Robert Daniel received his Bachelor of Science in Management at Georgia Institute of Technology and is an MBA candidate at Scheller College of Business at Georgia Tech for the class of 2022.
He is a seasoned executive in financial services, management consulting, hedge funds, payment operations, wealth management, and fintech.
He’s current focus is on expanding the startup ecosystem in the Metro Atlanta area through his advisory and mentorship with the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG) and Atlanta Technology Development Center (ATDC).
Connect with Robert on LinkedIn.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- Benefits of mentorship in the startup ecosystem
- A Catalyst/Coach do
- Avenues for startup help in the ATL
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:04] Welcome back to the Startup Showdown podcast, where we discuss pitching, funding and scaling startups. Join us as we interview winners, mentors and judges of the monthly 120,000 pitch competition powered by Panoramic Ventures. We also discuss the latest updates in software Web three, health care, tech, fintech and more. Now sit tight as we interview this week’s guest and their journey through entrepreneurship.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:39] Lee Kantor here another episode of Startup Showdown podcast, and this is going to be a good one. But before we get started, it’s important to recognize our sponsor, Panoramic Ventures. Without them, we couldn’t be sharing these important stories. Today on Startup Showdown, we have Robert Daniel and he is the fintech catalyst with the ATDC. Welcome, Robert.
Robert Daniel: [00:01:02] Hey, Lee, great to be here today.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:04] Well, I’m excited to catch up with you. For those who aren’t familiar, can you share a little bit about the brief history of ATDC and why it’s such an important part of the Atlanta startup and tech area and the state of Georgia Tech infrastructure here?
Robert Daniel: [00:01:20] Yeah, that’d be great. ATDC has been around for about 40 years. We started in 1980. We are focused on building the startup community here in Georgia. So most of them are most, if not all of our companies that come through ATDC or Georgia based. Some have exposure and reach that happens outside of the state. But we want to focus on how can we create economic growth? And it’s anywhere from, hey, hey, I have a business idea. And they might join our first of our three memberships, which would be educate. Then we have accelerate and signature, which is what I usually focus on is a fintech catalyst. And those are companies that really have product market fit. They’re looking for their first first customers or partners and all the way up to usually Series A and that’s at the end of the signature and hopefully they will graduate from there. We have about a 95% success rate for graduation for our signature companies, so we’re pretty proud of that.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:18] And ATDC though has a place for everybody at every stage from like you said at the from the napkin stage all the way up through funding and exiting.
Robert Daniel: [00:02:30] Correct. That’s a lot of a lot of startup founders come to us when they first have an idea and they say, we don’t know how to get started, you know, these first time founders and they’re looking for ways and opportunities to build their skill sets around entrepreneurship. We have a lot of kind of educational platforms or programs that we offer anything from customer discovery, how to get funded and how to manage your manage. Starting up a company, all the back end components that go into that. It’s a choose your own adventure model where you get to log on, create an account and then just start learning. So this is a fantastic way to really start your entrepreneurial journey, entrepreneurial journey through the cycle and really get a good understanding of what it takes.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:15] Now, when they get to you as the fintech catalyst, like you said, they’re already kind of more mature and they’ve got some more traction. Can you share a little bit about what your day to day as a catalyst? You’re kind of a coach, right? A catalyst slash coach.
Robert Daniel: [00:03:30] A catalyst would be a good coach. Yeah. I feel like my day feels like an entrepreneurial journey in and of itself. I could be talking to. My day usually starts off with some sort of podcast. I’m trying to get a good temperature gauge of what’s going on within the Atlanta ecosystem, looking at bringing on new companies always. So trying to find the next fintechs. Since I’m focused on fintechs, we’ve got other catalysts that are doing supply chain. They’re doing robotics, they’re doing we’re looking at cybersecurity. We’re looking at, you know, any really solid tech that’s coming through through the pipeline. So I focus on fintechs. Some people reach out to me and say, Hey, I have this great idea. We’d love to chat and see how there’s an opportunity to work together, have office hours that we can we can make that happen. Other parts of the day are looking at how I can work and develop good habits with some of our some of our existing members on our and our fintech portfolio. And then sometimes it’s just reaching out to other community builders and finding ways we can work together and continue to build the ecosystem and that that might be other just startup ecosystems or it might be part of the fintech community. So working with some of those bigger banks and payment operators within the community so that when there’s an opportunity to present one of my companies, it’s much easier. And even working with some of those who might be investing, so whether it’s angel investors or venture capitalists, always trying to keep a pipeline open and say, here’s what we’re working on. And Community Bankers of Association and FinTech Atlanta have been a couple of a couple of the groups that we’re looking at to to really develop deeper relationships to to help the fintechs in Atlanta.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:27] Now, the fintech scene in Atlanta is pretty collaborative. There’s a lot of enterprise activity out there, but there’s also a lot of space for these entrepreneurial fintech. Companies to partner with these enterprises. They’re kind of open to that, which might not be the case in every community. But can you talk about how some of those relationships get made and and how Etsy kind of helps facilitate some of that?
