Daniel James Scott is an award-winning community-builder, celebrated entrepreneur, and the bestselling co-author of Building the Ultimate Business Plan, The Startup Student and Confessions From An Entrepreneur Vol 2: How to be a Successful College Entrepreneur. He serves as co-executive director of Tampa Bay Tech, empowering Florida’s largest tech hub, and RNG Tampa Bay, Florida’s largest, in-house, corporate recruiters group. He also serves on the boards of Alorum, a twelve-year-old consultancy that has spun off and sold two distinct new ventures, and the Lions Eye Institute for Transplant & Research, the only combined eye bank and ocular research center in the world.
Daniel was awesome enough to give us an hour of his already-jam-packed schedule to discuss Tampa, tech, the talent landscape, and more.
Roxanne Williams: You are incredibly active in the tech space in Tampa. What is it about tech that you’re so passionate about?
Daniel James Scott: I started a company here back in the late 90s, and at the time, genuinely thought there was no one else in tech here. I never want anybody else to experience that feeling, whether they’re starting a company, building a product in their backroom, or even just interested in getting involved in the community. This should be an ecosystem that embraces everyone with a large bearhug when they say they want to be involved. That’s really the driver.
As a secondary piece, we helped start the first undergraduate program in Entrepreneurship in the state university system here in Florida, and we watched as, more often than not, our students would leave the area, feeling that there were broader opportunities in other markets. That’s a shame. There is a battle for talent, and we need to make sure we’re winning the war in Tampa Bay.
Matt Vaughn: Yes, and it’s getting much more difficult now with remote companies poaching people when they don’t even have to leave the city. They just pay them a New York salary while living here in Tampa.
Daniel: Right. The idea that baby boomers are leaving the market and we don’t have enough folks that have held middle management positions to backfill these senior positions… I think it can be viewed positively or negatively. I view it positively, because there is a ton of opportunity – and that’s going to happen everywhere. But I would like for people to think of Tampa Bay first. Not only because there are opportunities here, but because of taxation, cost of living, quality of living, the beautiful beaches, access to pretty much anything you would want in this world. Those are all great reasons to be here if you’re working remote or if you’re working in the local area. But let’s get you thinking about Tampa, and let’s get you connected in.
Matt: There are definitely some interesting things going on. A couple months ago, Vermont was offering incentives for people to move to Vermont and work remotely.
Daniel: I hope we’re never in the position to have to rely on the state income tax that much! I think there’s some credence to that. We can buy jobs from companies to move those positions to this market, or we could just pay for the positions individually, which may actually be cheaper. However the mechanics of that works out, it’s certainly great. I think new jobs are fantastic, but people should choose to live here because it’s great. We, the 3 of us, chose to live here, so I think that’s a testament to something.
Matt: Yeah, and to tie into that, I’m actually – well, I tell everyone I’m from Cleveland, because no one knows Ohio. I’m from North Canton, but I went to college in Akron, and I worked in Cleveland for a number of years. You said you moved down here and started a company. What drove you to come to Tampa from Cleveland other than the terrible weather and the smell of the lake and all the other reasons?
Daniel: Yeah, so Parma is where I’m from, and people don’t know that either, other than from the Drew Carey Show I guess. We moved down because my father relocated us. As a matter of fact, I was speaking with my brother this morning, and we were just kind of laughing about how fortunate life can be sometimes. We could have still been up there, with the smelly lake and limited opportunity potential, working in manufacturing. There’s nothing wrong with that, I just couldn’t have created the kind of impact that we’re creating down here if I was working a 40 to 60 hour per week manufacturing job. I can’t thank my dad enough for giving us the opportunity to be in Florida.
I’d come and gone over the years. I kept coming back because my family is here. Now, I have a wife and twins, and I want them to have a really high quality of life. This is one of the few places in the US where you can have super high quality of life without the expense or overconcentration of population. You’re able to do some cool things and have access to everything you could want in life. It’s just a great place to live.
Roxanne: You’re a board member for quite a few tech organizations. Can you walk me through what that entails for you? What’s your involvement – anything further than board meetings?
Daniel: As a full board member, I fortunately only serve on two at this point. But, plenty of advisory boards. The idea, for me, is to make sure that there’s connective tissue throughout the technology community – and that doesn’t necessarily just mean large corporations, which are members of our organization. It should mean the academic institutions, which are producing the students. It should mean better engagement programs, workforce engagement programs, relocation programs. All of these things are part and parcel to a large thriving technology community.
