David Cohen is the founder and Managing Partner of Techstars, the #1 ranked Internet startup accelerator in the world.
Previously, David was a founder of several software and web technology companies. He was the founder and CTO of Pinpoint Technologies which was acquired by ZOLL Medical Corporation (NASDAQ: ZOLL) in 1999. You can read about it in No Vision, All Drive [Amazon]. David was also the founder and CEO of earFeeder.com, a music service which was sold to SonicSwap.com in 2006. He also had what he likes to think of as a “graceful failure” in between.
In this interview, David shares how Techstars was built and became the leading global accelerator that helps founders bring their ideas to the market. He talks about how resources are one of the common problems among founders, and how TechStarts was built to solve it.
Learn more about David’s entrepreneurial insights below. To get latest updates from David and Techstars, be sure to check him out on Twitter!
Why did you start TechStars? Can you tell me a little bit about your business and what you do?
I thought angel investing sucked and more startup communities needed to be better, starting with Boulder. We are a global ecosystem to help founders bring new technologies to the market.
We invest in startups, 800 of them so far. Those companies have gone on to raise $2.5 billion from VCs and angels. 80 of them have been acquired by other companies. They employ thousands of people. We operate startup accelerators around the world, learn more at Techstars.com.
Is there a competitive advantage that you have over the rest? How did you find it and ‘niche down’?
We were one of the pioneers of the accelerator phenomenon. We operate with a “give first” mentality that is unique, and has led to our success (it came naturally to us). Today, we are differentiated because we operate globally in many startup communities and by our track record.
Did you write a business plan for TechStars? If so, would you recommend using a template or planning software to help new entrepreneurs?
No. As an investor, I also don’t read them. I think they’re great for founders to create, but they should recognize that nobody else wants to read them. They should do it for themselves.
We’re huge believers of every entrepreneur keeping their business’ finances under control. How do you keep TechStars books in check?
Well, we have a large team to do it. TechStars is over 150 people today, so we have an entire team focused on this as you might expect.
How do you balance life and work to remain connected and available for your loved ones? Any advice for me?
Disconnect once in a while and get away from it all. Always have something to look forward to with your family.
How did you find the time and money to get TechStars off the ground? Any advice for entrepreneurs with minimal time or resources?
It didn’t take much money to get it started. I used a bit of my own money, and built something that others wanted to invest in. We bootstrapped the business, fundamentally. Minimal time and resources is what almost every founder faces. So just do it.
What do you consider the biggest milestone that you have hit with your business? What was the number one thing you did you get there?
Probably raising $150M recently from major institutional partners. That was a powerful moment. I think our track record led us to that opportunity, but it wouldn’t have happened without all the great people we added to the team or leveraged as advisors.
Who has been your greatest influence as an entrepreneur? How did they shape your business?
Three people; my dad, David Brown, my business partner and Brad Feld. All have been role models to me and have helped me define myself as an entrepreneur.
Did you have a hard time registering your business (as an LLC, Corporation, etc) with the state? Are there any resources you used to simplify the legal process?
No, I didn’t find this to be any sort of challenge.
What are the top 3 pieces of advice that you would give someone starting a business in Colorado? What do they need to know from the beginning?
Surround yourself with amazing people. Be obsessed with your product. Define and promote your values.