Robert Daniel: [00:05:55] Yeah, that’s that’s a great question. There’s there’s lots of ways to get involved in the fintech space in Atlanta. Atlanta is truly a leader and transaction alley. We always hear that 70% of the payments come through Atlanta, but we’re much, much deeper than just the payments and transaction a town. I think there’s much more opportunity to look at some of the other things coming through, especially as we dig deeper into Defi and other opportunities there. But we have an incredible support system from the amount of organizations that are out there. Fintech Atlanta Tag and their fintech society are two that come to mind that are usually powerhouses with that. So digging deeper into into their network. The CBA CBA all have opportunities to to partner and develop those relationships. I mean, you have NCR right down the street from Georgia Tech and Deluxe, not too far up the highway as well. So we have a number of people who are really, really interested in seeing the fintech space and the transaction and payment space and Atlanta thrive. And it’s pretty easy to tap into them and just have conversations and see where we are, where their needs are, and where our fintechs that are just starting up solving different problems can fit into that kind of puzzle piece.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:26] So what’s your backstory? How did you get into this line of work?
Robert Daniel: [00:07:30] Yeah, I didn’t really anticipate getting into this from the from the front end of my career. I went up to New York and I’ve been up there for the past 15 years. The pandemic brought me back. I was up in New York doing everything from hedge funds all the way to managing roundtables with financial service execs. So that’s where my payments industry background really thrived for the past six years. So we were looking at fintechs, auto finance fraud, anything from credit cards to bank, and really learning the best practices of what what these executives were doing at their respective shops. So being able to translate that into something down here was important for me. The pandemic kind of got me off the road every two weeks and got me thinking what my purpose could be. Purpose is very important for for from my perspective, and I think it’s very important for a lot of entrepreneurs. And so I wanted to focus on Atlanta, grow up here, love it. And now we’re seeing a lot more companies staying here instead of getting pulled out to Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley. So we have an opportunity to cultivate this ecosystem, and that’s what I wanted to do. I had 20 some odd years of experience to be able to pour back into into the knowledge bucket of other startups, whether that’s business development and sales or team leadership or operations. I just wanted to be able to give back and be that mentor, advisor and investor in the community here, really at the seed stage level. So that’s what I started looking at as the pandemic hit. You know, sometimes there’s there’s things that kind of shape your career. It’s kind of funny because I graduated college in 2001 when we saw the dotcom bubble dry up, and that’s why I didn’t necessarily gravitate towards startups then and move towards hedge funds. But this is the next phase of my kind of my career trajectory. And I think this is going to be it because this is there’s so much to do over the next few decades here, and it’s going to be a fascinating ride.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:42] So what excites you the most about working with these kind of earlier stage companies?
