David Cohen and I have co-hosted the Give First podcast for 71 episodes. I think our host ratio is 80/20 David/Brad, and he’s covered everything in 2021 because I was burned out on all things public-facing and needed a break.
He figured a good way to get me back in the mix would be to interview me about entrepreneurship and mental health, so that’s what Episode 71 is about.
Listen & subscribe to the Give First podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and more.
In 2010, David Cohen and I wrote a book titled Do More Faster. It was filled with stories and advice from founders, investors, and mentors from around the first two years of Techstars.
This was the first book I wrote. David and I learned the joy and pain of writing a book. We were lucky to get to work with Bill Falloon, who has been my long-time editor on all the books I’ve written. Bill guided us through the process and helped us understand what was required to put together a real book.
Last month we released Do More Faster, 2nd Edition. We’ve freshened it up with new content, some new stories, and updates on where everyone is from the first edition.
We just released an episode of the Give First podcast with some behind the scenes back and forth on the book. Enjoy the Give First Do More Faster podcast episode and go grab a copy of the new and improved 2nd Edition of Do More Faster.
If you are looking for something powerful, creative, provocative, and beautifully done, go look at True Blue by Eliot Peper and team.
In 2017, I wrote a post titled A Clever Short Story About Discrimination about the short story that Eliot had written. It was an idea that David Cohen had. He shared it with Eliot, who then wrote the short story. David then funded a project for Eliot to turn it into an “internet public art project.”
Eliot describes how they made True Blue. It’s a fabulous integration of story, illustration, and design on the web.
Independent of the beauty of the project, the story is a critically important one for today’s society. While a cynic will say “same as it ever was“, consider if eye color (instead of skin color, or gender, or ethnicity, or sexual orientation, or …) was a key “categorizer” in our society.
Today’s #GivingThanks is to David Cohen, one of the founders and co-CEO of Techstars. If David has done something that has touched your life is a positive way and you want to give thanks to him, make a donation online to the Techstars Foundation.
I met David on one of my random days in 2006. I can’t remember who introduced us, but David reminds me that it took him four months to get a meeting with me. He knew he had 15 minutes so he got right down to it as is his nature. We were in my old Superior office (the one about the liquor store where I met Lucy Sanders and so many other great people for the first time.) We said hello, David introduced himself to me, and we sat down. David then slid something across the table and sat silently while I read it.
It was a folded piece of paper that looked liked it had been printed on a color printer at a Kinkos. I opened it in its three-fold glory and read an overview of a thing called TechStars (yes – I immediately noticed the CamelCase) with a logo at the top that closely resembles today’s logo. I had an immediate positive reaction.
When I looked up, David gave me a little more background. He told me we were co-investors in a few companies as angel investors. He then explained why he wasn’t enjoying being an angel investor the way he was then doing it. Remember, it’s 2006 and angel investing is not trendy. In fact, early stage investing in general is in the dog house for many investors, both angels and VCs, as they are still remembering the pain from the collapse of the Internet bubble. While we had at least two angel groups in the Denver/Boulder area in 2006, they were more of a combination of a cocktail party combined with an entrepreneur torture chamber. Founders came in, pitched a bunch of angel investors, got ask a bunch of questions, went away, but rarely ended up with any investment. David had participated but realized that very few angels were writing checks and, when they did, the entrepreneurs didn’t get engaged investors.
David had a vision to change that. He said he wanted to raise about $200,000 to get it started. He was personally putting in $80,000. At about the ten minute mark, I told him that as long as he wasn’t a flake or a crook, I was in for $50,000. He then told me that David Brown (now co-CEO of Techstars), who had been his partner in their first company (Pinpoint Software), would likely do $50,000. I said that was awesome and I’d make a few phone calls and see if I could round up the rest.
After David left, I called Jared Polis. I had met Jared a decade earlier (via an introduction from my first business partner, Dave Jilk) and we had become good friends and co-investors in a handful of companies. I told Jared I was investing $50,000 in a new thing called Techstars that I’d like to see if he wanted to invest in with me. He responded, “Sure, count me in for $50,000. What is it?” And, like that, we had raised the money for the first Techstars Boulder program which ran in 2007.
