David Cohen and Brad Feld muse on the terrific guests they’ve talked to so far and tease some new guests, announcements, and books coming soon.
Back in June 2019, David Cohen and Brad Feld looked back at their first six episodes of the Give First podcast, and decided that while they were pretty pleased, they’d probably need to do about 20-30 to really hit their stride.
Seven months later, they’ve passed number 20, so they’re taking another moment to check in. Listen for reflections from these persistent podcast hosts, plus reminiscences on highlights from recent episodes with Josh Hix, Rajat Bhargava, Elizabeth Kraus, Jason Mendelson, Jannet Bannister, Heidi Roizen, Marc Nager & Dave Mayer, John China, Sherri Hammons, and Rebecca Lovell — as well as Harry Stebbings, host of the Twenty Minute VC, who enjoyed his first experience on “the other side of the microphone” as David’s guest.
Brad teases a big new move for Techstars — the announcement, just last week, of Techstars Press — and talks about all the books he’s writing. Most of all, David and Brad want to hear what you think. Should the episodes be longer? Shorter? You can email them your feedback on the Give First podcast at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Plated Co-founder Josh Hix shares his startup wisdom with student entrepreneurs in the first live episode of Give First. Listen for insights about how this self-described introvert learned to become an inspiring leader. Plus: when not to take a big valuation.
Plated Co-founder Josh Hix knows about leading a growing team. He remembers taking the company through Techstars New York City in 2013, coming into the program with about seven people, and leaving with closer to 37. The company was up to 1300 employees by the time it sold to Albertsons for a reported $200 million in 2017.
Leadership was a skill Josh had to learn. “I have always been an introverted engineer,” he says. He was comfortable with the management aspects of leading the company, but he came to realize that this wasn’t enough. “The leadership part is inspiring people and helping them connect to the mission at an emotional level,” Josh says. This was the part he had to learn, and the process wasn’t always easy: “As a geeky engineer, it feels irrational. But sometimes people need that. It was something that I had to learn to value and then learn to do.”
Listen for more about how Josh grew into his role as a leader, plus a fascinating conversation between Josh and David Cohen about valuations and VCs.
This live episode of Give First was recorded at LaunchPad Propel, a conference for student entrepreneurs hosted by Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars.
Listen for Josh’s take on…
Startup near death experiences:
“Everybody has challenges. I think that’s important. If anybody tells you that their startup didn’t have at least a few near death experiences, they’re probably lying — or it just hasn’t happened yet.”
What happens without mentorship:
Josh on what went wrong with an earlier company: “The complete lack of mentorship or of people that could be mentors was a huge reason that my company never got huge.”
You don’t have to take that valuation:
“Just because somebody offers you an insane valuation doesn’t mean you should take it. You probably shouldn’t take it. It comes with consequences down the road.”
Bonus! David Cohen’s advice to a student entrepreneur about how to pitch to VCs:
David Cohen: “I think the most important thing is to be yourself and be who you are as an entrepreneur. Make sure you have a real story and real belief around how you can become a sustainable business and not just be dependent on that capital.”
Why does Rajat Bhargava, co-founder and CEO of JumpCloud, keep starting businesses? How does JumpCloud, a B2B company, Give First? What does their 30 years of friendship mean to Rajat and Give First co-host Brad Feld? Listen for answers to these questions—and more.
Rajat Bhargava, CEO of JumpCloud, has started a lot of companies—the first, NetGenesis, while he was still a student at MIT. And his friendship with Give First co-host Brad Feld goes right back to that initial foray into entrepreneurship.
Rajat just keeps starting companies, and Giving First—including through his current B2B company, JumpCloud. How does a B2B company Give First? Rajat believe that every B2B can ask itself this question, and come up with practical ways to help anyone, especially entrepreneurs.
How B2C companies can Give First is another question. And both Rajat and Brad agree that those that offer “free” services in exchange for user data is definitely not Giving First—especially when many users don’t fully understand the transactional nature of the exchange.
Listen for more of Rajat and Brad’s thoughts on the complexities of Giving First as a company, as well as Brad’s earliest memory of the world wide web, and a thoughtful exchange where the two men ponder how their friendship has lasted so long, even through difficult times.
