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.

The Supremacy of Warm Introductions

Breakfast in the jungle by Balazs Kundermann - Downloaded from 500px

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 introduction occurs when person A introduces person B to person C with an express endorsement of person B. Person A is basically telling person C that they are vouching for the character and worthiness of person B.

That’s the explicit message, of course. The implicit message is quite powerful as well and can best be expressed by what types of behavior just won’t suffice when it comes to introducing yourself. The short list includes some or all of the following admonitions:

Continue reading here for the original post on Amex OPEN Forum.

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 insights.

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 be extremely careful and not rush into any arrangements.

Although it’s shocking, the fact is, a huge percentage of the companies I come across in my various roles as an entrepreneurship professor, mentor, and investor are doomed to fail essentially before they ever get started, due to founder incompatibility.

The reasons for these breakups that are given in retrospect by the founders are some variation of the following.....

Continue reading here for the original post on Amex OPEN Forum.


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

Lonely House in Woods

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 students, from folks at various entrepreneurship events and meetups, and from people suffering in jobs at large companies who would love to pull the trigger on their startup—if they only had that critical co-founder.

And here’s why they’re on a fool’s errand.

The most common type of co-founder that’s usually sought is, of course, the technical co-founder, someone who can make your latest Internet-enabled business idea come to life by coding it for you because you don’t have the skills to do so. But some people also tell me they just need a co-conspirator because there’s too much work to do and they’d get lonely without a co-founder. It’s a fair point—and one that Y Combinator’s Paul Graham discusses in this incredible post.

But I’m actually here today to tell you: stop looking for a co-founder. Stop asking people to help you find one, and stop talking and thinking this way. I say this not because it’s massively annoying and clichéd by now (which it is), but mainly because the very act of looking for a co-founder is already a sign that you are hopelessly unprepared for the coming venture—and going about things in a completely backwards way.

Think about it this way. Let’s say you had this dream about sailing around the world for a few years. How would you go about realizing this dream?

Would you immediately start looking for an experienced sea captain with whom you could team up? It certainly seems a logical choice on its face, right? And let’s say you miraculously found one such old sea-dog, replete with forearm anchor tattoo and corncob pipe, in your first few weeks of searching—how would that play out?

Well, he’d probably do all the sailing, right? (Mainly because you don’t know how to sail and have zero experience.) He’d probably have to plot the various legs of the journey, too, right? (Because on day one, he would tell you that your plan to take a 36-foot wooden sailboat across the Bay of Fundy in winter isn’t the best course of action.) He’d probably be the one standing at the wheel whenever you hit rough weather, right?

Hmm. I also bet you’d have to pay him something to actually participate in this venture as well, no?

Let’s say after six months he tells you he’s run out of his favorite pipe tobacco and bails on you while you’re docked at some far off port. What do you do now? You probably should have stayed home and read some Melville or Joseph Conrad. Let’s face it—real sailing was never for you.

But hang on. Let’s say you had said this dream of yours was all-consuming and you were dead set on making it happen. Let’s say you just disappeared for a while and learned how to sail, became intimate with the latest technologies and the best routes, and became a fixture at your local sailing clubs and docks?

What likely would have happened with this approach? My guess is that you would have made great friends in the sailing community, over time. The relationships would have been genuine and based on mutual fascination and love of sailing, adventure, and the sea. You would have learned a ton about this new world and, slowly but surely, you would have become a part of it. When you finally decide to make that journey to Timbuktu, one of these friends—maybe someone with a lot more sailing experience than you, but who respected you a lot and knew your character and talents—might just suggest that you embark on that journey together.

Business is the same. Even though it’s just little old you steering your company, take comfort in the fact that we’re living in an era in which the individual entrepreneur is empowered with tools and access in a way that people could barely have imagined as recently as a decade ago. You want to open a store? In 10 minutes you can be up and running on Shopify. You want to amplify your voice with a marketing campaign? Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are massive communities you can tap into for free. Don’t know how to build a website? Hop on Codecademy or take a Skillshare class and you’re on your way.

Even without a co-founder, you can acquire skills and employ powerful tools to get to a minimum viable product all by your lonesome. In fact, it’s so easy and accessible, there really is no excuse not to. Imagine how powerful this is. You can generate a massive amount of value before even thinking about having to dilute your equity. Ironically, this is actually the best way to find co-founders, early employees and investors—just get a real business up and running by yourself!

If and when the time comes to partner up, just know that great partners come in all shapes and sizes. You can’t predict and plan for their arrival, just like you could never decide to meet a potential spouse next Saturday night. So how will you know they’ll make a good co-founder once you meet? You won’t.

The key is not to rush into business with someone. Spend plenty of time with them, bring up difficult issues directly when appropriate, and see how they handle themselves in a variety of situations and circumstances. Are they thoughtful and considerate of your point of view? Do you share values with them? What are their other life relationships like? Like any journey, the key is slow and steady.


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

Boston police 3 Nfl_boston

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 and 80's, I'm no stranger to rough and tumble environments. My brother Chuck and I have a lot of stories to tell and we've seen and been through a lot of scrapes together. For us the New York of today and frankly, any other city we lived in or visited always seemed like a cake-walk compared to the Brooklyn of our youth. We're not careless or cocky by any means- but we consider ourselves pretty street-smart to put it mildly.

While in college we had one incident, however, in Boston, that made us blink a bit. We had a rugby game against MIT and made the road trip from Williams across the Mass Pike. It was our first time in that city. On the way there everyone was joking that we were going up against some eggheads and PhDs. Boy were we wrong. The MIT side was stacked with the baddest, toughest grad students- a bunch of ringers from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. They were all grown men and were miles ahead of us in talent (and on the scoreboard). Sure enough a (now legendary) brawl erupted that was only broken up by the police that drove onto the field with paddy wagons. We had brought 3 "sides" as is said in Rugby- meaning we had our A, B, and C teams there as did they. There must of been 60 combatants on the field at the height of it all. In the end we had multiple people go to the hospital with broken ribs, black eyes, stiches as did they. 

A few hours later we were all in their fraternity house singing songs around a bunch of kegs.

They were some tough mother-------.

Anyway, the years went by and those memories faded some. The feeling I'm sure I still had was that nothing could compare to our early days in Brooklyn.

