Tim Dorr is the Managing Director of Techstars Atlanta in partnership with Cox Enterprises. He is also a co-founder of Salesloft, one of the largest startups to come out of Atlanta, Georgia with a $2.3B valuation.
Prior to that, he created the first coworking space in Atlanta, Ignition Alley, was an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) at Georgia Tech, and has been an advisor at Atlanta Tech Village.
Connect with Tim on LinkedIn.
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 Web3, Healthcare, Tech, FinTech, and more. Now sit tight as we interview this week’s guest and their journey through entrepreneurship.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:38] Lee Kantor here another episode of Startup Showdown, and this is going to be a good one. Today on Startup Showdown, we have Tim Dorr with techstars. Welcome, Tim. Tim, before we get too far into this, can you share with our listeners about the Atlanta rendition of Techstars? How did you get involved with it and what’s your mission? How you serving folks? Sure.
Tim Dorr: [00:00:59] I’m the new managing director of Techstars Atlanta in partnership with Cox. And I’m going to be managing the summer program coming up. I’m taking over for Dave Payne, who was the previous managing director. It’s a generalist program. We’re not really focused on any verticals or markets, really. What I’m hoping to do with the program, though, is find some more brand names for the Southeast. It’s definitely a big focus for me is to I’ve had a lot of success through the Atlanta specific startup ecosystem, and I’m sure we’ll get into that in a bit. But in having my own success, I want to see more success stories out there. It’s kind of my own personal thesis to go create a dozen more copies of me in whatever way makes sense for them. It doesn’t necessarily have to be financial, but I want to do that through Techstars and really what I want to do in particular is find some of these like large brand name companies, you know, kind of think like the ones we’ve already had success with here in Atlanta, like MailChimp, Greenlight, Counly, like everyone knows them. You know, they’re such strong brands and they’re really something we can rally around in the Southeast to draw the attention here that like we’re as viable a startup hub as the the coasts.
Tim Dorr: [00:02:33] Like, you don’t have to go out to the Bay Area or L.A. you don’t have to go to New York. There’s another option where the culture, the talent, the resources, the geography, everything is just so perfectly aligned to create amazing startups in. And I just want to use more of these brand name companies that can come out of Techstars as flags we can plant in the sand to really get the attention of folks like, Hey, come out here. There’s something something going on here. So that’s what I’m looking to do with the the Techstars Atlanta program. And actually, like, how I got into the role was actually through a former managing director, Michael Cone. I was talking with him just about general investing stuff. Him and Sean O’Brien who run over line and they were just giving me some advice on that that front. And Michael just mid-conversation had an idea, said, Hey, would you be interested in the MD role at Techstars? And I kind of paused for a second and said, Sure. And then that kicked off an email that kicked off a whole interview process. And here I am.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:46] Now, what are some of the qualities that those Atlanta based brands that you were holding up have in common, that other kind of aspiring or emerging brands can either emulate or model themselves after?
Tim Dorr: [00:04:03] I mean it definitely like male chimps case there’s a really strong just brand name to MailChimp if you remember that that serial podcast from several years ago there was an advertisement for MailChimp at the front of it and they did this kind of like man on the street interviews with folks and some lady was reading off a card and didn’t know how to pronounce MailChimp. She pronounce it as MailChimp, and that kind of became a little meme for a bit, but it was funny about that. In particular was that even though she mispronounced the name of the company, everyone still knew that she was talking about MailChimp and it was just that kind of like pervasive, strong brand that is of the same caliber is like, you know, like Disney or Coca-Cola, like, you know, these incredibly strong brands that like can cut through even like a mispronunciation to get people’s attention. I really think something like that is amazing that, you know, Ben and Dan have created over MailChimp in particular. So there’s definitely like the branding aspect of it and then really leveraging some of the unique properties of the Southeast. I mean, we have amazing talent here. You know, there are a lot of like really talented folks to work on things, you know, I know watching Tope build out Counly over Atlanta Tech Village because we were cohabitating there alongside Sales Loft, which I’m a co-founder on like watching him kind of make use of these amazing folks to like really build out a really strong company which didn’t take that many people to really reach the like pervasive level of being the de facto standard for, you know, online scheduling. You know, it’s pretty incredible how little it took to get to that worldwide success that they have now. And, you know, they’ve grown quite a bit since then, but now it’s definitely making use of those unique resources that we have here.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:09] Now, do you think that we have the density that the coasts might have where a person works in a startup and it doesn’t you know, it doesn’t go the way they planned and they can just jump to another startup and not kind of abandon the startup dream.