Listen for Rajat’s take on…
Why Rajat just keeps starting companies:
“It’s like a puzzle for me. There are these hazy pictures or puzzle pieces spread out and I love putting them together in a way that makes sense. JumpCloud is a great example of that.”
What Give First does and doesn’t mean for B2C:
“In a B2B situation there’s not this monetization of data in the same way as there is on the consumer side. … The hitch is really to give first without the expectation of receiving anything in return. I’d say if it’s a consumer model where you’re going to monetize the data, then you haven’t really Given First. You’re making a trade and you should be honest about what you’re doing there.”
The experience of building a business on the early world wide web:
“The business was basically trying to sort through how do we take advantage of this thing called the world wide web, which was super brand new at the time. I mean, it came out, if I remember right, October of 93 is when the first browser hit. I could be off by a month or two, but it was in that zone. And we started our business in December ‘93 or January ‘94. We had no idea what we were going to do, but we said, this thing that’s the web is going to change stuff. Why don’t we just try and figure out how do we build sites or how do we do commerce?”
Companies, people, and resources mentioned in this podcast:
- Roger Federer
- Will Herman
- NetGenesis acquired by SPSS Inc.
- Play Bigger
- The Startup Playbook by Rajat Bhargava and Will Herman
As co-founder and Chief Investment Officer of MergeLane, Elizabeth Kraus invests in women-led startups and venture funds. And she hopes to one day make MergeLane obsolete—by achieving gender parity in entrepreneurship and VC.
MergeLane, a VC fund that invests in startups and venture funds with at least one female leader, has an unusual aspiration, written in bold on its website: “We want to make MergeLane obsolete.”
As co-founder and Chief Investment Officer of MergeLane, Elizabeth Kraus looks forward to a future when MergeLane will no longer be needed, because we will have achieved gender parity. She’s seen progress in the right direction over her career.
When Elizabeth first started out as an angel investor, David Cohen—Techstars co-founder and Give First co-host—invited her to the Seed Angel Forum, which brings together local startup investors to see deals from all over the country. Elizabeth recalls: “I was 29 at the time. I was the only woman in the room, and I remember feeling so intimidated.”
Fortunately, Elizabeth didn’t stay intimidated for long. And while the percentages are still scandalously low, the number of women entrepreneurs and VCs continues to grow. Elizabeth and MergeLane are one reason for this change.
Listen for Elizabeth’s take on…
Her first meeting of the Angel Seed Forum:
“I was 29 at the time. I was the only woman in the room, and I remember feeling so intimidated. But I quickly figured out I could leverage the wisdom of all those more experienced investors by simply finding creative ways to be helpful to them.”
The origins of MergeLane:
“Sue Heilbronner approached me and said, ‘I’ve got this idea, I want to start a venture fund to invest in women.’ And I originally told her that I had absolutely no interest in that because I’ve never felt limited by my gender, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to narrow my focus only to women. But Sue is a former federal prosecutor, and she’s quite persuasive. She said, ‘You know, I really think you should take a second look at the data and talk to the people you’ve been investing with and see what they think about the idea.’ The data was very clear that gender diversity did increase returns. Since starting MergeLane, I and I have now met thousands of people who have told me their stories of why they believe that investing in women makes good business sense.”
What VC needs now:
“We have this army of people who are willing to Give First to entrepreneurs, which is incredible. And I think it’s much easier today for entrepreneurs to find answers to their questions. There’s a lot more content than there used to be, and there’s also a lot more capital in the ecosystem. One of the things that I’ve recently realized is that every question that an entrepreneur might have is pretty Google-able these days. That’s not the case for venture capital funds. That’s one thing that I’m interested in working on now: we don’t have the same resources for venture capital fund managers as we have for entrepreneurs.”
What is Give First?
“To be honest, at first Give First seemed a little counterintuitive to me, that I would volunteer my time to help a for-profit businesses achieve a greater return. However, I remember Nicole Glaros saying to me that she was hesitant as well, and that David Cohen kept saying, ‘Just trust me, this is going to come back to you in spades.’ And that was her experience and that has 100% been my experience as well.”
David and Brad’s superpower:
“Being able to give really hard to hear feedback from a place of love.”
