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.

Will This Platform Change Startup Funding Forever?

We sat down recently with Mike Norman, co-founder of Boston-based WeFunder.

Wefunder’s platform seeks to offer an alternative to the traditional funding rounds a startup normally has to go through by marrying it with the popular crowdfunding techniques found on websites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. Wefunder splits from the aforementioned platforms in two key ways: It actually does allow businesses to use the platform, and potential funders are also offered a stake of equity in the company. 

It’s innovative — and was nearly legal at the time of filming. Wefunder became active upon the subsequent passage of the recently congress-approved Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, which centered on a provision that allows small and medium-sized companies acquire traditional business funding through crowdfunding methods. It could be huge win for Wefunder and the startups interested in using the platform.

Do you believe this is the startup pathway of the future? Let us know in the comments.

Note: This video was produced before the passage of the JOBS Act on March 27.


Ron Gonen, Founder of RecycleBank

We sat down with Ron Gonen, Founder of RecycleBank recently, to discuss his experience founding and growing Recycle Bank over a seven year period. Today, the company has over 3 million members and is working towards a world without waste by rewarding people for taking everyday green actions



Why AOL Is Targeting Early Stage Startups

AOL Venture, the venture capital arm of AOL, is one part early-stage investment firm and one part incubator of new and unique AOL products. The focus on seed and series A rounds is unusual among corporate investors, and founding partner Mike Brown, Jr. says it is because the fund is focused on helping entrepreneurs succeed early on and building AOL’s reputation in the early stage community. Though relatively young, AOL Ventures has already assembled an impressive portfolio of investments, including participation in rounds with startups like Bit.ly, About.me, OpenX and NewsCred.

Watch our interview with Brown, Jr. on Venture Studio to find out how AOL Ventures got started, what types of companies they’re looking to invest in and why strong management teams are so important.

AOL Ventures

Tech's Next Big Bubble: Where Will It Come From

John Frankel is the head of FF Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm that includes some of the web’s hottest startups in its portfolio, including Hashable, Klout and IndieGoGo.

Check out our interview with Frankel on Venture Studio to learn what motivates him as an investor, why he’s so attracted to early stage companies and his thoughts on where the next tech bubble will manifest.

This Venture Studio Classic was originally released on October 24, 2011.

Ff Ventures


How One Pioneering Investor Kick-Starts Early Stage Companies

When Jeff Clavier founded SoftTech VC there weren’t too many investors doing small, seed-stage investments in next generation web companies. Many traditional venture capitalists just didn’t find the new breed of capital efficient web startups very intriguing. A small group of investors, including Clavier, thought otherwise, and began to invest their own money as angels. They’ve been wildly successful in doing so, and today Clavier’s SoftTech VC firm has investments and holdings in some of the web’s most successful startups, including Bit.ly, Get Satisfaction, Ustream, TwitterGroupon and Facebook.

Clavier just closed SoftTech VC’s mammoth third fund — a whopping $55 million, which is more than three times larger than the firm’s successful second fund. The new fund will allow Clavier and company to invest in 60 to 65 new companies with an initial investment averaging $400,000.

Watch our interview at Venture Studio with Clavier to find out what he looks for in new investments, why VCs do whatever it takes to help their portfolio companies succeed and why there is no pride in venture capital.

This Venture Studio Classic was originally released on May 16, 2011, after the launch of SoftTech VC Fund III, but prior to it closing.

Jeff Clavier


How LinkedIn Gave A Pro Athlete A New Career

While playing for the Tennessee Valley Vipers in the Arena Football League, and pursuing his dream of playing football professionally, Lewis Howes broke his wrist diving for a pass. He gutted out the rest of the season, playing through his injury, but underwent career-ending surgery in the offseason. For the next six months he wore a full-arm cast and went about trying to answer the lingering question, “What now?”

He didn’t have a back up plan — it was football or nothing.

Following the advice of a mentor, Howes got on LinkedIn. There he discovered a way to build a brand identity for himself around something other than his talent on the field. He became so engaged with LinkedIn that he wrote two books about using the site and today he is in demand, as a speaker, as a sports marketer and as the host of numerous webinar training sessions.

Watch our interview with Howes on Venture Studio and learn how to maximize your presence on LinkedIn, his suggestions and best practices for freelancers and why he recommends all job-seekers start their search on LinkedIn.

