2021 TAG Summit: Zuzu CEO Dennis Zakas on why many companies have migrated to a virtual world

Recently, the ASBN team was on-location at the 2021 Georgia Technology Summit where anchor Jim Fitzpatrick spoke with Dennis Zakas, CEO of Zuzu Inc., Chair of Zakas & Leonard Law Firm, and Committee Chair of the top 40 innovative companies for TAG.

Stay tuned for more coverage from the 2021 Georgia Technology Summit.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Hi everyone, we’re at the TAG Summit 2021 and we’re talking to Dennis Zakas. Welcome back to the show, Dennis. Great catching up with you.

Dennis Zakas:
Thanks for having me.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure, absolutely. So you are the guy that does the TAG Top 10 and Top 40 Awards. Talk to us a little bit about that.

Dennis Zakas:
The top 10 and top 40 recognize innovative Georgia technology companies. So you have to meet all those criteria, but we don’t measure companies primarily by their invest-ability, financial impact. Although, those are factors that could be taken into account. We measure companies by how innovative they are, what the impact of the innovation has been or is likely to be and how the company and its innovations will shine a light on Georgia and our tech ecosystem.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Okay. That’s got to take you an entire year just to weed through all of those.

Dennis Zakas:
Not quite a year but we get started fairly soon after the last one is completed.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
I can imagine.

Dennis Zakas:
It takes us about five or six months to get the whole thing done.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
I bet it does, because there’s so much innovation going on right now, out there right now, especially in Georgia. Right?

Dennis Zakas:
Absolutely. And the companies are as good as they’ve ever been. Although, we have had a bunch of big success stories that we’ve identified typically fairly early. SalesLoft is a good example, great company. When we first highlighted them as a top 40, they had a handful of employees. They, it was well before they pivoted, they had a dramatic pivot after a couple of years, even though they were successful, they decided they needed to make a dramatic change, and we’ve, we caught them then and introduced them to the community. And then when they pivoted and had success there, we introduced them again. We loved them, but companies like AirWatch and Sharecare.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
You saw all this early on?

Dennis Zakas:
Manhattan Associates. I mean, we have identified a lot of these companies very earlier on.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s pretty cool. What good of an impact as COVID had, here we are having a virtual, you’re having a virtual summit here because of COVID. What kind of impact does that had, in innovation and companies that are, looking to sprout up here in Georgia?

Dennis Zakas:
I think it says some negative impacts, but I think it said a lot of positive impact. I think companies, have learned how to migrate over to a virtual world. Some companies like one of our top 10 is Florence Healthcare. They had a really interesting story before, but when we really drill down to what they were doing, they were the ones that sped all the clinical trials and all the paperwork and documentation associated with clinical trials for the vaccines, for Pfizer, if I remember correctly. So some companies have actually, there’s a company we have that is crypto oriented, but a platform to use crypto. They, took advantage of the opportunity to really grow. And a lot of these companies have managed to do things virtually and succeed. I mean, let’s face it technology doesn’t necessarily require the same kind of physical infrastructure that a lot of.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s true. In fact, one of the panels here today, they’re talking a lot about the remote work force out there right now. And then the idea that you can have your employees anywhere, not just around the country, but around the world. Right. What kind of an impact will that have, in the innovation and the upstarts here in Georgia?

Dennis Zakas:
Well, I mean, the fact that you can access resources around the world is, I won’t call it a game changer because it’s always in the last 10, 20 years, it’s always been there, but the extent to which it’s available and the way you can use it with all the tools, as simple as Zoom, and similar platforms. Now you can really access things like example my startup that I have, we use a programmer overseas and when language barriers become hard to deal with getting on a Zoom call, makes it a lot easier. Looking at the code, looking at the documents, being able to discuss things with language is a problem really helps. And so, just a personal.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure. And also I think what comes out of this, correct me if I’m wrong, but the employers in the company’s willingness to allow a remote workforce. I mean, I think companies through just the cheered idea that they had to pivot in this area, if they wanted to keep going, they had to let customer or their, their associates rather work from home. So I think they’re a little bit more open-minded about it. Like, I kind of worked in, it didn’t really cost us anything.

Dennis Zakas:
Right. And I think it also leads to more diversity and inclusion because you can interview a lot more people for your positions. Once you get to a process that doesn’t require people to come in, you can get interviews with people around the country, the same footing as somebody who lives right next door. And it really gives you an opportunity to have a much more inclusive process, I think. So I think it’s great, and I think it’s great how people have learned to work remotely. All the studies that show that the remote working is just as efficient, if not more so that’s incredible. And people, a lot of people really prefer working at home at least two or three days a week. And so I think it’s going to be dramatic.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. That will stay with us long after COVID is gone.

Dennis Zakas:
Right. And I think it has also opened the large tech companies, minds up to the possibility that not only might they have people who work remotely, but they also can have whole offices too, to have people working remotely there relative to the headquarters. Yeah. And just the mindset, which wasn’t there a few years ago.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure. In your opinion, how do the companies in technology look for startups here in Georgia? Is the state of the union good?

Dennis Zakas:
The state of union is great. I mean, we had, I won’t call it a record number of applications this year, but we’ve been doing this like 16 years. I’d say it’s probably top two or three in terms of number of applications of qual. And I should even qualify that it used to be before the community really fully understood the competition. Then people would apply when they had services companies that really weren’t technology companies, there may be technology services, but we always said that wasn’t the kind of company that we honor, there are other awards for that.

