Orlando Invests $94.5M in Arts & Entertainment

Yesterday’s decision to approve a venues package of $94.5 million has stirred up quite a buzz in the city beautiful. The vote, announced Tuesday evening, was passed 5-2, to much community acclaim and relief. The funds provided by this package will go towards civic improvements in the downtown area, underscoring Orlando’s commitment to becoming a world-class city for work and play.

The infusion of capital will benefit the Orlando area through three core improvements:

  • $25 million towards a multi-form hall designed to seat 1,700 guests at the Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts.
  • $12 million towards the Citrus Bowl, earmarked to be applied as part of a $200 million renovation project that will add 5,000 club seats to the stadium’s capacity, and go towards improving stadium amenities (which are currently terrible).
  • $20 million will go towards the development of a new soccer stadium, eventually intended to be the home base of the city’s very own Major League Soccer team. 

While some might protest the distribution of government funds on these venues, I believe that is a myopic stance to adopt. By backing these city-centered arts and entertainment initiatives, city planners are investing in a rich cultural future for their constituents. These assets will prove invaluable as the city attempts to attract and retain the creative class – the artists, designers, engineers and visionaries who want to live in a progressive city.

In addition to benefitting Central Florida residents directly, it should also stimulate alternate tourist markets, such as those vested in performing arts, professional soccer, and other sporting interests. This, in turn, will help to support ancillary business concerns, such as hospitality, retail and dining. This is a far-reaching investment that will broadly impact the financial futures of the citizens of Orlando. I give the vote a big thumbs up and congratulate Mayor Dyer and his team on their success.

Orlando’s Own Lean Domain Search Acquired by Automattic

automattic-logoOrlando based Lean Domain Search, a domain search platform, has been acquired by Automattic, the parent company of Founder Matt Mazur launched the service on Hacker News in January 2012. At Automattic, Mazur will help the team to make it “even easier for users to find and register great domain names for their websites and blogs.”

The terms of the deal were not disclosed. The site will continue to run and now be offered completely free.

Congratulations to Matt! I love seeing Orlando entrepreneurs succeed!

Orlando’s Voxeo Acquired for $150 Million

VoxeoCorpLogo-300Today, Aspect Software acquired Orlando-based Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and customer service software company Voxeo in a $150 million deal. Aspect currently offers integrated customer interaction management and workforce optimization solutions, but made the deal to accelerate their delivery of cloud, hybrid and premise-based deployments.

As the market leader in robust cloud, on-premise and hybrid self-service platforms, Voxeo works with 250,000 developers, 45,000 companies and half of the Fortune 100 from their Orlando, Beijing, Cologne and London headquarters. Earlier this week the company spun off Voxeo Labs (now Tropo), which specializes in real-time communication APIs.

Since its founding in 1999 (the year I moved to Orlando), Voxeo has helped nurture growth within Orlando’s tech and startup community of about 60,000 professionals. As the city moves forward with plans for the much-anticipated Creative Village, Voxeo has lent a hand, fostering a “co-working” atmosphere, wherein it shares its 60,000 square-foot office with 10 other tech companies.

This mentality has cultivated a hotbed of creativity and innovation that sets the tone for the city’s future and promises for a lot more innovative tech disruption. Voxeo’s acquisition comes on the heels of Google’s $125 million acquisition of Channel Intelligence to boost product referrals and e-commerce with users. Orlando is heating up as a technology hub, and these two acquisitions demonstrate that would-be entrepreneurs can build successful tech companies here.

jonathan_taylorI pinged Jonathan Taylor, Founder and Chairman of Voxeo to get his thoughts about the acquisition (photo from our discussion at Trucks & Tech)

Why was Aspect Software a good fit to acquire Voxeo?

Because of the growth synergy between the two companies. This deal is a Reese’s peanut butter cup of ass-kicking awesomeness. Aspect’s the chocolate, and Voxeo is the peanut butter. They just go great together.

Honestly, if I was an Aspect competitor I’d be crying myself to sleep tonight.

This was a 14 year long journey for you. What was the hardest part?

When we started Voxeo the dot-com era was in full effect. I told all the founders we’d put in two or three years and sell. That’s what everyone did then. Instead we went through a first phase of dot-com economic excess, a second phase of post dot-com economic recess, and a third phase of business-growth stress.

The first phase was hard. It was like 100 tons of work. The second phase was 1,000 tons of work; and the growth phase was 10,000 tons.

I wasn’t expecting that.

In retrospect, I realize everyone can do the easy things. Solutions to easy problems aren’t all that valuable. Solutions to hard problems are extremely valuable. If things aren’t getting harder, you’re probably not pushing your growth enough.

How does this effect the team here in Orlando? Will the company be changing names or location?

I don’t know if the name will change or not. I personally doubt that the company will change locations. Orlando offers great opportunities at a great price.

An acquisition like this is a big win for the Orlando tech community. What would you tell other Orlando entrepreneurs they need to do to replicate Voxeo’s success?

a) consider lots of ideas, b) research your ideas to find great (i.e., large) market opportunities, c) have an exit strategy, d) be tenacious, e) always remember that the most valuable thing you can do is make your customers love you, your products, and your support.

Specific to Orlando – I’ve told this before, but I think it bears repeating: I once heard a story about how Silicon Valley works. In Silicon Valley an entrepreneur creates a great business idea, walks up to a tree, and shakes it. A venture capital investor falls out of the tree, reviews the entrepreneurs plan, and invests. At some point the entrepreneur sells his or her company, gets a new idea, and goes and shakes a tree again, repeating the cycle. After repeating this a few times, the entrepreneur climbs up into a tree and waits for someone to shake it.

Their are many entrepreneurs shaking and climbing up trees in Central Florida right now. It make take a year, or two years, or five years – but I believe we will see Central Florida become a top location for technology startups.

What is next for you personally?

Last year Voxeo spun our Voxeo Labs division out into a separate company, which we recently renamed Tropo, Inc. Tropo was not part of the Aspect acquisition, and I’ll be spending a good deal of my time helping Tropo as its Chairman. Voxeo’s prior CFO and I also launched a new startup, Sighthound, which will exit stealth-mode in the next few months. Tropo and Sighthound will be my primary focus, however, I’m also looking for other companies to help with or invest in.

A huge congratulations to the entire Voxeo team!