Author: David Cohen

The Essential Guide to Startup Boards


This post is by David Cohen from Hi, I'm David G. Cohen


The first time many founders see the inside of a board room is when they step in to lead their board. But how do boards work? How should they be structured, managed, and leveraged so that startups can grow, avoid pitfalls, and get the best out of their boards?

If you’re looking for answers to those questions and more, you’ll be pleased to know that one of the most essential books for startup founders has been updated in a second edition that launches today.

Startup Boards: A Field Guide to Building and Leading an Effective Board of Directors is a comprehensive guide on creating, growing, and leveraging a board of directors written for CEOs, board members, and people seeking board roles.

For this edition, Brad Feld and Mahendra Ramsinghani have enlisted the support of a third co-author, serial entrepreneur and long-time Techstars mentor, Matt Blumberg. They’ve also added a number of new voices to the book, including Jocelyn Mangan who wrote the foreword.

Brad Feld is, of course, a cofounder of Tecshtars and for the past three years he’s also been my co-host on the Give First podcast. I’ve also been fortunate enough to sit on a few startup boards with Brad and know how effective his “less is more” approach to board meetings can be. He truly knows how to keep the process efficient and focused on strategy. 

A lot has changed since the original book was published at the end of 2013, including the emphasis on independent board (Read more...)

The worst email


This post is by David Cohen from Hi, I'm David G. Cohen


Today I received an email from a founder who was looking for investment from software/internet investors. That happens every day.

This particular email was addressed “TO” me and approximately 25 other investors, many of whom I know personally. Unfortunately, this also happens several times a week.

What does this say about the person sending the email?


1. They seem lazy. They just copy and pasted as many investor emails as they could find into the “to” line and then wrote one impersonal email. I don’t want to invest in lazy people.

2. They don’t seem to respect other people’s time. Who cares if someone accidentally hits “reply all” and 25 other random investors have to read their response? Well, I do. They all do. But the sender doesn’t show any sign of caring about this.

3. They probably don’t understand the internet. A simple bcc would have solved this problem, but they probably don’t get that. If they don’t use email well, will they use other tools well?

These are all things that you don’t want investors thinking after you send them an email.

We live in an age where the biggest brands are focused on delivering a highly personalized experience while going to great lengths to protect sensitive data. If you’re starting out with a less-than-optimal experience for your would-be investors while simultaneously being casual with their personal information, that’s a double whammy at the outset.

All of this is in contrast to the perfect email. You don’t (Read more...)

Practicing—and Perfecting—Your 60-Second Pitch


This post is by David Cohen from Hi, I'm David G. Cohen


I recently joined my colleague Saba Karim, Director of Startup Pipeline at Techstars, for a one-hour “pitch practice” session on Twitter Spaces hosted by Adam Soccolich (aka Twitter’s @TheBestOfAdam) and… wow!

We heard a variety of pitches from a diverse group of founders from around the world. Some came with experience from other startups. Some were first-time entrepreneurs. A few were currently in Techstars accelerators. A few others had received feedback from Saba in previous Spaces sessions and were coming back with more polished pitches. Some were stepping up to pitch in public for the first time.

As Saba, Adam and I weighed in with our comments a few consistent suggestions emerged about what to say and how to say it. Not all these suggestions will apply to every pitch you make. But, both now and as your pitch evolves, I invite you to use this checklist to choose the most relevant aspects of your story to include when you’re only given 60 seconds to sell to an investor.

What to say:

Start with the “why.”

What made you start this business? Was there a personal story or experience that helped bring home to you the problem you now wish to solve? 

Use differentiators to establish your credibility.

What is special or unique about the insight you have? Do you or the people on your team bring experience or expertise that sets your startup apart?

Validate your opportunity. 

Quantify the market you are addressing. If you have competitors, use (Read more...)

Practicing—and Perfecting—Your 60-Second Pitch


This post is by David Cohen from Hi, I'm David G. Cohen


I recently joined my colleague Saba Karim, Director of Startup Pipeline at Techstars, for a one-hour “pitch practice” session on Twitter Spaces hosted by Adam Soccolich (aka Twitter’s @TheBestOfAdam) and… wow!

We heard a variety of pitches from a diverse group of founders from around the world. Some came with experience from other startups. Some were first-time entrepreneurs. A few were currently in Techstars accelerators. A few others had received feedback from Saba in previous Spaces sessions and were coming back with more polished pitches. Some were stepping up to pitch in public for the first time.

As Saba, Adam and I weighed in with our comments a few consistent suggestions emerged about what to say and how to say it. Not all these suggestions will apply to every pitch you make. But, both now and as your pitch evolves, I invite you to use this checklist to choose the most relevant aspects of your story to include when you’re only given 60 seconds to sell to an investor.

What to say:

Start with the “why.”

What made you start this business? Was there a personal story or experience that helped bring home to you the problem you now wish to solve? 

Use differentiators to establish your credibility.

What is special or unique about the insight you have? Do you or the people on your team bring experience or expertise that sets your startup apart?

Validate your opportunity. 

Quantify the market you are addressing. If you have competitors, use (Read more...)

Give First… Build First… or Both?


This post is by David Cohen from Hi, I'm David G. Cohen


“How is an early-stage founder expected to interpret the Give First philosophy?”

That’s the polite way of rewording a question Keith Coleman, Founder of Fraudmarc (Techstars Atlanta 2017), posed to Brad Feld and me in an email a little while back.

Keith got our attention with his subject line, “give first, finish last.”

His email clued us in to a difficulty he and other Techstars founders have had—or are still having—in trying to “Give First” at the same time they were rightly focusing their time and energy on the very survival of their companies. 

