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Interview with David Cohen-TechStars

David Cohen - TechStars

David Cohen - TechStars

I finished reading Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup by David Cohen and Brad Feld. This book is an essential read for any startup founder. A no-nonsense message from some great entrepreneurs and mentors in the industry. If you are interested in accelerating innovation for your startup you should hear the candid advice from these mentors.

I had the pleasure of interviewing David Cohen co-founder and CEO of the TechStars program recently. He was actually in week 6 of the New York TechStars program when I spoke with him. Here is what he had to say about “Do More Faster” and the overall program:

StartupAddict What lead you and Brad Feld to write the book?

David CohenDavid: We were sitting at Brad’s house in Keystone discussing how much we learned about early stage companies from doing the program. 50 to 80 companies have been run through the program. There is a lot of repetitive advice we keep telling startups and felt there may be a better way to get the message out. A book came to mind and we decided to get the mentors involved to help.

StartupAddictWhat was the impetus behind Techstars and what was one of your first tangible steps to make it a reality?

David CohenDavid: I thought there was better way to invest in startups. Especially within Boulder Colorado’s startup ecosystem. I live here and invest in Boulder locally and wanted to make it better. I guess the first tangible step was deciding to build a network of the best mentors and personalities in the industry. Brad Feld immediately came to my mind. We did some investments in the same companies but I didn’t know him. I remember seeing his name on the paper work. He was someone I respected and one of the smartest people in the industry. So I just picked up the phone and called him. He always believed in taking random 10 minute meetings. Something I actually do now. I explained my thoughts about the program to him and we was very receptive to the idea. On top of the 100K I put in, he agreed to commit 25K and immediately started introducing me to mentors for the program. I’m glad I made the call because Brad has become an integral part of TechStars program. I then continued to reach out to the smartest people I knew and asked for 10 minutes of their time to get feedback.

StartupAddictWhat is the vetting process in the techstar program and how many do you ultimately accept?

David CohenDavid:2000 applications have come into the tech stars program so far. Roughly 600 – 700 applications per city and work that down to the final 10 applications or a 1.5% acceptance rate.

StartupAddictWhat is the criteria for selecting startups in the techstar program?

David CohenDavid: people, people, people, then market, then idea. In that order. Historically 50% of startups in the techstars program change their idea. Sometimes it’s in the same market different approach, other times it’s a completely different market. The beauty of the program is with the right people and Mentor input the startup can make major pivots or leaps.

StartupAddictTwo concepts in the book are (1) don’t plan. protoype and (2) get feedback from your user base early on. What do you feel is one of the most important tips for a startup once seed funding is in place?

David CohenDavid:Is there a Market fit, if there is get your product or service out there. Some startups hunker down in a cave and never get it out there in time. Useage is like oxygen, you can’t develop something in the absent of customers.

StartupAddictHow do you determine the amount of seed funding an accepted startup gets up to the 18K in the techstars program?

David CohenDavid: The money is really like a stipend we offer 6K per founder up to 3 founders. But it’s not really about money. 95% of the value of program is everything else. Once in a lifetime mentorship, access to a critical rolodex and funding is what it is about. We ask every company upon exit of the TechStars program “Would you have done the program without the funding? 100% of the companies answered yes so far.

StartupAddictYour success statistics of startups in the program is extraordinary. Based on the statistics that you posted revealing transparency of the techstars program roughly 70% of TechStars companies either raise outside funding after the program or bootstrap to profitability. What is the program’s secret sauce?

David CohenDavid: Funding early on doesn’t mean success. In context of techstars if you should get selected we expect a high funding rate because we are taking the best of the best from a large group of applicants. 7 of the first 20 startups have been acquired. The secret sauce is the mentors advice and their connections. Two kids in a garage might change the world but it’s a heck of lot easier if you have the proper advice, network and access to funding.

StartupAddictYou have expanded the Techstar’s program to other cities. What is your criteria for allowing the TechStars program to expand to a city?

David CohenDavid:The four cities we are currently in with the Techstars program comes from direct operations and we have a director in each city. We also started the Techstars network as part of the Startup Partnership for America initiative. This opensourced the TechStars model to 20 independent programs such as Excelerate in Chicago. This includes best practices, legal, networking Etc…

StartupAddictWhere do you think the program will be 5 years from now?

David CohenDavid: No idea. Five years ago if you had asked me where it would be in fives years, I wouldn’t have imagined where it is today. I do know that we will continue to help entrepreneurs and early stage companies through the book & program.

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