A decade later, I’m comfortable asserting that Techstars has had a significant positive impact on entrepreneurship around the world. It’s been one of my greatest life pleasures to be involved in it.
David, thank you for showing up in my office and inviting me to be part of Techstars. Here’s the first promotion video, which reminds me how far we’ve come.
But we have only begun. Techstars, which now runs 25 Techstars accelerator programs around the world each year, also runs over 1,000 Startup Weekends a year and 40 Startup Weeks a year. As part of our experience over the last decade, we became immersed in the issue of diversity in entrepreneurship. My work with the National Center for Women & Information Technology informed and inspired this, along with our creation of programs like Patriot Boot Camp and Rising Stars. And, the Techstars mantra of #GiveFirst, which builds on the philosophy I talked about in Startup Communities of “Give Before You Get”, has become deeply embedded in our value system.
At the end of last year, we took this to another level by creating the Techstars Foundation. The foundation mission is straightforward – to improve diversity in entrepreneurship. Our initial funding was provided by the Techstars founders and a few other people close to Techstars. Since then, we’ve done a major matching campaign that Amy and I funded, a partnership with BetaBrand that generated $85,000 in contributions, and several other fundraisers. We are closing in on the foundation having $1 million in the bank, which is an exciting start for us.
We made our first round of grants earlier this year to five organizations: Astia, Patriot Boot Camp, Defy Ventures, Change Catalyst, and Gaza Sky Geeks. I personally adopted Defy Ventures, went to prison for the day, learned an enormous amount about myself in the process, and subsequently made a significant commitment to Defy.
David is now one of my closest friends and my experience working with him and the team at Techstars is one of the most professionally rewarding things I’ve done. David – thank you.
I love origin stories. Yesterday at the kickoff of Techstars FounderCon, I stood on stage with David Cohen and David Brown as we went through the origin story of Techstars, followed by a build up of what has happened over the past seven amazing years. As the 50+ people working for Techstars stood on the stage at the end, I got chills. Afterwards I got feedback from a number of the 500 people in the audience that it was extremely useful context for them, many of whom joined the extended Techstars network in the past two years.
A few weeks ago, FG Press released the first book in its Techstars series titled No Vision All Drive: Memoirs of an Entrepreneur. It’s written by David Brown and is the origin story of David Brown and David Cohen’s first company Pinpoint Technologies.
If you recognize David Cohen’s name, but not David Brown’s, you have a new David in your world. Brown was one of the four co-founders of Techstars (with Cohen, me, and Jared Polis). A little over a year ago, he joined Techstars full time as one of the three managing partners – the other two being David Cohen and Mark Solon. Brown runs the organization day to day and Solon manages all the fund and capital formation activity.
While I’ve known Brown for seven years, Cohen and Brown have worked together for 25 years. Pinpoint was a self-funded company that was their first entrepreneurial endeavor. Like many other startups, it had many ups and downs but the David’s created a very successful, profitable business that was acquired by ZOLL (a Boston-based public company) in 1999. Brown stayed at ZOLL for a while, left, and then came back and ran ZOLL Data (the division based on Pinpoint) until last year when he finally left for good.
When I read the first draft of No Vision All Drive I immediately realized this was a powerful origin story. It shows the personal and professional development of Brown and Cohen as they grew from two guys trying to figure out how to start their business to leaders of a real company. Brown’s reflections on the experience are detailed and demonstrates his incredible talents as an operator. If you know Cohen, after reading this book, you understand why they are perfect partners and have worked so well together over the past 25 years.
It’s a delight to get to work with both of these guys. No Vision All Drive gave me deep insight into Brown and how to be effective working with him, as well as what to expect in the context of his leadership and management style. And it made me even more optimistic about the future of Techstars.
Our goal with the Techstars Series is to get out a series of books applicable to all entrepreneurs at an affordable price. So, instead of doing the default Kindle $9.99 price, or tying the Kindle price to the hardcover price, we are charging $4.95 for the Kindle version. We know there is no marginal cost to each incremental e-book so we want to provide it at a price that entrepreneurs won’t think twice about, which we pegged at the equivalent of a Starbucks Venti Peppermint Mocha Frappuccino .