Dennis Zakas:
Systems integrators, people who did a marketing, outsource marketing type things. Anyway, those kinds of companies used to apply. We used to, have maybe 10 to 20% of the applicants would be those kinds of companies. And I think they’ve figured out in the marketplace not to do it. So when you look at the numbers we have, it could be, we have the most qualified companies in terms of the numbers that we have. I think, the ecosystem is very vibrant and sadly we’re not the only awards, a competition. So there are other places that people go to showcase themselves. So we have competition, but again, we’re holding our own.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
What do they get as a recipient or a winner?

Dennis Zakas:
Well, ordinarily they would get a handshake from me and I’m sure, I’m sure we’ll get them a physical trophy. Most of them, it’s interesting. They hit social media and also traditional press releases pretty hard to announce if you, search top 40 or top 10 Georgia, techno, in a couple of words to not be a Casey caisson’s top 40 radio or so. Right. But if you, search that, you’ll see that a lot of the companies try to really market that. They put on their website, that they were top 10 or top 40 companies. And I’ve had plenty of people tell me that it really helped them. The other thing that they get, which is it’s not money. Unfortunately we don’t have money for them, but the other thing they get is a lot of times, the unique thing about the top 10 competition is that we limit their presentation time to three minutes.

Dennis Zakas:
So you’re supposed to tell everybody who you are, why you’re innovative, what your impact of your innovations are, three minutes. And that’s hard to do, and we have had so many people, so we coach them on it. So first they come in and they audition from a larger group of the 40 that had been identified. Certain number, like say, 20 of the 40 come in and we are giving them feedback and coaching during that session. And then if they’re selected, then we assign one or two coaches from our committee who have done this many years before, to give them additional coaching. Well, we’ve had several of these companies over the years, some of the bigger name companies have come to us and said, we really change the way we look at who we are and what we do because of that session.

Dennis Zakas:
We now know that’s the core, our innovations and their impact. When you say innovations and impact, you capture a lot of things, the innovations you capture the technology probably also pick up the processes or whatever. The impact picks up a lot of things. It may not be showing projections or showing your growth rate or your stock price, but it has to have an impact. So it causes them to explain it in three minutes, it causes them to focus. They say, thank you for helping us focus. And these are companies that you wouldn’t think were narrowly, they need to focus. No, they’re top 10 companies already.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
And a lot of them are out looking for money so, those tips come in, very vitally. I mean, it’s vital that they understand how to be able to give their pitch quickly. Maybe not three minutes, but certainly to get it down to, 10 or 20 minutes.

Dennis Zakas:
And we grill them they do their first presentation. So if you’ve got Sig Mosley, who’s been on the committee almost every year. So he’s on the committee this year, but I’ve got like Sig Mosley or Patrick Taylor from Tech operators and plenty of other people, if these people are grilling you on your qualifications to be a top 10, they’re probably also signaling to you things you’ve got to worry about if you want to go out and raise money. They may not be the topic, but it’s a subtext.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right, no question about it. Can you share with us some of the companies that had jumped out and left an impression with you?

Dennis Zakas:
This year?

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah.

Dennis Zakas:
Well, I mean, I mentioned Florence healthcare; I think I mentioned. That is really incredibly impactful. A company I’m not sure if people would get off hand how impactful there are, but there’s a company called Vac city, that does text messaging and uses it for marketing. Well, I had a company that was focused on text messaging in a different way. And as I’ve looked to see what they’ve done, they’ve taken an existing technology that’s been around a fairly long time and in some ways, a very limited technology in what you can and can’t text, and they figured out how to make it into a marketing machine. So you look at somebody like that, who, and they figured out all the backend stuff that would not be as obvious to me or other people who probably tried to do the same thing.

Dennis Zakas:
I mean, people have used techs to do things like a vinyl record album of, of the week. They’ll get it. There’s a company that sends you a text. Do you want it? But these guys have a whole backend that keeps track of everything and gives you promotions. And wow. Anyway, that’s just an idea. Now we’ve had three or four logistics companies in the top 10 this year, which is, I guess a little bit overly concentrated, but, but the ones we have are just doing incredible things like Roadie. Roadie, just at one point we featured them in the top 10 and they were more excited about helping Delta deliver the bags. And now they put the screen up that shows how many hundreds of millions of things they do. And you look at it, you go, wow, you look at somebody like stored, which has done their own version of, last mile and end to end management of the logistical process.

Dennis Zakas:
So, we have a platform for cryptocurrencies use. We’ve got just a lot of different pad split, is a very innovative in terms of making, taking apartments and houses and helping people know how to reconfigure them so that they could have essentially affordable housing units within their own small house or apartments, a wide range of things that changes the way that has a technology that measures how many miles you’re driving and how you’re driving without necessarily plugging it in the same way and change thereby changes, models that are available for how auto insurance companies charge people. Just the top of my head.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Those are very impressive companies and, you’re right. Those, all of those companies will have a positive impact. That’s for sure. We had the pleasure of interviewing one of the founders, of Roadie. And, at the time, we were kind of scratching our heads saying, wow, this is a very unique, proposition here, but they’ve done very well.

Dennis Zakas:
They really have, they figured something out. Cause that kind of delivery. If you really had to deliver stuff from point A to point B, it’s extremely expensive.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
No question about it.

Dennis Zakas:
They’re affordable and convenient.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
It’s kind of like the Uber, the delivery business, right?

Dennis Zakas:
Exactly. That’s what I would compare it to.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Whoever knew. So, that’s great. Dennis Zakas, partner at Zakas. Thank you so much for joining us on the show, I very much appreciate it.

Dennis Zakas:
Thank you.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
And good luck. Good luck on the show.

Dennis Zakas:
Thanks.


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