David B. Lerner

Dave Lerner, 3x Entrepreneur, Angel Investor, Host of Venture Studio
Entrepreneur, Angel Investor, Director of Columbia University Venture Lab, Blogger, Community Organizer, Golfer-in-Exile.

How to Make Contacts- The Right Way

Huddle  by Gaurav Juvekar - Downloaded from 500px

This is part of my ongoing Series on Entrepreneurial Culture

I get emails from entrepreneurs all the time, asking me, “How do I access the New York City tech scene so I can do x, y, or z?" (Usually x, y or z is a specific need like “find tech talent” or “network successfully.”)

Notice the transactional nature of the language. What they're essentially saying is, “How can you get me quick access there so I can get what I need?”

This kind of request is almost as clichéd as “Can you help me find a technical co-founder?” which I wrote about recently. This is probably more annoying, though, because the person asking doesn’t have a clue about “giving” and “sharing”—it’s all about their own needs.

Recently, a guy who works as a consultant with a very prominent firm wanted me to strategize with him on how he could “access the community” so he could get a job at a startup. He was already trying to line up some paid consulting gigs at startups, I assume so he could impress them with his “big brain.” I asked him, “Why don’t you help some startups, but do it for free?” He looked at me like I had three heads and I resisted the urge to physically throw him out of my office....

Continue reading here for the original post on AmexOPEN Forum


Be A F---ing Pro

This is part of my ongoing Series on Entrepreneurial Culture.

I see people in the startup world being careless, screwing up, cutting corners, making excuses, and worse (a lot worse)- all the time. I'm far from perfect just like the next guy and have made my share of mistakes as we all have. Most of the time I see the little things- but sometimes- and that's when it gets really unfortunate- it's the big things. 

Some little things I see:

  • People in the tech world being petty, small, selfish and manipulative - and not helping out the community (translation: only out for themselves)
  • Folks who go into every meeting with an agenda and see the world entirely through the lense of what can I get from this person (translation: robot, non-human)
  • CEO sending out invite for a call to his advisors without checking with them on dates/times. I tell him to use doodle, etc. He tells me he's too busy and whomever's available will join call. (translation: sloppy)
  • Fledgling entrepreneur comes to meet with me, we discuss his proposed business- at end of convo he says, "that sounds like a lot of work". (translation: a joke)
  • Entrepreneurs talking smack and minimizing others (competitors, other entrepreneurs) the first time you meet with them.  (translation: insecure- shows weakness)
  • People intro'ing others to strangers without asking for permission. (translation: laziness & lack of consideration)
  • People with huge problems with their calendar and email. I know some great people that just can't get organized, are always canceling meetings last minute- and are just a train wrecks. (translation: a real shame)
  • People ask a direct question and the person responding evades the question with a long-winded response full of hot air. (translation: pathetic)
  • Forwarding emails clearly marked "confidential" without a second thought. (translation: careless)

Some big things I see:

  • Founding team (first-time entrepreneurs) "goes dark" on their early investors for months and then emerge saying they are shutting down company. They do so with an evasive email full of legalese and nonsense. When called-out on it, they say they were pressured by their lead investor and "didn't know better" because they were "first-time entrepreneurs". (translation: pathetic & corrupt)
  • Junior VC's and Venture Partners taking meetings with entrepreneurs knowing they'll never invest but wanting to gather competitive intel. (translation: jerks)
  • Guys in the startup world hitting on every woman they meet with in professional settings. (translation: deeply uncool and pathetic)
  • Broker-dealer types posing as angel investors that take advantage of  unsophisticated/fledgling entrepreneurs. (translation: predatory)

If you do any of the "little things", I highly recommend you stop doing it. It will serve you well in your career. If you do the "big things", well, I've got nothing to say to you other than "take a hike".

I recommend that if you see others doing the little things to call them on it and help them out. If they're doing the big things- I recommend you stay away from them permanently.

There's really no room for this in the startup world. We're a small community and we shouldn't be cutting corners, short-changing each other or worse.

As Marvin Lewis says below- Be A F----'in Pro.


The Supremacy of Warm Introductions

This is part of my ongoing Series on Entrepreneurial Culture. In the tech world, we hear the term “warm introductions” bandied about ad nauseum, often from the horse’s mouth—namely, that it’s the best and sometimes the only way for entrepreneurs to meet angel investors and venture capitalists. A so-called warm... Comments | Read more

Cyrus Massoumi, CEO ZocDoc on Venture Studio

This is part of my Venture Studio Series where you can find tons of interviews with entrepreneurs and investors. Cyrus Massoumi and ZocDoc have raised $95M since that fateful day when he had a burst eardrum and couldn't find a doctor to see him right away! Enjoy his story and... Comments | Read more

Why Do So Many Partnerships End in Disaster

This is part of my ongoing Series on Entrepreneurial Culture. In my last post on OPEN Forum, I made the case that entrepreneurs should stop actively looking for a co-founder. Now I’m here to tell you that if you think you have in fact found the right partner, you should... Comments | Read more

Stop Looking for a CoFounder

I recently wrote this article for Amex Open Forum. The original text can be found here. This is part of my Series on Entrepreneurial Culture Everywhere I go, I hear the same refrain from fledgling entrepreneurs I meet: “I’m looking for a co-founder.” I hear it from many of my... Comments | Read more

Boston- Home to the Toughest Mother------s I Know

I wrote this last week in the aftermath of the terrible happenings in Boston and dedicate it to the great people of Boston who I came to know and love when I lived up there (after something of a rough start). ------- Having grown up in Brooklyn in the 70's... Comments | Read more

So, What's a "Pain Point in the Market"?