Companies, people, and resources mentioned in this podcast:
- Jermey Bloom
- Fund 81
- Fund 81 Podcast: “Mental Heath in Venture Capital with Brad Feld”
- Nicole Glaros
- Sue Heilbronner
- Run This World Podcast
- Seed Angel Forum
- Vail Women Elect
Jason Mendelson, Co-founder of Foundry Group, has spent over 15 years explaining how venture deals really work. From blog posts to a book—Venture Deals is now in its 4th edition!—to a free online course, Jason and co-author Brad Feld are determined to Give First by demystifying VC.
Jason Mendelson, co-founder of Foundry Group, can explain what matters in negotiations between entrepreneurs and VCs in just two words:
Control and Economics.
It takes enormous expertise to make something complicated really simple, and these bare two words speak to Jason’s profound understanding of venture deals and how they work, for the entrepreneur, the investor, and the lawyers. In addition to being a VC and a company founder himself, Jason has also been a lawyer, a software engineer, and a professional drummer.
Control and economics mean that, in the hundreds of pages of legal documents around an investment, the two things that really matter are control of the company and economic return from the company. Jason and his Venture Deals co-author, Brad Feld, coined this paradigm—and Jason is very proud that it has been used, and stolen, widely.
This is what Jason is most interested in: sharing information. He loves making complex things, like the legal negotiations around VC deals, simple. He works hard to pry open the black box of VC and show everyone how deals get made, and what aspects are most important to the parties involved, whether you’re a startup founder seeking funding, an aspiring VC, or a lawyer diving into the world of venture deals.
Jason has been on this path for over 15 years now. He and Brad started blogging on the subject in 2005, and their book Venture Deals first came out in 2011. The fourth edition just published, and Jason explains why they’ve needed every single edition—he cites both better explanations and better writing. Jason and Brad also lead the free and popular online course, Venture Deals.
Listen for Jason’s insights into the evolution of venture deals, how teaching helps him learn, and, best of all, for the story of a board meeting during which all questions had to be answered with Hall and Oates song titles. See? The professional drummer bit really does connect. To listen on all platforms, choose your favorite here.
Listen for Jason’s take on…
The response to the first edition of Venture Deals:
“We immediately got hate letters from a ton of lawyers and VCs, and that’s when we knew we had done it right.”
What Venture Deals includes:
“Everything that Brad and I know about raising around of venture capital financing, and it’s slanted toward the entrepreneur.”
Why Jason and Brad wrote Venture Deals:
“So we really wanted to give this to the community and say, ‘Hey, here are all the secrets.’ Now all the bad people in ecosystem, they can just go away.”
Companies, people, and resources mentioned in this podcast:
- Defy Ventures
- Ljubljana, Slovenia
- John Stewart
- Venture Deals – free online course
- Venture Deals – 4th edition of the book
- Fred Wilson
Canadian VC Janet Bannister, a partner at Real Ventures, loves investing in “conscious founders” who are trying to make the world a better place. Her style of “human-centered investing” prioritizes people and relationships, and investing in smart, self-aware, teachable entrepreneurs.
Today, Janet Bannister is a Partner at Real Ventures, but when Founding Partners John Stokes and Jean-Sebastien Cournoyer first approached her about joining to give the firm a presence in Toronto, Janet was nonplussed. “Why would I go into Venture Capital?” she asked. “Isn’t Venture Capital all about grinding the entrepreneurs down?”
But she listened, and she learned about what VC could be, when it was done better, seeing “entrepreneurs as the heroes, and as people who can be supported and helped” with a mission that involves “helping the next generation of entrepreneurs and building entrepreneurial ecosystems.”
Now she’s all in, with an approach that she calls “human centered investing.” Like Techstars, Janet believes that team is paramount in whether a startup will succeed or not. “What exactly is a great founder, what exactly is a great team? In my mind, in my experience, it’s not about years of experience. It’s not about whether they’ve worked in the industry or not,” Janet said. “It’s much more about how they are as a person and how they are as a leader.”
When she’s investing, she looks for the “conscious founder.” Meaning: “Are they self-aware? Are they transparent? Are they aware of where they need to improve? Are they continually trying to improve and be open to feedback?”