That impression all changed for me, when years later I was running my first company and we decided to expand to Boston. It was a healthcare company and we were already in NY, NJ, Florida and now we were going north. I had my eyes opened again- real quick.

In my first few days there, a Boston trooper (known locally as a troopah), pulled me over. I was driving a Toyota Corolla that I had driven up straight from Florida and all my personal belongings were in boxes in the car. The Florida plates probably caught his eye. He was friggin' huge and took my license and registration and didn't even say hello. When he returned from his cruisah he bellowed this to me in thickest Boston accent you could imagine:

"Mr. Lernah.... yore a pedestrian"...

I didn't know what he meant and politely asked him what he meant. He then bellowed the following:

"Mr. Lernah, get the fuck out of youah cah right now- yore a PEDESTRIAN"....

I got the fuck out of my car real quick- now I understood. He then told me that my registration had "expiahed", gave me a ticket and returned to his squad car. Minutes later a tow truck pulled up and started to jack my vehicle as I furiously removed about 20 boxes full of all my wordly belongings onto the sidewalk. As they towed my vehicle to parts unknown- I walked up to the driver's side window of the officer's car and politely began to ask where I would be able to pick up the car at which point he drove away without saying a word. He had never removed his wrap-around sunglasses.

He was one tough mother------

A few nights later, I regret to say that I was involved in a very bad melee at a famous Boston establishment (name withheld for security reasons) wherein I broke my hand and lost a knuckle. I know multiple people were hospitalized. I am not proud of this- but there was really nothing I could have done different. The reason for the brawl? Interpretations of a rule around a game of darts some of you may know called Cricket.

They were some tough mother-------s.

Our facility up there was affiliated with Partners (MassGeneral, Brigham & Women's and Dana Farber Cancer Center). They were the ones who had asked us to open a center in Boston so we could help treat their patients. But when one of our doctors went on a local TV station to complain about how BlueCross BlueShield were not paying their bills, those administrators at MGH called me on the carpet and chewed me up one afternoon that I'll never forget. All the faux refinement they had exhibited during their courtship of us months before disappeared in a flash and they dressed me down with more F-bombs than I'd heard at the pubs. They told me they were going to be "all ovah youah asses" from then on and wouldn't hesitate to rip-up the "fucking agreement" we had. 

They were worried about BCBS because BCBS had called them and actually threatened to stop paying MGH!

BCBS and MassGeneral were some tough mother-------s.

Then there was the time Medicare stopped reimbursiung us, period. Stopped cold turkey. This is after the Medical Director of Medicare of the State had sent us a signed letter BEFORE we opened the facility in Massachusetts telling us that Medicare would reimburse us for our services to patients. He renegged.  We went at him hard. He didn't back down for the longest time.

He was tough mother------, but also was just an _______. (fill in the blank) :)

Oh and how about the war of the red tickets with the lovely metermaids of Boston? And that landlord that gouged the bejesus... ok, ok, that's enough!

A year or so went by. I dug-in. Winter lasted what seemed like 6 months up there. I walked to work along the Charles River and cursed my lot every morning. The wind just cut you into little pieces. Then a massive snowstorm hit in April I believe, I can't remember. I do remember barely being able to open the door to my basement apartment against the snown and thinking- "it's not worth going to the clinic- no one could possibly be there". But against my better judgment I trudged thought the tundra, finally arrived, unlocked the place and collapsed on a waiting room sofa, exhausted. After some minutes I heard someone calling my name. It was one of our oldest patients- she may have been 85 years old, white spindles of hair tucked back in a pony tail. I was blown away. She'd somehow come all the way up from a town way south of Boston- somewhere along the South Shore. I'll never forget the sight of her standing there in her little boots and heavy winter coat. She was so determined and earnest and wanted to get better. Nothing would get in her way.

Anyway- I couldn't imagine how she had made it to see us. Needless to say one of our team was able to come in and treat her. There was no way she was going home without being treated. I would have done anything for her.

She was one tough lady.

And then there was our office manager. God bless her- we're still in touch all these years later. Salt of the earth from Braintree- had been a patient of ours and then anchored that facility there in Boston for all the years we operated. Answered the phone, talked to everyone- knew their life stories, hosted-em when they came and went, stayed in touch with-em, did anything for 'em... just the best... never late, never sick, never down though she'd seen the roughest of times and had had some really tough luck through the years- just the best of the best- had your back through thick and thin.

She was one tough lady and I'd do anything for her or her family.

Yep, and that's sort of how it went. Four years up there.. got to know-em real well. Our patients, the therapists and docs, regular folks from all walks of life from Southie to Marblehead, the chess community, the Russian community and on and on... and over time- little by little, they took me in and we warmed to one another- with a little cussing and frowning, some punches thrown here and there, and finally some drinks and good times. When it was time for me to leave I didn't want to go. 

I had developed this feeling for the place, something for this toughness and character I was seeing all around me. Over time my initial resentment just melted away somehow into deep respect.... and dare I say it- even affection... that grudging affection you develop for an opponent in a fight who gives and takes no quarter....

And then this damn thing last week. Good G-d how they responded to it! They were all over it in seconds- I heard the Chief of Police talking about it in awed tones. Regular Boston folk were running towards the explosions to help, applying tourniquets with their shirts, their jackets- their bare hands in some cases for goodness sake... and they didn't stop there.... from the people in the streets to the guardsmen and soldiers there, to the bus drivers who stayed to drive runners to safety, to the docs and nurses in the hospitals to the police and the EMT's, to the people opening up their homes to strangers, to the people using their camera phones and twitter- all the way down the line everyone was helping, and of course all the cops on the front lines shooting it out with the two brothers toe-to-toe taking on hand-grenades and hundreds of rounds... and all the way up to that moment when a guy was out having a cigarette and spotted someone "covered in blood crouching low in his boat".

My heart goes out to everyone up there, especially to those who've lost loved-ones and have had loved-ones maimed for life. I am in awe of how Bostonians banded together, helped each other and endured this and how relentless they were in hunting down these killers in their midst. 

Boston- you are one tough mother-------, and you know I say that with great affection.

