Ep 52: How Techstars provides real value through a strong network of entrepreneurs, mentors and investors

David Brown - TechstarsJoin me as I talk with Techstars founder David Brown. David is a serial entrepreneur and helped found Techstars along with David Cohen, Brad Feld and Jared Polis in 2006. The Co-founders wanted to leverage what they had learned in their previous startups to help entrepreneurs avoid those same mistakes. Techstars’ startup accelerator offers a three-month bootcamp and surrounds entrepreneurs with mentors to help you navigate everything from choosing the right product and testing it.

Today the accelerator runs 13 different programs in Boulder, New York and Boston among other locations. Nearly 500 companies have graduated from Techstars, 1,200 founders have been through the system, 1,200 mentors have participated and over 1,00 investors and hundreds of corporations have gotten involved.

Keypoint Takeaways: Behind the scenes at Techstars

As a serial entrepreneur, David was dabbling in startups back in his 20s back when it wasn’t cool to be an entrepreneur. He likens the ambition to being like your crazy uncle in the garage who’s an inventor and people think you’re just tinkering around with a hobby. Today startups are much cooler than when David started, and he sees Techstars as a way to help radically change how startups get built. The accelerator designed a comprehensive system to help get entrepreneurs on the right path.

David says his entrepreneurs are blown away by what they learn in a mere three months than a few years of business school or doing it on their own. But the accelerator doesn’t just help entrepreneurs get started, it also builds a network of people to help you along the way. The real product and concept behind Techstars is giving you access to mentors, investors, co-founders and corporations with actionable advice.

Currently, Techstars will put up $18,000 in a seed round towards its entrepreneurs’ companies. David explains a little more on how this works. “Think of it as $118,000. You’re correct that it’s $18,000 for the—and the value of the program for the 6%, but there’s also $100,000 convertible note that’s optional. So, its $118,000 of funding to participate in the program and how much equity you give up depends a little bit on how that note converts, but it’s somewhere in that 7 to 10% range if you take the note.

A convertible note is the notion that you’re going to take some money without having to value your company. You might be too early a stage, or you might not have an arm’s length transaction to be able to assess the valuation of the company. The note is $100,000, it converts at a later point in time when you take equity. At some point in the future when you raise a seed round or a series A and there’s an evaluation event, that note converts to equity based on the valuation that’s established later on.”

Putting your equity where their mouth is

Still not sure if Techstars is worth giving up the equity? Techstars is launching a new equity-backed program starting in January 2015 to help eliminate the risk of deciding whether or not Techstars is worth giving up your equity. He explains that some entrepreneurs are confused by the process and what it’s worth coming in, but are confident by the time they leave. By the end, their entrepreneurs fully see its value. If you don’t feel they’ve delivered on the value, entrepreneurs has the option to take their equity back, or choose how much they want to keep. David sees it as putting your equity where our mouth is.

TechStars’ 1%

TechStars only accepts about 1% of companies that apply for their program. They know there are lots of great startups among the 14,000 applications they receive, but with 13 programs accepting just 10 companies each, Techstars only accepts 130 companies each year. David tells us the founding team is what really matters and ideas aren’t the most important thing. The idea that passionate founders who care deeply about the problem they’re solving for their customers outshines someone who’s doing it to get rich quick or just because they feel they should tackle the idea.

Mentorship at Techstars

In every Techstars program, 80 to 100 mentors participate and contribute their expertise. There’s an emphasis to bring in local entrepreneurs, but remote mentors are also on hand through Google hangouts and video conferencing. I was curious what the motivation of the mentors to help out is, and it turns out most just want to give back and help out the next generation of successful entrepreneurs.

But there’s another reason. Mentors report that they also learn during the process of teaching. The mentors get feedback from the entrepreneurs they’re teaching on what’s relevant today and different ideas from a wide variety of entrepreneurs. It turns out to be a rewarding experience on both ends.

