What makes us Atlantans

The tech entrepreneur who never planned to stay

Michael Cohn
Cohn mentored startups at Ponce City Market.

Photograph by Johnathon Kelso

Michael Cohn
Age 43
Technology entrepreneur

In 2001, I was living in New York. My sister attended Emory undergrad, and I wound up dating long-distance, and ultimately marrying, her best friend. My startup in NYC, a website-development shop, cratered after 9/11. In February 2002, I moved to Atlanta. My intention was to be here for a couple of months, sweep my girlfriend off her feet, and bring her back to NYC. I wound up applying to business schools and had the good fortune of getting into Emory. I met my future cofounder and one of my best friends on the first day at school. For many of my friends, Atlanta was a two-year stop for them. Now, my kids are growing up with theirs. Atlanta won.

Monroe, the town in New York where I grew up, wasn’t Cheers Boston, but it was the type of town where everyone knew your name. Things felt similar here. As different as the Northeast is from the South, generally speaking, Atlanta had a small-town feel that I loved. There was optimism here. And a lot of sunshine. Rumi’s Kitchen won me over. I grew up eating a lot of Persian, Lebanese, and Israeli food. The flavors and buzz at Rumi’s—there’s nothing like it. That place is wall-to-wall packed on a Tuesday night.

There was opportunity here. In 2008, at the height of the economic crisis, I cofounded a company called Cloud Sherpas, a consulting organization, in my basement. Marlene, my wife, was eight months pregnant with our second baby. I felt supported by the startup community. We grew this from three guys in my basement into a few thousand employees around the world. When we sold the company to Accenture, 150 employees who received options had an opportunity to pay off student debt or buy a house. Then, the team at Atlanta Tech Village embraced me, and Cox Enterprises asked me to mentor other startups at Techstars. Now, my partner, Sean O’Brien, and I are building Overline, a venture capital platform. Again, the support has been amazing. I couldn’t do this anywhere else.

My wife’s friends and her friend’s spouses, we’re really close. And at B-school, there was a group of guys who all got along, and their wives got along as well. The ecosystem gives me energy. This might be trite, but you can get a meeting here—with another investor, as an investor reaching out to a founder, as an investor reaching out to a leader at another corporation. It’s accessible. That doesn’t mean it can’t get cutthroat at times. But in my experience, it’s been collaborative.

There are things I miss about New York. Family, friends, great pizza. I got out of that gravitational force that was the tri-state area. I’m really grateful for the life we have in Atlanta. My sister relocated back to Atlanta with her family. I’ve had cousins who have emigrated to Atlanta from Israel. We’re members of Temple Beth Tikvah in Roswell. My son, Evan, was bar mitzvahed this past summer. We expect to be here for the rest of our lives. This is my children’s home. Our children have a diverse group of friends in Cobb. I feel like I can provide for them the way my mom and father provided for me in upstate New York.

I’ve come to love that heat. I’ve come to love being on the BeltLine and sweating in the city, being in Piedmont Park. My wife loves the Inman Park Festival and Dogwood Festival. I love walking down the street and seeing every color in the rainbow. If it weren’t for Atlanta, I wouldn’t have had the success of Cloud Sherpas, led Techstars, met Sean, or founded Overline. I owe my entire career to Atlanta. I owe everything to Atlanta.