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 might best be illustrated by the following short case-study of a company I backed called Updater

Let's begin with a few questions for you. Have you moved recently? What was that experience like? Take a few seconds to reflect on it. Are you frowning yet? I certainly am. Last year my family moved and, even though it was literally from one apartment to another *in the same building*, it was still massively disruptive and stressful- and I still haven't updated all the services, friends and companies in our lives with our correct new address. To compound this, whenever the regular mailman is away, most of our mail still goes to our old place. The previous tenant probably has thrown out more of our mail than he's handed over to the doorman. I know for certain he tossed my car registration- I have a few tickets to show for it. Painful indeed.

So let's take a very quick snapshot of the "moving" landscape:

- 40+ million people in the US move every year and have a change of address event
- The average person moves ~12X in their lifetime
Moving is the third most stressful event in a person’s life, trumped only by death and divorce (according to a Employee Relocation Council survey)

I've moved many times in my life (as I am sure you have)- and everytime was a huge pain for multiple reasons. That's why when I first met the folks at Updater I already understood the profundity of the "pain in the market" deeply. I was delighted thus to learn that they could help with all of the following pain points:

  • No need to wait in line at Post Office to get your mail forwarded to your new address (avg wait time in NY's POs are 2-3X that of all other POs in the US). 
  • Forwarding mail does not mean the senders know you actually moved! This is a massive problem. How many dozens of hours would it take to update everyone and every company in your "network"? Updater provides an easy, online way to send updates of your new address to all your accounts and subscriptions such as:
    • magazines & newspapers
    • banks & credit cards
    • schools
    • catalogs
    • loyalty programs
    • charities & public service
    • professional organizations
    • political organizations
    • social organizations
  • They also allow you to easily create a very cool interactive map of your move to notify friends and family via social-sharing and email. 
  • Updater gets me access to tons of exclusive deals I can save money on. The average professional household move costs $12,230 (Worldwide ERC report)

Updater is just one example of a team that identified a huge pain in the market and is now delivering huge value to their customers. If you're testing the viability of a potential business, the best way to do this is to identify the customers in the market ahead of time(!) and talk to tons of them using a rigorous customer development approach. Keep in mind that you might have multi-sided markets- in other words there might be tons of businesses who you could partner with that help you acquire customers. You need to talk to them as well and continually refine your value proposition. 

My main point is this: if you're going to "go-for-it" as an entrepreneur, why not try to solve a huge, painful problem? So many folks are carelessly launching me-too businesses that are commoditized and "nice-t0-haves". Why not put in some heavy-duty customer development effort and emerge with a product that's a "must-have"?

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 at Charles River Ventures. Follow him here on twitter.

Saar points out that his fund has developed an IQ-like quotient (the "Founder Quotient") for determining founder strength after many years of tweaking and refinement.  A number of these insights may in a broader sense be similar to others we've seen over the years, but if you go through them carefully you'll find a lot of originality and nuance here. The line, "startups are like chess" and the "Values" section resonated with me in a huge way. I think angel and seed investors would do well to really pay attention to these and add them to their body of knowledge. Here they are:

  1. Original product thought. Most founders copy. We look for the 1 percent of founders who have their own original strong views on how to build a great product (e.g. it took a Steve Jobs to set the touchscreen standard for smartphones).
  2. Psychological factors. What drives this person? Are they driven to face the adversity and uncertainty of startups? Do they have a chip on their shoulder and/or something to prove? Do they have a strong desire to win? Are they willing to make the sacrifices required to succeed? This is often influenced by their childhood.
  3. Authenticity. Does this company align with the founder’s beliefs and values? Do the founders care deeply about the problem they are working on? How passionate are they?
  4. Unique market insight. Do they have a unique insight into what the problem is, market timing, how the future may play out?
  5. Intelligence. IQ, EQ, self-awareness, ability to hold convictions loosely, etc. Startups are like chess. The founder needs to be able to think several moves ahead as it relates to product decisions, business decisions, and people decisions.
  6. Values. Are they honest? If they are in a people-intensive business, do they genuinely like and value people or are they too focused on themselves?
  7. Judgment. Product judgment, people and hiring judgment, etc. Do they exercise good decision-making skills no matter how small or large the decision?
  8. Experience. Are they uniquely capable of executing? Do they have a relevant 10,000 hours?
  9. Ability to recruit. Includes selling a vision, being respected, build a cross-functional team, having a network, etc.
The entire "Values" section, though short, is actually massive. I've made this mistake a couple of times already. People too focused on themselves don't really value other people at all. Huge problem with a founder.

Figuring all this stuff out takes time, doesn't it? It's a good argument for not rushing into an investment. I'll also add that checking out a list is something anyone can do- but being able to "know something when you see it" takes a lot of experience. What also never ceases to amaze me is that a founder you might want to invest in might have all of the above qualities save one, but it's often that one missing piece that destroys everything. 

Anyway, many thanks to Saar for sharing some serious wisdom with us. Wow.

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 earlier this year and I was filled with both gratitude and profound sadness. The intervening months since his passing have really done nothing to ease my grief and I'm sure it's much the same with his family members as well as the legion of loyal friends he made during a truly remarkable life. 

Upon reflection I believe this is because he was a person with an enormous capacity for friendship along with an immense store of wisdom and life experience that he was always happy to draw upon for the benefit his friends. In our increasingly fast-paced and surface-oriented society, he struck many of us as a walking anachronism- always organizing gatherings of friends from the many remarkable chapters of his life and often presiding over celebrations or roasts or fireside conversations that typically lasted late into the night. He was a world-class raconteur, a master of roasts and toasts alike, as well as a formidable prankster and joke-teller. 

He had this great adventuresome spirit and was a complete original in every way. He loved the sea, was a great sailor, practiced maritime law and was involved with a number of other businesses over the years. Right after college he'd signed up with the Marines, ultimately leading his platoon onto the shores of Da Nang as part of the first official combat troop deployment in Vietnam in '65. He'd boxed in his day, acted here and there, traveled extensively and played his share of competitive rugby and squash.  Everyone who knew him had their own stories about him- the legendary cross-country trips he would take aboard his restored and un-airconditioned XK Jaguar 140, the raucous and debauched parties he'd thrown over the years, the elaborate and memorable roasts, pranks and toasts, the cigar nights replete with his decorative fez and on and on.

