9/11: The Most Powerful Image For Me

This photo has special meaning to me. It hammered home the pain and suffering that innocent civilians experienced on 9/11. It showed me the compassion of our fellow man. It illustrated the courage of those who were sworn to protect us.

I carried a small, laminated copy of this photo with me while I was deployed. It reminded me why I was there. It made me realize that, American or not, no group of people should be subjected to brutality and extremism. Hopefully it does the same for you.

man-in-chair-911

How The US Army Made Me An Entrepreneur

Credit: entrepreneur.com

Credit: entrepreneur.com

This post is a reprint of the WRAL TechWire article titled, “Inside a deal: Why vet sold DigaForce – and how Army made him an entrepreneur.” Unfortunately the article was originally published behind the content paywall (more on that later). I am reproducing the article here with Rick Smith’s permission. I hope it can inspire other military vets to make the leap into the startup game. If you’re considering it, I’d love to hear from you!

Raleigh, N.C. — What Anthony Pompliano will do for his next gig now that he has sold his social media intelligence firm DigaForce to Strategic Link Partners isn’t clear at this point. But on another, he is quite clear: Serving in the U.S. Army – including the excruciatingly dangerous and nerve-wracking search for IEDs across the killing fields of Iraq – helped make the son of a technology executive an entrepreneur.

“The military had a huge part in making me into an entrepreneur,” Pompliano explained Thursday after news about the sale of his company broke.

Wait a minute: Taking orders in the Army develops entrepreneurial skills?

Well, says the young man who served as a sergeant and combat engineer, much thinking about the armed forces is wrong.

“Contrary to popular belief, service members are required to be resourceful and entrepreneurial on a daily basis,” he explains.

“Many times I was given a mission objective with very little guidance. It was up to me and my team to accomplish the mission how we saw fit.”

“Running a startup is very much the same. Do a lot with very little and in a quick time frame.” Pompliano reached the rank of sergeant. Here’s how the Army defines a SGT’s role:

SERGEANT (SGT)

Typically commands a squad (9 to 10 soldiers). Considered to have the greatest impact on Soldiers because SGTs oversee them in their daily tasks. In short, SGTs set an example and the standard for Privates to look up to, and live up to.

What better management teacher than being responsible for the lives of others?

Pompliano visited WRAL’s headquarters a few months ago and talked candidly about his Iraq experiences – along with other business. Searching for improvised explosive devices was never, ever easy. And IEDs killed many Americans, NATO allies as well as Iraqis – and Afghans. He calls those searches “combat missions involving route clearance and cordon and searches.”

One mistake – boom, you and your buddies were dead.

The six-year veteran who spent 13 months in Iraq in 2008-9 says many of the men and women battle-scarred in the never-ending war on terror are now turning their attention to business and using their battlefield experiences.

“More and more veterans are becoming entrepreneurs,” he says. “After Vietnam, an unusually high-rate of CEO’s were vets. I expect to see this trend reappear in the next 5 to 15 years.”

Called to Serve as a Patriot

Devotion to duty and self-sacrifice are just two of the many reasons why a lot of corporate executives want to hire veterans. Pompliano was called to serve by what happened on 9-11-01.

“No one will ever forget where they were on September 11, 2001. I was in 8th grade, sitting in the cafeteria, when the principal told the school what had happened. We were too young to fully grasp what terrorism was, but we knew that someone had come to our country and tried to kill people,” he wrote in his personal blog called Pomp Logic.

“Little did I know, thousands of people would end up dying before the day was over. These terrorists were radicals who were hell-bent on destroying the country that I lived in. Once I got home, my parents explained the situation more in depth to me. I did a lot of growing up that day.

“Four years later, as a 17 year old high school graduate, I knew what I wanted to do. I walked into a US Army recruiting office and asked “What can I do to help?” The man sitting across the desk responded with something that I will never forget, “Son, if you want to help us, we can find something for you to do.” That’s all I needed to hear.

“Almost 7 years to the exact date of walking into that office, I took my uniform off for the last time. I had been blessed with the opportunity to serve with the infantry, combat engineers, and military intelligence. I had the eye-opening experience of serving on Active Duty and in the Reserves. The Army took me around the world, let me see some amazing places, and helped me mature in ways I could have never imagined.”

Son of an Entrepreneur

Anthony’s name strikes some in the Triangle technology community as a familiar one. It should. His father ran a tech company in the Triangle called P4.

