShootProof

In this edition of Startup Q&A, Allen discusses the state of the Atlanta tech scene, civic projects and the role of marketing in the startup world.

Tell us how you got started in the Atlanta tech scene.

Allen: I have always been involved in the local design community, beginning with my time at Georgia Tech in the early 1990s. After designing environmental, medical and hi-tech products, I was led to web design by the Internet boom. I learned basic HTML and began making websites for friends and small companies. However, my love for technology really took off when my team won top prize at the landmark Random Hacks of Kindness Atlanta hackathon, an event that aims to create tech solutions for challenges facing humanity on a local and global scale. The organization hosts hackathons, app competitions and more to create “technology for social good.” Participating in this event was a thrilling experience that quickly formed an addiction. In addition to organizing hackathons, I am active in the design community, spreading the idea of creating delightful experiences to build great brands.

Earlier this year you co-founded Govathon, an event that aims to better communities in Atlanta. Why do you find it valuable to spend time on civic projects?

Allen: Projects that work to solve big problems like food scarcity, government transparency, transit, medicine, disaster recovery and other issues are so important. We started Govathon to engage citizens to make a difference by being proactive. Watching the teams organically form to design, develop and create amazing, innovative technology was amazing to behold. This process builds lasting relationships that go on to strengthen the startup community, and results in products and companies that make Atlanta an even better place to be.

Your past roles include leading and directing roles in marketing and design. What role does design and marketing play in the tech scene?

Allen: Design and marketing are critical to the new tech space. Unlike a few years ago, it’s very common for founders and early employees to be designers, but now it’s mainstream. I think this is because customers are more sophisticated now, and that means companies must take the product experience and brand more seriously. The local tech scene has really exploded in the last year and with that a good deal of marketing and good PR for Atlanta. We are doing a better job of telling our stories, but still need to be careful not to create an echo chamber of all talk and no action. Lately there has been a push to connect Atlanta’s large enterprises with the startup community, as that is where much of the innovation is happening. If this is successful and sustained, this key differentiator has the potential to distinguish Atlanta in the long run.

What’s next? 

Allen: Hack for CF, a hackathon for Cystic Fibrosis (CF), takes place the weekend of Oct. 5. This unique event will bring together CF subject matter experts, designers, data scientists, technologists and others interested in furthering CF causes to make a difference.

TiE Atlanta: fostering entrepreneurship in Atlanta youth

Pitching a business idea to billionaires — that’s not something many 16-year-olds can put on their list of extracurricular activities. But, high school junior Divya Chawla did just that at the TiE Young Entrepreneurs (TYE) Global Program.

“TYE was the most life-changing experience I’ve ever had,” said Chawla. “I went from being a completely shy, introverted person to ‘I can go on stage and pitch to billionaires.’ It was incredible.”

Chawla was one of six Atlanta students who went to the TYE 2013 Global Business Plan Competition in Washington, D.C. To get to that point, team members completed TYE’s seven-month program, created a business plan and won first place at TYECON Atlanta. As the winner of this annual pitching competition, the team went on to pitch its idea against teams from around the world.

Ashish Thakur, executive director of TiE Atlanta, guided the students from the birth of their business idea to their final presentation. “I’m passionate about this program because it gives students the chance to learn from mentors and understand the foundations of entrepreneurship,” said Thakur. “It’s very enlightening, and I learn so much from the students. I’ll probably be working for them someday!”

The team’s idea was a flameless, self-heating bag that can be used to provide warm food for people in need around the globe. Although this business plan didn’t win top prize at the global competition, the idea was so impressive that potential investors have since approached the students. The team is still working to turn its idea into a reality.

“We didn’t think that winning was important,” said Arsh Chopra, TYE Young Entrepreneur. “Our passion for our idea allowed us to network with entrepreneurs from all around the world, and that in itself was amazing. We’ve built wonderful relationships.”

Team Members: Murtaza Bambot, Rajan Bedi, Divya Chawla, Arsh Chopra, Anand Murugappan, Preet Shah

How Techturized, Inc. is capitalizing on Atlanta’s strong startup energy

Identity, community and hair — in these three things, the founders of Techturized Inc. discovered a viable market. The Atlanta-based startup, founded by recent Georgia Tech graduates, has created a social network focused on African-American hair care for women.

“Coming from engineering and science backgrounds, we set out to find a technical solution to something that’s so close to our identity — hair,” said Jess Watson, co-founder of Techturized.