David sees the real value behind Techstars is the network you build with other companies going through the process at the same time, along with the mentors and investors you meet. Nearly 500 companies have graduated, 1,200 founders have been through the system, 1,200 mentors and over 1,00 investors and hundreds of corporations. That network can lead to millions of influencers who can provide valuable contacts and advice.

The value of multiple co-founders

Before Techstars was ever an idea, David teamed up with his co-founder David Cohen to run a successful  ambulance dispatch system as a B2B enterprise software company. They sold to ambulance services around the world and it soon grew to a $50 million business with 250 people. They exited at its peak before working on a second startup that proved a failure. They wanted to stretch themselves and focus on business to consumer with mobile software. The really wasn’t an app store eco-system yet and the iPhone didn’t exist yet.

Although the company was a failure and they got ahead of themselves, David thinks they could have started a few years later and seen better results. But they learned from that failure and got to see different facets of the startup life cycle. David says startups with multiple co-founders are more likely to be successful than single ones. He credits the sheer amount of work that needs to be done, and also the need for balance. Not everyone is good at all facets of running a business, and having multiple partners can help balance the scales.

David warns choosing a business partner is like choosing a life partner. That rings true.  Your business partner is the person you’re going to spend more time with than even your spouse and suffer through the emotional ups and downs of running a startup together. He compares the relationship to Batman and Robin who occasionally need to switch roles and defer to each other’s unique expertise to keep things moving along.

Resources from this episode:


Adam Wilson’s (former Techstars entrepreneur) interview with Growth Everywhere

KISSmetrics’ Founder Hiten Shah On How He Built 3 Successful Companies With The Same Partner

Books mentioned in this episode:

No Vision All Drive: Memoirs of an Entrepreneur –  The memoir of David Brown and David Cohen’s journey from their first company, Pinpoint Technologies, to its sale in 2003 and beyond.

[spoiler title=’Transcript’ collapse_link=’true’]

Eric: Hi everyone. Welcome to this week’s edition of Growth Everywhere where we interview entrepreneurs and bring you business and personal growth tips. Today we have David Brown from Techstars which is a startup accelerator based Boulder, Colorado. Is that correct David?

David: Yes, that sure is.

Eric: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background first and then we’ll go from there.

David: Sure. That’d be great. I’m a serial entrepreneur. I’ve been doing startups since I was in my 20’s back when it wasn’t cool to be an entrepreneur. It was a little bit like your crazy uncle in the garage who’s an inventor and people thought of it as a hobby. I participated in a number of different startups, a couple of really successful ones, one dismal failure, and the most recent of which is Techstars which I founded along with David Cohen and Brad Feld, and Jared Polis back in 2006.

We ran our non-growth [ph 00:01:12] in 2007. The idea of Techstars was to leverage some of our learnings into things we did right and wrong in our previous startups and help entrepreneurs not make the same mistakes again. Now that startups have really become cool, and those systems are growing to help startup communities, it’s a great opportunity to set up a system to radically change how startups get built.

Eric: Got it. Okay. So, let’s say I have a startup and I want to get into Tech Star. What are the main benefits for me?

David: Great question. Startup accelerators in general and Techstars, in particular, is certainly about very much accelerating your business. It’s a three month boot camp program. Those that go through it, many will say, “I learned more in those three months, and I did more for my startup in those three months than I learned or did in two years of business school.” or “…two or three years of doing it on my own” The reason for that is because we surround you with these fantastic mentors that help you understand and think through various aspects of your business, test out product market fit, make sure that you’re building a product that customers want, and doing that in a very short and intense time frame so that you can quickly move to an execution phase where you get the right product in the hands of customers.

You test out the ideas to make sure they love the product and ultimately craft a story that helps you gain investors so that you can then go have a growing business out in the real world, post accelerator. And of course, we can talk about that later, they’re really just beginning because the accelerator is just the first part of the startup’s journey. It’s really about building a network of people that can help you along the way and that’s really the product of Techstars; is providing, a network to give access to great mentors and investors, and other co-founders, advice, and corporations to the companies that go through the Techstars program.