If you are interested in origin stories or just want to better understand the guys behind Techstars, I encourage you to grab a copy of No Vision All Drive: Memoirs of an Entrepreneur.
When David Cohen and I came up with the idea for the Global Accelerator Network (GAN) in 2010, we counted roughly 100 accelerator programs around the US that were founded following the Techstars model. We labeled Techstars a “mentor driven accelerator” and reached out to others who were using the same approach to create what became GAN. From that initial outreach, 16 high quality accelerator programs joined us to launch the network.
Since then, accelerators have appeared all over the world. Some accelerators are incredibly high quality. Others are not. Some are major contributors to their startup communities. Others are detrimental to it. As with everything new that grows quickly, it’s a chaotic system with lots of innovation, creative destruction, and rapid change and learning that – if done well – is a great example of the power of the Lean Startup approach to entrepreneurship.
Today, the Global Accelerator Network is a worldwide organization of 52 accelerators located in over 60 cities around the world. We’ve maintained a high quality across the membership while expanding the network by being selective. Not every accelerator is/could be/would be a member in GAN, nor is it designed that way. To become a member, each accelerator must meet the following strict criteria:
In addition to these eight criteria, all members follow the established ethos (give before you get; put entrepreneurs first) of accelerators in GAN, including a thorough review of an accelerator’s term sheets and numerous conversations to vet accelerator founders’ intentions and operational practices. We also review their leadership and mentor pool to ensure value.
Becoming a member in the GAN is not easy, but neither is operating a quality accelerator program. Feel free to drop me an email if you want to learn more about joining GAN.
Sean Wise, a professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, has an awesome web interview series called The Naked Entrepreneur Show. Sean is the interviewer for a 45 minute studio show that is entirely produced by students at Ryerson.
When I was in Toronto in the fall, I did an episode with him – it’s definitely in the top 10 of the interviews I’ve done.
David Cohen, the CEO of TechStars, also did an interview on The Naked Entrepreneur.
Enjoy. And it’s going to be fun to see what happens with the SEO on this.
Over at the TechStars blog today, David Cohen introduced the new Managing Director for TechStars in New York, Eugene Chung.
Thirty-five great candidates were interviewed for this position; the only offer we extended was to Eugene. His background includes NY-area investments BuzzFeed and Bedrocket while he was at New Enterprise Associates. Prior to that, he worked at Warbug Pincus and Morgan Stanley. We were looking for deep competence and culture fit with TechStars and we found it with Eugene.
It’s been amazing to me to see TechStars NY grow since David Cohen and David Tisch launched it in the Winter of 2011. Tisch provided amazing leadership over the three programs, helping launch 36 new companies, of which 1 has been acquired, 2 have failed, and 33 have gone on to raise around $50m and employ over 200 people. The NY startup community has been awesome with engagement from over 75 mentors. And as the NY entrepreneurship scene has exploded during this time, it’s been fun to be part of it with both TechStars and our investments in companies such as MakerBot, Medialets, AdMeld (now Google), CrowdTap, Organic Motion, Jirafe, Next Big Sound (which was part of TechStars Boulder Summer 2009) and SideTour (which was part of the second TechStars Summer 2011 program).
Nicole Glaros is serving as Interim MD and will be based with Eugene in NYC during this year’s program. David Cohen will be present as well, helping get Eugene up to speed. I”m also going to be spending a week at TechStars NY during the program from April 15 to April 19.
Eugene – welcome to TechStars. I’m psyched to have you as part of the team!
A few weeks ago I did a long interview with Jason Calacanis on This Week In Startups. I got a bunch of positive feedback on it and thought it was one of the better long form interviews I’ve done in a while.
The other day Jason released an interview that he recently did with David Cohen, the CEO of TechStars. I listened to it earlier today – it was also excellent. I highly recommend it if you are interested in TechStars, accelerators, early stage investing, ramping your startup, and how David thinks about angel investing from his fund Bullet Time Ventures.