You asked about things other than board meetings. Just being an advocate is really 80% of it. You may be in Tampa your entire life and not know that there are 55,000 tech employees here, and it’s my job to make sure that this information is known. The question, on some of these advisory boards, is: what do we do with that information? If you’re at USF, for example, it’s great to hear that there are 55,000 tech workers. But what does that mean to the talent that’s being produced at the university? How do we harness that talent and make sure they choose to be here first? How do we build more connective tissue around the corporate environment and the student environment and build bridges that allow those corporations to get to that talent sooner so that the talent can feel that there’s opportunity here without thinking “oh, well, you know, I’m not getting it so maybe I’ll go find a different tech hub.”
There’s plenty of opportunity here. There are plenty of CIOs that started as interns in this market. So that’s really kind of the connective tissue I try to bring other than showing up for the board meetings.
Matt: Excellent. One of the companies that you’re involved with on the advisory level is just down the street from us. How did you get involved with Lions Eye?
Daniel: Yes, so that’s both an interesting and probably very boring story. I was working at the College of Business at USF Tampa, and a colleague and myself decided that we really wanted to bring business content into the School of Medicine, which was received with mixed reviews. However, the College of Nursing really embraced it – one instructor, in particular – and we co-taught some business classes inside the College of Nursing. I was able to meet her husband, who was the Chair of the Lions Eye Institute at the time.
We discussed what was happening at Lions Eye and what they were intending to do over the next few years, and I was just really struck, like “oh my god, this is here?! It’s incredible! What you’re looking to do is going to create something that doesn’t exist anywhere else on the globe. Yeah, I want to be a part of that!”
We’ve had a tremendous amount of top line revenue growth, so bringing in some acquisitions, which have been press released recently, being able to grow Ybor city as the mecca for this kind of tissue movement, tissue research, and tissue placement. All of these things are just really great points of pride for Tampa. And it’s like you said, it’s in Ybor city, which is kind of crazy.
Matt: Yeah, we’re big fans of Ybor. I was really happy when we decided to move here. I had worked at a startup literally a block away from where we are now, and I had missed walking down 7th, with all the food options, and everything there is to do after work. It’s great.
Roxanne: What was the highlight of poweredUP for you?
Daniel: It would be the community coming together. If you asked me three years ago “could we get a technology conference (not a broader-based startup conference or innovation conference, a very technical the-only-thing-discussed-is-technology type of conference) to pool 1,200 people out of this market?” I would have said you’re crazy. It just didn’t happen. Even the largest BarCamps to date tip the scales at maybe 1,000 attendees at any given time.
The idea that we could pool working technologists from their jobs for an afternoon conference, at that number and then still looking to grow, even as we’re looking into future years, that’s the most astounding thing.
Roxanne: Nice! Considering your activity level in tech and what I assume are brutal time commitments, have you ever gotten burned out on what you do?
Daniel: No. I don’t know that I necessarily believe in burning out. I think you could be mentally and physically tired, but I think you choose whether or not to have passion for what you’re doing. Your passions could change. I could wake up tomorrow and go “oh my god, I want to run a bar.” Probably won’t. But you could always end up doing that and going “hey listen, I’m going to spend 100 hours a week doing that and feel great about it.”
I still feel like there’s work to be done here. If there wasn’t work to be done, I’d probably find somewhere else to expend my energy. You all probably feel identically about that.
So no, I think it’s still good. I’ll tell you though, the challenge for me with having young kids is there’s that balance issue with not wanting to miss anything at all with them, and also wanting to make the impact that I want to make in the community. That can be difficult.
Roxanne: Oh, I can imagine. So you kind of touched on this when you mentioned that you pulled 1,200 technologists together for poweredUP and how that would not have happened three years ago, but I’m still gonna ask. Can you speak to how the talent landscape has changed when it comes to tech over your tenure with Tampa Bay Tech? Is there better, more qualified talent in the area now?
Daniel: There’s an incredible amount of talent in the area. The number one source for talent in this market is still recruiting them from other markets. We generate north of 2,000 folks from other markets every single year.
It’s a pretty incredible thought when you think we’re just grooming kids from STEM in the schools, up to the colleges, and then they get placed here. There’s so much trading brains around the country that to think that that’s our largest source, that’s an incredible thought. So that’s a shining example of how Tampa is doing something right. We may not have harnessed that to double or triple those numbers, but I think those are incredible statistics to look at.