Eric: Okay. My understanding is Techstars will put $18,000 in as a seed round, right? Can you go into the numbers a little bit? I know you guys take 6%. There’s a bunch of numbers involved.

David: Think of it as $118,000. You’re correct that it’s $18,000 for the—and the value of the program for the 6%, but there’s also $100,000 convertible note that’s optional. So, its $118,000 of funding to participate in the program and how much equity you give up depends a little bit on how that note converts, but it’s somewhere in that 7 to 10% range if you take the note.

Eric: Got it. Can you explain what a convertible note is to the audience?

David: A convertible note is the notion that you’re going to take some money without having to value your company. You might be too early a stage, or you might not have an arm’s length transaction to be able to assess the valuation of the company. The note is $100,000, it converts at a later point in time when you take equity. At some point in the future when you raise a seed round or a series A and there’s an evaluation event, that note converts to equity based on the valuation that’s established later on.

Eric: Got it. Perfect. I know you guys have some cool companies in your portfolio. What are some notable companies that you can tell the audience about?

David: We have lots of great companies. We have almost 500 now that have graduated from Techstars, so it’s a little bit hard to pick which ones to talk about, but certainly SendGrid is one of the very successful companies that have come out of the Boulder program several years ago. Digital Allusions [ph 00:05:15] is based in New York City and is doing great. You may have read recently that GrabCab that came out of the Boston program, was reportedly acquired for somewhere around $100 million. There have been a lot of pretty notable companies that have had great success or are on their way to future great success.

Eric: People that go through the Tech Star program do they typically start in Boulder and do they stay there or do they eventually move on to other areas? Can you talk about New York a little bit? Everyone, not everyone, but a lot of people are like, “Yeah, you should go to Silicon Valley.” What’s your take on that?

David: I think creating startups—my career, I’ve done a number of different startups and the place that I’ve done them all has been the city I’ve lived at the time. Techstars exists in Boulder because David, Brad, Jared, and I all live in Boulder. We’re of the belief that you can create a startup wherever you want, wherever you want to live. You don’t necessarily have to go to Silicon Valley in order to be successful. I mentioned Boulder, but of course, Techstars runs 13 different programs. The reason I mentioned New York and Boston is because we have a New York program, and we have a Boston program, and GrabCab, for instance, went through the Boston program.

Many companies apply to a Techstars program that—obviously we don’t have one everywhere, so if you live in a city where you don’t have a Techstars program you can apply to any of the programs that you want and then afterwards you can either stay or go, and there’s certainly a mix of graduates that do both, but there are also great examples of companies that—I can think of one based in Boulder, lives in Boulder, went to one of our New York programs because of the vertical focus of the edtech accelerator, participated in that program in New York, and then came back to Boulder. There’s all kinds of different combinations and our view is; whatever is best for the entrepreneur is okay.

Eric: Okay. Perfect. We talked a little bit about the equity backed guarantee before we started. Can you explain how that works?

David: Sure. The equity backed guarantee is a new program. It starts in January and it’s really about de-risking the process of deciding whether or not Techstars is worth giving up the equity. What we find is that there can be confusion if you don’t know much about Techstars, you wonder, “Geez, that’s an awful lot of equity. Should I do it?” We find that there’s confusion before the program begins as to whether or not, whether Techstars is going to provide that much value. That confusion that I described never exists, or almost never exists after the program is complete. When the program is completed then the entrepreneurs say, “Wow that was really worth it. That was fantastic.” So, what we’re doing is we’re moving the process of deciding whether it’s worth it from the beginning of the program to after demo day.

The way it works is we believe that the programs is worth 6%, we believe that all of the entrepreneurs that go through the program will feel that same way, but if we’re not able to deliver on that value, at the end of the program they have an option, everybody has an option to take their equity back. We want to know why, but essentially it’s no questions asked, meaning if they decide that they want it back, we’ll give it back to them and we don’t have to sign off. There doesn’t have to be a reason. You can take back as much as you want. If you feel that the program was only worth 3% then, by all means take 3% back.