Most of all, Janet is thrilled to be working with entrepreneurs who are trying to make the world a better place. “I love working with entrepreneurs. I love their passion, their determination, the fact that they are going all in on something that they believe in,” she said. “If I can be in a place and have a role where my job revolves around helping entrepreneurs and doing so in a consulting, advising, mentoring capacity, where really my mandate is to help entrepreneurs be more successful—What could be better?”
Listen for Janet’s hints for how she manages to talk with (almost) everybody, and how she stays healthy while also working so very hard.
Listen for Janet’s take on…
The importance of physical fitness:
“I was a competitive athlete growing up. I was a long distance runner. Then I got into triathlons, and I was on the national triathlon team for three years. I still get up between 4:30 and 5:00 every morning to exercise for an hour or so. And that gives me a lot of energy. I think that being physically fit is incredibly important for everybody, but particularly for entrepreneurs.”
“I try for eight hours of sleep every night and then getting up early and exercising. Those blocks are not moveable. They’re not flexible, they’re not negotiable. It’s just something that I do.”
How Janet schedules her time:
“I think I’m very efficient. My schedule is generally booked back to back. I have a 14 year old son, often I’ll drop him off at school and then I have a call booked in my car from the time I’m driving down to the office. And then from when I get into the office to when I leave, I’m back to back. Then on the way home I usually have a call booked. I don’t know if that is best practice, but it’s what I do to try to fit things in.”
“It’s something that I do struggle with. I try to make time for everybody, but at the same time I’m wrestling with, okay, at some point I need to say No because I need to prioritize the companies that we have invested in and make sure that I have enough time to spend with them and to think deeply about their businesses.”
How Janet Gives First:
“What helps me is, when I give, I never expect anything back. I don’t even expect a thank you.”
“My attitude is, I just give because I sincerely care about people and I want to help them. I want to see other people succeed and I don’t expect anything back. And I think, for me anyway, that helps my peace of mind, because I genuinely get a huge amount of satisfaction from helping other people. If I can help people, that is amazing.”
“I learn from every interaction. I think that so much of the venture business, of entrepreneurship, of building a business—It’s all about making connections. And I find that I learn from every interaction—and then I make connections.”
“I think that every time you meet somebody, if you’re open and curious, you’re going to learn something, and everything that you learn can somehow be applied to make you better in your next meeting.”
Companies, people, and resources mentioned in this podcast:
- The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership: A New Paradigm for Sustainable Success, by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Klemp
- Abraham Lincoln
- Parkinson’s Foundation
- Real Ventures
- John Stokes
- University of Waterloo
- Upside Foundation
“The true path to happiness is to have meaningful work and meaningful relationships,” Heidi Rozen says. She brings these two elements together as a VC working with entrepreneurs who are changing the world for the better. Her humane take on being a “mentor capitalist” is deeply Give First.
Heidi Roizen has called herself a recovering entrepreneur. Wendy Lea has called Heidi “the epitome of Give First.” Both of these are true, and go a long way toward describing the deeply humane perspective on the role of venture capital that Heidi brings to her current role as a partner at Threshold Ventures.
Heidi was an entrepreneur herself for 14 years before exploring other career options (VP of Worldwide Developer Relations at Apple, for example) and eventually settling in as a venture capitalist—or “mentor capitalist,” as she sometimes says, in a nod to the profound importance of mentorship in the role.
Heidi likes to joke that “entrepreneurs should be really careful about picking their venture partners, because the average VC relationship lasts longer than the average American marriage, and it’s probably easier to get rid of your spouse than it is to get rid of your venture capitalists.” There’s truth hidden in that joke: the VC-entrepreneurship relationship is a human relationship, not just a financial one. Heidi takes the human side just as seriously as the financial. She wants success in all areas, and sees how thoroughly the two are entwined.
For Heidi, “the true path to happiness is to have meaningful work and meaningful relationships.” She’s achieving this by working with amazing startups that are making the world a better place, and helping to make them better companies.
That sounds like Give First to us.
Listen for Heidi’s fantastic insights about how life and work mesh—and listen all the way through for stories about Heidi’s epic underground casbah from the dot com boom and why one of Heidi’s kids calls Brad Feld “toenail boy.”
