150M+1 New Reasons to be Thankful at Techstars

Earlier this week David Cohen wrote a wonderful blog post entitled, 150M New Reasons to be Thankful at Techstars where he announced a massive new $150M Techstars fund for early-stage ventures involved with the Techstars network. In the post, David gave thanks to the people who helped make Techstars what it is today.  Of course, with typical David humility, he failed to include one very important person: David Cohen is reason 150M+1 to be thankful for Techstars.

David invested in GiveForward as part of his original $5M fund back in 2010.  He has been one of our biggest advocates over the past four years and there is no way we’d be where we are today without him.  I can’t truly thank him for what he has created, but here are a few of the things I am grateful for.

Mentorship

I’ll never forget our first big conversation with David.  It was shortly after Excelerate Labs Demo Day in 2010 and we were sitting in the board room of a Chicago VC who had just offered us a term sheet with horrible terms.

We were scheduled to have a call with David right after our meeting with the VC.  But the meeting ended up going an hour long, so we awkwardly asked the VC firm if we could use their boardroom to make a call to another investor.  When we got David on the phone, we let him know of the situation.  We told him that we were excited to get our first term sheet.  But the term sheet kinda sucked.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have any other offers and we didn’t know what to do.  We were a little paranoid that the VCs were listening in on our conversation, so we whispered into the speakerphone: “David, they want to give us $1 million at a $2 million post money valuation.  Should we take it?”  Without any hesitation, David whispered back.  “Run.  Run away as fast as you can!”

This turned out to be great advice.  We declined the offer and instead managed to close a $500K seed round with a group of incredibly supportive angel investors, among them David Cohen.

Belief in Us

After we closed our seed round we didn’t have much interaction with David for awhile.  He told us that he was going to be a “passive” investor, and for the first few months, I don’t think we recieved an email from David longer than six or seven words.  But in the third month of our relationship, everything changed.

On April 14th, 2011, we sent out our monthly investor update.  The title of that month’s investor update was called:  The Power of Hugs.  Here was the actual intro paragraph.

This month, the theme of our newsletter is hugs. I know you’re probably thinking “Hugs?!?!!  What the hell is he talking about? I want to hear about numbers.”  But I think it’s important for you all to understand GiveForward beyond just our revenue and monthly traffic numbers [which are really good this month by the way].  I think it’s important for you all to understand our culture which is the foundation for everything we do.  So without further ado, let me tell you about the power of hugs.

I remember feeling really insecure and almost deleting the entire email before hitting send.  We had just closed our seed round with all these high-powered investors. We had a billionaire in the group, an entrepreneur who had taken his company public, a dude whose name was on the U. Chicago business school, and several other uber-successful tech founders. My partner Desiree and I, on the other hand had no idea what the hell we were doing and I was about to send an email telling them about the power of hugs.  Um, yeah, great idea, Ethan.

After mustering up all the courage I had in my entire body, I finally decided not to delete it.  Instead, I hit send, closed my eyes and hid under my desk, confident that I was going to get laughed out of the room and they were going to ask if they could take all their money back.

To my surprise, David wrote back the following email to us and cc’d all of the investors.

You are simply awesome. Your updates are awesome. Your outlook is awesome. You are inspiring.  I love companies that care. It’s how I try to build companies too – the rest usually “just works”. And I love the 85/15 thought. Spot on.  Congrats on the progress. I’m back in Boulder or I would have loved to hang in NYC. I’m coming to Chicago in early June, let’s be sure to get together then.

He signed it,

</hug>

For me, this singular email was a huge turning point in my career as an entrepreneur.  It gave me so much confidence that we could be ourselves without worrying about being second guessed by our investors because we were a little unorthodox in our approach.  The fact that three months into our relationship with our new investors, David was not only tolerant of our weirdness but that he embraced it, meant everything to us and gave us the courage to go out and build a great company and a culture we could be proud of.

Introductions

By far, one of the most important things an investor can do for you is intro you to other VCs and investors. In this regard, I cannot think of a better person in the universe than David Cohen. David literally intro’d us to all of our Series A VCs and several of our angels.  Founder Collective, First Round Capital, Jason Seats, Howard Lindzon, Tom Peterson – all of them are investors in GiveForward because of introductions that David made for us.  I often joke that what you say in your pitch meeting is less important than who introduces you.  But it’s not entirely untrue.

And it’s not only investors.  David has connected us to all sorts of people through his network.  One that stands out in particular to me was Rand Fishkin. A few years back I was struggling with how we could build a strong company culture.  I asked David who was the best person he knew who could help us build this strong culture.  A few hours later, David hooked me up with one of my business idols, Rand Fishkin, who was kind enough to jump on a call with me.  Rand gave me advice about values and culture that stuck with me ever since and had a profound impact on our company.

Friendship

In 2012, David invited us to present to the LPs of his Bullet Time Ventures Fund at their annual meeting in Boulder.  Only three or four of his portfolio companies presented and the other ones were bigger companies like Twilio and Mocavo. I remember it felt like a really big honor to be invited.  But more than anything what stood out to me about that trip was how David went out of his way to make me feel comfortable while visiting. He not only offered me a spot to crash on his couch and took me to my favorite Boulder eatery for lunch (Chipotle), he went out of his way to organize a meetup with a handful of local entrepreneurs so I would have people to hang out with at night.  That’s just the way David rolls.  He’s good people.  All the people in his universe are good people.  And that’s what makes him so awesome.   He cares about you as a person as much as he cares about you as a portfolio company. He’s not just an investor.  I consider him a friendvestor and someone I know I’ll be able to count on for the rest of my life.

Family 

whatsapp techstars

The Whatsapp Message I sent to David when I heard the news about the $150M new fund.

Last but not least, when David invested in GiveForward, he brought us into his family.  Not his biological family, but his Techstars family.  And it truly does feel like a family – a crazy one, but one that I’m extremely proud to be a part of.  Thank you, David, for bringing us in.

PS – also thankful for the introduction to Whatsapp before it was an $18B company, for helping my friend land a job in Portland, for connections to guys like Brad Feld and Micah Baldwin and for always being there when we’ve needed it. Fistbump

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One thought on “150M+1 New Reasons to be Thankful at Techstars

  1. Tom says:

    Great post. It gives me confidence to keep pushing the happiness culture at HappiLabs and not worry about losing interest from people for being weird or different.

    >

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