Credit: JASPHOTO From left to right: Chanel Martin, Candace Mitchell, Jess Watson

From left to right: Chanel Martin, Candace Mitchell, Jess Watson

Techturized plans to capitalize on Atlanta’s startup energy to expand its business after receiving awards, funding and much attention. There is a lot of buzz around Madame You, the startup’s site where women of color discuss best hair care practices and discover products. The site generates revenue by collecting user behavior information that interested companies can access for a subscription fee.

“Our concept is innovative, because Madame You combines all aspects of hair care for women of color,” said Watson. “Women can purchase products, share reviews, offer advice and share experiences all in one place. This has never been done before.”

The founders of Techturized, including Candace Mitchell and Chanel Martin, went through Georgia Tech’s FlashPoint, a competitive project that hosts 10 to 15 startups at a time. Mentors guide participants, and intensive sessions allow all to showcase ideas to investors in Atlanta, New York City and Silicon Valley.

“Flashpoint was a way for us to mitigate risk before starting to generate revenue,” said Watson. “We were able to test our ideas and get valuable feedback from other participants and entrepreneurial experts.”

Techturized has raised $25,000 through an Indiegogo campaign and $40,000 from family and friends. The team also won $50,000 cash and more than $100,000 in donated services from the Atlanta business community as a result of taking top prize at the 2013 TAG Business Launch competition. In addition, Techturized won the 2013 BIT pitch competition at SXSW, a set of film, interactive and music festivals.

While Techturized has seen many accomplishments, its founders have faced many challenges along the way. Proving to investors that the African-American hair care market is viable was the most difficult obstacle: “African-Americans have a strong influence in the hair care market,” said Watson. “They spend about three-times more on beauty and hair care products on average, but this was hard to prove to investors.” With so much on the horizon, the founders of Techturized see growth in the near future. The startup will expand to cover hair needs for all ethnicities.

“The startup soil is very fertile right now in Atlanta,” said Watson. “Georgia Tech and all its resources, like ATDC, are right down the street from Hypepotamus. Atlanta has the right pieces to solve the startup puzzle.”

And, the founders of Techturzied are figuring out how to put those pieces together.

Atlanta’s LottaFrutta combatting a food desert, gaining national attention

You’re probably familiar with first lady Michelle Obama’s initiative to get America’s youth moving. With childhood obesity on the rise, national attention has been given to food deserts, areas that lack fresh and healthy food options.

Steps have been taken across the nation to combat this issue. Last year, Michelle Obama announced the California FreshWorks fund, a $272 million loan to support grocery stores in low-income California communities. The Baltimore City Health Department joined the United Way of Central Maryland and corporate sponsors on the Baltimarket initiative to bring healthy foods to those in need.

And, in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, there is one small business bringing fresh fruit to a food desert. LottaFrutta, the Pan Latin-inspired restaurant, is an Atlanta startup success story, offering fruit cups, smoothies and sandwiches to the historic neighborhood. For seven years, LottaFrutta has combatted chicken wings and fast food with healthy, delicious choices.

For its effort to provide nutritious meal and snack options to an area that lacks easily-accessible, affordable health food, LottaFrutta has been featured on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360. The “home-grown success” story featured Myrna Perez-Cifuentes, owner of LottaFrutta.

“I am a self-accredited, self-appointed fruitologist only because I have a love and passion for fruit all my life,” said Perez-Cifuentes, owner of LottaFrutta.

The fruit stand is now expanding after receiving the first $50,000 small business loan from the Atlanta Catalyst Fund in February. Atlanta Emerging Markets, Inc. (AEMI), a subsidiary of Invest Atlanta, created the small business loan from New Market Tax Credit (NMTC) revenue. The funds are to directly benefit low-income communities.

In the segment, Brian P. McGowan, president and CEO of Invest Atlanta, spoke about the importance of spurring economic development and neighborhood revitalization: “This is an up-and-coming neighborhood being revitalized,” he said. “We’re always looking to incentivize and assist investments that help attract and keep residents in neighborhoods like this.”

Why successful entrepreneur Reggie Bradford loves Atlanta and what sectors he’s watching for innovation

Successful serial entrepreneur Reggie Bradford calls Atlanta home — and not just for the climate and family-oriented atmosphere.

“It’s a very cost-effective place to start a company,” says Bradford, who sold Vitrue to Oracle for a reported $300 million in 2012. “More capital is being invested in Atlanta, and more large companies are relocating here. This provides many opportunities for Atlanta-based startups.

