I met guest blogger Ben Dyer before he moved to Austin, since he runs the Atlanta version of AustinStartup, which is named TechDrawl. As a more recent transplant, he has a great perspective on our theme of the week, “Why I Chose Austin.”
The ATC CEO Summit panel on “Why I Moved My Company to California” provoked
a lot of thought and commentary, with a very well expressed response by Josh Baer
in yesterday’s Austin Startup. He enumerated the reasons why for him and his
businesses Austin is the right location. I’ve been here just over a year, and I’d like to
share my perspective.
As most of you probably know, I was the founding president of Peachtree Software.
My principal competitor in that day was a company called BPI based right here
in Austin. They went public, but I have no idea where they went after that. I sold
to MSA in Atlanta, and Peachtree today is part of Sage and still a highly ranked
brand. I’ve hardly met anyone here in Austin (older than 40, perhaps) who hasn’t
somewhere along the way used Peachtree Software.
I was first introduced to Austin around 1970 when Texas Instruments was trying to
build microcomputers in two different divisions based here. I was under NDA with
each, and I wasn’t allowed to tell one about the other, even though I generally visited
both on the same trip. Neither succeeded.
Fast forward to 1998 when I brought my son Jesse out for a college visit to UT, and
we were both sold. He enrolled in 1999, and his younger sister Audrey followed a
few years later. I enjoyed 14 years of renewed association with the city and made it
a point to get to know some of the technology leaders along the way.
In late 2010 I found myself free to move about the country. A DNA test showed that
my golf handicap gene would never allow me to get better than 12, no matter how
many new technologies I employed or how much I practiced, and I had held just
about every volunteer office one could have at my alma mater Georgia Tech. It was
time for a fresh start.
Every tech city has “Valley envy.” I spent a month in San Francisco contemplating
a move there. I have plenty of friends in the region. I bought Altos computers from
the current Godfather Ron Conway when he and I were both pups. He’s still a friend,
but in his position I figure he’d rather hang out with his buddy MC Hammer than
with Ben Dyer. If there were a time when I should have moved to the Valley, it was
1978 in the formative stages of Peachtree Software. I knew I was missing all the
Friday night poker games where the big deals were getting done (true story), but I
had higher priorities with my family that kept me in Atlanta.
So, here’s my list:
People like Bryan Menell and Josh Baer, and hundreds of others I should name,
make Austin an extraordinarily welcoming town for tech newcomers. It didn’t take
me long to figure out that in the area around San Francisco’s AT&T Park that every
third person is a 25-yr-old $Billionaire, and I’d have a hard time qualifying on either
of those criteria. Nor do I do the all-black dress code very well. Here I’ve had no
problem getting any appropriate introduction I have sought and have always been
made to feel at home. I’ve even hung up my suits and acquired a jeans wardrobe.
Austin is a “git ‘er done” town. As a board member I’ve introduced a startup
company from Hilton Head, SC to the ATI and to HomeAway and given that venture
a chance to succeed that it might never have had otherwise. I’ll never forget the
first meeting at HomeAway where CTO Ross Buhrdorf saw something he liked,
called in his engineers, and started a project on the spot. That type of bias for action
seems typical here.
The University of Texas is a special place. I will always be a Yellow Jacket and proud
of Georgia Tech, but Austin is a true college town with all the energy, enthusiasm
and spirit that entails. UT’s bringing Bob Metcalfe to teach entrepreneurship was
an inspired move, and I’m getting a great return on the tuition I paid earlier for my
children just by mentoring in his class and taking notes. (As of yesterday there was
some talk of GT and FSU bolting the ACC for the Big 12, and Audrey has already said
she will make me a half-gold and half-burnt orange game day shirt if these 2 schools
do meet at DKR.)
Funding is always going to seem easier in the Valley, especially for the social media
deals that have made the big fortunes of late. But, that’s not to say that CA investors
won’t do deals in Austin. They have done plenty to date. Sure we need more
resident capital here, but we may have enough to support all the growth the city can
currently handle. I seem to have attracted 35,000 new arrivals since I appeared,
not enough of them engineers apparently, and the city is fast outgrowing its housing
supply and transportation infrastructure.
SXSW Interactive is a major driver of the Austin tech scene. I’ve been to two, and
as a local now I’ve come to appreciate all the volunteer work required to grade the
panel applications, screen, coach, and judge Accelerator companies. This event is
big enough to move to Vegas, but it would lose its magic in that environment. There
are probably plenty of movers and shakers in the Valley who have “SXSW envy.”
Allow me to conclude with special thanks to all of you who have invited me in to
this “high-revving” tech scene. It’s been great for business, and the lifestyle is like
living the dream.