The One Thing Techstars' Anna Barber Looks for in Founders

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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On this week's episode of Office Hours, you'll hear from VC legend Bill Gurley, a general partner at Benchmark. Based in Silicon Valley, Bill is famously known for investing early in trailblazing companies including Uber, GrubHub and Zillow — the company I co-founded and led for 10 years.

This is the first time I've had a guest on twice, and that's because Bill is so full of dense, rich insight when it comes to startup culture, tech and investing — dot.LA's sweet spot.

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Here are the latest updates on news affecting Los Angeles' startup and tech communities. Sign up for our newsletter and follow dot.LA on Twitter for more.

Today:

  • Apple Podcast Veteran Steve Wilson Joins Startup QCODE
  • Amazon in Exclusive Talks to Buy Podcast Studio Wondery, Wall Street Journal Reports
  • Pharrell Launches Black Ambition Incubator

    Apple Podcast Veteran Joins Startup QCODE

    qcode www.sonos.com

    QCODE, a Los Angeles podcast startup run by a former Creative Artists Agency talent agent, snagged longtime Apple podcast executive Steve Wilson. The 15-year veteran will become QCODE's chief strategy officer.

    QCODE, which last month raised $6.4 million in a Series A round led by Sono, is positioning itself as a funnel for Hollywood.

    Founded by Rob Herting, a former agent who had represented largely writers and filmmakers, the company has produced eight shows since 2019. Several have been auctioned for film and television, including "Dirty Diana." Amazon picked up the 6-part erotic drama for a TV series.

    Wilson, who most recently ran marketing for Apple Podcasts, brings insights from the behemoth platform as the industry sees revenues soar. Advertising brought in near $1 billion this year, according to Interactive Advertising Bureau's podcast report prepared by PwC.

    Amazon Reportedly in Exclusive Talks to Buy Wondery

    Hernan Lopez Hernan Lopez started Wondery with the belief that in-depth, narrative audio stories were poised to bloom.

    Amazon is in "exclusive talks" to buy podcast company Wondery and subsume its 30 hit shows and over 8 million monthly listeners into its empire, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

    The talks reportedly value Wondery above $300 million, in line with previous estimates from analysts, when Apple and Sony were said to have expressed interest.

    Wondery has produced dozens of original series including "Dr. Death" and "Business Wars," and has 19 shows currently in development to become television series.

    The company does not publicly disclose its financials, but chief executive Hernan Lopez has previously said the company is profitable. About three-quarters of Wondery's revenue comes from advertising, but Lopez has said the company's revenue share from content licensing is growing (Wondery owns the intellectual property for all of its originals). It also launched a subscription service, Wondery Plus, in June and is currently looking to expand its international footprint.

    Wondery, the West Hollywood-based company with the largest audience of any independent podcast producer, has been the subject of swirling rumors that several suitors are interested in acquiring it.

    After a pandemic-induced decline that struck much of the podcasting industry, Wondery's audience has surpassed its pre-COVID levels. Its Q3 revenue was about double year-on-year and its Q4 performance has been strong, Lopez previously told dot.LA.

    Podcasting overall now attracts over 100 million monthly listeners, according to Edison Research. The Interactive Advertising Bureau projects podcasting revenues to exceed $1 billion by 2021.

    That growth has spurred somewhat of an arms race, most evident in Spotify's spending spree, which also has helped that company diversify from its reliance on streaming. Amazon Music is one of Spotify's biggest competitors along with Apple Music, and recently expanded into podcasts as well.

    Acquiring Wondery would give Amazon more content to slide into Amazon Music, a scaled-down version of which is free for Amazon Prime subscribers. Combining that content with its Alexa smart speaker also could empower the company to capture more eyes and ears in the increasingly competitive attention economy.

    The talks are reportedly ongoing and no deal has been confirmed.

    Pharrell Launches Black Ambition Incubator

    Pharrell Williams Pharrell Williams Launches Black Ambition Incubator

    Rapper and producer Pharrell Williams released "Entrepreneur" with Jay-Z earlier this summer, a song that became an anthem for Black ambition. Now, Williams is launching an incubator to put money behind his message.

    Called Black Ambition, the nonprofit aims to invest in Black and Latino startup founders, and it's beginning by creating two prize competitions set to close in July 2021. The effort backed by Adidas, Chanel and philanthropic organizations including The Rockefeller Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation. Silicon Valley startup investor Ron Conway and Buzzfeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti also contributed.


    The first competition will award up to $250,000 to current students or recent alumni from a historically Black college developing or in the seed stage of a company. Smaller prizes will be awarded to at least nine additional teams.

    The second competition, called the Black Ambition Prize, will give $1 million in seed money to an early-stage company focused on tech, design, healthcare or consumer products and services. Another nine teams will get smaller prizes. Finalists will be connected with and mentored by a network venture capitalists and angel investors.

    "Because we don't have enough of the market share, our kids end up having issues with disproportionate access to healthcare, disproportionate access to education and as a culture, we have disproportionate access as it pertains to legislation and representation," Williams said in a video announcing the news.

    Williams was inspired to pool talent from historically Black colleges and universities and build a new pipeline of investment and resources to young people.

    "We want to lift our HBCUs. They lift so many of us. They deserve to be in lights," Williams said. "We think it's high time that we own more companies.

    In August, Williams published a piece in Time Magazine that accompanied a cover spread on "The New American Revolution." It coincided with his release of "Entrepreneur," the song and music video he produced with Jay-Z as a tribute to Black founders across the nation.

    "Recent events and tragedies have illustrated the always existent stark divisions in the American experience, and while entrepreneurship has long been a tenet of the American dream, marginalized people have faced long-standing barriers to success," Williams said in a statement.

    Rapper and producer Pharrell Williams released "Entrepreneur" with Jay-Z earlier this summer, a song that became an anthem for Black ambition. Now, Williams is launching an incubator to put money behind his message.

    Called Black Ambition, the nonprofit aims to invest in Black and Latino startup founders, and it's beginning by creating two prize competitions set to close in July 2021. The effort is backed by Adidas, Chanel and philanthropic organizations including The Rockefeller Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation. Silicon Valley startup investor Ron Conway and Buzzfeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti also contributed.

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