#MustRead for Tech Entrepreneurs: Insights from Techstars Founder

Techstars is a worldwide network that is empowering entrepreneurs to succeed. Based in Colorado, this startup accelerator has accepted over 1,000 companies into its various programs and these businesses have collectively raised over $3.8 billion, with a market cap of over $9.9 billion. Techstars has multiple platforms such as Techstars Startup Program, Techstars Mentorship-Driven Accelerator Program, and Techstars Corporate Innovation Partnerships, along with a $300 million venture capital fund.  Techstars operates accelerators in Boulder, New York City, Boston, Seattle, Austin, Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis, London, Adelaide, Tel Aviv, Cape Town, Toronto, and Berlin. Techstars has recently announced the launch of its India operations.

Techstars London Headshots - Image ©Dan Taylor/Heisenberg Media.
David Cohen, Founder - CoCEO, Techstars

In this interview, we catch up with David Cohen, Founder and co-CEO, Techstars, to learn from his experience of mentoring hundreds of now successful tech entrepreneurs and startups across industries since 2006.

David has been an entrepreneur and investor for his entire life. He has founded several companies and has invested in hundreds of startups such as Uber, Twilio, SendGrid, FullContact, and Sphero. In total, these investments have gone on to create more than $80B in value.

Prior to Techstars, David was a co-founder of Pinpoint Technologies which was acquired by ZOLL Medical Corporation (NASDAQ: ZOLL) in 1999. David is the co-author (with Brad Feld) of Do More Faster; Techstars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup. You can find David tweeting at @davidcohen and blogging on the web at DavidGCohen.com.

Tell us about Techstars. What inspired you to build it?  

I had three experiences as a founder prior to Techstars, with two successes and one failure. I always loved the early stages of those companies. I also loved angel investing and wanted to create a better and more leveraged way to do it. And, I loved my town of Boulder, Colorado and wanted to help make it better over time. It all came together to inspire me to build Techstars.

Which are some of the tech startups that have become your favorite success stories?

SendGrid, Digital Ocean, Classpass, Sphero, Pillpack.. there are too many to name. Watching them go through Techstars with just an idea and passion, and then helping them build game-changing companies is always inspiring.  So far, our accelerator and venture funds have helped create nearly $100 bn in enterprise value, it’s humbling to be a part of their amazing success.

What should tech entrepreneurs keep in mind when they start scaling up their team?

Specialization matters. You may be good at selling, but a world-class sales leader is still going to be game-changing, as an example. Hire people better than you. And be prepared to step back as CEO if you are learning too much on the job.

What can a tech entrepreneur do in order to keep their team motivated?

Set a clear vision and hire great people who match the values of the organization (and fire those who don’t). The rest is magic.

What do investors appreciate the most in tech entrepreneurs?

I’m not sure I have a single answer. Every founder is so different. I guess I would say partnership, which translates into showing us what’s really wrong so we can try to help, instead of pretending everything is great all the time.

How does leadership in the company influence the culture of the organization?

Founders establish the culture and value systems. Leadership must maintain, enforce, and amplify them.

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