Tim Dorr: [00:06:25] Yeah. I mean, there’s so many opportunities for, you know, in particular, like the way I look at Techstars now coming into it is that we’re a piece of a larger puzzle. We’re not an island by which there’s a silo of activity happening. And it’s amazing for Techstars, but not amazing for anyone else. There are definitely programs and resources out there. We have hubs like Atlanta Tech Village, like I mentioned at DC, at Georgia Tech and at DC. There are various accelerator programs there. Like I’m not doing them as competitors. I’m viewing them as being a piece of the puzzle. Like you might go over to ATB and do the It Takes a village pre accelerator program is kind of a starting point to figure some things out and then kind of as you start to get the business going, you come over to me, go through Techstars and then maybe you have like a very enterprise specific play or you could make use of that. You go over to engage and Blake Payton’s program over there where they partner with various Fortune 50 companies in the southeast here in Atlanta. And you get access to like the C suite of like Chick fil A and UPS and Home Depot. These like incredibly large companies, you get direct access to the very top of it. These are all components which come together to really create a unique opportunity to create a startup. So there’s just so many opportunities to, you know, if you go through one, it doesn’t work out like you can get back on the the horse and try again. Whether it is either starting another thing yourself or joining one of the the many, many, many startups that exist in the Southeast, you know, just seeing the amazing opportunities that we have here, you know, there’s so much that you can get involved with very directly, very easily.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:29] Now, if you were to kind of create a startup ecosystem from scratch, what are the elements that were lacking here in Atlanta?
Tim Dorr: [00:08:41] I mean, the things that were lacking previously were particularly capital, but that’s actually been fixed. So, you know, the sponsor panoramic, they’re a very large fund that has established itself in the Southeast. I mentioned overlying earlier there’s Outlander Tech Square Ventures. I’m blanking on others, unfortunately, under the gun here. I do know a lot. I think the if I’m if I remember the numbers correctly, I believe $1,000,000,000 of new capital came into Atlanta last year. So there is a lot going on here that we have in terms of resources. Really, what’s happened in Atlanta over the past, say decade has been a transformation of the startup ecosystem from being a bunch of people kind of hanging out, wanting to do something to being a functioning, well-structured machine that just spits out great startups. And in particular, it’s starting to feed back into itself. And you have, you know, the leaders coming out of these amazing companies that are doing amazing things. So like I mentioned, Tope and Ben and Dan, a MailChimp top order. It sells loft. You know, they’re starting to because they’ve had success and I humbly include myself in this, you know, that feeding back into that ecosystem is starting to create that exponential growth where, you know, a dozen people come out of it in one cycle, contribute back whether that’s in just time or capital or whatever, back into the ecosystem to help it continue to grow. And then, you know, a couple dozen people come out and then a couple of hundred, you know, it starts to really feed back in itself very quickly. And we’re starting to see that like first cycle really happen. So. Yeah. I mean, like, I feel like the disadvantages are kind of gone at this point. It’s really just us continuing to hone and operate that machine that we’ve established here and continuing to just grow, grow, grow. Like we’re essentially. Atlanta is a growth stage startup now. We are no longer in the the product market fit. We’ve figured it out now. We just need to continue to scale up.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:06] Now, how do you feel we’re doing when it comes to underserved founders or founders from others or groups?
Tim Dorr: [00:11:16] There’s definitely a lot of work to be done there and I feel like we’ve been making great strides on that. For Techstars at least I can definitely speak to the fact that it’s something we care a lot about, and it’s not like we’re not trying to hit numbers here. Like that’s not the goal here. The goal is that we’re trying to fundamentally change how we source startups so that we can find those founders who are not being seen because it’s just frankly, it’s an injustice that we’re not doing that because like every time I run into somebody and they’ve never talked to anyone before or they, they’ve only just figured out that there’s a startup ecosystem here and they’re, they’re not getting seen by anyone. They have great ideas, they have really good ideas, and they have a ton of drive and passion like they absolutely want to get it done. Like I was talking with one startup who it’s her first time doing anything. She’s figuring everything out from scratch. And she was just a teacher last year. You know, she is brand new to this entire world and is somebody that may have gone overlooked in the past very easily and wouldn’t have gotten access to the resources that she needs to get the help to move forward as a founder in particular, but also for her particular idea.
