Today, we launched our third venture fund at Techstars, now called Techstars Ventures. It’s $150M of fresh capital focused on Seed and Series A and we’re now managing $265M in total. You can read the basics of the announcement on the Techstars blog.
In the life of any business, there are moments. Moments that matter. The same has been true for Techstars, of course.
There was the moment Techstars was born, after I had a “random day” meeting with Brad Feld. Meeting him changed my life and career in profound ways, inspired me to be a better person and investor, and helped me achieve more happiness and balance in my life. Brad taught me the once mysterious ways of “giving first” that have become so ingrained in the Techstars culture today. After that random day meeting, Brad became a co-founder of Techstars along with me, Jared Polis, and David Brown.
Another moment was meeting Jason Mendelson, one of Brad’s partners at Foundry Group. I think it was a 15 minute meeting that turned into a few hours over beer. Jason became a close friend and has been hugely instrumental to the success of Techstars in innumerable ways. It’s truly humbling to stop and think about all of the things that Jason has done for me personally and for Techstars as an organization. My biggest regret is that he is not recognized enough for all he has done. I consider him a co-founder of Techstars, even if that’s not how the way back machine will necessarily tell the story. Techstars would be a shadow of what it is today, if it still existed at all, without Jason Mendelson. Ryan McIntyre and Seth Levine and really everyone at Foundry Group have been at times irrationally supportive of Techstars over the years and I cannot possibly thank them all enough. This latest fund would not exist without this tremendous support from Foundry Group, their generous introductions, and their belief that what we are doing at Techstars is important work.
These first moments in the Techstars story led to the launch of Techstars in 2007, an important moment to be sure. Soon after came the moments of meeting Nicole Glaros who would later run the Boulder Techstars program and who now works with me on this new fund. She is probably the single most important actor in the success of Techstars, although she likely today still has no clue that this is how we all feel. That is just Nicole – she’s the biggest team player I know and a humble inspiration to us all. And there was the moment I met Molly Nasky, our CFO. Both Nicole and Molly have worked tirelessly for completely unreasonable amounts of time and took enormous personal and professional risks to build Techstars from the ground up. Molly is and has always been the pulse of Techstars and I am constantly astonished at what she is able to pull off. Molly was really the first person I ever considered a partner at Techstars, long before this was ever formalized.
In 2009, there were two more moments that mattered. That was the moment when we created the first venture fund. Back then we called it Bullet Time Ventures (I was a big fan of the Matrix and that’s the only hint I’m giving you), which later evolved into Techstars Ventures. The first Limited Partners who invested in that first fund took a tremendous risk on me and on Techstars. I’m thankful that risk has been rewarded and that that opportunity has scaled to allow us to bring Techstars to the world. Another moment that year was when we started to scale Techstars by expanding it to Boston. For that I am most thankful to Bill Warner. Without Bill, Techstars would have never figured out our scalable growth model which allowed us to grow while keeping our focus on quality instead of quantity. Bill understood that Techstars was something different. Something necessary for the Boston community. I will never forget our dinners and his will to help us figure out how Techstars could impact more people. Bill helped me figure out the difference between the invention of Techstars and the intention of Techstars.
There were so many other moments early on. Andy Sack who forever became part of the very soul of Techstars. Jon Bradford who expanded our horizons internationally. Katie Rae and her incredible passion for startups in Boston. David Tisch and his tough love and push in NYC. Jason Seats and his incredible instincts as an investor. Ari Newman taking multiple career risking chances on Techstars. Walt Winshall and his endless wisdom. The list goes on forever.
A few years ago as I was contemplating the growth and potential of Techstars, Mark Solon and I were trying to figure out how to be partners. We knew we wanted to, but we hadn’t figured out exactly how it would work. We were struggling, not with the partnership but with how to define it. Then there was a moment neither of us will ever forgot. Mark’s wife, Pam, told Mark to just “get on the train”. Pam realized that the Techstars train was moving 1,000 MPH and wasn’t going to slow down to figure out exactly what seat Mark should sit in or exactly how much the ticket might cost, or frankly even where the destination might be. In that moment it was Pam’s encouragement for Mark to take that leap of faith, to work out the details later, to just jump on the train and start helping to keep it on the tracks, that triggered an amazing partnership between us that led to our ability to raise this capital and to make Techstars stronger overall.
Like Pam has for Mark, my wife has also supported me in incredible ways during a tough year of fundraising which required extra travel and additional stress. Nothing has changed me for he better like the moment I married her.
There are so many Managing Directors, Directors, Program Managers and staff at Techstars who helped us survive the growing pains so far. So many mentors and investors who have impacted so many others. So many great partners. So many great founders. I know that they are rarely looking back with pride because they are laser focused on today and the future ahead. But I urge them all to take just a moment and to reflect on their impact on so many entrepreneurs and on the very way that startups are now created around the world.
One of the biggest moments of all was recruiting my 20+ year business partner, David Brown, back to Techstars full time. While Mark and I raised this fund over the last year, David has absolutely transformed Techstars from the inside. Our culture is humming, we are a focused organization, we handle conflict much more effectively, and we communicate better. His impact has been astonishing and transformative.
Then there was that moment when our lead LP in our newest fund had the nerve to say “I’m in” with a huge check early on. That moment changed everything for this new $150M fund and gave us credibility and a head start in a crowded market. We had a secret weapon who helped us with investor relations. I could tell you who he is but he would have to kill you and me both if I did. The moment he came on board made all the difference.
There are hopefully many more moments ahead for Techstars and I know there are many I have not recounted here. Thanks to everyone who has been involved. Techstars is a community.
You know, they say building a business is about the people. When I think of the moments that matter – the moments that changed Techstars – I think of when and how I intersected with these people. It is, truly, the people. And I will never forget this as an investor.