Robert Daniel: [00:09:50] Yeah, I think that’s a that’s a fantastic question because one of the one of the phrases I hate most in life is we’ve always done it like this. That’s kind of when I when I hear that, I think organizations, that’s where they go to die. So entrepreneurs always think of what can we do different? How can we solve this problem? And look at really early stage companies. That’s when they’re taking a problem and really trying to figure that out most of the time because it irks them and they just want to want to deal with it and then hand that off to somebody else, or maybe they want to stay with it for the long time. So having an opportunity to be a part of that journey and be a part of the journey with some specific community builders who are focused definitively on the community as well, is fantastic. And having conversations about early strategy, early ways to to help and give back and that just. Into the DNA because the DNA of the strategic DNA gets really formulated with the founders and can live with the company for its entire existence. So being part of that early on is just an amazing experience and it’s a fun, fun thing to see. Now humbling and able to help with it, if you think about it.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:15] Yeah, I mean, it requires a level of humbleness, humility and vulnerability in order to to do it right, I think. Now, can you give some advice for maybe people that were on the or are on the same track that you used to be on where you were, you know, in this kind of big business world and you weren’t kind of I mean, you were I’m sure you were aware of the startup community, but you weren’t as immersed as you are today. Any advice for them to maybe kind of open up some time for those folks, whether it be mentorship in the startup community or I mean, they don’t have to do what you do and pull the ripcord and just jump right in. But, you know, just to open themselves up to to getting more involved with the startup ecosystem in terms of mentorship or at least paying more attention to it personally.
Robert Daniel: [00:12:10] Yeah. That’s that’s something I’ve been thinking about. Leading a panel next week. And that’s that’s one of the questions. It’s how do you how do you kind of get involved in stage one? Just raise your hand. There’s a lot of opportunities now around the country. In Georgia itself, you have at D.C. ATV Russell Center, there’s ways to get involved and give back tech stars. Everybody needs mentors right now. Start ups, showdown. That’s how I got drawn into Startup Showdown. I was talking to Dan Driscoll at a fintech Atlanta event and he goes, Hey, you know, you’re talking about trying to get involved. You’re looking to raise your hand start up showdown needs mentors, get involved in sign up and help just shape their pitches. So getting more involved is just a matter of looking for those opportunities. There’s plenty of them around. Startups need, need a few things. They definitely need access to capital. They need access to kind of the knowledge that a lot of these seasoned executives have not from a standpoint that you can coach them on their strategy. But there’s a lot of tactical components that go into starting up a company that people who have had experience can help with everything from sales.
Robert Daniel: [00:13:31] What’s your sales strategy? How have you cold called people? Do you know the great right times of day or how should I form my company? These are things that seasoned execs can help with. You’re probably not going to get in there and say, okay, your strategy on your strategy of your company is incorrect because they’ve done the customer discovery and they should know intimately the problem. So I don’t usually touch those things, but there’s other ways for people to get involved in and whether it’s through AC DC, we have entrepreneurs night and people gather there every third Thursday ATV, they have mentor days where people come in and just sit there and have that open opportunity. I was at Capital Factory last month and they have the opportunity for mentors to come in. So mentors are needed. So you all out there who want to find a great way to get involved and give back to some amazing companies, go search it out. It’s it’s a it’s a Google search away and just get involved.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:36] Yeah. And I think it it by coming from the perspective, like you said, of this seasoned veteran in the industry and you come back and see the energy and the creativity and the problems that these startup founders are trying to solve. It might connect dots for you and it could lead you to some opportunity that you could never have anticipated in your office. You know, I think it’s a really symbiotic relationship.
Robert Daniel: [00:15:07] I agree. You never know where the opportunities are. And I think that’s the beauty of startups because even a startup that that formulates from a business idea, it might pivot along the way. Anybody who gets involved with startups, you might start as a as a trusted mentor advisor and you might pivot into a startup and possibly be a co founder from there, or you might just be an investor, or you might just want to do this as as a side hustle to be able to help and give back. And that’s that’s it.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:37] Yeah. I think there’s it’s definitely a worthwhile pursuit and the impact that these mentors give to the startup founders and startups, it’s real. I mean, the impact can be dramatic. Like one sentence from a mentor can really open the mind of a founder and shift their business. I mean, stuff that that a veteran, seasoned person in the industry kind of takes for granted. You know, the founder is hungry for that.