Listen for Heidi’s take on…
The true path to happiness:
“The true path to happiness is to have meaningful work and meaningful relationships. And I think one of the beauties of the entrepreneurial environment that we live in is very often you form your meaningful relationships through doing meaningful work together.”
“I go into life thinking I’m about building relationships. I’m not about transactions, I’m not about win or lose or this is what am I going to get out of this deal. I’m about, you are a fellow traveler in life that I have met and if I can build a relationship with you, out of that will come good things. Or if not, not. But I’m always trying to optimize for the relationship over the transaction.”
“I’m such a huge believer in serendipity or what I call controlled randomness, right? The idea that you don’t necessarily know when you go into something what you’re going to get out of it. But if you position yourself in a place where you’re going to find other people that are doing interesting things, it’s likely that something good will come out of that. If you just put yourself in the mix and say, ‘I’m here to be helpful, what can I do?’”
“Just remember, we’re all people first. We’re our jobs second.”
The relationship between entrepreneurs and VCs:
“I only succeed if the company succeeds, and I really enjoy that alignment. I also really enjoy the idea that I get to be a part of a team for a long period of time.”
“I often joke that entrepreneurs should be really careful about picking their venture partners because the average VC relationship lasts longer than the average American marriage, and it’s probably easier to get rid of your spouse than it is to get rid of your venture capitalists. So both parties should go into this with their eyes wide open.”
“I say this to my entrepreneurs a lot, there are things you are doing that no one’s ever done before and those should be hard. There are things you’re doing that other people have done before. And those should be easy. You know, it should not be hard to design compensation schemes. It should be not difficult to put your financial operations in order. Those are all places where we can use best practices and stand on the shoulders of others to create the best situation we can.”
Companies, people, and resources mentioned in this podcast:
- Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, by James Clear
- Case Study: Heidi Roizen
- Memphis Meats
- Stan Meresman
- National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT)
- Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA
- San Francisco SPCA
- Tina Seelig
- There There, by Tommy Orange
You don’t have to be in Silicon Valley to start a successful company. Marc Nager, Co-founder of Startup Weekend, and Dave Mayer, Founder of Aspen Entrepreneurs, are pros at building ‘non-urban’ startup communities. Listen for insights into how Give First helped them grow startup ecosystems in Telluride, in Aspen, and beyond.
Too many people believe that you have to be in Silicon Valley—or some similarly hyped tech-obsessed locale—to be an entrepreneur. Techstars knows this isn’t true: successful entrepreneurship can happen anywhere.
Marc Nager and Dave Mayer are living proof.
Marc is the Co-founder of Startup Weekend, the former CEO of UP Global before it was acquired by Techstars, and Techstars Chief Community Officer after the acquisition. He is on a mission to bring entrepreneurship to rural America.
Dave is the Founder and CEO at Technical Integrity and Massive Impact and the Founder of Aspen Entrepreneurs, and an active and passionate member of the Colorado startup community.
Both are hugely active in their local startup communities, Marc in Telluride, CO and Dave in Carbondale, CO outside of Aspen, and both see how entrepreneurship can thrive in these relatively small places—and what entrepreneurship can bring to them to make them economically sustainable for the long term.
Listen to hear Marc and Dave talk with Brad Feld—who literally wrote the book on Startup Communities—for a deeply thoughtful exploration of the how and why of entrepreneurship in a ‘non-urban’ environment.
Listen for Marc’s and Dave’s take on…
Marc and Dave on the economic benefits—and potential—of entrepreneurship in a small town:
Marc: “I fundamentally believe entrepreneurship is the most powerful force in advancing human welfare.”
Marc: “We can look at Telluride as a microcosm for what’s happening in the rest of the country through the lens of economic development, and see how can entrepreneurship can play a massive part in a vision for creating a more sustainable economy over the long term.”
Marc: “You find some incredibly accomplished people in these small towns. Likely they’re the people who grew up here who went off, had careers, and came back, and they’re looking to participate in different ways, as entrepreneurs or as investors. You end up with a vast resource of this intellectual and financial and network capital in these small towns.”
Dave: “For me it’s about quality of life, right? Broadband means that people can work from wherever they want now. All you need is a laptop and a great internet connection and a great idea—and obviously an ability to execute—and the ability to build a great team around you.”
