Travis Truett from Ambition.com on Building a Business in Chattanooga
Welcome to the “New Tech Cities” series at OSTraining.
In this series we’re talking about cities that were rundown but are re-inventing themselves, as using technology to do so. We’re trying to get to the bottom of the questions, “What does it take to turn around a struggling city?” and “Can technology help?”
Our initial focus is on the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Scroll to the bottom of the post to see links to all the articles in this series.
In this fourth interview, Travis Truett tells the story of building Ambition.com in Chattanooga. Ambition brings fantasy football-style competition to the workplace.
Welcome, Travis. Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Travis Truett and I’m Co-Founder and CEO of Ambition.
I’m from Knoxville, Tennessee and graduated from the University of Tennessee, where I earned a degree in Enterprise Management. I immediately put my diploma to work by bumming across the world for two years, with extended stays working as a climbing instructor in Austria and as a ski instructor in Utah and California.
These days I find myself working with an incredible team as we strive to make work suck less through sales productivity software.
In Chattanooga you’ve worked with the GigTank summer program, The 4th Floor, and the Lamp Post Group incubator. What did all of that do to drive Ambition.com?
Ambition is literally a product of Chattanooga. I moved here four years ago with a different idea (but same team!) and have since worked with dozens of mentors to craft what is today Ambition, a leading product in its space with serious growth and unlimited potential. I can truly say it would not exist today without the help and support I’ve received here.
The idea itself stems from a conversation with Lamp Post Group partner Allan Davis. The initial prototype was battle-tested across local companies. We owe our success to this city as it truly stood behind us as it’s done for others.
What is Y Combinator and how has it helped Ambition.com?
Y Combinator is a startup incubator based in Mountain View, California. They work with ~150 companies a year (with an average acceptance rate lower than Harvard). The program is quickly becoming world-renowned for its ability to help shape ideas into billion-dollar companies. The help we’ve received from the program is hard to describe … from brainstorming sessions to investor introductions to recruiting pipelines … it’s truly a critical success factor.
We read that Ambition lets an organization track its sales team as an owner would track their Fantasy Football Squad. Is that true? Your company is similar to Fantasy Football?
To be honest … it’s very much like Fantasy Football (which happens to be a multi-billion dollar industry with 33 million users in the United States). We thought to ourselves… how do we make work more fun in a healthy, sustainable, meaningful way? The answer was simple: adapt a system that people already spend hours (and hours) a week doing into something that will increase satisfaction and commission … no behavior change required.
The basis of the system is:
- Managers connect data systems (CRM, Phone System, etc.) to the platform.
- Managers choose/benchmark/weight metrics.
- Employees form teams and compete, week-to-week across seasons.
The best part is that’s the tip of the iceberg as to what we offer. Our business intelligence system that overlays everything is quickly becoming one of the coolest, most intuitive things we offer.
Chattanooga appears to have rebuilt itself from a rather run-down city into one that has the potential to be a significant center for the technical industry. What changes have you experienced?
Chattanooga used to be the most polluted city in America. Now it has the country’s fastest Internet, a vibrant downtown, an emerging startup scene (including several big exits), and a huge influx of smart, talented people moving here to be a part of something special as it’s actually happening.
I’ve been here for a short amount of time and have seen the city and tech ecosystem grow 10x. I can’t imagine what the rest of this decade has in store.
True or False: Chattanooga is the coolest city in the South.
Give us a few reasons why you believe that, please.
I love places like Nashville, Atlanta, and Charleston, but if you’re looking to truly be a part of something early and formative, there’s no other place. The core scene is still small and accessible … if you’re passionate and bring something to the table you’ll get time, money and additional energy to help you help the city. That’s really, really exciting.
Atlanta’s tech community has grown significantly in recent years. What are start-ups and tekkies missing by not coming to Chattanooga instead?
Well, given how bad the traffic is they are missing face-to-face time with their counterparts on a regular basis! Seriously though, Atlanta is a great place with a lot to offer. The Tech Village is incredible and the city is a magnet for talent.
With that said, Atlanta is relatively established and it’s probably not nearly as easy to get meetings (and things done) with city officials, venture capitalists, foundations, etc. It also helps that setting up shop is still extremely cheap in downtown Chattanooga, which is no longer the case in Atlanta.
How could someone with a brilliant idea – like adapting Fantasy Football to group motivation – flourish in Chattanooga, as Ambition has? Where would you begin?
Easy (which is the best part about this place). Sit down with Co.Lab, Lamp Post Group, the Business Development Center, 4th Floor to name a few. There is an incredible amount of money and mentorship here which are the critical ingredients for turning talk into action.
What’s next for Chattanooga and what would it take hit those goals?
Given the rapid growth, downtown housing is quickly becoming a scarcity … they can’t seem to build enough apartments, condos and houses.
Longer-term, the city needs more anchor companies in the tech space to truly build the foundation … so that anything can happen here, including the ability to build a massive, profitable company. It will happen, it just takes time.
In five years there will be 10 companies here combining for 1000 employees and $250m revenue that started after 2010.
There are several companies right now (Ambition included) that are on truly incredible trajectories. Given the roster here is 50 … and not 50,000 like in Silicon Valley … it makes Chattanooga that much more special.
How will you, Ambition & others contribute to that achievement?
Simply put, we must all focus on building successful companies, as that will give back more to this city than anything else.
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