60 Voices: Nothing demonstrates Atlanta’s potential like its thriving entrepreneurial scene

“People from disparate sectors who may have never even met or collaborated before are saying the same, unifying rallying cry about this imperfect city they all find themselves living, working, and creating in.”

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Bem Joiner
Bem Joiner

Photograph by Audra Melton

Bem Joiner | cofounder of Atlanta Influences Everything

When did you know that there was something special about “Atlanta Influences Everything” as both a slogan and an ethos?
When the world started thanking Atlanta for “saving democracy,” it made me realize that although Atlanta Influences Everything as a consultancy was established in 2015, never before have those words rang as true as they did after November 3, 2020, and January 5, 2021—where people from disparate sectors who may have never even met or collaborated before are saying the same, unifying rallying cry about this imperfect city they all find themselves living, working, and creating in.

I look often at how it came together in Austin. Austin is known for Tex-Mex and its live music scene but, most notably, South by Southwest. They have been able to leverage that “Keep Austin Weird” culture and draw major brands like Oracle and Tesla.

Atlanta is getting its fair share—Microsoft and Airbnb are setting roots here, for example. There’s even some recruiting communication happening between Atlanta and the UK in terms of where certain companies will land post-Brexit. It’s no coincidence that the UK’s music scene and urban culture—the world’s, really—mimics Atlanta’s to a T.

People and companies are moving here, but they have to be guided on how to connect with Atlanta authentically. And until now, no one has been having that discussion or doing that kind of intentional onboarding.

That’s what we’re trying to do on the other side of November 3 and January 5, where we sit with brands and discuss how they can connect the dots and both harness this newfound energy around Atlanta and honor the way Atlanta’s cultural, corporate, and civic sectors have been cultivated. Atlanta should be continuing to build infrastructure and capacity around those three pillars. The world has already thanked us in advance.


Ryan Millsap | CEO of Blackhall Studios

What would you say to someone looking to start a business in Atlanta?
There’s nowhere in the country that has this ease of life coupled with the true metropolitan experience you can find in Atlanta. I can have a house in town and a farm 15 minutes outside of town, and I can enjoy both of those lifestyles intermittently throughout the week. The outdoor life here is incredible: We’ve got eight perfect months. Then, you blend in the culture of this melting pot that is Atlanta, mixed with an old-world, real culture, Southern culture.

If you’re a young entrepreneur, and you lay out the options of where you want to go build a company, there’s really no better place. No major city in America is a better place for all the cycles of your entrepreneurial life than Atlanta because this is a great place to be young, it’s a great place to have a young family, it’s a great place to raise your kids, it’s a great place to grow old. Whereas New York is a great place to be young. L.A. is a great place to be young. San Francisco is . . . not great for much.


Ben Chestnut | cofounder and CEO of Mailchimp

How do you get professionals who could work in Silicon Valley to come here?
I think it’s useful for people to have spent time on the West Coast; it’s almost like the rumspringa that the Amish have. You reach a certain age, get out, go experience the world, see what it’s like. We don’t have to try all that hard for them to come back to Atlanta. They like the work/life balance, the nature, the trees we have. The entrepreneurial scene is growing so much that they get the best of both worlds. I used to tell my recruiters, Go to the West Coast and just hang out at Babies R Us. As soon as anyone on the West Coast has a baby, they want to come to Atlanta.

How do you hope to see Atlanta evolve?
I would love for it to be more walkable and rideable. I would love to see the BeltLine grow even more and have more bike lanes everywhere. But that’s a selfish thing. Or, really, a Mailchimp thing: Thirty percent of our people walk, ride, or use alternate transportation to work. When we moved to Ponce City Market, we loved the bike valet, bike racks everywhere. But our employees just swamped it. [PCM] told us, You’ve got to deal with this. We actually had to use 1,000 square feet or so of our space for bike storage.

What would you say to someone looking to start a business in Atlanta?
I say don’t. Leave all the talent for me. Joking aside, the city is full of creative talent because of all the huge consumer brands that are here. The music, film, entertainment industry, and now the growth of the entrepreneurial and tech communities, are also adding to the talent pool.


Tristan Walker | founder and CEO of Walker & Company Brands

When you first moved your company to Atlanta, you talked about connecting and listening. What has the city taught you?
I’ve been here two years now, this April, and the city has certainly welcomed me, my family, my company with incredibly open arms. It feels like we’ve been here for a while.

So, I’m really getting a sense for what’s going on in the business community here, and I’m trying to learn this place as authentically and as slowly and enjoyably as possible. We never wanted to be the folks who come to the city and try to claim everything within it.

I’ve seen that movie before in high definition, out in the Bay Area around 2008, where a lot of folks moved there which increased real-estate and housing prices and pushed folks out. I’m hopeful that doesn’t happen here, but I think—because of Atlanta’s strong roots in activism and diversity that’s already entrenched here—there will be a formidable pushback against that.

In the past, a lot of the migrations have been to coastal cities, where job opportunities and industry trends were thought to be. Now, I think people are going to realize how important community is to that equation.

Atlanta is everything we thought it would be: the richness of diversity here, the celebration of Blackness and culture and the feeling of inclusion in that culture, the fact that my son gets to go to a school that is wonderfully diverse. Coalescing family and Blackness and the density of genius is the advantage. What a great place to live—capital L.


Pinky Cole | founder and CEO of Slutty Vegan ATL

You’ve launched restaurants in neighborhoods without a lot of dining options. How do you decide where to open new spots?
I don’t move by money—money don’t move me. Every decision I make, I move because I know that it’s going to have a long-term effect on the people who consume it. Slutty Vegan is a community-based business, right? We sell burgers and fries, but the community piece is really more important to me.

I decided to put Slutty Vegan in underserved communities where there’s a lack of resources—food insecurity, food deserts, places where developers aren’t really attracted. People want to eat better. They just need access to resources, even if it starts as vegan comfort food. I’ve been purchasing the land in which I put the Slutty Vegans, so now I’m developing communities and revitalizing communities while selling burgers and fries and helping people reimagine food. It’s a win-win across the board.

I don’t have to go into an area where it costs me $200 a square foot just to be beside a Chipotle. I can go into a space where it may not be as attractive, but I can make it beautiful.

This article appears in our May 2021 issue.

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