5 Questions with Collin Wallace, Managing Director of Techstars Oakland powered by J.P. Morgan

Sep 06, 2022

We are in Oakland, that means we are in Silicon Valley. Being plugged into the Valley ecosystem continues to open doors so you are able to access as many advantages as possible, which is especially important for underrepresented founders.

Collin Wallace is the Managing Director of Techstars Oakland powered by J.P. Morgan.

Collin is also a serial entrepreneur with multiple exits. He founded FanGo (Techstars 2010), a mobile ordering platform which he sold to Grubhub in 2011. At Grubhub he was the Head of Innovation, where he helped launch numerous products including Orderhub and Grubhub for Restaurants. More recently, he co-founded ZeroStorefront (YCombinator W22), a data analytics platform for restaurants, which was acquired by Thanx in 2022. He is an active investor in companies like Payjoy, Landed, Postcript, Mosaic Voice, Gigwage and over 35 others. He co-teaches the Startup Garage class at Stanford Graduate School of Business and advises the Roelof Botha & Huifen Chan Startup Innovation Program also at Stanford. He earned his engineering degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology and his MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Today, he lives in San Mateo, California with his wife Doris, daughter Zoelle and puppies Aspen & Penny.

01. What are you looking for in startups for the Techstars Oakland powered by J.P. Morgan accelerator?

I try not to overcomplicate things, and I'm a big fan of simple frameworks. This is what I look for in startups. It's simple, but surprisingly difficult to find:

  • Fast learners

  • Good listeners

  • Hard workers

  • Risk takers

These are the things that I believe are core characteristics of successful founders. The technology you are building and the products will change with time and guidance. However, the core attributes of being able to learn quickly, understand your customer, work hard enough to outrun your competitors, and willingness to take the risk necessary to get you to the next level; those are things you either have or don’t. Everything else I can help you with.

02. What are some of the biggest learnings from your career and entrepreneurial journey that you bring to being a Techstars Managing Director?

  • Everybody is somebody to someone. You never know who's going to be instrumental to your journey, so treat everyone with respect and understand that everyone has a role to play in what you're trying to build. You just may not know what that role is yet. You can see this in my ethos as an MD; I’m willing to help anyone and I don’t play favorites. Everybody is a “somebody” to me.

  • Learn from everyone and compare yourself to no one. It's really easy as a Founder to get caught up in what everyone else is doing, and this can be a massive distraction. It's important to understand that our path as founders is not linear. There are going to be times where you look like you're ahead, and there are going to be times where you look like you're behind, but what really matters is where you're going. As an MD, I don’t judge based on where your company is, I judge based on where you are going and how fast you are getting there.

  • Work hard long enough for good things to happen. Every business has some element of luck that impacts their success.  You can't control when you get lucky, but you can make sure that you're ready and alive when it's your turn. Because of this, I spend a lot of time as an MD trying to put companies in a place to get lucky and capitalize on it. 

  • Be impatient with action and patient with results. It takes a long time to build something meaningful, so we have to be impatient about getting started but patient about seeing the results. Being a startup founder is about being able to apply a constant force over a sustained period of time. As an MD, I am just another set of hands to help you push on that journey.

  • You can be delayed or diverted from your dreams, but you cannot be denied your dreams. If you work hard enough, eventually the universe realizes that you're not going to quit, and just concedes to giving you what you want. I bring this perspective to every aspect of my life.

03. What is your favorite thing about the Oakland startup scene?

The thing I love most about the Oakland startup scene is the willingness to “give first.” I think it's because of the type of person who chooses to affiliate with Oakland, and the fact that you never know who is going to be the next big thing. Things just move so fast here that you can go from delivering food from your campus dorm to running a multibillion-dollar business in just a few years (Doordash). Everyone is so eager to help, and has a genuine reverence for the journey you are on as a founder. There is a ton of infrastructure, and a lot of exceptionally talented people who are willing to help, and take a risk on you with nothing in return. It is really something special.

04. What does our partner J.P. Morgan bring to the accelerator?

Startups face challenges at every stage. However, financial challenges can abruptly end a startup’s vision for their product, team, or growth. J.P. Morgan has the expertise, financial solutions, and network to support the disruptors of today and leaders of tomorrow. This program represents Techstars and J.P. Morgan’s belief that diversity and inclusion are the catalysts of innovation and growth. In supporting early-stage startups, J.P. Morgan believes it can help build a future with stronger companies led by underrepresented, diverse founders.

For J.P. Morgan, it’s about changing the entire ecosystem because while talent is distributed equally, opportunity is not. Backing diverse founders leads to a reinvestment in their communities and expanding access for others. J.P. Morgan has made longstanding, large-scale investments in cities to support local initiatives, entrepreneurs, and the environment with over $30 billion committed to advancing racial equity in 2020 and $2.5 trillion towards green initiatives by 2030.

J.P. Morgan’s partnership with Techstars shows their commitment to supporting inclusive accelerators that create opportunities for diverse, early-stage founders. As a part of this partnership, J.P. Morgan will offer an integrated suite of services to founders in this accelerator that extend beyond the 13-week program. This includes, but is not limited to, access to banking, wealth management, and advisory solutions accessible through their local and commercial banking specialists.

05. Why is growing diversity in entrepreneurship important to you?

Entrepreneurship is an accelerant for the world that you want to see. If you have a perspective that you think is important, then entrepreneurship is the highest-leverage tool you have for making that a reality. Traditionally, under-represented founders have had a perspective, but have not had the leverage to make it a reality. 

Ironically, the same systemic barriers that tend to make people underrepresented also tend to make them exceptional founders.  Namely, the ability to endure incredible amounts of adversity and keep pushing. I think entrepreneurship is a massive opportunity to create wealth, freedom, and independence for historically overlooked communities and founders everywhere.