We graduate north of 2,000 a year from the local technology universities or higher academic programs. About half of those stay, so that makes that our second largest talent pipeline. However, we still have work to do. We’ve got to fill about 40,000 positions between now and 2025. Although those are both very optimistic numbers and we’re growing both (we’re relocating more and more every single year, we’re graduating more every single year, we have programs like Florida Poly (they’re spinning up new programs that are starting to graduate students now)), 40,000 is a lot. Some of that is, to be completely honest with you, a little overwhelming to somebody like me, because there are such great ecosystems, such differentiated ecosystems. You go to Austin and get something very specific. You go to Boston and get something completely different. So just because somebody likes living here, they have family here, they went to school here, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they like the types of things that are being built, supported, maintained, and sold here. They might like what’s in Boston a little bit better, and somebody in Boston might like what we’re doing here. The exchange of talent is really going to become the big challenge. How does somebody get plugged in here relatively quickly and really understand the identity of the greater Tampa Bay area? Those are going to be the big, overwhelming challenges as we look forward.
Matt: What do you hope to see in the next few years in Tampa Bay when it comes to technology?
Daniel: People choose geography first, and then they define opportunity. If somebody is looking for a technology job, they may say, “hey I’d like to work for Google,” but frankly, Google has campuses essentially everywhere, right? So they could work in New York City, they could work in San Francisco, they could work in Paris, France. That’s not necessarily the driver anymore, and like you said, Matt, they can work remote, frankly. They could literally work from anywhere. They could work from the beach. So geography becomes a very big question. The consideration there is, how does Tampa Bay stand out?
I genuinely believe that banding together with Orlando and Brevard and really backing the concept of the Florida high tech corridor is going to allow us to get on people’s top ten list. To be super clear, even clearer than that, we have about 115,000 hands-on tech employees. Not CIOs or Managers or supplemental folks like Marketing, HR, etc. Those are people who work on tech on a daily basis across that corridor, which makes that megaregion the 10th largest technology ecosystem in the country. If we can really start phrasing that as such and the variety that – I mean Orlando has cool stuff, Brevard with the hardware, and Tampa Bay with the large-scale back office very complex technological issues that we’re trying to solve here, what a great story to tell! And man, wouldn’t it be nice if we could be listed as a megaregion alongside the Boston, Austin, San Francisco, and New York landscapes?
Matt: In most of our interviews, there’s a recurring theme when we ask the above question: money. How do we get investment dollars here? How do we get the eyes of people nationally and globally in addition to the investors here? How do we drive more to tech, not real estate and hospitality?
Daniel: Yeah, it’s notable deals, right? When you look at what happened in Philadelphia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas to a certain extent, and frankly, San Francisco if you go back and look at the history there – they were able to secure a large name singular investor who was able to dump a ton of cash into the ecosystem. But they didn’t do it alone. They partnered with local funding agencies, local angels, and local VC firms to be able to have order of magnitude impact of those dollar investments.
I think with Jeff Vinik, we have an opportunity here. If it’s a sole source investment from Jeff, I think that’s great, but he can’t be the the entire ecosystem. So if we can leverage what it is that he’s doing to be able to attract additional dollars, additional funds – and frankly, I don’t care what that fund is – it could be a private equity firm, it could be a venture capital firm, or it could just be an angel that wants to step up more because they’re inspired by what’s happening here and they think the exits are gonna start coming sooner. I think that’s the thing that’s really going to help drive this, and it’ll help drive more startup activity. You’ll give people a sense of “hey, I feel comfortable that I’m not having a job, and that I have an opportunity to be productive here and raise capital and have an exit. So I think we’re probably going to be no different than anybody else, but we’re gonna need a big celebrity investor to have a hit here, and then all of a sudden, the floodgates are just gonna open.
Roxanne: It actually seems like it’s coming more naturally now. I think KnowBe4 has had some funding, A-LIGN just got $54 million from FTV, so it seems like it’s kind of coming – at least more than in previous years.
Daniel: Oh yeah, absolutely, and not to take anything away from that, but we need local hits as well. With Tom Wallace, who was one of the founders of our organization, having success with Waldec and then being able to turn around and invest in Tony D with Tribridge, and then Tony getting an exit and being able make investments of his own – that’s the level of lineage that really drives success here. If the money’s coming in from out of town, when the exit happens, the money escapes back out to some other state or city, and that’s a net negative for us – even if we see the funding happen. So I think these are steps in the right direction, but what we really need is a huge successful year backed by some really strong investors to help drive capital here.