This is not the place to eulogize him, that has been eloquently done by friends more capable than myself. What I'd like to reflect upon here though, is what qualities made him such great mentor to me over the more than two decades I knew him: 

  • First, I am struck by the fact that he took his role immensely seriously and prioritized it. 
  • He always made time and when we met was never in a hurry. 
  • In our discussions he always got to the core of the matter somehow by asking the right questions and listening carefully. 
  • He never hesitated to directly challenge either me or my assumptions, no matter how difficult it might have been for me.
  • When he gave advice he didn't mince words either- he wasn't afraid to give counsel and direction when he knew you needed it. 
  • Similarly, he knew when you needed to figure things out for yourself. 
  • He had no agenda other than to help you. 
  • Enormous wisdom and understanding of human affairs & motivations.

When he learned he had Parkinsons he accepted it, and, like everything else in his life would face it head-on. He bore its ravages with great stoicism and his huge personality and indomitable spirit burned bright until the very end.

After his funeral yet another story floated back to me. It was from the companion of his later years, a lady-friend he had known since his youth. She'd told the story that a few weeks before he passed they were picnicking beside a river beneath a clear, unbroken summer's sky of the deepest azure, his favorite kind of day. Suddenly, after some time, she saw him somehow wriggle his Parkinsons-ravaged body into an innertube he'd brought along. In an instant he'd slid down a hill into the water and she watched in amazement as he then effortlessly navigated down the river- eventually beaching himself much further downstream. As she approached he flashed that immense smile he was known for and told her "these are the halcyon days of my life". 

Endeavor Global & Startup Genome Partner to Map Entrepreneurial Ecosystems





I'm happy to report that this press release went out yesterday announcing the following partnership:

Endeavor Global and Startup Genome are pleased to announce a partnership that will help drive and deepen the cultivation of entrepreneurial ecosystems worldwide.

It’s the mission of Startup Genome to build the world’s most up-to-date database of entrepreneurial communities through a network of local curators. So far over 150 curators across the globe (including many developing nations) have begun layering real-time updates over the existing data in their respective ecosystems with profiles of founders, startups, investors, accelerators, incubators, universities, etc.

Co-founded by Dave Lerner and Shane Reiser, Startup Genome is going beyond mere hyperlinked lists and has already created the first of many data visualizations of these ecosystems to make entrepreneurial communities much more accessible and searchable for entrepreneurs and others worldwide.

Endeavor Global is now working with Startup Genome to add its own layer of curators in many cities and nations where Endeavor operates.


Lessons from Sandy


This is part of my Series on Mentorship.

The last few days in NYC have been harrowing and humbling for everyone, but especially for those living in low-lying areas. Many have lost their homes, many have seen valuable possessions destroyed, and tragically for some of the unluckiest- Sandy took their lives and the lives of loved-ones.  The city will be digging-out of the carnage for months- there is widespread destruction to the whole infrastructure of this town. Once again New Yorkers' sense of security and well-being has been massively jarred.

One remarkable thing I think most everyone in the city has witnessed though was the quiet heroism of the nurses, doctors, firemen, police and others that literally kept the city from descending into total chaos and even more pronounced tragedy.

One particularly moving example for us all (pictured above from the Associated Press) was the specter of nurses manually breathing for babies being evacuated down nine flights of stairs from the neo-natal intensive care center when the back-up generators at NYU's Langone Hospital failed.  They literally pulled 20 of the most fragile and vulnerable human lives in this city from the abyss. And that was just one story among countless others that emerged over the last several days.

Once again, as was the case over a decade ago, it was the unheralded salt-of-the-earth folks whose grim heroics bore us up in some of the darkest hours New Yorkers have experienced. For these folks, it's just "what we do"- for the rest of us- we can only be awed and eternally grateful.

For the next post in this Mentorship Series, click here

Lessons from a Young Master

Sorcerers apprentice

This is part of my Series on Mentorship.

I recently wrote about some enduring lessons I was privileged to learn from that great Old Master I told you about. I'm happy to say that of late I've been receiving some additional lessons, this time from some younger Masters.

A few weeks ago I started teaching our young son the game of chess. He is just a little over 2 years old but he is already learning what to call each piece, how to set them up on the board and now every night after dinner he says, "Daddy let's play chess" and we set up the board together, play a move or two and then he typically is ready to move on to another game or toy. I don't overdo it with him, but I can already see the enthusiasm he is developing for the idea and camaraderie of the game. Seeing him encounter chess with his fresh eyes has been something of a revelation for me. It has made me understand how precious the opportunity to teach something special to another human being can be. I've also come to understand just how much the teacher has to both remember and un-learn all at once. You have to constantly ask yourself questions like "what is he seeing that I no longer can", "what should I have been taught early on that took me years to realize on my own?". Imagination and creativity are paramount. You hope that in its purest form teaching is a gift to both the student and teacher. Each learns a great deal from the other and from the process as well.

I'm also teaching at Columbia Business School this year where I was appointed as an adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship. I teach the Launching New Ventures class and we have 70 students with us, some of whom are dead-set on launching companies and becoming entrepreneurs. It's a huge challenge and you want to do your very best for them- not just to inspire them but to give them every practical advantage they can possibly have. Again I believe understanding how they see the landscape in front of them is paramount. You must understand how they think and the prism through which they're evaluating the world. A lot of this requires the teacher to unlearn and remember at the some time. One student was shocked when I told him how to approach a certain meeting. He said "I'm allowed to speak that way?" It was a powerful moment where he realized for the first time that there were no limits on him. I wish someone had told me that when I was in school twenty-five years ago!

As a teacher you feel an awesome responsibility to do right by each and every student. Amidst all of this, you also gradually realize not just what a privilege it is to guide them on their journey- but just how much the teacher is learning from all of his students along the way. It's quite stunning.

So here's to the young masters- to their success both in business and in life- and to all that they in turn teach us about ourselves along the way.

For the next post in this Series on Mentorship, click here

Are You A HealthTech Entrepreneur?


I am a mentor for Blueprint Health and their winter program that starts on Jan 7 is accepting applications for healthcare start-ups. Blueprint Health is a healthcare-focused accelerator program based in NYC that helps early stage healthcare companies get started by providing access to a community, customers and capital. Their companies have raised over $7 million in seed capital from some of the most well-known and respected healthcare VCs and angels. Companies and floating founders can apply by visiting www.blueprinthealth.org.