“I was not involved,” the younger Pompliano explains. “We share the same name but he goes by Tony and I go by Anthony. Blame the Italian heritage!”

His father is now involved with another firm, Anexio, which Anthony describes as a “great company” that is “on an acquisition spree.”

New Mission?

Pompliano chose to become an entrepreneur in the Triangle with a bet placed on social intelligence: Turning all that Facebook, Twitter and who-knows-what-else people want to share about themselves into “actionable intelligence” for companies became the hub of what he called a “social intelligence company.”

So why sell the company to Joan Myers and Strategic Link Partners?

“We have worked with SLP in the past and our visions/goals aligned,” he says. “Their team is one of the best in the industry and we can obtain market dominance at a much faster pace by combining forces. All aspects of this deal made sense for both parties.”

But Pompliano is not stepping away. He plans an ongoing role. Why?

“We still have a mission to fulfill.”

Pompliano declined to answer a number of questions about DigaForce’s “secret sauce” technology and all the controversy about social media monitoring taking place these days (as clearly documented by Edward Snowden).

“Due to the nature of the deal and the industry with which SLP operates, I can’t comment,” he says.

DigaForce did appear to be en route to landing funding, having applied for and reached the semifinal round for a grant from economic development group NC IDEA. That could have been worth as much as $50,000. But as the reviews continued in the fall, Pompliano says the SLP deal came together.

“We were selected as a semi-finalist for the NC IDEA grant and felt we had a great chance to win,” he says. “Once we knew the acquisition was going to come to fruition (before finalists were announced), I worked with the NC IDEA team to retract our application with total transparency.

“As an entrepreneur, I like to think we would have won the grant if we hadn’t retracted the application.”

Pompliano also had touted DigaForce to potential investors, and he says money is available.

“Funding is one piece of the puzzle,” Pompliano explains. “Everything about entrepreneurship is hard. People who get hung up on funding are doomed from the beginning. There is plenty of money in the Triangle. If you have a compelling value proposition, investors will open their check books. Not being funded is not an excuse for failing.”

So what comes next?

“Not sure right now,” he says. “I’ve been spending my time helping other entrepreneurs (and) startups in the Triangle.”

A Personal Note

Readers of technology blogs in the Triangle are probably aware that Pompliano is not a supporter of WRAL TechWire’s decision to implement a premium content (“paywall”) plan last year. In fact, he launched a petition against it. And in a Twitter post on Thursday he lamented the fact that the first story to appear about the deal was, in fact, behind that paywall.

Anthony and I have talked about the Insider strategy, as we call it, and have been unable to come to an understanding. However, he graciously agreed to talk about the sale of his venture and his own experiences as an entrepreneur. So for that, The Skinny says “Thanks.”

Also, thanks to Anthony and all you other veterans who put your lives on the line so we at home can remain free. We are forever in our debt, just as our nation is to all the men and women who from the founding have been brave enough to respond to the call of duty.

 

 

DigaForce Is Being Acquired

slp2

The year of 2013 was very exciting and rewarding for me.  Throughout the year I learned many lessons and gained invaluable experience as an entrepreneur, son, brother, and significant other. Today I am happy to kick off 2014 by announcing some awesome news.

DigaForce is being acquired by Strategic Link Partners (SLP). Click here to read the article from Triangle Business Journal. This awesome opportunity came together at the end of 2013 and was the product of an on-going relationship with the team at SLP. We ultimately decided to join forces because we believe that numerous advantages exist as a result of our combined efforts.

This news wouldn’t be possible without the help of so many people. First I want to thank my co-founder, Matt Cotter. His passion and effort was a major contributor to our success. I pride myself on being results-driven and Matt consistently held me to that standard. There were many late nights that provided for great memories.

DigaForce was blessed to have a number of close friends who helped out at different times throughout the process, including Eric Martindale, Vance Fitzgerald, Tyler Cross, and Ana Echeverri. Their selflessness was greatly appreciated and I look forward to helping them in the future. We were also fortunate to have some great mentors along the way, including Burr Sutter, Brian Marks, Bill Spruill, David Gardner, Alex Osadzinski, Scott Moody, and Jonathan Hornby.

Lastly, I have to say “THANK YOU” to the Triangle startup community. Although it is hard to measure (and name everyone), there were countless times when we received help or publicity that proved beneficial. It takes a village to raise a child and this community played the parent role well. I look forward to spending time with more entrepreneurs and investors in the coming months. It’s time that I start trying to return the favor to anyone and everyone who is willing to put up with me!

