The One Thing Techstars' Anna Barber Looks for in Founders

Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.

The One Thing Techstars' Anna Barber Looks for in Founders
Photo by Ben Rosett on Unsplash

Every year, Anna Barber, managing director of Techstars LA, has to sift through around 1,000 applications and meet with hundreds of founding teams in order to select ten to go through the prestigious three month accelerator program that can serve as a crucial launching pad for very young startups.

So what does she look for above all else? Curiosity and a desire to ask hard questions.

"What I really mean by that is the willingness to look at things that you assume to be true and question them," Barber said. "Because the key to building a great business is constantly making tiny adjustments based on new information and sometimes big adjustments. If you lack the courage to question your own assumptions, you're never going to get there."

In addition to running Techstars LA since 2017, Anna Barber is a partner at The Fund, an early stage venture capital fund made up of local founders and operators that expanded to L.A this year. She has also served as a coach and strategic consultant to founders since 2013.

Barber says she wants founders to have a strong point of view, but they have to be willing to quickly shift and adapt as they learn new information.

To find out whether founders are willing to question their own assumptions, Barber asks how they know certain things they have asserted about their pitch are true.

"I get a lot of information from the answer," she said.

Another question Barber likes to ask is if a founder is wildly successful, what will the world look like in the future?

"What's so interesting is whether the founder answers that from the perspective of what they individually will be doing or what will happen with their customers," Barber explained. "The ones that focus on how the world will be different for their customers tell me that they're really deeply thinking about what their customer wants."

In addition to running Techstars LA since 2017, Barber is a partner at The Fund, an early stage fund made up of local founders and operators that expanded to L.A this year. She has also served as a coach and strategic consultant to founders since 2013.

Barber started her career as a corporate lawyer and was a strategy consultant at McKinsey & Company. She shifted to tech during the end of the dot-com bubble in 1999 as an executive at two e-commerce startups that were ahead of their time, Petstore.com and then Rentanything.com.

The fourth TechStars LA class started this week and will present at a Demo Day in October. Standouts from the previous three classes include Slingshot Aerospace, Blue Fever, Stackin, Fernish, Liquid, Dash Systems and Finli.
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