Tag Archives: ny angels

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.

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Disruptive Technologists: NYC is (pretty) good for startups

5 Nov

Disruptive Technologists hosted a panel, “NYC Social Infrastructure & Tech Ecosystem: Are we at an inflection point?” at the NY Institute of Technology on October 27, 2014. Panelists talked about how society has shifted from discouraging entrepreneurs to embracing them and what still needs to change to support this type of economy.

There are now more than 15,000 startups in NYC, making it the #1 ecosystem for entrepreneurs, said David Rose, CEO of Gust. With countless resources, a receptive city and a mix of enthusiastic entrepreneurs, it’s a good time to create a startup in New York.

Gone are the days when smart professionals dreamt of being Wall Street bankers, said moderator Bruce Bachenheimer, Director of Pace’s Entrepreneurship Lab. Hustling to start your own company is the new “sexy.” People want The Social Network-type success rather than Bonfire of the Vanities excess.

The city has a cross-pollination of ideas, free events, webinars, incubators, accelerators, encouragement from the government, and more students than the population of Boston, said Rose. These factors make starting a business here more desirable than joining one.

Rose has seen the landscape change firsthand. Having started NY Angels, one of the longest running angel groups, he remembers when people wanted to work at traditional Fortune 500 companies. Only 47 companies that made the original Fortune list have remained. Today, firms less than four years old and smaller than 100 employees have taken the others’ spots.

This is partly because large businesses that succeeded in the 20th century aren’t cut out for the 21st century, said Rose. They need to reinvent themselves. The airline industry is one example – several airlines have gone bankrupt in the past decade.

With entrepreneurs’ eager to disrupt, some industries have reason to worry. Uber is taking on ubiquitous yellow taxis. AirBnB is making a go at the multi-billion-dollar hotel industry by empowering regular people to dictate the market.

Read the rest at Office Lease Center’s blog: http://bit.ly/1rBqgeo