This is part of my ongoing series on Entrepreneurial Culture. So what's this mythical pain point every startup needs to have that everyone's always referring to? The easy answer, (to quote Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart), is "you know it when you see it". Perhaps, but I think this concept... Comments | Read more

Measuring Founder Strength

This is part of my Series on Angel Investing and Venture Capital I recently came across this absolutely awesome post as well as the accompanying infographic above having to do with identifying the sort of founders investors can feel good about backing. It was written by Saar Gur a partner... Comments | Read more

Death of a Mentor: Reflections

This is part of my ongoing Series on Mentorship. Yesterday was Thanksgiving and I was thinking about the many things for which I am thankful. I won't list them here as they are many. But my mind kept returning to memories of a great mentor of mine who passed away... Comments | Read more

Recent Comments

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  • Dave Lerner

    thanks for the note Helen, my condolences... (fully agree)

    Death of a Mentor: Reflections · 11/27/12

  • Helen Schinagl Busness

    Find an amazing person, and I guarantee, s/he had at least one far more amazing person guiding them :). I was lucky enough to have two that were also my parents, both of whom I lost recently. The pain and loss are intense for me personally, like the loss of your friend, but I'm guessing you feel as I do, these guiding stars touched a great deal more than our lives, and the world is a little bit darker without them in it!

    Death of a Mentor: Reflections · 11/27/12

  • Mahlon Stewart

    We always remember our mentors, don't we? Powerful forces. Tough when they pass. Hope you are well, my friend. Thanks for having me on the list.

    Lessons from an Old Master · 11/13/12

  • matt

    Your enthusiasm for chess, entrepreneurship and family are infectious David, lucky kids...parents and teachers should be heed to your admonition about keeping it fun, it is surely the best way to keep folks engaged...

    Lessons from a Young Master · 11/01/12

  • Dave Lerner

    Thanks for weighing-in Frank... those are some heavyweight companies... Pinterest: BOOM... Comixology: BOOM... student entrepreneurs can really take advantage of these cutting edge programs many universities are offering these days that go beyond "old-school business plan writing" and offer lots more...
    (and we need to get you on Disqus soon!)

    What Every Student Entrepreneur Needs to Know to Succeed (7) Grants & Competitions · 07/23/12

  • Rimalovski

    Great post David! Several startups have emerged from the venture competitions at NYU (a/k/a the Entrepreneurs Challenge) including Pinterest, The Hotlist, Course Horse, Comixology, etc. As one reader points out it may not be the solution for every startup, but it has proven to be a great source for many...not just to non-dilutive funding, but also to helping gather market feedback, develop skills, building a team along with a strong group of mentors (both from the competitions, but also from the exposure teams receive throughout).

    What Every Student Entrepreneur Needs to Know to Succeed (7) Grants & Competitions · 07/23/12

  • Dave Lerner

    RC you make some strong points... thanks for weighing in. I bet you and I would agree on a lot of things- as we've both seen some damage done by bad advice. And yes, of course, with the right person and right motivations- all that interdisciplinary experience can be invaluable.

    Mentorship Gone Wrong: Three Things to Watch Out For · 06/30/12

  • RC

    As a lawyer I can't say I entirely disagree with the comments re the damage that can be done by even a well-intentioned lawyer, but I think the underlying point isn't don't listen to a lawyer on anything other than how to "paper the deal;" rather seek out people who share your interest and passion, and if they have skills or experience that you don't and that are needed then so much the better. Those with previous entrepreneurial experience are at the top of the list, but if the person meets the first test then isn't legal (or financial, operations, marketing, sales, etc) training and/or experience a bonus - assuming they haven't been entirely corrupted by law school a/or private firm practice?

    Mentorship Gone Wrong: Three Things to Watch Out For · 06/30/12

  • Huijia

    Hi David, thanks for writing this insightful article. I'm a entrepreneur at Yale and it's been quite a journey getting our startup up to speed so far. Everyday there's just so much more to learn, and I appreciate you giving advice to students like us!

    What Every Student Entrepreneur Needs to Know to Succeed (3) Know Something! · 10/19/11

  • David Zilberman

    Great post, Dave and it is exciting to see meaningful entrepreneurial activities like this at Columbia!

    I’m a student in the Berkeley-Columbia eMBA program based in the Silicon Valley and it would be great if we could find a way to get the BCEMBA community involved with the entrepreneurial activities at Columbia notwithstanding the geographic distance as most of us are not located in NY.

    Our current students and recent grads are in management positions at places like Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, Intel, Oracle, NVIDIA (just to name a few…) and a number of us (myself included) are working on startup ideas. It would be great if we could realize some synergies between Manhattan and the Silicon Valley.

    I’d be happy to explore possibilities with anyone in the Columbia venture community who’s interested.

    David Zilberman
    BCEMBA 12’

    A New Breed of University Entrepreneur Arrives on Campus · 02/10/11