Tag Archives: mercy college

AlleyBoost Fireside Chat with Brian Cohen of NY Angels: Pinterest, pitching and personality

11 Nov

AlleyBoost hosted Nir Eyal and Brian Cohen at Mercy College on Tues. November 4, 2014. I’ll post Nir’s talk in a separate post later this week. You can read about his chat at StartupGrind here.

Brian Cohen, chairman of NY Angels and author of What Every Angel Investor Wants You to Know, spoke about everything from angels to Pinterest, his most famous investment to date.

briancohen

Brian Cohen talking to an entrepreneur while subtly showing off his book.

Although Cohen didn’t spend the whole time talking about Pinterest, the reasons he initially liked the startup illustrated many of the points he made during the fireside chat.

Cohen was the first investor in Pinterest. He likes to get in early and give the first check. He’s aware it’s risky, but sometimes it works out really well – like Pinterest well. What helped Ben Silbermann, cofounder of Pinterest, even more is that Cohen really liked him. Cohen cares a lot about the person he gives his money to.

“I like to know ideas early,” Cohen said, adding that founder’s backstory adds to the allure of the pitch. “I want to know the person behind the idea. Who are you? Where did you come from? Why did you think of that? A lot of times I want to be the first check.”

He calls everyone he has invested in a friend or someone he’d like to be considered friends with. This is because often times, the person is even more important than the idea. Not just because Cohen values friendship.

“I’m not investing in your idea; I’m investing in your ability to execute,” Cohen said.

The reason the person is important is because they have to know how to build the business, even if it’s not the idea they started with.

“75 percent of the time the company I invest in is not doing the same thing 1 or 2 years later,” Cohen said.
This was the case with Pinterest. The site started as an iPhone app called Tote, a catalog for women’s accessories, which in itself was a good enough idea with a good enough team to get Cohen on board.

Pinterest customers told the founders they wanted a way to collect all the things they liked. Silbermann cared a lot about what his customers thought. Using their feedback, he gave the world a place to digitally pin, and a new interface called a board. It duplicated an action people do in the real world online and it did what the customers asked for, which are factors in its success.

Today, Pinterest is valued at $5 billion. Cohen said almost no company gets that kind of valuation, most are somewhere between $2 and $4 million, depending on the sector and the team (serial entrepreneurs are valued higher). When it comes to investing, while valuation is a piece of the decision, he said it isn’t everything. He also doesn’t care about traction but said it helps increase the valuation.

Pitching advice
Cohen, who studied rhetoric as an undergrad, believes in the power of a great communicator when it comes to pitching. He also believes in the power of a Google or LinkedIn search – meaning know the investors’ background. When speaking, be clear, crisp, clean and definitive. This means don’t use qualifiers like “I hope” or “We’re trying.” If those are the only words you can use to describe your business, it could mean you are in a position of weakness, and Cohen said that is a bad time to look for money.

For those who would rather “bootstrap” than raise money from a VC or Angel, Cohen thinks that’s stupid. He said people who are self-funding probably couldn’t convince anyone to invest. He also advises raising money six months before you need to it.

Remember to talk about exits in your pitch and have a timeframe in mind. Cohen said the average exit takes 6 to 10 years. Exits are important to angel investors – it’s how they make money.

“The word ‘exit’ to me is like sex – that is at the end the ultimate prize,” Cohen said.

This was originally written for Office Lease Center.

How to improve sales – tips from a former salesforce exec

6 Nov

Elay Cohen, the former Senior Vice President of Sales Productivity at salesforce.com, shared his proven communication-based sales techniques at an AlleyBoost class on Tuesday, October 28 at Mercy College. 

The entrepreneur and author urges companies to bring humanity back into sales – internally and externally. Cohen injected this personal, relationship-focused attitude toward sales into the culture of salesforce.com, which grew from $500 million to $3 billion in revenues while he was there.

“People would ask how we hit our numbers so fast,” Cohen said. “It has to come from the heart and soul of the company.”

Cohen’s sales philosophy comes from his experience learning sales from his father, a furniture storeowner, selling products door-to-door, and working in sales at various companies, including salesforce.com. He wrote a book called Saleshood and started a SaaS sales-solution startup with the same name. Founded less than two years ago, the company is already breaking even without any VC funding. Cohen said they are starting with a limited amount of customers so they can get the product right before they scale.

Salesforce

At salesforce Cohen created an environment where the entire team shared a single sales vision, which encouraged both results and relationship building with customers. When salesforce started in 1999, Microsoft and Oracle were competitors in the space. Sales reps met with customers, told them how salesforce could solve their pain faster and for less money than the bigger companies. Salesforce surprised the big names by expanding rapidly.

The company is known for its boot-camp training for new employees. The sales team continues to communicate with weekly and monthly meetings where they share success stories and allow for peer-to-peer learning.

Cohen’s formula for SUCCESS…

Read about his formula and more at Office Lease Center’s blog: http://bit.ly/1vqANez.

AlleyBoost: Learn to convey your message from Win the Room CEO

27 Oct

Last week, for my Office Lease Center blogging duties, I attended a class about how to be an effective communicator. As a recent mass communication major and public speaking tutor, I especially love this topic! Now on to the recap.

Today we all need to be great communicators, according to Win the Room CEO Kelly Hadous. Based on her theory that communication is “part power, part strategy, part performance,” she gave tips to improve as a communicator an Alley Boost class at Mercy College on October 21.

Great communicators exude energy and can influence, lead, sell, shift ideas, make a difference and get people to like them, said Hadous. She has studied communication and learned from her own life experiences. She admitted that she had to overcome her natural introverted personalities, as well as her insecurities about her past.

“We are living in a society that requires us to be extroverted,” Hadous said. Because of the Internet, she said, we all need to be more transparent.

The communications coach found that telling her personal story, although difficult, has made people feel comfortable and actually like her more. Hadous told the group that she grew up in a rough neighborhood in Staten Island and never excelled as a student. She was kicked out of 8th grade and dropped out of high school. At 19 she worked on Wall Street and went on to get degrees from NYU and Columbia and study communication.

She said telling a story is very powerful. To tell it right, you need to take the audience on a journey and have a dip.

When asked how to balance empathy, Hadous said to tell personal stories carefully. She said talking about her past makes people like her more. If it can help people, she said it is worth telling the story.

“Make sure it serves your audience and it’s appropriate,” she said.

Be audience-focused
One of the most key aspects of communicating is being aware of who the audience is, Hadous said. Most presenters think about themselves and what they want to say when it’s important to consider the audience.

Another trick is to think about whether they are more left or right brained and what type of information would interest them. Left-brain people might want to hear more about what, how and the results. A right-brained audience would want more why and who.

“Be a whole brain communicator,” Hadous said.

She suggests checking out the Neethling Brain Assessment.

Read the rest here.