Paul Judge stepped in to lead Venture Atlanta this week. His business partner, Alan Nance, who was this year’s chairman for the event, took ill with the flu. Having had just a day to prepare, Paul began his speech.
In his introductory remarks, he explained why he was at the podium instead of Alan. After explaining the illness, he said, “So here I am. I wanted to become taller so I could be more like Alan, but that couldn’t happen. I even thought I could be whiter, and that couldn’t happen either. But this isn’t a problem because as I look out on the audience, it is white enough.”
His comments got a big laugh. But it was clear to me, he was making a statement.
I have seen Paul at the podium a few times. He is one of our tech leaders in Atlanta and a graduate of Morehouse College with a PhD from Georgia Tech. He made his mark in the internet security business and has been very successful.
He built two companies and proved to be a successful advisor and investor in early stage companies which have raised some serious venture funding. In addition, he and Alan bought a building in midtown, literally across the street from ATDC, and started Tech Square Labs.
Paul is an entrepreneur. He is wicked smart, a great communicator and visionary, and has developed an incredible international network. He understands and loves technology, but he holds relationships and people in even higher regard. These are his gifts and his formula for success.
I remember Paul giving the keynote speech at the ATDC Showcase over ten years ago. He had just exited his first company and was a new Atlanta tech rock star. I knew nothing about him at the time. When he spoke he said, “In Atlanta tech, we think we are competing with Silicon Valley companies. In fact, because of the reach of the internet, we are competing with the world.”
This is classic Paul Judge.
He sees farther out than the rest of us and articulates his vision in such a way that we get it and don’t forget it.
Any time I’ve heard him give a prepared speech, he says something which opens my eyes. It might be something I see but haven’t made sense of yet. He nails it and makes it memorable.
So when Paul joked about race to Venture Atlanta, I was curious to talk to him about it. I caught him at the end of the conference on Peachtree Street. He was helping his staff load boxes into their cars. I asked him, “What were those comments on race all about?”
He said, “Given the platform I was fortunate to have, I wanted to do a great job. To that end, I went to YouTube to review some of the more recent master of ceremony talks for the Oscars and Emmy’s. I learned they used these platforms to share their social observations. I thought I would do the same.”
“What do you see?” I asked.
“I see the lack of diversity in technology. I wanted to use humor, as the MCs did at these nationally televised events, to have the Venture Atlanta audience see what I see.”
He went on, “My plan was to tell the first joke on my not being able to become more white and see if the audience laughed. If they didn’t, I was going to move on to the program. But they did, so I told the second joke on the audience being too white already. It obviously worked as I had a few people talk to me about these jokes on race. They complimented me on raising the issue.”
“I thought it was an off the cuff, ad-libbed comment,” I said.
“Good jokes always come across that way. Preparation is the key to an impactful presentation,” he responded.
I said, “I didn’t know you made this kind of investment in the talks you are invited to give.”
He said, “I always tell people, you don’t know me unless you’ve worked with me with a whiteboard in the room.”
I learned a lesson again.
He took this speech seriously. If anyone could have jotted down a couple of notes and given a good talk, Paul could. But instead, his serious preparation enabled him to deliver what appeared to be an offhand remark with real punch. Punch happened because he planned.
When preparation meets opportunity, impact happens.