Dave: “The word entrepreneur, the word startup—some people worry that we’re going to attract a Facebook to some 50,000 person valley and it’s going to change everything. That’s not really the goal, right? It’s getting five or 10, $10 to $20 million companies that can create real jobs for people and give them great health care. Those people can raise their kids here, live the life that they’ve dreamed of, and not be forced out by these rising prices around Aspen or Telluride.”
Marc and Dave on the new definition of success:
Marc: “The new American dream isn’t getting a fancy job and climbing the corporate ladder. It’s about living and working where you want—and having meaningful work.”
Dave: “Everybody has their own definition of success. And if that means working out of a coffee shop and hitting a powder day and then working with your friends and on something that you’ve been dreaming about forever, then that’s an easy one. That’s an easy success.”
Companies, people, and resources mentioned in this podcast:
- Techstars Startup Weekend
- Stephanie Copeland
- Greater Colorado Venture Fund
- Telluride Venture Fund
- Jesse Johnson
- Justin Lewis
- Mercury Payment Systems
- Roaring Fork Technologists
- Hunter S. Thompson
- Telluride Venture Accelerator
- Aspen Entrepreneurs
- Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Startup World (12016 Boulder Startup Week)
- Technical Integrity
Harry Stebbings, founder of the Twenty Minute VC podcast and Stride.VC, spends time every day connecting with each of his new followers on social media. He ends every email with “How can I help you?” Listen for more on how he built his podcast to over five million downloads per month, and how he Gives First every day.
Stride.VC founder Harry Stebbings is probably best known for his podcast, The Twenty Minute VC, the world’s largest media asset in venture, with over 5 million downloads per month. He’s talked with amazing Venture Capitalists and entrepreneurs and made over 2,800 shows, and he spends 45 minutes every day DMing each one of his new followers on Twitter in order to build a network with a truly human touch.
When he was 13, Harry watched “The Social Network,” the movie about Facebook’s growth, and it inspired him to become an entrepreneur and investor. At 18, he set up the Twenty Minute VC. With $50 in the bank, he literally stood at a crossroads and spent $10 on the domain and $20 on a microphone: “So I’d spent, you know, 60% of my net worth on this podcast in the space of 10 minutes. And it made me do it. It was the forcing function and that was the start.”
Harry learned about giving first from David and Brad as well. “I don’t understand how you guys do it. You guys were always responsive, kind, giving of advice,” he said, thanking David for his support as he was just starting out. “It’s just incredible and blows my mind that with everything that you have going, you’ve have the ability to carve out the mental discipline and the rigor to really engage and Give First.
David immediately returned the compliment: “When I follow the pattern of your show and talk to people that know you, almost everyone said that that’s who you are and they don’t understand how you do that. So however you do it, maybe it’s how we do it. And maybe it’s just a mindset, right?”
Give First truly is a mindset.
Listen for Harry’s take on…
The kinds of companies Harry likes best to work with:
“I love working with two to 10 people, forming teams, early product.”
“The best companies fundamentally own their lines of distribution.”
“I’ve sometimes found that the best VC is or less motivated by [money] and more motivated by just helping.”
“Money is fantastic in many ways. But it’s the outcome of the work that I do.”
How Harry maintains the human relationships in his network as it grows:
“Get off email. … A lot of what I’ve done actually is moved a lot of the relationships that were more professional relationships and transitioned them into friendships, through moving platforms: from going to Instagram, to going to WhatsApp, Snapchat, whatever that platform may be. But you just get so much more depth in the relationship through the less formal rigid platform.”
“In terms of the expanded network and how you deal with it, you’ve got to commit to it. If you’re going to pursue this strategy—it’s not a nice word to say, ‘strategy’—but if you’re going to see this as the way that you want to work, which is how I want to work, people-centric, human-centric, and personality based, then that is part of your workflow. You spend less time on email, you spend less time doing other things and you have to commit yourself to it. Is it easy? No, it’s insanely hard. I spend 45 minutes every night DMing every new single follow on Twitter, thanking them for following me. I’ll mention something about the city that they’re in, whether it’s I’ve been to it, I’d love to go to it, I’d love to run through it. I hear they’ve got great mojitos, monuments, whatever that may be. And build a relationship with them. The community is incredible.”
