Atlanta Startup Q&A: Scott Henderson 

Hypepotamus' executive director embraces Atlanta's startup scene despite its marketing woes

Scott Henderson wants to tell Atlanta's story. Henderson oversees Hypepotamus, a collaborative Midtown workspace full of young entrepreneurs. As one of the startup community's biggest cheerleaders, he's constantly spreading the word about the latest business successes or events happening in the city's tech scene.

And it's because of his efforts that many startups are beginning to garner regional and national attention. He lives and breathes Atlanta's tech scene. On a recent walk through Tech Square, Henderson shared his thoughts on Atlanta's marketing woes, Hypepotamus' free model, and the city's role in the startup world.

When we've chatted before, you've told how you think Atlanta's startup scene hasn't done a great job at sharing its success. Some people think there aren't many to begin with, but you think otherwise.

What I found when I got here was there's a lot of things happening already. It's not a lack of activity or a lack of success. It's not a lack of startups doing well. It's a lack of awareness. And it's a lack of awareness locally as much as it is regionally and nationally.

If we don't know our stories, how do we expect the rest of the country to know our stories? Most importantly, you got Georgia Tech and all these kids coming through. Most of these kids aren't even aware that they could work for a startup or even be part of a founding team without having to move to New York or Silicon Valley or Austin or anywhere else in the country.

Or go to a private firm.

Or go to a firm. Right now, their heads are pointed toward the media properties that are out there: TechCrunch, PandoDaily, the Verge, and all the ones in New York and San Francisco. They're only hearing about the rock stars from other communities. ... What I've found [is that] you cannot make a story up. You've got to find where the stories are and tell them. Once you create that awareness, then you create an identity. The reason why no one really knows what Atlanta does is because we don't really know.

In six months, three startups had exits of a half-a-billion dollars in just one segment. ... But most people here didn't even know this. If you have a five-star, talented engineer student graduating who isn't even aware that happened, then we failed, right?

Is part of that the fact that we have less consumer-focused startups? We don't have a Facebook or Twitter. We've got a lot of great companies, but ones that aren't as appealing to the average consumer.

We don't produce social media companies and that's been the strength of Silicon Valley in San Francisco. B2B, that's definitely not sexy, but it makes money. I've found the most successful people had the most boring companies. You know, plumbing companies, plumbing fixtures, and ball bearings that you just take for granted. So there's nothing wrong with that. What needs to happen, and is happening, is people who make money off of companies that they built is that they reinvest back into up-and-comers. And you're seeing that with most recent exits, with David Cummings investing in Atlanta Tech Village, but also investing in other companies through Atlanta Tech Ventures. ... We've got natural strengths in Internet information security. We've got the health IT, financial tech payments, and B2B marketing automation.

But I think you do need a mixture of kind of the sexy stuff that gets people's attention — the social media, the mobile apps. But you look at our strengths with mobile, the Chamber's really focused in on this, and rightly so. We've got large corporations like the Weather Channel, Coca-Cola, and AT&T who all have this desire to make sure Atlanta becomes a global hub for mobile. Let's take advantage of that.

What do you think defines Hypepotamus compared to everyone else in terms of individual startup spaces? Obviously, each one has its own character.

Hypepotamus is unique because we are not a real estate play. We're a media, events, and production company that happens to have a workspace. From the get-go, it was always reject the label "co-working space" and call it a "collaboration space."

It's a new model. I don't know anyone else who's doing it this way. That was what intrigued me about what Kevin [Wallace] and Heath [Hyneman] and Ashish [Mistry], [Hypepotamus'] three board members, were wanting to do. ... The idea is create an open space, a common area that doesn't cost anything. We'd allow events to happen here, allow their companies to have dedicated space if we have room, and have open tables because that creates a collaborative atmosphere. We were looking for people who want to collaborate, want to ideate.

What are some of the challenges that come with running a free workspace?

Because of the way we're structured and who we attract, this is not necessarily the [place where you] come to get 10 hours of uninterrupted time. You come here to get interrupted. You come here to find people and run into people. You get an interesting mix of people just because we're sitting here. ... We didn't want to put up any barriers to keep that from happening. That's why we're a nonprofit. That's why we're a community asset. That's why we're a different animal than anyone else.

How do you see the city playing a role? It seems like they're trying to harness some of that energy.

Startups and entrepreneurs are really the [city's] life blood, the wellspring of continual economic growth. It's no longer [about] trying to get the big companies to move into town. That helps, but the organic growth of companies is what works. ... I think the role of city, of any city government, is to create infrastructure and the environment so it's more conducive for people to turn their ideas into enterprises.

Do you mean things like tax incentives?

It's not even tax incentives. It's reducing the paperwork to get your business license. It's making it easy to do online renewals. The paperwork is one mentality. It's also creating ordinances that aren't penalizing people that are creating ideas. I think the role of the city is to create the sandbox and invite people [to play]. Government is horrible at creating ideas. Government is great at scaling ideas that work. So [it's about] creating an environment where people can bring best ideas forward and scale them across.

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