Lewis Howes

How an Innovative Startup Turned Retail On Its Head

While Harvard Business School grads Katia Beauchamp and Hayley Barna were looking for a business idea, they noticed that the beauty product industry was seriously behind the times on the online retail side. They discovered that some of the biggest pain points for customers included the overwhelming selection of products and the inability to get a hands-on experience with the items before making a purchase. With that in mind, they created Birchbox, a company that mails women a box containing four to five deluxe beauty products every month. Their customers can test out a handful of new products from home and brands benefit from follow up purchases when the samples run out.

Their unique approach to connecting qualified customers with deluxe brands got the attention of New York’s venture capital community and landed them a seed investment of $1.4 million, followed by a series A round of $10.5 million. Having hit their third year’s sales target in just seven months, Birchbox is now scaling their business model rapidly, as well as planning a new subscription offering targeted at men.

Check out our interview on Venture Studio with Beauchamp and listen to her tips on what entrepreneurs should be thinking about before meeting a potential investor, how she and her business partner manage the personal dynamics between co-founders and a look at the logistics of rapidly scaling a company.


How One Entrepreneur Is Connecting Celebrities With Their Fans

After graduating from the famed Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Steve Ellis spent the next decade trying to make it in the music business, while tending bar on the side. According to Ellis, he was one of the lowest earning Wharton grads in the school’s history. He persevered, though, and founded Pump Audio, as a means of distributing his own music online. The site eventually became the de facto online destination for independent artists looking to license their music, and in 2007, Ellis sold Pump Audio to Getty Images for a reported $42 million.

Back as a second-time entrepreneur, Ellis’ latest venture is creating a marketplace for celebrity content where none previously existed. At WhoSay, Ellis is building a platform that simplifies the direct-to-fan relationship, creating greater engagement for the celebrities and influencers who use it.

You can watch the video on Venture Studio.


Why Startups Need to Talk to Their Customers

Based on lean startup methodology, Lean Startup Machine is a weekend-long startup competition, as well as a workshop for educating entrepreneurs on lean startup best practices. Founded by NYU business school drop out Trevor Owens, Lean Startup Machine plays host to a list of tech royalty, who come in to advise participants and teach teams how to understand their customers, quickly build, validate or invalidate their initial assumptions and then persevere or pivot, based on that feedback.

Check out our interview to learn how Lean Startup Machine has helped participants figure out if their ideas are valid and pivot if they’re not. Owens elaborates on why he feels that sometimes the best way to give entrepreneurs a dose of reality is to kick them out of the building and what he looks for when reviewing applications for his program (hint: demonstrate that you’re truly dedicated to being an entrepreneur).

You can watch the video on Venture Studio.

Lean Startup Machine

Thanks to Mike Brown, Jr. for hosting our shoot at AOL Ventures.

How One of New York's Hottest Coworking Spaces Got Started

General Assembly is unique among coworking spaces. In addition to providing a meeting and working space for entrepreneurs, founders Brad Hargreaves, Adam Pritzker, Jake Schwartz and Matthew Brimer deliberately built the space using a campus model. Their goal was to provide a space that went beyond a meet and work place and offered a space for hackers and designers to hone their skills. Their unique, mixed-use building offers a classes in design and and software development in addition to private and open spaces for entrepreneurs to collaborate, work and learn.

In this interview with General Assembly co-founder Brad Hargreaves learn how the space got started, how they designed their curriculum and hear Hargreaves talk about his broader views on the current startup landscape.

You can view the video here on Venture Studio.

General Assembly


How a Startup is Revolutionizing the Outdoor Ad Space

When a client at his creative firm asked to buy outdoor ad space adjacent to locations of every Bed, Bath and Beyond store in New York City, John Laramie realized how inefficient the outdoor ad buying process was. In order to scout the locations for his client, he had to get on his bicycle and physically pedal to every store in the city. With his legs aching, and sensing that there had to be a smarter way to do it, he founded ADstruc, an online buying platform for outdoor advertising.

Laramie and his team built a viable platform and applied for admission at TechStars Boulder. They were admitted, moved to Colorado for three months and graduated with a term sheet in hand. Though the sheer amount of advice from mentors can be overwhelming, Laramie and his team agree that they are better off after going through the program.

Check out our interview with Laramie and learn about his tips for communicating with investors (hint: build a relationship before you’re ready to ask for financing), what investors look for in a company at the seed stage and how ADstruc educates potential buyers before selling to them.

Just click here to see the interview on Venture Studio.

Thanks to Mike Brown, Jr. for hosting our shoot at AOL Ventures.



