Legal Blog

A Video Conversation with John Cammack of Cammack Associates, LLC On His Investment In Citelighter

Funding innovative education ventures while mentoring Baltimore’s emerging entrepreneurs and CEOs John CammackJohn Cammack is an entrepreneur, angel investor, and the managing partner of Cammack Associates, LLC. John specializes in the education and mental fitness industries, providing venture capital and strategic planning for companies in the startup phase. Prior to starting his own firm, John was a senior executive at the T. Rowe Price Group. Citybizlist previously interviewed John about his involvement in the Baltimore Angels and Betamore in May, and about Cammack Associates in June. Tell us about Citelighter. What entrepreneurial qualities do you see in Lee and Saad? JOHN CAMMACK: What’s so true about entrepreneurs is they don’t hear a no the way other people hear a no. Great entrepreneurs—they hear the “no” but they don’t accept it at face value. They look at it as a circumstance they have to manage around. Great entrepreneurs approach their work that way. I don’t know if that’s a coachable quality. I think you have to be born with it, or it has to be encouraged in you by your parents. The other thing they mention that really resonated with me, on the margin of asking for permission or asking for forgiveness, I think an entrepreneur will be more successful if 53% of the time they’re asking for forgiveness and 47% they’re asking for permission. Because, if you’re trying to build a company and you’re asking everybody that you need support from to give you their blessing before you act, you’ll never build that company. So, they embody the story of their childhood about they were asking for forgiveness a lot from Mom and Dad. And then there’s this quality of a no doesn’t mean it’s a no; a no means it’s a temporary impediment to success. I add on top of that they’re both really quite intelligent, and they’re really curious, and they’re driven, and that’s a quality I saw in them the first weekend I met them. They made me a believer. There wasn’t a really good corporate idea at that point. There was a hypothesis that we could build a writing platform, but really, at that point, it was an annotation platform. They had to keep evolving it towards writing, but they had the determination to keep asking questions and working until they really got something that the marketplace confirmed. Students need this, and it’s an investable idea. Then, we were off to the races. Is Citelighter an anomaly, or does the company represent a shift in the Baltimore startup world? Well, I have a view that the future of Baltimore in part is tied to the talent we create in this town through our school systems and the talent we recruit here. I’m always looking, and what’s interesting now from three years ago, where Citelighter kind of took the risks—they were the first company that I know of that relocated here—I think the Abell Foundation probably convinced them to come, but I think others are going to follow as a result. In a way, suddenly, they’re respected in town, they’re known, they’re big fish in a medium-sized pond. Compared to Silicon Valley and Boston, you’re a little fish in a huge ocean, and they were able to differentiate themselves here to where people gave them the support they needed in the different stages of their company. I think that that opportunity’s here for other entrepreneurs to come, and my belief is that Baltimore has a unique opportunity to become a global presence in certain areas of expertise: education technology—for the reasons they cited—cybersecurity… Think of it: we’re a stone’s throw away from the NSA, we’re a stone’s throw away from Hopkins Applied Physics, and we’re a couple stone’s throws away from Washington D.C.—where policy is made. That’s a very compelling combination of factors at a time where our security agencies intend to stand up new companies because they want the integration to happen very quickly in the design of these protective mechanisms, and that can’t happen in a big company setting, so they’re launching teams. That’s all happening right in proximity to Baltimore. It’s a huge opportunity, and then as I’ve mentioned several times, our universities are getting much better at translation and we have world class universities surrounding Baltimore—between UMBC, University of Maryland and Hopkins, this setting is like the perfect storm that’s occurring before us. It was manifested, in my view, with the thousand people that are likely to come to City Garage, and to me that was the coming out party of Baltimore’s ecosystem for entrepreneurship. Now that we’ve let the genie out of the bottle, we’re not going to put it back in. What are the biggest challenges and opportunities for Baltimore’s entrepreneurial ecosystem? Well, I’m kind of a model of a capital markets career person who repositioned to invest in not necessarily the markets, but people that are going to create companies that in time will create wealth. It’s a very different staging in what you look for, and how you support these companies is much more intimate than being an analyst looking at a large Fortune 500. That being said, it’s very rewarding work, so I take every executive who retires from T. Rowe Price out for lunch and I have my “le’s talk about Baltimore” and “do you want your impact to be philanthropic or do you want your impact to be helping mission-based companies be successful?” What’s delighting me is that an increasing number of the executives are saying, “Well, I want to do both,” and this will be fantastic for Baltimore. A second initiative that we’re working on in my role at Betamore is, if we just replicate the enthusiasm at our City Garage in 11 months, that would be a success, but the next year the goal will be to invite in venture capitalists from across the country to spend a day and a half seeing what’s available in Baltimore. Imagine this: you’ve heard about Baltimore, but you’ve never invested in a company in this region. You accept an invitation to come here. You get a two hour briefing at the University of Maryland, everything in their developmental pipeline, then you go and Freeman Hrabowski and UMBC talks about cybersecurity, then they showcase some of their companies, then you go over to Hopkins and you learn what’s going in the school of medicine or the school of engineering, then you come and you meet with angel investors and some of the companies that are already been stood up in our community, and then you end up at Beta City to see that there are 1500 people next year that are believers and want to be a part of this ecosystem. So, I think this capital issue is still an issue, but I think we have a playbook that will begin to, over time, address this issue. What’s happening in Baltimore is isolated pockets of people who thought they were the outliers at being risk takers and entrepreneurs are realizing they’re part of a community. I happen to think it will attract more and more talent. Whether it’s people that relocate here or people that have had very successful careers who will go, I’m in my give-back mode, or I’m in my engagement mode, and I want to be a part of seeing the creation of great companies that will be the next T. Rowe Price or the next Under Armour, and it’s going to happen. When we really think of what Under Armour has done for Baltimore in 20 years, just take a moment and ask, “If Under Armour had never been created, what would Baltimore be like today? What would the tax base be like? What would the population be like?” That one decision to go and start a company and locate it here is affecting tens of thousands of people, for the better, every day in the city. My belief is that whether it’s Citelighter or the next company, or the company after that, we can do this again and we could do it often. And my mission, for the rest of my life, is to make sure this happens at our city.

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