Interview from Duke University with our CEO, David Johnson

Oct 03, 2020

Tell us about Atlas Certified. How did you decide to start it? What did you learn from your previous venture?
My first startup, Atlas Digital Solutions (2005), continues to operate and succeed in the data center / managed IT market that is dominated by huge companies looking to become utility-like service providers of computing power (Amazon, Google, etc.). I spent a lot of time thinking about the future of Atlas Digital and due to the way the market is evolving, we invested time and cash flow into new ideas and concepts (a great byproduct of a profitable venture that you control).

One of those concepts evolved into Atlas Certified. Atlas Certified, which officially launched last year, changes the way companies, employees and job applicants manage certifications and licenses across technology, healthcare, service professionals, financial and many other industries.

Similar to Atlas Digital Solutions, we saw an opportunity. A client was attempting to fill two IT networking positions. It took his staff of twelve more than two weeks just to confirm the relevant IT certifications for the applicants. This was the initial spark of Atlas Certified, which we supplemented with hours of research uncovering additional problems (opportunities) with verifying certification and licenses data today. We found that there are over 100,000 certifications and licenses to manage and to date, the process has been manual, time consuming, expensive, error prone, static and unreliable in terms of consistency across certifying organizations.

We identified a need for an automated process to verify credentials, extract consistent certification and license data, and proactively monitor and alert for renewals/expiration & developed our patent-pending software to solve these issues for our customers.

Mentors are great but as an entrepreneur, you need to experience and solve real issues first-hand.

Everyday Atlas Certified’s portfolio of certifications is growing to address changing technology and regulations across industries.

We are excited about Atlas Certified’s progress to date and optimistic about its future. Become Atlas Certified at and stay tuned!

Tell us about your time at Duke. What were you involved in, what did you study, and were you involved in anything entrepreneurial? Were there things you wished you’d done differently to prepare for being an entrepreneur? And what did you do as a student that you are glad you did?
We are a HUGE Duke family – between my immediate family and in-laws, eight out of twelve attended Duke undergraduate so we love Duke. I had a phenomenal college experience. I made incredible friendships, made huge strides in personal growth and maturity and even met my wife (a whole different and great story).

While at Duke, I majored in Psychology and received a certificate in Markets and Management, which was my best attempt to create a complete business degree. During my time at Duke, there was little focus on entrepreneurship in either curriculum or extracurricular activities. Duke has come a long way in terms of entrepreneurial offerings and an overarching entrepreneurial spirit. It is exciting to see the focus and vision for the future.

Personally, I dipped my toes in the entrepreneurial pool with various ventures during my college years – everything from selling t-shirts door-to-door to partnering with other students on owning and managing an on-campus bar.

For students that are considering starting a company, but thinking about getting work experience first, how would you help them think about areas to focus?
I received from my father some very good advice to begin my work experience in sales. It was the best, and the most brutal, profession. Being a young guy (who looked even younger) and selling to experienced executives who knew much more about their industry, job and technology solutions than I did made a lasting impact. I quickly learned the power of knowledge and confidence.

Sales was critical for my development because everyone, regardless the specific product, whether it is goods, services or one’s self, sells. Sales is a learned skill that can continually be improved upon.

It is also important to gain exposure to the areas of technology, law (such as reading agreements and understanding obligations and other contractual issues), finance (such as understanding accounting and financial concepts) and communication/public speaking (circles back to sales but whether investors, partners or employees, you must be able to effectively communicate your message).

Starting a company is incredibly rewarding but equally as difficult so the more real-world experience and challenges one has with sales, technology, finance, law, communication, etc. will reduce the learning curve (and pain) later. Mentors are great but as an entrepreneur, you need to experience and solve real issues first-hand.

Read more about David & Duke here

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