Laramie - AdStruc



How a Professional Pain Point Led to a Disruptive Business Idea

Look books are the traditional, non-digital, paper catalogs that fashion designers use to show off their designs to magazine writers and editors. Fed up with the cumbersome process of having to look through every page to find the right item, Meggan Crum envisioned a website where she could just click on the items she needed via an online shopping-style web site, and have them delivered to her. She ran the idea by her colleague and good friend, Mandy Tang, who was getting her MBA at Columbia. The two then decided to found The Runthrough, a site that is shaking up the editorial side of the fashion industry.

Check out our interview on Venture Studio with Mandy and Meggan to learn how they launched using Lean Startup principles, the challenges of running a company with two co-founders and how they go their business off the ground. 


How a Niche Email Newsletter Grew to a Million Subscribers

CEO Geoff Bartakovics launched Tasting Table in 2008, to bring the world of niche and gourmet dining to discerning foodies. Four years, five cities and one million subscribers later, Tasting Table is becoming the de facto insider’s guide to adventurous dining.

Check out our interview with Bartakovics to find out how Tasting Table is distinguishing itself in the already-crowded online food recommendation market, what he’s learned (the hard way) about proper money management and what some of his most recent challenges have been (hint: the not-so-glamorous side of scaling a company).

You can the watch whole video on Venture Studio.

Tasting Table - Typepad

How 4 Business Students Took on the Eyewear Industry

When four friends met in business school and discovered they shared a common problem — an aversion to paying hundreds of dollars for eyeglasses — they realized there was a business opportunity in it. The group founded Warby Parker, an innovative startup that aims to revolutionize how people buy eyeglasses. Warby sells directly to the public, via their website, allowing them to bypass retailers and sell their frames and lenses for $95.

  Check out the Venture Studio interview with Dave Gilboa, Warby Parker’s co-founder and co-CEO and learn how the company is disrupting the eyewear industry, similar to the way Netflix crashed the video rental market. Dave also talks about some of the company’s early growing pains, including having to put 20,000 customers on a waiting list and why Google shut down his company’s email servers.

You can watch the interview by clicking on the photo below.

Warby Parker - TypePad

How a Handful of Small Investors Built Silicon Valley

Venture capitalist Paul Holland isn’t just a general partner at Foundation Capital, he’s also a documentarian. He produced Something Ventured, a documentary that explores the origins of the tech startup economy in Silicon Valley. The movie was inspired by a conversation he had with Bill Edwards, a man who helped found the modern-day California venture capital business model. Something Ventured debuted at SXSW 2011 and should be available next year on Netflix, a company in which Holland is an investor.

Check out the interview to learn Holland’s view on investing in clean tech and what he’s focusing his investments on right now. He also has the greenest custom home in the U.S., which is net energy positive, meaning it creates more energy than it uses. A huge advocate for student entrepreneurship, Holland describes how student entrepreneurs should be thinking and talks about two students who he met and later funded, that went on to run a billion-dollar energy company.

Just click on the pic to watch the video on Venture Studio.

Paul Holland - Typepad

Why Good Entrepreneurs Borrow, Great Ones Steal

Fabrice Grinda is the CEO of OLX, one of the largest classified websites in the world, and he’s very excited about the emerging digital markets Russia and Brazil. His company, which he describes as Craiglist 2.0 for the rest of the world, is rapidly expanding there, and as a tech investor he’s putting money into startups from those countries, as well.

“These are two of the hottest Internet markets in the world right now,” said Grinda, who notes that GDP growth is fueling similar growth in the digital sector in these emerging markets.

In additional to his views on Brazil and Russia, watch our interview with Grinda to hear his thoughts on why he considers himself an entrepreneurial thief, what he considers when deciding to fund a company, what the “secret sauce” is for running a successful consumer Internet company and tell the story of how he went from being broke in 2001, to being a successful startup founder and prolific investor just a decade later.

Just click on the pic below to watch the whole interview!

Fabrice Grinda - Typepad

How a First-Time Entrepreneur Built a Top-Grossing Ipad App

Comics by Comixology has become the de facto tablet reading platform for comic books. That only happened because Comixology CEO David Steinberger spent time learning the business of comics before figuring out how to digitize it. “We took the time to understand where the market was and that you couldn’t just plow digital into it,” said Steinberger.

Watch the interview with Steinberger to learn how failing at a business plan competition helped him refine the business for success, how he positioned the company to quickly cut deals with the giants of the space and learn why he created two distinct business plans for his company prior to launching his app.

Just click on the photo to watch the video.