Enough about 2013. It is a new year and time for new challenges. I’m excited to figure out what the future holds. As always, if I can help anyone, please reach out and lets talk!

 

Circle The Wagons: What Everyone Is Thinking But Nobody Will Say

breaking-glass

This article is written to highlight a systemic problem in our ecosystem and to create a conversation around the solution. 

The Raleigh-Durham (Triangle) region of NC has a goal of becoming a top 5 city for entrepreneurship and innovation. The community needs to be on the same page in order for this to be accomplished.

The journey won’t be easy. Frankly, it will be much harder than most people anticipate. Cities all over the world are aiming to accomplish the same goal. From San Francisco to London and Boston to Las Vegas, there are plenty of smart people who are passionate about winning. Keep in mind – Las Vegas has $350 million to play with!!

The Triangle community’s efforts must be synced in order to stand a chance of competing. If someone doesn’t pull their weight, it is the community’s responsibility to hold them accountable.

“The strength of the pack is the wolf and the strength of the wolf is the pack”

I’m writing this to hold members of our community accountable. We are not all on the same page but we must be.

Whether we like it or not, local media is our main voice to the world. Social media is powerful but nothing can top a well-written article by an unbiased, respected journalist. While the Triangle is saturated with a number of amazing writers, many of them are not reaching the audience they deserve.

The reason will surprise you….

Paywalls are preventing the spread of information. A paywall is a system that prevents Internet users from accessing webpage content without a paid subscription. In layman terms – paywalls prevent the free dissemination of information. Most local media paywalls seem to include a range of topics but one particular paywall stands out.

The idea that we must “tell our story” has been identified and reiterated at many local events. The tech / entrepreneurship community is exploding and accomplishing some awesome things but no one is successfully telling the stories to a larger audience. Success stories include 5 IPO’s and a total of $200+ million raised in the first 6 months of 2013. Big time stuff!

There are a number of options when it comes to getting local tech / startup news. The News & Observer is notorious for leveraging opinion pieces from entrepreneurs and investors, with the occasional long-form, traditional journalism article. Unfortunately, tech and startups are not a main focus for the N&O and it shows in volume and quality.

ExitEvent is a gritty platform that I consider to have great story-lines and boots-on-the-ground reporting. If you are looking for the local TechCrunch, this is your best bet. Joe Procopio has done a fantastic job building the audience from scratch but has limited resources and writers to cover everything happening.

The Triangle Business Journal has made a huge push lately to focus on tech, startups, and entrepreneurship. While the volume has drastically picked up, they are still the new kid on the block. Being new is hard but they have a solid team of journalists that are ready to tackle the challenge. I expect their audience to continue growing if they keep up the current trajectory.

(UPDATE: Bill Spruill sent me the following quote that I felt was worth adding for context and relevance: “The Triangle Business Journal has been a great and venerable supplier of news and features about local companies since I started following the community back in 1995. Even when implementing payment requirements they only did so based on number of page views per month and thus did not overly restrict access to valuable content and information.”)

This leaves me with WRAL TechWire. Most entrepreneurs and investors feel that Rick Smith and TechWire are the most trusted source for local (and Southeast) tech / entrepreneurship news. This reputation has been built from a solid record of professional journalism that includes great angles, interesting exclusives, and early scoops. Nobody can dispute the past performance but I believe WRAL has made a grave mistake.

WRAL TechWire is the only news site in the region to place tech and entrepreneurship news behind a paywall. Yes, our best voice is being silenced by a focus on monetization. Ridiculous – A pure slap in the face to the entrepreneurs and investors who are working hard to create stories of success.

Instead of making wild claims, here is some data that highlights the problem. Of the last 20 articles written on TechWire with the tag “Startups”, 14 of them are hidden behind the paywall. Of the 6 that are “unlocked” from the paywall, only 3 articles have more than 50 words and contain any substance. Making matters worse, 2 of the remaining 3 were interviews conducted by CED as part of an on-going series they run. The final article is a self-serving piece that promotes the work of WRAL’s parent company (Capitol Broadcasting) at American Tobacco Campus.

This is a huge problem. In fact, this may be the single biggest problem that the Triangle entrepreneurship ecosystem is facing. Outside investors have no idea what is going on with Triangle companies because most of the stories are hidden. This is such a problem that CED heavily invested in building Triangulate NC in order to help give more insight to these people. Want to increase access to capital in the area? How about we unleash the stories of past success that are currently being hoarded and pimped out for pocket change.