Roxanne: Tampa Bay Tech partnered with several high-profile software company CEOs with the goal of promoting and developing Tampa’s technology ecosystem. Do you have any insights into what the partnership has accomplished so far? We just spoke to Jesse Curry, who’s actually part of the group, and he told us that it’s about building that connective tissue between St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Tampa, and basically all the neighboring cities. Do you have anything to speak to about that?
Daniel: At the end of the day, building connective tissue in every single direction of the ecosystem is vitally important. As you both are probably aware, doing that inside the corporate environment, which is most of our membership, can be difficult. People have day jobs, and then they go home and spend time with their families. They don’t have a whole lot of time necessarily to dedicate or focus on involving themselves in the community. So we want to make sure we’re doing our part, even if it’s in innovation, or hasn’t-been-tried-before, to be able to help build those connective strands, if you will. Our biggest success to date has been our Tampa Bay Tech meetup cooperative which, as of today, is up to 60 meetups, representing almost 19,000 unique tech employees here within the greater Tampa Bay area. Over the life of that partnership, we’ve had 54,000 total RSVPs for over 4,000 events, which is an incredibly mindblowing statistic to look at, but they’re essentially user groups. There’s nothing wrong with user groups, but there are certain groups that aren’t going to want to run public on our meetup page. For example, CEOs getting together, or CIOs putting their names out on the meetup platform. So we do also run some smaller peer groups. Like you said, we have a CEO group that we’ve spun up. We also spun up an Emerging Tech Leaders group, which Jesse really helped drive. We have a CIO/CTO/CISO group that’s our Executive Technology Group. We have our board of directors. We have an in-house corporate recruiters group that just got set up as a separate 501(c)(6). That one is about 400 in-house corporate recruiters, so it’s a little larger than some of these other groups. But that kind of connective tissue across those bands of responsibility can be tremendously helpful because folks can help each other with best practices, or knowledge, or help each other fill positions, or find resources that they wouldn’t necessarily have access to otherwise.
And then of course, the real magic happens. We take each of those groups and allow them to work together. For example, how can we take the CEOs and the Emerging Tech Leaders and find a way for them to combine to do something of value for the community? I don’t yet know what that might be, but I think there’s potentially some play there. I’ll tell you where I think we’re seeing the most traction so far: taking our executive roundtable, our CIO/CTO/CISO group, and pairing them with the in-house corporate recruiters. All of a sudden, we can build some very strong connective tissue to the universities. If somebody is interested in hiring at the student or nascent level, it really does take senior executive leadership to say “hey, this is okay, we’re going to make this happen. Let’s start with internships.” And then having the in-house recruiters be able to say “okay, we can do the heavy lifting on that. We can build the relationships.” That cross-pollination is really where the magic is going to start happening. And just asking the questions going forward: what happens if we take the CEOs and we combine them with the meetups? That could create even more meetups and more corporate user groups, and we in turn could build those into the cooperative, and make something that’s truly unique across the globe. That’s the potential.
The thing that I’ve seen so far that’s been tremendously successful, and it really just springs up naturally out of each of these groups, is we need to hire more of our local student population. The CEO group, for example, has made that one of their missions. As a matter of fact, literally last week, I went to a meeting that Jack Berlin of Accusoft hosted at Florida Poly and Jody Haneke showed up with Jesse to learn more about Florida Poly’s programs. I think Geographic Solutions sent a couple of their recruiters there. It was just an incredible opportunity for Florida Poly to be able to build relationships with multiple companies at once, but then also those companies to band together and go “how can we get on campus and help promote to those students that we want their talents?” So these are things – real, productive, active elements – that are kind of happening now that we’re not having to wait for.
Matt: I’m glad you mentioned Jack and Paul – those two are next on our docket!
Daniel: Yeah, both of those guys are fantastic. I’ve known Jack for years. Paul is up for a couple of our technology awards. This is our fifteenth year of giving out awards, and Geographic Solutions is probably our most nominated company. So I’m really pulling for them to win a few this year. But I always appreciate that they’re willing to share the great things that they’re working on, and obviously their software helps other people hire, so I think that’s fantastic as well.
Matt: Who is a person and/or an organization that you think is doing something right and innovative in the area, outside of Accusoft and Geographic Solutions, since you’ve already kind of shouted them out? And why?