Check it out!

Lessons from an Old Master

Chess game vs old man

This is part of both my Series on Entrepreneurial Culture and Mentorship.

On a frigid winter's night about seven years ago, I was challenged to a chess match by an ancient looking man with a snow white beard. We were in an old Baltic tavern that suffered from poor heating and as you can see by the photo that memorializes our encounter above, he wore his scarf, coat and hat throughout and I barely managed with a heavy sweater and scarf.

**Full disclosure: to further combat the chill, we both employed the aid of spirits- initially mild in nature and then escalating in subsequent games to a cranberry-infused vodka of his choosing.

The man spoke very little English and when he approached, merely gestured to me using the universal sign language for "play a game"? His expression was open but grave at the same time. I had been analyzing some positions and playing speed chess with some friends until that point. Of course out of respect for his age I agreed immediately, but perhaps you can see the traces of a faint smirk or bemused expression on my face as the game began. This was of course because I have been a decent tournament player throughout my life that began in earnest during my highschool years when my team was twice the national champion. Over the ensuing years, I had defeated my share of masters both here and abroad. As a consequence, until this particular evening, when challenged in casual games of this nature in pubs, at parties and the like, I always approached such encounters with a fair amount of bemused indulgence, shall we say. Need I tell you by now that this particular evening was the last time I ever did so again?

In our first game, playing perhaps to the 19th century atmosphere of the place, I trotted out an old-fashioned Vienna Game which transposed into a King's Gambit. My friends, who by now no doubt sensed something was in the air began to take photos. After a half dozen moves I already realized that the man was no novice. As the middlegame arrived I could see (to my shock!) that he was in fact rather strong. As the game wore on he proceeded to beat back my attack rather forcefully- and I was only able to draw the game with a perpetual check, otherwise the advantage was fully to him. We shook hands and I looked closely at him for the first time. His ancient and dark eyes were full of light and mirth- there was no trace of mockery, just mischief- he knew he had fully stunned me. He'd been young once- and hadn't forgotten it just yet. He smiled and gestured for another. My friends were similarly stunned. The old man called out for more drinks in his native tongue.

We played a few more games. We were evenly matched- a win to him, a win to me- I forget. The vodka had arrived too and it suited him. In the last game he hit some old stride from a half-century long past- and slowly dismantled my position with a precision and inevitability that shocked us all. I eventually resigned. We all shook the old Master's hand and he gave us that great mischievous smile of his, bowed slightly and shuffled off into the night. Of course I never saw him again. 

Last night my wife and I watched a 13 year old girl shock the judges and audience on the X Factor with a stunning, soulful rendition of "Feeling Good". We looked at each other and smiled- it was amazing.

Every once in a while I meet entrepreneurs that absolutely shock me. It happened the other day yet again. I met with two massively talented young women who had ended up partnering by sheer happenstance when one complimented the other on her shoes about six months ago.  They had got to talking and well, here they were- a stunning and amazing entrepreneurial team. In the first minutes that I met them they were two incredibly humble young people and yet in the ensuing minutes during which they described what they had created- they literally transformed before my eyes. 

I thank that old Master for teaching me this great lesson. My eyes have never been the same. I wish it for your eyes, too.
For the next post in this Series on Mentorship, click here

Startup Genome Launches Global Mission


Our Startup Genome project got some excellent coverage recently in the Silicon Prarie News. I've appended the text below. It captures what we're trying to accomplish for entrepreneurs and others in the startup ecosystem worldwide.

We've got a burgeoning group of remarkable city and state curators all around the world and we're honored to have Brad Feld of Foundry Group and Startup Revolution join us recently as curator of Colorado. Exciting stuff for sure and more to come soon with new releases.

Feel free to check out Startup Genome to learn more about our mission.


Startup Genome takes local approach categorizing, visualizing ecosystems


Dave Lerner created maps of the startup ecosystems of New York City (partially shown above, click for full) and Boston. Inspired, Shane Reiser reached out. Today, the two are working to take Startup Genome global. 

Ever wished you had a directory of all the startups in your city? All the investors who were interested in technology? Or just the right person to join your team? 

Startup Genome, an effort by Shane Reiser of Omaha (far left) and Dave Lerner of New York (near left), aims to put all that information on a map, for every startup hub in the world. 

Of course, this isn't a new idea. Startup enthusiasts around the globe have data tucked away in spreadsheets or mapped out on whiteboards. The best-known tools for organizing that sort of information include CrunchBase and AngelList.

Reiser, who also works full time with Kohort, noticed while traveling to different cities organizing Startup Weekend events that homegrown directories weren't easy to share, weren't interconnected, usually weren't up to date and were almost never very visual or interactive.

When he saw that Lerner, an entrepreneur, investor and professor, was making maps of New York City andBoston, Reiser reached out. 

The goal, Reiser said: "One place where entrepreneurs can find everything they're looking for in their local community."

Use of local curation is what sets Startup Genome (which is not to be confused with the unrelated Startup Compass tool, the Startup Genome Compass) apart from other databases. While anyone can add to Startup Genome, a team of local curators will monitor and edit the information for their community. For instance, the organizers of StartupIowa announced on Monday that they will curate the Iowa Startup and Entrepreneur Directory.

Reiser's belief in the need for local curation was reaffirmed as he edited Startup Genome data for Omaha. After importing data from CrunchBase, Reiser ended up deleting nearly 60 percent of it — including fake companies, dead companies, individuals who had moved on and companies and individuals who weren't really related to startups. Reiser said Startup Genome started with a list of nearly 150,000 companies nationwide, but that has since been edited down to about 80,000.

Reiser said it will be just as important to keep the wrong information out as it will to get the right information in. Initially, startups, founders, investors and resources will be featured while consultants and service providers will be stripped away. Reiser said those auxiliary services might be added back later. 

While Reiser and Lerner started discussing the project months ago, Startup Genome has only been in development for eight weeks. Reiser said the site is currently a minimum viable product. The basics are there — including profiles for people and companies, the ability to search by location and filter results (left) — but a lot of functionality, including AngelList integration and a publicly-available API, is still in the works.

