ATC CEO Summit – Impressions

Scott Francis
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A couple weeks ago I had the honor of attending the Austin Technology Council (ATC) CEO Summit. This year it was held at Brazos Hall, which is a pretty fantastic two-story venue in the heart of downtown Austin.

Under the leadership of Chair Emeritus Joel Trammel and current ATC President Julie Huls, the CEO Summit has become and annual mainstay and gathering of local leaders – most of whom take out a whole day from running the business to network and meet with other CEOs in the area. It is actually amazing how far ATC has come in its mission to advocate for technology issues in Austin, and for issues that affect technology industries.

So I, like the others, took a day to listen and reflect.  There were several fun interactions – catching up with old colleagues from Trilogy (running Vast and Calavista and CapitalFactory, among others), and running into the founder of Das Keyboard (my favorite keyboard at the office), as well as Harsh – one of the founders of MakerSquare. As for formal content, there were lots of good discussions covered in the Austin Business Journal, but a few things stood out to me:

  • Tech is responsible for $21B in economic impact
  • 1 in 4 jobs in Austin is supported by Tech Sector
  • More than half of the ATC companies earn between $5MM and $100MM annually.  Which means they’re the growing small and medium businesses that drive job growth in the economy.
  • Tech Sector’s role is evolving, given 9000 open jobs to fill, the need to protect Austin’s “secret sauce”, and to balance progress with preservation.

I’ve written before about my belief that Austin has found a unique balance between tech and the arts… and the CEO summit reinforced that Austin’s tech business leaders are still very much concerned with supporting the arts, supporting the culture, and what makes Austin “weird.”  Discussions about supporting new segments, music, festivals, infrastructure (translation: transit!) were all on the table.

A highlight of the event was seeing a discussion moderated by Mark McClain (CEO of SailPoint), with Cotter Cuttingham (CEO of RetailMeNot) and Rod Favaron (CEO of Spredfast, previously our CEO at Lombardi Software).

Mark asked some great questions:

What were you thinking when you started this one – build and sell quick, or build a great company?

Cotter’s answer was that they always had a bigger vision – the market size justified it, and just felt like they could take advantage of the opening – which is why they raised so much money and aimed high.

Rod’s answer was interesting given the context I have from the time frame. First, that Lombardi was in what looked like a piece of middle market (BPM) – that might not have enough airspace to go public.  So make the best company you can and when offered the right price, sell.  He felt that the sale to IBM worked perfectly for that market and for IBM a great value to build on. Spredfast developed from “I have no idea” to “maybe” to “definitely” over the course of a year or two.

[Side note: I think Lombardi was playing in the “how work gets done” space – more on that below]

Mark McClain chimed in that he always felt Waveset was an acquisition play, and started SailPoint with a similar mindset, only to modify their view as they got deeper into the market, that the opportunity was much bigger than they assumed at first.

There as also a good discussion on recruiting and the Austin Brand. Do IPOs and the landscape change things?  Cotter’s take was that it was never bad, but that it has changed pretty dramatically for the better in the five years he’s been in Austin.  People don’t worry whether they can find another opportunity in Austin if the current job doesn’t work out.

And there was unanimous agreement that SXSW interactive has had a huge positive effect on Austin’s brand and companies that reside here.  Every digital company, CMO, digital “whatever” will come down to Austin for 5 days.  20,000 need a badge and maybe 100,000 show up.

So, the question was posed: is recruiting hard in Austin?  I liked Rod’s answer:  It’s hard in San Francisco.  It’s hard in San Antonio.  It’s hard here. It’s hard everywhere and you just deal with it and work hard at it.  I thought that was a great and honest answer.  Recruiting is never easy.

My best advice – invest in people’s potential, and expand your horizons – there are more people who can help grow your business than you think. Otherwise, why so many successful Austin businesses in one room?

Circling back to the point about Lombardi’s “market”.  I think BPM is the “how work gets done” space – which is huge.  But, most of the world sees BPM as middleware.  While there are challenges for the software companies in this space, the opportunities for adding value to the economy and to customers has never been better for us.