Because of Atlanta’s thriving startup scene, Bradford sees great opportunity in the city’s future. “The startup scene in Atlanta is continually more innovative, progressive and advanced,” says Bradford. “The social and marketing automation talent, along with Georgia Tech’s engineering talent, puts the city in a highly competitive position in national markets.”

What areas is Bradford watching for innovation? Big data, cloud computing, mobile gaming and healthcare.

See also Reggie’s advice for entrepreneurs.

Reggie Bradford shares entrepreneurial lessons learned

Although Reggie Bradford is now a successful serial entrepreneur who most recently sold Vitrue to Oracle for a reported $300 million, he didn’t find success immediately with Vitrue, even being “fired” by all his top clients at one point.

“When you go out to raise capital with a new idea — and no one’s heard of it — you’re going to get a lot of ‘no’ before you get to ‘yes,’” says Bradford.

Bradford founded Vitrue, a cloud-based provider of social media publishing, monitoring, engagement and analytics, in 2006 and developed relationships with more than 500 brands across 47 countries before selling the company to Oracle in 2012. Bradford is now senior vice president of product development for Oracle Social.

Before Vitrue, Bradford served as the president and CEO of N2 Broadband, a provider of open-platform, on-demand entertainment solutions. When N2 Broadband was acquired by TANDBERG Television, Bradford continued to serve as president and board member, growing revenue significantly, which ultimately led to the company’s acquisition by Ericsson. During the dot-com boom, Bradford served as chief marketing officer at WebMD from 1998 to 2000.

After going through a few downs, as well as many ups, Bradford says passion is the key to success. “You have to be passionate about your idea,” said Bradford. “If you don’t believe, no one will.”

Check back later today for another Reggie video, in which he talks about what sectors he’s watching for innovation and why he keeps starting companies in Atlanta.

Alan Dabbiere talks mobile device management success in Atlanta

In today’s world, there is one thing that makes us feel a little more put together, or complete. Without it, we forget meetings, don’t know where we’re going and lose track of time. That one thing is none other than our mobile phones. And, because nearly six billion people in the world have cell phone subscriptions — and that number is constantly on the rise — there is a great need for mobile device management. That’s where AirWatch comes in.

“We are watching the whole world get connected,” said Alan Dabbiere, co-founder and chairman of AirWatch. “AirWatch provides management software for essentially any market that uses phones, and the field is evolving every day.”

The Atlanta-based software company, founded in 2003 by Dabbiere and John Marshall, helps companies manage and secure employee mobile devices, content and applications around the globe. AirWatch’s software allows companies to find innovative uses of mobile technology to improve their business.

Dabbiere has seen AirWatch grow from a company of 150 people to 1,400 employees in a matter of two-and-a-half years, something he attributes to its Atlanta location: “Atlanta is a great place to live, work and secure a loyal workforce,” said Dabbiere. “Atlanta’s innate talent, and the relocation of topnotch employees from around the world, is creating a diverse ecosystem here.”

However, this isn’t the first time Dabbiere has utilized the benefits of Atlanta’s world-class airport, premium education system and young talent. In 1990, he founded Manhattan Associates, an Atlanta-based supply chain execution software company that today has more than 2,000 employees and earns more than $377 million in revenue.

“AirWatch and Manhattan Associates could not have been as successful anywhere else in the country,” said Dabbiere. “Atlanta’s tech swagger is being rebuilt by numerous innovative companies. The city is just a great place for business software.”

David Cummings on why Atlanta is a startup hub

A tech boom is in full swing, especially in Atlanta. Many entrepreneurs are taking advantage of all the city has to offer tech startups. Atlanta entrepreneur David Cummings is one of them.

“In Atlanta, you can come in with very little money, scrape by and work fulltime on your startup,” said Cummings. “It’s a lot more viable to bootstrap your company here than other cities that are significantly more expensive.”

Atlanta’s relatively low cost of living, plethora of talent and resources all make for a startup-friendly atmosphere.

“The tech boom represents sustainable growth in the industry,” said Cummings. “Atlanta has always had the natural ingredients to be a really successful tech startup center.”

Cummings’ biggest piece of advice for thriving in the Atlanta startup scene is networking. That, and timing is everything: “You have to go with your gut as to when the market is ready for your business idea,” said Cummings. “It’s like Goldilocks — you don’t want to be too early or too late, you have to be just right. Sometimes you won’t know until two or three years after launch. Timing is really important.”