This not only affects the dissemination of information to those outside of the region. Earlier this year Justin Miller of WedPics raised $1.1 million and TechWire wrote an exclusive article. The article was hidden behind the paywall, which caused majority of the Triangle ecosystem to remain in the dark about this awesome accomplishment. TechWire also wrote an article about Anil Chawla and ArchiveSocial. Anil hadn’t been able to read the article about his own company when I spoke to him two months ago.

This practice is ridiculous, damaging, and must come to an end. While WRAL is trying to monetize the story-lines of Triangle success, they fail to realize that they are systematically preventing success to breed more success. Are a few dollars (paywalls historically make very little money) worth potentially sabotaging the momentum of local entrepreneurship and innovation? Not in my mind.

Each one of us has a voice in the issue. You voice your opinion in the currency of your actions. Every time you click on a TechWire article, you are encouraging this behavior. Every time you agree to give TechWire an interview that will go behind the paywall, you are encouraging this behavior. Every time you give TechWire an exclusive scoop, you are encouraging this behavior. Every time you agree to write content for TechWire, you are encouraging this behavior.

It is about time we stop the madness and hold WRAL TechWire accountable. I am calling for a boycott of TechWire until they remove the paywall, align their interests with the community, and acknowledge that we are all stronger together. I understand that they are a for-profit company that needs to make money. However, there are numerous ways to accomplish this and I’m willing to spend time to help them set a strategy to accomplish this at no charge. I doubt they will accept the offer.

As a community it is time we stand up for what we know is the right thing. The status quo is disrupted when a group of individuals passionately advocate for what is right. If you want to join me, I’d love for you to take 15 seconds and sign this petition to have WRAL TechWire take down their paywall.

Please share this with anyone and everyone you know. By posting it to social media and sharing with friends, we can rally the passionate group of individuals that is needed to create the necessary systemic change. Thank you!

The petition can be found here as well: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/wral-techwire/

HQ Raleigh vs American Underground @Raleigh: The tale of the tape

entrepreneur-magazine-disruption

The Triangle region of North Carolina is quickly becoming a goliath on the innovation and entrepreneurship scene across the nation. From top 10 rankings on numerous national lists to large IPOs and acquisitions, measurable results has been the name of the game lately.

Wednesday, August 7th 2013, is going to be one of the days that ends up on a timeline of “how it happened.” Capitol Broadcasting Company and American Underground announced that they will be opening their third location in the heart of downtown Raleigh. Almost simultaneously, HQ Raleigh (formerly HUB Raleigh) announced a move to the Warehouse District that will nearly quadruple the amount of space they have.

Hold on. Stop the press. Shut up and read that again – the two largest entrepreneurial focused spaces in the region both announced big plans for expansion on the same day. Try telling me again that it is not worth paying attention to the Triangle?!

While these plans for growth are individually positive, what is the impact from a macro-level? Can Raleigh (or Triangle) have too many co-working spaces? Is it possible to have too much density?

Some may differ in opinion but I emphatically believe there is no such thing as “too much” when talking about density and growth. It is no secret that successful ecosystems are positively correlated (and sometimes caused by) to density of entrepreneurs, advisors, service providers, and investors.

Not only is there enough room in Raleigh for 2 co-working spaces, but there is room for 3-5 more. HQ Raleigh currently has a long waiting list of potential members. American Underground (AU) has filled up 2 locations in Durham very quickly. For all the economic minds, this is a classic case of market demand driving increased supply.

I am looking forward to spending time with both HQ and AU@Raleigh. Whether it is office space, events, or the casual conversation, I don’t see a reason to “pick sides” or pledge alliance to one side or the other. This isn’t a battle. It sure as hell isn’t a zero sum game.

To the community, I ask that everyone keep an open mind, embrace growth, provide value, and keep killing it. If it wasn’t for the individual entrepreneur or startup, none of this would be happening. Never forget that we own this city and this region. It is up to us to set the tone and execute the actions that will one day be written on the timeline of “How the Triangle became the most entrepreneurial region in the history of the world.”

Dream big and realize that we are living in a period of time that will be talked about for decades to come. Personally, I am glad that HQ Raleigh and American Underground @Raleigh will both be with us as we write the next chapters…

What do you think of each move? How do you see the region, community, and city of Raleigh being affected? Leave a comment or tweet me @APompliano!