Steinberger - Comixology Typepad

My TEDx Talk for Student Entrepreneurs: "Why Wait 'Til You Graduate?"

This is part of my new Series on Student Entrepreneurship

I gave a TEDx talk on student entrepreneurship recently. It sort of sums up how I feel about the extraordinary opportunity student entrepreneurs have at their disposal in this day and age.  I contrasted the environment of 25 years ago (when I was a college freshman) versus that of today for a fledgling student entrepreneur.

Let me know your thoughts!

(For Part 1 of this Series, Click Here)

Can You Teach Entrepreneurship?

Can you teach entrepreneurship? Bestselling author Eric Ries thinks so. He also thinks that entrepreneurship must be taught to more people if the American economy is to successfully pivot to a post-manufacturing world. According to Ries, we’ve gotten so efficient at manufacturing that even though we’re making more stuff than ever before, there are less jobs available to do it. That’s why economic survival lies in our ability to better teach the business of creativity and entrepreneurship.

Ries’ new book, The Lean Startup, has climbed to #2 on the NY Times Bestseller List, in the “Advice and Misc.” category. In the book, Ries talks about his strategies for running a successful startup, which are based on the “lean manufacturing” process that originated with Toyota.

Check out our interview with Ries for his advice on the metrics that entrepreneurs should really be paying attention to, why he thinks job titles are irrelevant in the startup world and how the lean startup model helped Instagram pivot to its present business model.

Just click on the pic to see the whole interview at Venture Studio.

Eric Ries - TypePad

Turning Social Data Into Real Life Connections

Social media has made the world smaller — thanks to sites like Facebook, we’re all a couple degrees closer to each other. But are those new connections extending beyond the virtual space? An ambitious mobile app called Sonar aims to use the vast amounts of social data we’ve put on the web to connect people offline through location, mutual friends or mutual interests.

Check out our interview with Sonar founder Brett Martin to learn how he wants to democratize the meeting space, the perks he offers to entice new hires, some of the challenges he faces as an entrepreneur and how growing up in the popular vacation community of Ocean City, MD and making friends with complete strangers inspired him to pursue the creation of an app that helps you realize your online connections in the “real world.” 

Click on the picture to see the whole video at Venture Studio! 


Brett Martin TypePad 

Crowdsourced Kitchen: How Two Journalists Made Cooking Social Again

Food journalists, Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, met while working together on the New York Times Cookbook. As they wrote the book, the noticed a shift in the online foodie community from content consumption to creation and hatched an idea for a crowdsourced site that would act as a filter for all that content. That idea led to the launch of Food 52, an online community for food enthusiasts.

Watch the interview to learn about how their site takes advantage of crowdsourcing, partnered with Whole Foods and the importance of communicating an idea to investors.

Click on the picture to see the full video!


What Every Entrepreneur Should Know About Asking For Help

Marissa Evans created her company, Go Try It On, as a means of answering that age-old question, “What should I wear?” Along the way, she recruited a technical team, launched her product at South By Southwest and was able to land $3 million in funding.

Check out Marissa’s interview to hear what she has to say about some of the challenges she’s experienced, how she relies on friends in tough times and what every entrepreneur should know about the power of asking for help.

Click on the photo to watch the full interview at Venture Studio!



Startup Revenue: From Zero to $1 Million in a Year

When Shane Snow co-founded Contently a year ago he had just 48 cents in his bank account. Fast forward to the end of 2011 and the startup is on track to clear over $1 million in revenue.

Watch Shane’s interview to hear about his experience going through the TechStars mentorship program, raising money and how his experience of losing a big sale helped him better understand Contently’s business model.

Click on the photo to watch the whole interview on Venture Studio!


The Remarkable Story of How Klout Got Started

While recuperating after having his jaw wired shut, Joe Fernandez had to rely on Twitter and Facebook to communicate. Unable to speak to anyone, he noticed how online communication influenced his personal network and set out to create a website that could measure word of mouth and how it scaled.

That website is what we know today as Klout, where Fernandez is CEO. In the video above, Fernandez shares his story with Venture Studio.

Click on the photo to watch the whole interview at Venture Studio!




Inside the Y Combinator Experience With the Founders of Codecademy

Since Zach Sims and Ryan Bubinsky left Columbia University to join Y Combinator, their startup,Codecademy, has attracted close to 1 million users and $2.5 million in funding from elite tech investors like Fred Wilson’s Union Square Ventures, Ron Conway’s SV Angel fund and Yuri Milner.

You can watch the whole video on Venture Studio by clicking on the photo.


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