Daniel: We couldn’t have as many peer and user groups that we’re sponsoring if it weren’t for individuals that were stepping up and wanting to make an impact. I’ll give our Chair, Jeff Alagood at AgileThought, a shout out. He was our Workforce Chair a few years ago, and he saw an opportunity as an agency to potentially bring in younger talent and build a pipeline for that talent to work their way into direct hire positions. They’ve gone out and they’ve hired en cadre, which I’m a huge fan of. It’s how I started my career in sales. I was hired with seven other people. You had a peer network to be able to ask questions when you didn’t necessarily feel certain you wanted to ask your boss, like where is the restroom located, or how did you get that accomplished internally? It can be helpful to do that.
They’ve gone through a few sessions of this, where they would bring in 20 folks, put them in the QA department, and allow them to learn how the organization works, how products are being built, and then they could find their own path. If they wanted to go into engineering or data science, they could work their way into that. What a fantastic opportunity for the students to be able to get a holistic leadership experience within that company, but also what a great way for the company to be able to say “hey, we’re trying out 20 folks. If we hire them all, great!” They certainly have the capacity to do that. But also, if it doesn’t work out, let’s just make sure that they’re connected into the ecosystem and really care about Tampa Bay first, more than anything else. So that’s a really great, shining example of something that’s working tremendously well here.
Roxanne: Is there anything you’d like to say to anyone thinking of going into tech? Any words of wisdom from your years in the industry?
Daniel: This is probably one of the most friendly environments I’ve ever worked in. It’s one of the most concentrated. People tend to think of Tampa Bay as being condensed because there’s a bridge between Hillsborough and Pinellas. But in terms of core concentration, we are the most concentrated in the entire state, and it doesn’t matter how you measure it. Tech talent to relocating talent, tech talent against square miles, tech talent against population, tech talent against overall talent. It may not be San Francisco, where it’s all on a couple of blocks, but it is very dense here. You would have to try not to get plugged in here. So if you’re having any trouble at all, reach out to us, reach out to Mark’s organization, find a way to plug in. And I know people that have moved here and within 3 months they’re the most connected people in Tampa Bay. You can do that, in that kind of short order, and I don’t know very many other ecosystems where you can become a true player that quickly. So connect in and don’t be afraid, we have plenty of opportunity here, and folks really are looking for talent as long as you’re willing to look back. That would be my advice.
Matt: In your 40 under 40 Q&A, you said you’d like to have dinner with Myles Standish. Can you elaborate on that?
Daniel: My father retired about a year and a half ago, and he got really big into ancestry.com. There has always been this kind of family rumor that we’re connected to the Mayflower, however, no one in our family lineage had gone through the Mayflower Foundation to prove it. My father actually did that, partly because we had our kids and he wanted to know for sure. It turns out that on both sides of the family, we’re tied back the Mayflower and in fact, on my mother’s side, a direct relation to Myles Standish.
Between the family lineage and just really understanding how to convince people to move over here, what was the idea of America at that time? I kind of wonder if we lived up to what the promise was. So just wanting to know that information. I think that those two things would be my explanation.
Matt: I knew there had to be some kind of story! I guess to close things out, any further thoughts or insights you’d like to share? Anything exciting coming down the pipeline for Tampa Bay Tech or for yourself?
Daniel: We’re most excited about our upcoming awards ceremony, which is November 9th at Armature Works. It’s our 15th anniversary, which makes it our crystal anniversary. It’s gonna be really well done. But the thing that’s most exciting is that we’re going to give out our 125th award, which really – man, it really puts things in perspective. When you think about it, there’s not a whole lot of opportunity for folks that work in tech to be able to celebrate their work, their projects, their teams, their companies, even their industries – and to be able to say we’ve given out 125 awards is something pretty special and unique within the country. Super excited about that. Could not be more excited about that, I should say!
About Tampa Bay Tech:
Established in 2000, Tampa Bay Tech (formerly known as the Tampa Bay Technology Forum) is Florida’s largest technology council.
Tampa Bay Tech has three strategic initiatives: Workforce, Marketing, and Community. In addition, Tampa Bay Tech produces two flagship events every year: the poweredUP Tampa Bay Tech Festival and the Tampa Bay Tech Awards. In addition, Tampa Bay Tech organizes hundreds of interest-level gatherings per year in conjunction with our Board of Directors, Tech Executive Council, Tampa Bay Tech Software CEOs, Emerging Tech Leaders of Tampa Bay, RNG Tampa Bay, Meetup cooperative and community partners.
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