David Cohen, founder of venture capital giant Techstars, visited Domi Station this Friday to talk team building, startups, and tech culture.
At first glance, David G. Cohen doesn’t strike you as an entrepreneur. He certainly doesn’t strike you as one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the country, a man with an early stake in ride-sharing startup Uber.
Cohen, dressed casually and adopting the tone of a welcomed guest, showed that he was right at home in a startup-fueled workspace that is Domi Station. He embodied the approachability and down-to-earth mannerism that we have come to expect from those in Silicon Valley culture.
Born in Deland and growing up in central Florida, David is a lifelong Florida State Seminoles fan. He relished the opportunity to visit Tallahassee for the game against Louisville and also pay a visit to the burgeoning tech community just outside Tallahassee’s art district.
“I’m here primarily for you guys, the game is a close second,” he joked.
It was clear that while he was excited to visit the Doak Campbell Stadium, his true passion is in entrepreneurship and building communities around the idea. After a short introduction by FSU Entrepreneur in Residence Chris Markl, David opened the floor to questions.
The first question came from one local entrepreneur who asked for tips for figuring out if a team member is right for you.
“It’s the idea of a future vision of a world that’s shared… you are the founding team that is going to be the culture of your company, it’s going to be its DNA,” David responded.
And that wasn’t the only time Cohen spoke of a team’s shared vision. Throughout the entire presentation David emphasised the importance of vision, not only about the world but about the startups and companies that Domi residents are building.
“Your passion has to be from somewhere real, not from a spreadsheet… find a thing that sucks and “unsuck” that thing! But you have to give a crap about that thing.”
Cuttlesoft’s own Frank Valcarcel asked David for his one most important piece of life advice from over a decade of hacking, investing, and mentoring.
“Focus on what you can control,” he responded.
“That’s the world you can change. Don’t focus on what others are doing, just do what you can do and try to do it the best way possible.”
Cohen gave a trove of advice to the crowd of developers, entrepreneurs, and designers, fielding questions about scalability, company culture, and a successful business pitch.
“It’s not about the pitch you just gave me, it’s about the relationship we might have… I don’t do marketing, I do product. Because when you use it (the product) you’re going to tell everyone you know.”
As one of the founders and major leaders of the venture capital scene in Boulder, CO where he lives with his family, Cohen also had a lot to say about building an entrepreneurship community. He seemed excited by what he saw in the room, a group of people with a common goal: build great companies.
“I don’t think there was a watershed moment, it was years of little things,” he said about the rise of Boulder, now the 5th largest city in the U.S. for venture capital.
“Act like you want to become,” Cohen stressed, mentioning how he and his team at Boulder started talking about the city like it was “awesome” until it actually was. He encouraged the local community to rally behind local entrepreneurs and leaders.
David asked everyone who considered themselves an entrepreneur to raise their hand. Nearly half the room put a hand in the air. He then told anyone who sees himself staying in the community in the next twenty years to keep their hands up. About nine or ten people remained.
“These are the people you need to get behind. These are your leaders. You shouldn’t be telling them what to do, it should be the other way around. You have nine or ten leaders here, Boulder had five at most in the beginning. Follow these guys.”
In his ending remarks, David Cohen encouraged Domi residents to keep up the momentum and continue to build on the vibrant community of entrepreneurs that they have already created.
“Focus on a vision of what the world should be. Changing the world is about doing what you care about.”