Eric: Got it. That’s really smart. I think not only does it de-risks, but it also kind of helps for recruiting purposes as well because you’re doing something that’s unique there.

David: It is unique. I think it is certainly true that others in the industry don’t do it, but it’s really no different than what you want in your personal life from every vendor that you talk to, not an equity backed guarantee obviously, but a money backed guarantee. Wouldn’t it be great if your cable company said to you, “You don’t have to pay the ‘whatever’ a month if our service is down or it never works.” right? Because what that means is you believe in your product and you believe that you’re providing good value and for whatever reason that you don’t, you’re willing to stand behind that by putting your money where your mouth is. In our case we’re putting your equity where our mouth is.

Eric: Wonderful. I love it. One thing I notice is that—I’ve read that Techstars accepts fewer than 1% of companies that apply. Can you go into the application process and why that percentage is so low.

David: The percentage is low because there’s a lot of great startups out there that want to apply and we’d love to be able to accept all of the great startups that we see, but we currently have 13 programs that accept about 10 companies each, so we’re able to accept 130 companies a year, but there are 13 [or] 14,000 that apply every year and so, we wish we had the capacity to accept more. We’ve certainly been able to accept more over the years as we’ve extended the program, but there’s only room for so many.

Eric: Got it. Okay. What are characteristics of someone that does get accepted, something that’s common among the Tech Star portfolio of companies?

David: I think the founding team, this matters a lot, right? And I think that for many people there is an assumption that a great idea creates a great company. An idea, while important, may not be the only important thing. We sort of half-jokingly say that our criteria, our team team team marketing progress idea, and it’s this notion that passionate founders that care deeply about the problem that they’re solving and their customers, and each other are much more likely to go on and be successful than somebody that’s just doing it because, whatever, they think they should, or they think it’s a way to get rich quick, or whatever. The passion and the vision of the founding team matters a lot. Market is in the team team team market progress idea.

The six [ph 00:11:41] market is really about, are you chasing a big idea or are you chasing a little idea? Are you selling widget squirrels? [INAUDIBLE 00:11:49] many of these squirrels get these widgets, for example. But you want somebody who’s thinking about a market, that even if they’re not going after the whole market right way, that this thing could be big actually. Progress is about the ability to demonstrate that you can do something. If you and your co-founder have been around for five years talking about this great thing that you’re going to do, five years later you don’t have a web-site, you don’t have a prototype, you don’t have a beta customer, you don’t have anything at all, then maybe you don’t have what it takes to be able to make something happen. That idea is sort of on the list, but deliberately last in de-emphasizing the importance of it.

Eric: Got it. Okay. Cool. One other thing that sticks out to me, you guys like have a mentorship program. I looked through the site. You guys have people like the CEO Morvi Parker [ph 00:12:38], and also a bunch of other notable people as well. How does the mentorship program work?

David: In every new program there’s 80-100 mentors that participate. Many of those would be local. In Boulder it might be Boulder mentors, in New York it might be New York mentors, in Boston it might be Boston mentors, but there are also plenty of opportunities for remote mentorship as well, whether it’s through hangouts, or video conferencing, or some of the ventures travel into the programs or participate. You’re going to get a substantial amount of mentors from across the network. There are 1,200 of these mentors that participate. Some of them, as you describe, are big names, but many of them are very experienced seasoned entrepreneurs that understand an issue deeply and can really help a lot and maybe aren’t a household name, but have as much to provide as some of the big names that we have. I think it’s a mix in terms of who participates in each program.

Eric: Okay. Got it. That’s interesting. For the mentors, what’s the benefit to them in helping others?

David: The mentors, we don’t have a hard time. There’s lots of great mentors that want to participate in the program. Their motivation varies. It could be a lot of different reasons. I think the one that’s most commonly expressed is people want to give back. It impacts how Techstars got started because David and I both wanted to give back to up and coming entrepreneurs and help in some way. And I think a lot of our mentors who have had success want to help the next generation of entrepreneurs.