Robert Daniel: [00:16:10] I completely agree. I was sitting down with a company the other day and was asking. They were looking at a double sided marketplace and I said, Well, what are you doing on this side of the marketplace? They’ve been so focused on one side, and they they hadn’t really formulated the other side as much. And you said you just gave me this amazing jewel, this idea. And I was like, Well, I’m not trying to change your strategy. You have to go back and test this. It’s all part of the testing phase. I’m not there to as I said, I’m not there to affect strategy, but I’m there to kind of uncover opportunities because some people can get very myopic and focus on one specific area. But as a coach, you’re there to look at everything holistically and look at the entire business model and the business. So it’s part of that operational structure as well and how that fits together. So that’s what I’m I’m there to help uncover. And everybody in life, I feel like needs a good wolfpack around them, whether that’s a coach and mentor or whether that’s a trusted friend. Keith Frost had your own personal board of trustees. I think that’s a such an important thing to have people who will continue to challenge you to kind of get outside your own mind and your own kind of ideas that you think are correct and keep pushing you. So that’s that’s what I feel like I can help do and other mentors can help do. They can be that part of that wolfpack of that that founder.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:39] Now, you mentioned Startup Showdown and panoramic for the startup founder that’s going through a startup showdown or any type of competition like that. Is there any advice you would give them in order to get the most out of that activity? Like what could they be doing either before they get started or as they’re in it, to really wring out the most value? Because, you know, obviously there’s the winners are few, but the participants are many. So for for the many people that maybe don’t win, but how do they get the most out of the experience?
Robert Daniel: [00:18:16] I think one of the first stops is, is the mentors going through and being able to mentor and mentoring from a perspective of the pitches was it was incredible. I would say before you go in there, have a few pitch, pitch run thrus with different coaches, different mentors. You’ve got to have a good pitch and you’ve got to get to the point of the problem first. Why is your problem important and why is it a personal issue for you? So telling that story is is very important and getting it right is not necessarily easy, especially for a five minute pitch. But a five minute pitch is just about what you’re going to have out in the world. People are not going to say, okay, I’ve got 15 minutes to listen to your problem and how you’re fixing it. Sometimes it’s only 30 seconds, so you have to have various different pitches and various different ways of telling your story, whether that’s 30 seconds, whether that’s 5 minutes, whether that’s 15 minutes. So get a good coach. Get an advisor to help you with that. It could be your Wolfpack. Talk to some other co founders and see what’s worked for them. Get a good deck because that’s important, kind of that visual aspect as well. But really understanding your product market fit is what’s key. You see various different stages coming to panoramic ventures and even coming to coming to DC to kind of talk to us about what they want to do or what they want to solve. So I think that’s kind of the challenge is how do you pair that up? So you might lose, but you might have an amazing idea. That doesn’t mean that you did it once and you should stop. You should continue down your path. And then at some point in time, it’s going to be the right time and that’s when it’s going to be click and investable, because at the end of the day, this isn’t investable. They’re looking for investable companies. So you might be early and that’s fine. You’ll eventually get there, hopefully.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:22] And Robert, if somebody wants to connect with you or learn more about DC and the beauty of DC, it’s whatever stage you’re at, there’s a place for you there. Can you share the coordinates? Best way to connect with you and ATC.
Robert Daniel: [00:20:36] Yeah. Atc dot org is our website. Feel free to go there. I’m on there. You can click through there and find me, but you can also connect on LinkedIn. I’m pretty active on there are Daniel and I’m there and available. Love to talk to anybody who’s looking to start a business and how how you can go from there.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:58] Yeah. And you’re the fintech catalyst at ATC, but there’s a place for pretty much anybody in tech. There’s a there’s a home for you there.
Robert Daniel: [00:21:06] Right? There’s anything that that’s tech we’ve got we’ve got a wide spectrum of different companies. And, you know, I focus on on fintech for AC DC, but I also look at other, other industries. I’m also a also working with a space company. I always wanted to be an astronaut as a kid until I found out that I didn’t have 2020 vision. But my friend was storing up space elements, so I was able to be an advisory board member there. So I look at a lot of different industries and some of the same things that we can help across the board, like pitch practice is is pretty agnostic to industry.
Lee Kantor: [00:21:44] Well, Robert, thank you again for sharing your story. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
Robert Daniel: [00:21:49] Well, thank you for your time. And thank you for thank you to panoramic for the opportunity as well.
Lee Kantor: [00:21:54] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll see you all next time on Startup Showdown.
Intro: [00:22:00] As always, thanks for joining us. And don’t forget to follow and subscribe to the Startup Showdown podcast. So you get the latest episode as it drops wherever you listen to podcasts to learn more and apply to our next startup Showdown Pitch Competition Visit Showdown DOT VC. That’s Showdown VC. All right, that’s all for this week. Goodbye for now.