The Startup Genome team also hopes that adding visualizations can make the data more useful and aesthetically pleasing. The first will be a Google Maps layer. The second will be a mind map, which is a type of graph that shows the relationships between data points. For example, if you selected a company on the mind map, you might see employees on one side, investors and mentors on another, and all the companies those people are connected to beyond that. Once the API is available, users will be able to build their own visualizations, too.

Startup Genome is a bootstrapped side project for Reiser and Lerner. While the mission is global, they're keeping an eye on the local. 

"We care a lot about the city-based startup community," Reiser said. "We want the city to really own their Startup Genome page, and do what they want with it."

Lerner explains Startup Genome in the video below. For more information, visit the blog



This is part of my Series on Entrepreneurial Culture.

I'm going to begin this post by asking a few questions.

How many people do you trust completely? For many I would guess this group would include your "inner circle"- comprised of your spouse, parents, siblings, grandparents and a handful of close friends. (This is obviously a gross generalization and varies enormously).

Let's get more specific now for our purposes. How many of the people you do business with do you trust completely?

If, for example, you are an entrepreneur- do you completely trust your cofounders, other teammates, your earliest investors, your VC's, your attorney?  Do you trust yourself?  What are the gradations?

How important should trust be to an entrepreneur?

If you're an investor, do you completely trust your partners, your portfolio company CEO's, your LP's, your associates and principals? What are the gradations?

How important should trust be to an investor?

I would bet that in both contexts there's a scale here that goes from "complete trust" to "trust somewhat" depending on the person in question and the personalities involved.

I've been thinking a lot about Trust lately for a variety of reasons. Let me quickly list them:

  • An entrepreneur I know was recently betrayed and had the rug pulled out from under him without warning by his "close friend" and business partner of the last five years
  • Some entrepreneurs I know were openly talking about taking some "dumb money" from some investors they obviously don't respect (let alone trust)
  • Some investors I know started playing silly games with entrepreneurs they invested in, rather than shoot straight
  • I've come across VC's who take information from entrepreneurs they have no intention of investing in and then pass that information on to portfolio companies of theirs, friends of theirs, or competitors of those that pitched them
  • I regularly see materials I shouldn't be seeing. In other words, materials I haven't asked for often get forwarded to me via email for "my opinion" (or whatever else), wherein the original sender was obviously operating on the understanding that the first recipient would not forward that information to anyone else. I am regularly that "anyone else". I'm sure lots of you receive this sort of information. I am consistently shocked by what people mindlessly (or purposely) forward to others
  • I know an entrepreneur who took angel money from myself and a number of others perhaps 8 years ago and has in recent years gone radio silent. He won't update his own investors nor return emails and calls

These scenarios above obviously vary from relatively minor violations of trust to massively egregious ones. Collectively though, they force you to address the core issue.

What are your thoughts about Trust? Obviously we live in a complex world and one cannot trust everyone with whom we do business. There are gradations of trust and there are no doubt continuums that range from complete trust to none at all.

Who do you need to trust completely? Where is a lesser standard appropriate?

I'd love to hear your views about these nuances.  Please leave comments and contribute to the discussion! 



What Every Student Entrepreneur Needs to Know to Succeed (7) Grants & Competitions

This is part of my Series on Student Entrepreneurship

In the previous posts in this Series we established the mindset and awareness required, the immersion you need to inititate in your local startup ecosystemwhat you need to do to acquire subject matter expertisehow to develop a social media presencethe importance of finding a mentor, and how to cultivate lasting ties with investors, all with the objective of greatly increasing your chances of success as an entrepreneur.

In this installment, I'm going to highlight the fact that among the many awesome advantages you have as a student entrepreneur, (your sheer youth, the spare time you have, your .edu address, the willingness of most people to help you, your freedom to operate, etc.) is the fact that you can apply for a staggering array of competitions and grants geared specifically to student entrepreneurs like yourself!

The opportunity is so remarkable I thought it deserved its own special category in this Series as I see it as separate and apart from raising capital & investors. You see- what we're talking about in this post is non-dilutive capital! Another more colloquial term for it is of course, "Free Money"!

Over the years I've seen the student entrepreneurs with the most hustle consistently figure out ways to enter into a plethora of competitions and apply for student grants while they are still in school.  Oftentimes the money and in-kind services they receive for winning such competitions and grants are actually the critical funding they needed to achieve proof-of-concept or product-market fit for their businesses. It would have been very tough for them to raise angel or VC money at the stages they were in, but that $25k or $50k they won made all the difference. In fact, a number of great businesses got their start this way, including mammoth venture-backed companies like ComixologyLearnVestWarby Parker and Pinterest.  You can listen to some of these remarkable founder's tell their stories here: David SteinbergerAlexa von Tobel and here: David Gilboa.

So- as to help you get started down this path, I've started putting together a working list of Grants and Competition Resources for Student Entrepreneurs. It's the third section in my University Entrepreneurship Page. Please help build this list! If you come across more resources do so by leaving helpful comments to this post.

In the meantime, I wish you lots of luck- hope you pull down some wins here!



What Every Student Entrepreneur Needs to Know to Succeed (6) Relationships w/Investors

This is part of my Series on Student Entrepreneurship

In the previous posts in this Series we established the mindset and awareness required, the immersion you need to inititate in your local startup ecosystemwhat you need to do to acquire subject matter expertisehow to develop a social media presence, and the importance of finding a mentor, all with the objective of greatly increasing your chances of success as an entrepreneur.

In the second post in this series I encouraged you to immerse yourself in your local startup ecosystem so as to get out of that "school bubble" and into the action.  I am going to elaborate here, specifically with regard to cultivating relationships with angel and venture capital investors.

**Before I continue, however, remember- overall your goal should be to form real and lasting relationships with quality people in your city's ecosystem and beyond. You're not just meeting people to transact with them! You'd be amazed how many people do this.**

OK, so with that caveat in mind, one layer of the ecosystem is of course comprised of investors and they are an important one. Whether your startup ends up requiring friends & family money, angel money or VC money is immaterial. Rest assured it will require some money and having real relationships with investors will be crucial whether you try to raise money from them in the future or not.

So how do you get to know investors in a natural way?