The thing that they find in doing that though, that’s really interesting, is that they learn as well. In the process of teaching the student becomes the teacher in many ways because for a mentor who’s maybe had success some 5, 10, 15 years ago, learning about what is relevant today, and different ideas from different entrepreneurs, and being around so many smart people is very, very rewarding to mentors because it really allows you to continue to learn about the state of the art, to be relevant. Then of course, other mentors might have individual reasons. Some might be investors so they have an opportunity for deal flow by meeting some of these companies in a more relaxed setting than the typical demo day.

There are also great examples where mentors become CEO’s of companies that maybe don’t have a business focused founder and some of our best companies hired their mentors after or during the program to either work their business or run the business to be able to help take it to the next level. There’s a whole slew of different reasons why mentors do what they do. Maybe some of those are the most common.

Eric: That’s really helpful. If someone does want to become a Tech Star mentor is there a—what’s the best way for them to go about doing that?

David: You certainly can put an email contact up on the general website, but the best way is to get in touch with the managing director of the local city, get to know them a little bit and ask them where they are in terms of a selection of mentors for that particular program.

Eric: Okay. Got it. We talked a little about the equity back guarantee. That’s definitely one unique thing that you guys are doing to bring in more attractive startups, companies. What’s one other unique thing that you guys are doing to bring in more deals?

David: I would say, we talked about briefly in the beginning, but I would say the power of the network. The fact that you’re not just going through an accelerator with the other companies that are going through it at the same time with you, with the mentors that you meet, with the investors that you meet, a demo day; all of that is true and it’s valuable, and what was the original purpose of Tech Star, but now that there’s 500 companies that have graduated, 1,200 founders have been through the system, a 1,200 mentors that I mentioned, over 1,000 investors that have been invested in individual Techstars companies, and hundreds of corporations that have participated meaningfully in Techstars either by running one of our corporate branded accelerators with us, or through a sponsorship or through business development activities; we have relationships with all of these different companies, mentors, investors, founders, corporations, etc., and that access is a real benefit to the entrepreneur.

You’re just sort of doing your own thing knowing the people that you know, that’s really a small subset of the access that you can have if you can tap into this network, which is 3,000 plus people strong now, and through that network you can easily reach millions of influencers whether you need a corporate contact at Yahoo, or contact at Sequoia, whatever you need in your business, there’s a really good chance, through our network we’re able to connect you, and I think that’s a big part of the value of Techstars.

Eric: Great. You, Brad, and I believe it was—who’s the third founder?

David Jared Polis and Dave Cohen.

Eric: And David Cohen. Got it. What’s one big struggle that you guys faced while growing Techstars?

David: Techstars started off as very much an experiment. We had no idea if it was going to work. The concept of a mentorship through an accelerator didn’t exist when we started, the concept of—in fact the word accelerator didn’t exist when we started. It was a crazy idea like any startup. We did a little experiment in Boulder, Colorado in the summer of 2007. It took us two or three years to tune the knobs, and get the model right, and figure out the right level of engagement for mentors, and what the curriculum should be, and what the right level of mentoring engagement should be, and how much time the companies should be spending on ‘this verses that’. I think as we perfected that over the years.

We held off from expansion while there was lots of inbound interest to sort of say, “Why don’t you a Techstars and all these different places…” We wanted to make sure of the quality of this [INAUDIBLE 00:19:12] and so, getting the model right was important and it was only after we got through those, you call them struggles, but I don’t know—it’s part of any start up, right? You sort of have to get the formula right. It was only after we did that that we sort of began to think about, okay, now we can go through the new challenge of how do we clothe ourselves and do as good a job in Boston, Seattle, Austin, London, etc. as we’ve been able to do. How do we replicate that and do as good a job in other locations as what we did originally.