Companies, people, and resources mentioned in this podcast:
- The Twenty Minute VC
- “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tostoy
- “Bad Blood” by John Carreyrou
- Carmen Alfonso Rico
- Fred Destin on Twenty Minute VC
- Kent Goldman on Twenty Minute VC
- Bill Gurley on Twenty Minute VC
- John Henderson
- Josh Kopelman on Twenty Minute VC
- Mattias Ljungman
- “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert
- PillPack on Twenty Minute VC
- Skien, Norway
- “The Social Network”
- “Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts” by Annie Duke
- “Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist” by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson
- Henry Ward on Twenty Minute VC
- Wired article on Harry Stebbings from Dec 2016
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René Pons, co-founder of PPAP Manager, has founded a company in Mexico, run Techstars Startup Weekends across Central America, and gotten into Techstars Detroit. Everywhere he goes, René Gives First and strengthens the startup ecosystem.
In early July, a week before Techstars Detroit kicked off, TechCrunch ran an exclusive article announcing the new class of 10 companies that are, right now, enmeshed in their three month accelerator program. The article noted that the program name and focus have changed, from Techstars Mobility to Techstars Detroit: “Mobility is baked into Detroit, but Detroit is more than mobility.” The Detroit startup ecosystem is strengthening and expanding, and becoming ever more appealing to startup founders from around the world.
Techstars has believed in Detroit through the hard times—we announced the first Techstars mentorship-driven accelerator program in Detroit the same day the city came out of bankruptcy. Ever since, Techstars has been a part of building better times for the Comeback City, helping to grow the startup ecosystem, making connections that benefit corporations and startups alike, and attracting new companies to the region.
If you’re a startup that does business with automotive or manufacturing, you need to get to Detroit.
We’re beyond excited about every one of the 10 companies in the 2019 Techstars Detroit class, but one in particular has not just a great business, but a founder who lives the Techstars value #GiveFirst, and who has been a force for startup ecosystem building for years in his native Chihuahua, Mexico: René Pons, co-founder of PPAP Manager.
First, the company: PPAP Manager is a platform to streamline the approval of packets of documents required in the automotive industry, known as PPAP (Production Part Approval Process), to validate production parts.
There are 30,000 parts in your car, and every one of them journeyed a long distance, often passing through several sets of hands, before your vehicle arrived, shiny and new, in a dealer’s showroom. The global journey of each one of those 30,000 parts is documented by a PPAP.
PPAPs are crucial to safe car production because they are the quality assurance for its parts. Yet today, most PPAPs are handled using spreadsheets or google docs, solutions cobbled together by individuals at different companies. They’re not fast, they’re not efficient, and worst of all, they’re not trustworthy enough for such important information.
PPAP Manager aims to solve this problem for the global automotive industry by providing a single tool that documents parts as they go through all the many suppliers in the value chain, making these records both accessible and accurate, so that you know that the brakes on your car won’t fail. They’ve been checked. They’ve got a good PPAP tracing them back through production, assembly, and testing.
René has started a few companies, and he got the idea for PPAP Manager from his co-founders, Vinnie Delgado and Jeefb Santos, who have worked in the auto industry for more than 24+ years altogether. They were looking for opportunities in manufacturing that would solve a defined and important problem, and had plenty of room to scale. PPAPs provided exactly the right kind of opportunity.
“The land of opportunity for the automotive industry”
“PPAP Manager fits our investment thesis to a T,” said Ted Serbinski, Managing Director of Techstars Detroit. He saw the same opportunity that René did, loved the founding team, plus he knew what Techstars Detroit could do for the company. “PPAP Manager should be doing business in Detroit, and Techstars is the best way to make that connection,” Ted said.
Ted’s on a mission to change entrepreneurs’ perception of doing business in Detroit, and one of his favorite techniques is to bring in entrepreneurs from all over the world—and then let the city, and the Techstars experience, speak for themselves. In five years, he’s brought 54 startups to Detroit from eight different countries—the 2019 class alone is 60% international, with founders hailing from five countries outside the U.S.
“Detroit is the land of opportunity for the automotive industry.” —René Pons, Founder of PPAP Manager
For Ted, the message is clear: If you’re a startup that does business with automotive or manufacturing, you need to get to Detroit.