  • First, you need to identify them. One way to start is by checking out the Startup Genome, find your city or university page there and go through the lists/profiles of the various angels and VC's (who invest in your space).
  • Second, you should begin to familiarize yourself with their portfolio companies, their investment philosophy via their blogs and twitter streams and through this process identify a handful that you think you would have a natural rapport with.
  • You can then start commenting on their blogs (not pitching them mind you!) and start participating naturally in the dialogue. Share and learn!
  • Next you should identify where they are going to be speaking or what events they will be attending. Be there. 
  • Since you've been interacting with them on their blogs and twitter, etc., you'll have a natural way of saying hello and you can simply continue the virtual conversation you've been having in person.

So now you'll be developing real relationships with angels and VC's in your area. Remember, you are not pitching them. They are real people like you and often have a lot of experience and can be great sources of advice. It also just so happens that they invest in lines, not dots as Mark Suster likes to say. Get to know each other!

With this approach you'll be connected in no time. Let me know how it goes!  


For Part 7 of this Series, Click Here

The Founder and His Vision (1)


This is part one of my ongoing Series on Getting from Zero to One.

You suspect you possess the Founder's Eye- that mythical Picassoan Eye referred to in the Prelude.

To put it another way, you don't laugh to yourself at the suggestion.

Why is this? 

You probably see the outlines of something immense in your mind's eye. 

And again, why is this?

It may not be something you can immediately explain- and is more likely something you just feel instinctively.

And why is this?

It's probably because you have encountered or witnessed a problem or obstacle or gap in your life at work or elsewhere that frustrated or perhaps even infuriated you. Something inside you told you there must be a better way to do this and now you believe you will be the agent of change- that you will build something that destroys this particular issue and perhaps goes far beyond it.

You feel a passion for this cause, for this arena- you are ready to fight for it at enormous cost. You feel something larger than yourself is at stake and you are consumed by this feeling.

But where do you begin? How do you harness this immense energy?

A thousand questions crowd your mind: How and where to begin? Who to hire? How to raise funds? Who to call? Who to trust? Who to help me with my model? Who to partner with? It goes on and on. Some never make it past this first day, overwhelmed by the anxiety of it all- most just muddle through somehow in a perpetual state of nervous tension. It doesn't have to be like this.

If you’re going through this or are about to launch your first startup, this series of posts is for you. I was inspired to write it by the many young entrepreneurs I meet who are trying to make their way through this "blessed warm fog" (as Conrad put it).  It’s the beginning after all- and one of the most difficult and misunderstood phases of a startup’s lifecycle. It requires some of the most concrete tasks and yet some of your most creative thinking all at once.  

It's time to take the first steps, one at a time. I like to call this  ‘Going from Zero to One’.

This series is essentially going to be a Buddhist chant with a singular mantra, to be repeated in a steady, rhythmic tone, over and over again…. Zero to One, Zero to One, Zero to One.... I will explain, I promise.

For Part Two in this Series, click here.

The Founder's Eye

Picasso eye 2 Bezos eye1
Steve jobs eye 1 Zuckerberg eye
Tony-hsieh-delivering-happiness-thumb Sergey brin

This is part of both my ongoing Series on Entrepreneurial Culture as well as my ongoing Series on Getting from Zero to One.

I had the pleasure of reading Patrick O'Brian's biography of Picasso in the mid-nineties. O'Brian is of course best known for his magnificent Aubrey-Maturin series, but he was actually also friendly with Picasso and wrote a tremendous biography about him in the seventies. Throughout the book are references to Picasso's magnificent artistic eye. The "eye" is at various points called "beaming", "knowing", "young", "intelligent", "dark", "lustrous", "gleaming", "compassionate", the "brilliant window to his mind", "piercing". I never forgot this emphasis O'Brian put on that all-seeing Picassoan eye which, in O'Brian's judgment, was the source of the great genius of the man. All this stood out to me because it was one of the few occasions in the biography of an artist or writer that I'd read, in which the author even tried to comprehend the nature/origins of his subject's genius. As an artist himself (and a great one), and as a friend of Picasso's, O'Brian dared to tread in that realm.

So where am I going with this? Well, it's well established by now that many visionary founders are artists in their own right. The world-changing companies they build are their particular canvas.

I think all visionary founders who have built great companies possess a "magnificent eye". Think of all that it must capture and perceive:

  • an immense and compelling vision for something that doesn't exist and that few can see or understand
  • the innate understanding of what team members are needed to help make some version of this vision a reality
  • the confidence and charisma to convince teammates, partners, investors, customers, the media, and others that their vision (or something close to it) coming to fruition is inevitable
  • the tenacity to overcome extreme opposition, to pivot, to change direction and adapt to new information and changing circumstances

So next time you're looking to join a startup, or, if you're an angel or VC to invest in an entrepreneur's company, look for the Picassoan eye, that mythical Founder's Eye.... is it there or are they kidding themselves and perhaps you?

Or maybe you have it yourself? If so, make haste, the world is waiting for you.

For the next post in the Getting from Zero to One Series click here

Mentorship Gone Wrong: Three Things to Watch Out For


This is part of my Mini-Series on Mentorship

It occured to me that no series on mentorship would be worth much if I didn't make mention of the various forms of bad or faux mentorship I've seen out there. In fact, from what I've observed over the years, the worst advice is actually well-intentioned. 

In a startup context, bad advice is particularly devastating and can actually kill you before you even get started.

So here's a list of some stuff that amounts to "mentorship-gone-wrong":

The "Mentor" Has No Concept of what Mentorship Actually Means:

 An entrepreneur I know once told me he was having some "issues" with a team member. He told me he'd tried to "mentor" him and it "wasn't working". I checked into the situation- basically he'd had a few phone conversatons with the other guy amounting to a cross between a beration and a pep-talk. This is so far from mentorship it's almost comical. Nevertheless, the profundity of his lack of understanding of what basic mentorship involves was stunning. 

The "Mentor" Has Zero Experience or Understanding of the Startup World:

 Often I see fledgling entrepreneurs seek out advice from well-intentioned people who are not in the startup world but have been successful (or perhaps not) elsewhere, (ie. lawyers, bankers, executives, accountants, etc.) Inevitably these folks always feel as though they have a lot to share. Rarely do such folks say: "you really ought to talk to someone in the startup world who knows what they're talking about". These interactions often lead to the worst and most damaging advice I see. They often, for example, make introductions to people they think are "venture capitalists" who are usually unscrupulous broker-dealers. With one single careless introduction they can ruin an unsuspecting person's entrepreneurial life.