This Is What Happens Every 60 Seconds On The Internet

The internet is a big deal these days. Social media isn’t going anywhere either. This infographic does a great job illustrating just how much activity is going on. Buckle up – some of these numbers may blow your mind…

Qmee-Online-In-60-Seconds2

Quantity of content is not a concern. No need to be worried about e-commerce either. Expect these numbers to double and triple over the next 3-5 years.

What is the most surprising statistic to you? Tweet me @APompliano!

 

(h/t @prsarahevans)

Why Nobody Gives A Shit About Cool…

Photo credit to shirtoid.com

Photo credit to shirtoid.com

Entrepreneurship has been a trendy topic for the media lately. Every kid with an idea and their mom thinks they’re the next Zuckerburg. News flash – You have a better chance of winning the lottery and getting hit by a car all in the same day!

I spend a lot of my time with other founders, particularly young ones, in an attempt to leverage my (very) limited knowledge as a resource for them. This activity organically forces me to allocate time away from DigaForce, while still keeping my mind sharp in an area I care about.

TRANSLATION – It feels amazing to realize other founders have the same issues that you do. There is sanity in chaos.

All I’ve been hearing lately is about the “cool factor” of so many startups.

We have this really cool feature that does X….Every potential customer we talked to told us they thought this was really cool…..Won’t it be cool if we connect X with Y?

At first, I played the nice guy and tried to give solid advice without offending the founder(s) who’ve been pouring their heart and soul into the startup. I offered alternative solutions, potential validated learning experiments, and in rare cases, my own industry knowledge. None of this warm and fuzzy, feel-good approach ever seemed to work.

Each time the founder would say “Thanks for your time and feedback. I really appreciate it.” and be on their way. Maybe they took a small snippet here or there to heart, but the fundamental issue still remained. Eventually I had enough.

Within the past month I have been on an absolute tear.

The nice guy has been replaced by a lean, mean, truth-spittin’ machine! I realized I was doing a huge disservice to the founders I was meeting with if I didn’t give them my honest opinion. Giving them the opinion was only half the battle though. I needed to give the advice in a concise and blunt manner. No sugar coating. No kumbaya stuff.

So here is my go-to piece of advice – “Nobody gives a shit about cool, they want to know where the fuck the value is!” Talk about a complete 180 degree approach. Over 4 weeks I have used that line at least 25 times. Probably more.

The reason this is so important is that cool rarely makes money. Gone are the days of businesses having a strategic plan to create value and make money. Everyone is too focused on getting eyeballs. A wise man once told me, “If they ain’t got no money for ya, leave ’em to die.” A little dramatic coming from a 62 year old but you get the point.

The best part is that the message is working. As soon as I drop the hammer, founders immediately sit up and begin engaging on an entirely different level. They have a million questions. They want to debate the “why” for hours. It is like everyone has been telling them how great they are and now they’ve found one asshole who doesn’t buy their smoke and mirrors.

The ensuing conversation has led to some amazing results. One startup realized their entire business model was unproven and that they were about to spend $25,000 on development for a product that they didn’t know if anybody wanted or not. Another startup realized that their value proposition was so small that it wasn’t worth being cool anymore. Lastly, two rockstar founders realized they had great value in what they were doing, but weren’t including that story in their pitch or marketing material. The new facelift has them looking like a completely different company already.

So forget me, Anthony Pompliano, for a second. This could be any Mark the Mentor (sorry that’s all I have left in the creativity tank). I’m writing this to get two points across. First of all, entrepreneurs need to start focusing more on value than on the cool factor. You aren’t Instagram, so stop thinking your business model is to “just get acquired.” The media, universities, and entrepreneurial peers are all responsible for bashing this concept into the heads of first-time founders.

Secondly, mentors and advisors need to step their game up. Stop trying to be everyone’s friend. If my idea sucks, I want to hear “This idea sucks and you’re wasting your time.” Throw me a bone, homie. Help me out. Give me smart, honest, and blunt feedback so I can act on it immediately. Just like employees want to work with A-level players, founders want advice from A-level mentors.

So remember, “Nobody gives a shit about cool, they want to know where the fuck the value is!” The more entrepreneurs and mentors that can focus on this, the better off the startup ecosystems will be. I’m trying to do my part, are you?

Agree? Disagree? Shoot me your thoughts in the comments or tweet me @APompliano!