From The Gainesville Sun
Gainesville was the perfect place to start a tech company, according to Aidan Augustin, the 23-year-old CEO of Feathr. But now that the app developer is ready to grow, it is moving to Austin, Texas, to be closer to more potential customers and a larger and more experienced tech workforce.
Feathr, which makes a mobile app for conferences, won the Capital Factory's Move Your Startup to Austin competition over 300 other applicants last weekend at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival. The victory came with $100,000 in investment funding, free office space in the Capital Factory business incubator and relocation money, among other incentives.
Augustin said the company was already considering a move to a city that has more conferences that could use their app and has a larger tech workforce. Orlando, Atlanta and Las Vegas — each a top five conference destination — were in the running.
"Austin is No. 20 in terms of conferences but has a very strong startup community and the talent that goes along with it," Augustin said.
Gainesville has been "awesome" for finding talent straight out of the University of Florida but has a small pool of people with two to five years of experience building software products or with a sales track record, he said.
"In Gainesville, we're probably stealing from our friends down the street if we hired in that age range and experience range," Augustin said.
Augustin and his college roommate Neal Ormsbee founded Feathr in 2011 as undergraduate engineering students at UF. They started by creating a digital business card before moving into an app for conferences that allows registrants to connect with each other and with speakers, receive updates on schedules and meeting rooms, and share profiles.
Feathr has raised $200,000 in investment funding and landed a $117,000 state job creation grant. The app has been used at 85 conferences, with less than half as paid customers as most have been done as company promotions, Augustin said.
Revenue has grown to where Feathr is close to being self-sustaining, he said, including some profitable months. Feathr has eight full-time and two part-time employees.
The company was one of the first tenants of UF's Innovation Hub when it opened two years ago. Through the Hub, Feathr met people who would become its customers, investors, mentors, law firm and accounting firm. In Gainesville, the company had a low cost of living and found informal mentors in the tight-knit startup community.
"I don't think there's a better place in the U.S. we could have been the last two years," Augustin said. "I hope we will be able to be an ambassador for Gainesville to the greater startup community rather than this being viewed as us running away."
The Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce is working on building a support structure to help local startups move to the next level as part of its new economic development strategy, said Susan Davenport, vice president of economic development. Davenport said she spoke to Feathr about their issues a few months ago.
"It helps us understand more clearly what we have to do to get in front of this," she said.
Davenport said that the worker experience that Feathr needs will come with time as more and more companies grow, but she understands that they have needs now.
The Chamber recently convened the Gainesville Area Technology Council to address issues for growing tech companies.
Council board member Duncan Kabinu is managing partner of Starter Space, a shared office for new companies. He said the council is planning a forum to talk to tech companies about the kind of support they need.
Kabinu said one issue is a lack of investors, leading companies to look elsewhere for funding.
"Most start with mom and dad's money, family and friends. When they get to that point when they're in a growth phase, it's a problem finding money because we're essentially tapping the same investors and resources," Kabinu said. "We're all calling the same folks."
He said the technology council is talking about creating a network of angel investors, who typically bridge the gap between startup funding and venture capital.
Regarding Feathr's plan to move, Kabinu said, "Most people look at it as a great loss, but to me it's a testament to how great our startups are. Out of 300 to win, that's phenomenal," he said. "We have great companies with great ideas, but how do we keep them here?"
Departure of Feathr Shows Gainesville Has Work To Do
Over the weekend it was announced that Gainesville lost one of its strong growing startups, Feathr, to Austin, Texas after the company won Capital Factory’s 2nd Annual “Move Your Startup to Austin Competition” during the SXSW Interactive Festival. I share the disappointment of all those who sent me texts and emails but agree strongly with the sentiment of our newly created Gainesville Tech Council after the announcement was made. “We’re not discouraged. As a matter of fact this speaks highly of the caliber of talent and startups we grow in Gainesville.”
I had spoken with Feathr about the issues facing the growing company after the holidays and knew this might be a possibility. The issues they noted are ones we are facing daily here in our region; need for more capital, need for more talent with two to five years of experience, need for more business development opportunities (more conferences and events), etc. These issues are all front and center for the Chamber and highlighted in the new five year economic development strategy with several already active (remember the conference center our “Conference Center Champions” are working diligently to move forward and CEO’s 2014 “Year of Marketing…). My opinion is one we know and understand - Gainesville is the perfect place to start a company but not necessarily to scale it – YET.” And “yet” is where we get busy. We have much to do but the good news is we have much substance from which to work. I’ll be at SXSW this weekend attending the massive Grooveshark event. Don’t worry – Gainesville may be down one but not for long…
Let’s stay busy…
Susan Davenport, Vice President of Economic Development
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