Tim Dorr: [00:12:44] And yeah, I mean, for for Techstars, it’s important that we’re establishing systems where we can make sure we are both finding the kind of founders that are not getting seen yet. And we’re encouraging those founders to come out of the woodwork a bit and reach out to us like we want to make sure we’re being welcoming as well. We definitely have a lot of interest in whether it’s race, gender, age, disability status, veteran status, things like that. We want to make sure that we’re we’re being as accommodating and welcoming for those kinds of founders as possible so that they don’t have to have like as much as the the startup ecosystem might have biases against them. They also have biases against us which are well deserved. And we want to make sure we’re breaking those down as well so that they can feel welcome and included in the process. It’s definitely about inclusion and making sure that they have a seat at the table too.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:56] And I think it goes along with what you said earlier about having those brand names. If we can get the companies that are from underrepresented, folks that have kind of working towards a brand name or have a brand name to show what is possible and that they can aspire to do this. This is this is a dream that can come true and open their minds to this as a career path. I think that would help out as well.
Tim Dorr: [00:14:25] Absolutely.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:27] Now, what part of this process gets you fired up? Like, what do you enjoy about working with these early stage folks that, you know, get you up in the morning, get you excited to do what you do?
Tim Dorr: [00:14:41] It’s definitely about. You know, like the best founders that we have come through the door are the ones that are most amenable to change and the ones that want to learn and grow. And I love really like connecting with them on that level and helping them see maybe something from a different angle and a different perspective, but at the same time, like not instructing them to do something per se, you know, just exposing them to another way of thinking. So like one thing I always say about Techstars in particular is that like, well, we’re called an accelerator, quote unquote. We are actually going to slow you down for three months. And that’s because we’re asking you to, for those three months, really step off the gas of like the build, build, build mode of the startup. Because chances are you have your blinders on, you’re headed towards the target. You want to just hit that target no matter what. And, you know, if the thinking is if you get to that target, everything will be great. That’s your success point. And usually that’s not true. Usually you need to, course correct as you go, but it’s really hard to do that. That’s a skill that takes a lot of learning, a lot of a lot of failure to figure out like, that’s something you have to do. So what Techstars is going to do is, you know, really force you to break down that assumption. And that’s definitely where I can help the most is, you know, kind of structurally how we do it is we have a very mentor based program.
Tim Dorr: [00:16:19] And one thing we do upfront to connect you with mentors is we do this thing called Mentor Madness, and it’s basically a week long process. You’re meeting with all 100 mentors that we have. You’re doing these quick 15 minute meetings. They are just the most raw, honest, objective feedback you’ll ever get in your company. There’s no time to defend yourself, so you just got to listen and write things down as fast as you can and you’re going to hear a bunch of stuff. Some of it will be complete crap and bad advice, but you’re going to start hearing a lot of like the same thing over and over again from like, you know, ten different people in a row. And that forces you to start to say, hey, I keep hearing the same thing that maybe I need to be doing this thing that I haven’t been doing in my business. And that can start to break down that that stubbornness barrier of like, I think I know the right direction or I think this target is where we should be headed and really start to think, think about things differently for your business and realize maybe there are different perspectives on what I’m doing. And then we pair you with your mentors, and the ones that really resonated with you on that are the ones that are going to help you the most. And we run through the program and really the acceleration comes after the program where, you know, the demo day is over, kind of back to normal and you want to step back on that gas.
Tim Dorr: [00:17:40] But now you have a plan in place. You know, you’re headed in a better direction and you have that skill set to be able to stop and take a take a moment to say, okay, maybe we’re not headed in the exact right direction. Let’s course correct a little bit to the right. And you have your mentors like the one thing I will point out is like the mentors are mentors for life potentially. You know, we definitely encourage that. It’s not just limited to those 13 weeks, then we take them back. Like these mentors are mentors you can have forever and they can be advisors to your company, they can be investors in your company even. You know, these are definitely like long term relationships and you have them as a way as a sounding board potentially to say like, hey, are we actually headed in the right direction here? Or does your opinion differ and suggest that we should do something differently? So kind of going back like that’s where like I definitely prefer to help is when somebody comes in and says, hey, is this the right direction to go in or do we need to course correct and kind of working through with them like to figure out, okay, what is a better strategy here or what is a, an adjusted strategy? Or maybe we just need to pivot entirely and do something different. You know, kind of working through those challenges are definitely the most engaging for me.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:58] Now, what’s the biggest piece of advice you can share with a startup founder to even enter the Techstars program? What do they have to what’s something actionable they can be doing today that will give them a shot of getting into the Techstars program?