Eric: I want to backtrack a little bit. You talked a little bit in the beginning; you’re a serial entrepreneur. You talk about that one dismal failure. Can you explain that dismal failure and what you learned from it?

David: Yeah it’s interesting. David Cohen and I are longtime business partners. We’ve done all these startups together, the two of us. Our first startup was very successful and it was an ambulance dispatch system, B to B enterprise software, selling to ambulance services around the country, and eventually around the world. It was very successful. It grew into a $50 million business with 250 people. We exited and move on and we decided to do a second startup. That’s the failure. Somehow through the success of the first startup we felt like, “Hey, we know what we’re doing here in startup land. Let’s challenge ourselves. Let’s do something almost deliberately completely different.

So, whereas the first company was business to business, let’s do business to consumer. Whereas the first company was enterprise software installed in the back office, let’s do mobile software.” We created an app that runs on a cell phone that, I think ForceWare, but this is back in 2004 when there was no ability to—there’s no app store eco-system. The iPhone didn’t exist. I think maybe we let our egos get ahead of ourselves. We figured out what we thought we knew what we were doing. We learned a lot of great lessons in that failure and we did a lot of things wrong. But we did a lot of things right as well, then ultimately the product was, in many ways, ahead of its time. If we had started just a couple of years later I think it could have been a break out success, but I’m grateful for the experience of having sort of felt what if feels like on the other side of the success/failure continuum.

Eric: So it sounds like more of a timing thing than anything.

David:             Yeah, you could argue it’s a timing thing. I think, certainly it’s easy to say that we were ahead of our time, but we made some wrong strategic decisions in doing that. For instance, we didn’t control the distribution of our product. We were at the beck and call of these phone carriers that we stalled on their decks [ph 00:22:23] that may or may not approve any individual app, and mostly said no, unlike today. We should have been able to recognize that early on. I don’t chalk it up to bad luck or bad timing. I chalk it up to poor decisions on our part that we could learn from and do better next time.

Eric: Fair enough. You talked about you and David Cohen being long-time business partners. Not a lot of people talk about being business partners through a lot of different experiences. Can you share your take on that?

David: It’s a great question and actually it’s one that we’ve been pondering a lot lately because we believe that startups are more likely successful with multiple co-founders. Single co-founders have a hard time doing everything on their own. One, because of the sheer amount of work that needs to be done, but also because of the need to balance out; nobody’s good at everything so you can balance out with another co-founder. Some people are good and one thing and maybe your co-founder’s helpful in a way that you’re not. The third thing is it’s also helpful to have somebody to rely on. You have your normal ups and downs. Doing a startup is really, really hard and there’s high highs and low lows, and maybe if you’re having a low low it’s really great to have a co-founder that’s not as low as you are, and knows you really well, and can help bring you up when you’re down.

So, I think that multiple co-founders, more than one founder, is a good thing. But, if you’re going to have more than one, than it’s really important, and this is your question, to sort of think about who you’re going to be starting the company with, because in many ways it’s like choosing a life partner. This is somebody that you’re going to spend more time with, in many cases, than your spouse, and you’re going to go through as many emotional ups and downs as with your significant other. Figuring out how to build a solid foundation of trust is really important rather than just, “This guy seems like he’s a good coder and I’m a good business guy, so let’s jump in together and create a company.”

So, investing time in building a relationship with a co-founder so that you can really get to know each other is really, really important, I think, to ultimate success. It’s probably one of the biggest reasons why startups fail, is because co-founder issues aren’t addressed honestly and early in the relationship and they’re allowed to fester and that leads to founder breakups and that’s never great for a startup.

Eric: Got it. It’s funny because one of our other guests on this show, Hiten Shah, he’s had the same partner for a while too and he says it’s almost like Batman and Robin sometimes. Sometimes you’re Batman the other guy’s Robin. Sometimes it’s reversed. Is it more like that?

