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Mentor: Phin Barnes, Principal at First Round Capital
TechStars Program: New York City

How did you first get involved with TechStars?
I was part of opening the First Round Capital office in New York and it has a long-term relationship with TechStars. I originally mentored in Boulder and unofficially at Boston.

Awesome. Are you from New York originally?
I’m originally from Massachusetts, a New England sports fan living in New York.

Why is mentoring valuable to you?
As an investor, a lot of times when you’re meeting a company that you haven’t made an investment in and you’re evaluating them, TechStars does an amazing job of matching people that would be helpful to one another. The TechStars approach of being open and pairing founders with fantastic mentors that have relevant experience was really rewarding. We were able to jump right in during the NYC program. It feels like being a board member already. The opportunity to be part of building more companies is an easy way to give back to the community.

Who were some of the recent founders you worked with closely?
Contently, wantworthy, and piictu.

When you’re in a mentoring session, what do you bring to the table?
My whole background is really in building brands, consumer-facing stuff. Now we have consumerization of everything. One thing I like to ask is, “Here’s the consumer, how are you going to deliver a wow experience?” and also helping them think through design aesthetic and brand voice decisions.

Speaking of voice, how important is it for companies to build an online footprint in the early stages?
Get something online where you can gather feedback from the market. You need to be a founder that wants to listen and has the clarity of vision to represent what you’re thinking. The ideas that you put out at first? Lots of people have that idea. Get feedback, it’s the quality of your listening skills. What are the key nuggets after alpha beta tests? Incorporate them and push them out.

How should founders prioritize during the week prior to pitching?
Practice, practice, practice. Obviously! Demo Day comes on a certain day and you know it when you come into the TechStars program. Figure out the best story that they can tell, the “napkin sketch” so to speak. They should be able to describe what their business is in one sentence. Often times people will try to talk about all of the great things they have done through all of the weeks in TechStars and it means that the mission of the business can get lost. Just say, “here’s the business we’re building and here is what we do.” It’s easy to lose sight of this when optimizing and tweaking their pitch. Remember why they came to TechStars and the rest will fall into place.

Most important question: what’s your favorite hip hop album?
-laughs- There’s so many! Right now I’m listening to Blackroc, it’s actually Black Keys and a bunch of New York guys that got together to collaborate.

Phin blogs at Sneakerhead VC about tech and entrepreneurship (oh, and sneakers kicks).


Clare Tischer
Social Media and Content Manager, Techstars