Tim Dorr: [00:19:14] I definitely say B considering. You know, again, kind of like doing this like course correction work comes down a lot to really being good at customer discovery. There’s a very good book on this topic called The Mom Test. It’s actually written by a local Atlanta native. I forget his name off top of my head, but it’s like ten bucks on Amazon. It’s really quick read. It’s very practical in this nature. Like, that’s the one thing I like about it. It’s not very like theoretical about customer discovery. It gives you like actual talk tracks that you can see both the things to ask and why to ask them. And really, like all customer discovery about is about is discovering what is the problem space that your customer lives in. Like, what are their issues? What are they dealing with? You know, kind of like working through that sort of thing. And if you’re doing a lot of customer discovery, that’s great. I’d love to hear that. Like you’re talking with dozens or hundreds or maybe even thousands of customers to really understand what is going wrong in their world. And you really strongly understand their problem space because that will just help you long term. Like as a business when it gets to like selling mode, when you switch to the other side of things because you understand the problem space so well, you understand where they are, where their head space is at. You can when you sit down and sell them.
Tim Dorr: [00:20:48] You’re not selling from the other side of the table. You’re selling on the same side of the table as them. You’re selling alongside them rather than to them. So I love to see that kind of like that’s to me is a traction metric. A lot of people come to Techstars and say like, Well, how much revenue do we need? Like, how many customers do we need? Like, No, that’s actually not the issue. Techstars is really wide open when it comes to the stage or companies that like anything from a back of the napkin idea up to like I’m about to raise my like second or third round of funding and anything in between. So like what matters more to me is just like when it comes to traction, quote unquote, it’s not so much the, the revenue numbers. It’s like how much have you connected to your your market space? And are you like actively working through talking with customers, understanding their needs and like setting yourself up for that kind of success when it comes to selling and actually obtaining customers? Because if you don’t understand your customers, maybe you have some revenue, but that might have just been dumb luck that got you that revenue. You know, if you’re actually listening to them and getting feedback, getting input, then the traction you have is more real in my mind. So I definitely look at like the kind of like work you’ve done to really understand your market in particular.
Lee Kantor: [00:22:15] Now, if somebody wants to learn more about the Techstars program, what’s the best way to do that?
Tim Dorr: [00:22:23] I mean, you can read the text. We have I think it’s roughly 50 different programs. We actually have a second program now in Atlanta as well. Melissa Peggy’s is the new managing director of the Techstars Atlanta, powered by Jp morgan program, which runs opposite of mine. So I’m runs in the summer. We also have the Cox Social Impact Program that runs in the winter. And then Melissa’s programs are running in the essentially the fall and the spring. So pretty much 24 seven. There’s something Techstars going on in Atlanta. And if you want to learn about any of those, head to Techstars dot com, you can go to the accelerators page. And one thing that’s really great there is that you can start to look through all of the programs we offer. Some of them are city based. Some of them are remote programs like Techstars anywhere. Some of them have corporate partners. Some of them do not. Some of them have a focus, like there’s a physical health accelerator in Fort Worth, Texas. There’s energy tech over in Birmingham. Some of them have a particular maybe a specific market that you’re in that you can get a lot of value out of. Like, you know, my summer program is very generalist, but if you go out to LA Matt, who runs the program out there, he has a space technology focus for one of his programs he’s actually running for, and he’s kind of nuts for doing that.
Tim Dorr: [00:23:59] But we love him. He’s he’s we’re lucky to have him. And I definitely would like look through all the accelerator programs we have, mainly when like evaluating like a Techstars accelerator, you definitely look at the, the resources being provided by that program and they’re going to be a bunch that are just not in fits entirely, but try to find ones that are close and like really examine them. And I would definitely encourage anyone who’s interested in Techstars to apply to multiple programs at the same time. There’s no disadvantage whatsoever for doing so. And on top of that, you just have more chances. Again, we have hundreds of applications for Techstars Atlanta this summer, and I’m only choosing ten companies, so the chances of anyone getting in is fairly low. So the more programs you apply to you, the more chances you have. And who knows? You might find one in there that you resonate with more than my program. For whatever reason, maybe you like the MD more or the corporate partner is a better fit for you. Whatever it is. I’m not offended by that, by the way. Feel free to to find the best program that works for your team and your needs. But yeah, consider them all and definitely apply to any that make sense. The more chances you have to get into a program, the better.
Lee Kantor: [00:25:16] Yeah, like you said, there’s a lot of resources now compared to five, ten, 15 years ago. So take advantage of them.
Tim Dorr: [00:25:24] Yes, absolutely.
Lee Kantor: [00:25:26] Well, Tim, thank you so much for sharing your story today. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
Tim Dorr: [00:25:31] Thank you. Definitely appreciate it.
Lee Kantor: [00:25:32] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll see you all next time on Startup Showdown.
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