David: Very much so. I describe it as yin and yang, right and who’s yin and who’s yang can flip sometimes, but really, you talk about Batman and Robin and switching roles. But I think a long relationship with a co-founder, you get to know what they’re good at and what you’re good at, or where you’re weak and they’re strong. So, that when there’s a decision to be made and you’re at opposite sides of the decision you sort of both instinctively know that “This is your area of competency so I’m going to give you my view, but I’m going to defer to your decision because I trust you more than I trust me in this area.” And then other times, on other decisions it’s the reverse. That’s the yin and yang of switching. But it’s not that I’m doing sales today and you’re doing technical today and then we’re going to switch roles. It’s not like that.

Eric: Yes. Totally makes sense. And thanks for clarifying there. One question I’ve always had; it always seems like the entrepreneurs, much like yourself, it seems like that the progression is naturally to go into investing after entrepreneurship. Is that how it is usually?

David: I think that’s true for a lot of entrepreneurs and certainly Techstars is a vehicle in which we’re able to invest in some of the best startups that are up and coming, but I think there are many entrepreneurs that have no interest in investing or the results of an earlier exit into their next startup and do something else. I think it’s common, but it’s not unique, or it’s not the only path.

Eric: Perfect. Wrapping it up here a few more questions. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to your 25 year old self?

David: To my 25 year old self? As a 25 year old I did not surround myself with a lot of mentors. Maybe I had one, which was a boss at the time, but I didn’t recognize that there was so much to be learned from the experience of others. Even if you’re doing your startup, I did my first startup in my 20’s so I was in that range, even if there’s unique elements of your startup, you have a different product, different customers, there’s so much in common with others that if I had spent more time building deep relationships with people that had more experience than me, or even just had an outsiders view, I think I would have been able to be more successful faster.

Eric: Got it. So the experiences will help you accelerate, is what you’re saying?

David: Yes. That’s right.

Eric: Cool. What’s one productivity hack you can share with the audience?

David: Productivity hack. Personal productivity hack?

Eric: Could be anything.

David: Be great at email. I think it’s one of my core competencies. If anybody sends me an email I’ll respond. I don’t drop stuff. And that’s hard because you have to be organized and you have to figure out how to prioritize your day, and you have to make sure that you’re leaving enough time for strategic issues. I don’t guarantee I’ll answer within five minutes, but I know that I’m organized enough that if somebody asks something of me, I’ll respond and they don’t have to follow up.

Eric: Got it. Is there any specific tactic that you can share there such as; you blocking off a specific time to check emails, or anything like that?

David: Yes. My own personal—I think everybody has different techniques. My personal goal is to get to zero at least once every single day. That’s not always possible. I get a ton of inbound email, but I think making sure that you do focus on getting to everybody in a relatively timely fashion and shrinking it down to zero everyday means you get yourself caught up and you can follow up behind again, is just sort of my technique. And my way of doing that is working oldest to newest. Just start with the oldest email in your inbox and work your way to the newest so that you’re not constantly pouncing on whatever’s new and ignoring the thing that’s been sitting there for a month.

Eric: I hear you on that.

David: That’s what I do, but everybody has a different system.

Eric: Totally. Final question. What’s one must read book you recommend to the audience?

David: One must read book. I’d probably be remiss if I didn’t mention my own that I just re-released. I don’t know if it’s the most must read, but the story of my first startup is something I wrote about 10 years ago, but then recently just re-released through FG Press and it takes you through the story of not only the successful startup, which was in the original book, but the failed startup which happened after, all the way through the founding of Techstars.

Eric: Got it. Perfect. I’ll have to check that out. Maybe we can arrange a book for the audience as well or something like that. But; David Brown from Techstars, everyone. Thanks for being on the show. Hope to have you again sometime soon.

David: Thank you so much for having me.




About Eric Siu

Eric Siu (@ericosiu) is the CEO at Single Grain, a digital marketing agency that focuses on paid advertising and content marketing. He contributes regularly to Entrepreneur Magazine, Fast Company, Forbes and more.

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