The Delicate Category of Certain Lawyers who Fancy Themselves to be Mentors                               

This one's a delicate issue because there are definitely a couple of individuals out there in the startup world who make great mentors and also happen to be lawyers. But make no mistake, this is the overwhelming exception rather than the rule.

If you're an entrepreneur you really should be mentored by an entrepreneur, not by someone billing you by the hour.

In fact, I see loads of easily resolvable transactions destroyed by lawyers who try to insert themselves way too aggressively on the business-side of issues and get into their clients' heads in a big way, especially those clients are new to entrepreneurship.

Nature (and lawyers) abhor a vaccum.

Remember, you are the entrepreneur- you make the deals happen- the lawyer you pay alerts you to legitmate issues and papers the deal. That's how it should work.

That's it for now. If you think I've left anything out please by all means leave a comment!


What Not To Do During A Serious Meeting

When not to eat

This is part of my Series on Entrepreneurial Culture

I was in a serious meeting recently. Some heavy-duty decisions were being made. Faces were grave, people were addressing each other in quiet and measured tones. The tension was palpable.

Suddenly, a loud crunching noise broke through the charged atmosphere. At first I had no idea what it was and I turned slightly toward the direction of this noise and to my amazement noted that it was the sound of a person chewing on a piece of celery.

He was oblivious and continued to chew loudly. This was not a lunch meeting, I assure you. Others shifted uncomfortably in their seats and exchanged eye-rolls and yet he persisted until he finished eating the vegetable. The conversation, which had slowed while he chewed, continued from there. 

People let it slide on the surface, but make no mistake- his behavior spoke volumes about his mindset, his character, his commitment and his attitude.

So whether it's checking your iPhone constantly while someone's talking, interrupting people while they're making a point, or chomping on a stick of celery- be cognizant of the impression this might leave on others.

Marty Odlin, CEO Bamboo Bike Studio: an anti-consumerist visionary

We sat down recently with Marty Odlin, CEO of Bamboo Bike Studio. Marty's company has locations sprouting all over the US, including his flagship studio right here in RedHook, Brooklyn.

Marty and his colleagues hold weekend-long workshops for anyone who wants to build their own bamboo bike with their help. At the end of the weekend, folks ride out on their own bicycles with an enormous sense of accomplishment. He's even developed bike-building kits for the more adventurous do-it-yourself types.

The movement he created is definitely spreading and he's taking this international, opening Bamboo Bike Studios in Canada and has lots of offers to open in Europe, and may even open a factory in Ecuador in the near future.

I learned that Bamboo Bikes are just one small extension of Marty's personality and anti-consumerist vision. Enjoy.


What Every Student Entrepreneur Needs to Know to Succeed (5) Finding a Mentor



This is part of my new Series on Student Entrepreneurship

In the previous posts in this Series we established the mindset and awareness required, the immersion you need to inititate in your local startup ecosystemwhat you need to do to acquire subject matter expertise, how to develop a social media presence, all with the objective of greatly increasing your chances of success as an entrepreneur.

Next on the menu is understanding the importance of mentorship. Take a second to remember what is was like when you first started trying to learn a new language, sport or skill. It was probably somewhat daunting and uncomfortable at first. Perhaps you found a great coach to quickly help you get the hang of things that gave you real-world insights that you never would have found in a book. I suggest you look at learning entrepreneurship in the same exact way. It's really not something one "just does" and hopes to be good at. You need experienced people to help guide you so you can avoid major pitfalls. The sooner you accept this reality, the better. Having an ego about this is a mistake. Don't confuse being intelligent with actually knowing anything- it's a huge problem that's rampant in our society.

The good news is that most colleges and universities are being swept up in the tidal wave of university entrepreneurship I predicted three years ago! Whether the school's administration is genuinely interested in helping student entrepreneurs succeed or just "trying to keep up with the Jones' (and the Stanford's for that matter)", doesn't matter much, because they're all falling over themselves to find entrepreneurs-in-residence and start mentorship programs to point their students to. I strongly urge you to take advantage of these resources and to receive some ongoing advice and mentorship.

Also, as you immerse yourself in the local startup community, keep your eyes open for experienced and successful people who might be inclined to help you. Perhaps they went to the same college as you did or simply love what you are trying to create. When you find such a person, get to know them and take your time- don't clumsily ask them to mentor you on your first or second meeting. Let it happen organically. Usually the conversations will just head in the direction of advice and mentorship- all you need to do is roll with it at that point!

In a nutshell, finding a solid mentor can dramatically increase the chances of you succeeding, so get out there and see what you can do about it! Here's some additional posts I've written in my Series on Mentorship that you may also find to be helpful.

Best of Luck! 

For Part 6 of this Series, Click Here

(If you're currently reading my Series on Mentorship, click here for the next post)

Veer Gidwaney, CEO Daily Feats: Finally Getting Some Credit for our Good Habits!

We spoke with Veer Gidwaney recently about the company his brother and he created to help motivate people to reach their personal goals. Users can actually get perks and/or cash via points they earn for making healthy choices in their lives. 

Veer is an entrepreneur with an incredible sense of mission and purpose.  He shared a great deal about the people who have inspired him and shaped him as a person.

 It's all part of our social entrepreneurship series. Enjoy.


John Walker of Echoing Green on Seed Money for Social Entrepreneurs

We sat down recently with John Walker, (aka "Johnnie Walker Black Label" as I call him), who is the finance director of Echoing Green, a seed-funding foundation that has disseminated $31 million to ambitious social entrepreneurs.

John's an expert in this space and tells us the story of Echoing Green, which was launched in 1987, named after a William Blake poem about creating a better world. In 2002, Echoing Green was recast as a global non-profit by one of its alumni fellows.

Echoing Green has funded the ideas of more than 500 fellows. “We’re looking for people who have the maximum potential to create social change,” says Walker. “It really is about that single individual person.”

If you need subtitles to understand my friend John's great Scottish brogue let me know. 



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

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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