René agrees. “Detroit is the land of opportunity for the automotive industry,” he said. “There’s no better place for us to be.” René sees that more and more companies globally are trying to get standards working, and that Detroit is a great place to work with many of these global auto companies, to spread these standards quickly. René is hoping that Techstars Detroit will get PPAP Manager to a proof of concept in partnership with one or more of the program’s corporate partners—who he sees as hungry for the kind of quality assurance that his company can provide.
Power of the Network
René knows how important connections are—one aspect he values in the Techstars accelerator is its diverse corporate partners, including Lear Innovation Ventures, Ford X, AAA, Avanta Ventures, USAA, Nationwide, Honda Innovations, and PlanetM.
He knows the importance of great connections—to other entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors, as well as corporations—for helping startups grow because he’s seen this power, over and over again, as a Community Leader helping to run Techstars Startup Weekends across Central America. Since 2012, René has organized over a dozen Techstars Startup Weekends, most of them in Mexico, but also as a facilitator in Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and one in Seville, Spain, when he was briefly living in Madrid and wanted to get involved in the local startup community. Two years ago, he organized six Techstar Startup Weekends at once, all in different cities, three in one weekend and three the next. He describes himself as “the crazy organizer who tries to do different stuff.”
René loves Techstars Startup Weekends because they change how people think, and then give them the tools and connections to start putting that change into action. “The first thing we need in Latin America is to change the way we are thinking,” René said. “We don’t have enough people building or starting new companies. People need to realize that they can take control of their lives and start solving the problems that they see.”
He sees the first step as getting people to try new things—like attending a Techstars Startup Weekend—and from this experience, new entrepreneurs and new companies will grow. René is happiest when he sees the locals in a community step up and start working. As a Techstars Community Leader, he knows the formula for a Startup Weekend, and his goal is to get the event rolling in each new community, and then leave the team there to keep it going. This is how the events—and the entrepreneurial spirit they engender—spread.
“You learn a lot by getting involved and Giving First.”— René Pons, Founder of PPAP Manager
To René, Detroit is a model for where he hopes to see Latin American cities get to, with an evolving startup ecosystem and lots of opportunity for making connections and building businesses.
Give First Wherever You Go
And, of course, René plans to get involved in the Detroit startup ecosystem, above and beyond participating in the accelerator program. “Wherever we go, we need to get involved. I’m looking forward to knowing people and to start sharing with them and learning from them,” René said.
René lives the Techstars value Give First, and he practices it wherever he goes. “You learn a lot by getting involved and Giving First,” René said. “The connections you get from being there and sharing with the community—you cannot put a price on it.”
How Startup Ecosystems Grow
At first glance, Chihuahua and Detroit may not seem to have much in common. But now they share René Pons, and that’s a bond that will show results, we suspect. Maybe one day soon, they’ll both be known as startup hubs—growing companies, attracting talent, and transforming their regional economies. Entrepreneurship is powerful.
Detroit has become a place that startups want to move to. Five years ago, post-bankruptcy, Detroit was a hard sell for startups. Today the supportive startup ecosystem and the affordable cost of living make it a desirable—and smart—place to start a business.
René and PPAP Manager have moved from Chihuahua to Detroit for the three months of the accelerator program, and René plans to get involved in the local ecosystem. It may even make good business sense to keep PPAP Manager in Detroit long term.
But that doesn’t mean René has abandoned his home, or the Chihuahua startup ecosystem. Long term, his dream is to invest in small companies in small cities all over Mexico. “There’s lots of talent with great ideas in Mexico,” he said, “But they don’t have the money to build a prototype. At that early stage, these companies need more support.” René wants to give that support, and be an angel or seed investor who helps make this startup ecosystem go.
Ask Chris Heivly, Techstars VP of Innovation, about how startup ecosystems develop, and he’ll tell you that “ecosystem development is all based on success through a thousand nudges.” Connectors and believers like Ted and René provide these nudges constantly, doing their part to grow their ecosystems.
They believe that entrepreneurs create a better future, and they’re doing their part to make that better future—one PPAP, one Techstars Startup Weekend, one company, one accelerator, one city at a time.