In conversations with these other Techstars founders, Keith kept hearing that Give First was seen as something primarily for entrepreneurs and investors who had already “made it” and who, both on a time-based (mentoring) and a philanthropic (money-giving) level, had the capacity to truly give.

Challenged by Keith’s email, Brad and I realized we needed to think more deeply about how we were articulating Give First, what it means to us as individuals, and what it means to Techstars as a whole.

To us, the question became, “How can we do a better job at telling founders how, when, why, and if to apply Give First in the appropriate way at every step of their journey?”

We invited Keith onto the podcast to discuss it further. It made for a great conversation and I invite you to listen to the full episode

As Brad and I are happy to acknowledge, Give First is an evolving (Read more...)

Seats convincing investors framework


This post is by David Cohen from Hi, I'm David G. Cohen


I recently spoke at Collision and the format was really fun. Four entrepreneurs each pitched me in two minutes with no slides, and I provided reactions and tips in front of the audience. I had never met or seen any of these companies before. 

As you might have guessed, I saw some familiar patterns. Among the many questions I got asked at the end of the session by the audience were:

  • How much revenue do I need before a VC will commit to invest?
  • How do I demonstrate traction sufficient to get an investor to commit?
  • How can I help the investor understand that this is a “really big opportunity?”

If only it were this formulaic. Of course, there is no “the investor” (they’re all different humans with their own focus and bias) and there is no “magic line” of revenue that automatically makes any investor want to invest.

All of these questions reminded me of how Techstars Chief Investment Officer, Jason Seats, explains to startups how to get an investor to say yes. 

Jason likes to explain that getting an investor should be thought of as a search operation and not as a persuasion exercise. In other words, you should spend your time with investors that are naturally interested in what you’re doing, rather than trying to convince every one of them that they should be interested. You’re far more likely to run out of time and energy to pitch investors than to actually run out of investors (Read more...)

CU Tech Frontiers Data Science and ML courses look awesome!


This post is by David Cohen from Hi, I'm David G. Cohen


I was looking at the University of Colorado Tech Frontiers offering this summer. Wow, it looks amazing.

Tech Frontiers is the professional development program of the College of Engineering and Applied Science of the University of Colorado Boulder, offering short-form learning on contemporary topics in engineering. Through live sessions taught by CU faculty experts, Tech Frontiers courses offer a mixture of classroom content and hands-on project experience. You’ll interact with faculty and fellow participants as you learn and apply emerging technologies and concepts.

Summer 2021 courses in Data Science and Machine Learning will include a discussion of ethical issues in tech, a session with CU’s NSF-funded AI Institute for Student-AI Teaming, and opportunities to interact with leaders from CU Boulder and the Boulder area tech community. The first ones are July 12-July 16. Quick, efficient, and awesome.

I reached out to them that the startup community in Boulder might be super interested, but that maybe the $2,000 price tag would be hard for them. So, how awesome is CU? They gave me a discount code for readers of this blog, good for 50% off! Just use “FrontierFriends” to get 50% off of your registration.

Please share this in the startup community! And thank you CU!

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The Techstars Foundation and Black ParentPreneurs


This post is by David Cohen from Hi, I'm David G. Cohen


A huge thank you to Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor and Anchor Point Foundation for getting the ball rolling in a big way with the ParentPreneur Foundation, by nominating them for the Techstars Foundation Accelerate Equity program and providing a $100,000 lead grant. Amazing!

The ParentPreneur Foundation is an awesome organization and peer network started by James Oliver Jr. that empowers black ParentPreneurs so they can leave a legacy for their beautiful children. ParentPreneurs, of course, are parents who also happen to be entrepreneurs.

What I love love love about the ParentPreneur Foundation is that James has created a vibrant community, which regularly hosts speakers such as Seth Godin, Brad Feld, and many others. I’ve witnessed first hand that community having each others backs, and that is awesome. The lives he’s changing (like this one and so many more) and the associated impact is tremendous.

“The ParentPreneur Foundation gives parents a safe place to voice their concerns and fears without judgment. This grant will allow me to not only support my growing business but support a few other businesses in the works. I’m grateful and blessed.”

Pamela Booker, CEO of Koils By Nature

Through Accelerate Equity, the Techstars Foundation identifies early-stage nonprofits and ideas to empower and support underestimated entrepreneurs. We then call on the Techstars network to pitch in. The Techstars Foundation will add a 5% match to the total raised at the end of the calendar quarter. We then work with the nonprofit providing talent, (Read more...)

Gig Wage demo day pitch


This post is by David Cohen from Hi, I'm David G. Cohen


I don’t normally share a demo day pitch for one specific startup here on my blog. But this wasn’t just any demo day pitch. It’s just three minutes long, but very powerful.

To read more about Gig Wage, check out “Why I Used My Startup’s Techstars Demo Day To Advocate For Other Black Founders” and Gig Wage Raises $2.5M Follow-On to Its Recent $7.5M Series A Round.

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Book: The New Builders


This post is by David Cohen from Hi, I'm David G. Cohen


Seth Levine (Foundry Group) and Elizabeth McBride (international business journalist) have released their new book “The New Builders: Face to Face with the True Future of Business.” It’s a fascinating look into who is really driving the entrepreneurial spirit forward today. The truth will surprise you. It’s not the white male tech founder that we all read about every day. The reality is that most new businesses are started by people who are black, brown, female, and older. Many of them are immigrants and people who have been left out of the narrative. Seth and Elizabeth call this next generation of business owners New Builders. 

Grab your copy today and understand this hidden trend that is changing how business is done and how the entrepreneurial economy is evolving. As we start to bounce back from a global pandemic, I hope you pay attention to their research and stories. The future is brighter because of the New Builders and the change and inspiration they’ll bring to everyone.

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