Monday, January 23, 2017
Interview with Anna Barber, Techstars LA
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Techstars (www.techstars.org) has a long history and record of success as a startup accelerator, with programs across the country and world--and recently opened up its third, Los Angeles program, Techstars LA. Techstars recently appointed Anna Barber as its Managing Director, so we thought we'd sit down and get to know Anna better.
How did you get involved with Techstars?
Anna Barber: Before this, I hadn't been involved with Techstars as a mentor, however, I'd been an entrepreneur and mentored at other accelerators. However, I always wanted to get into a broader role in the startup ecosystem, where I could help other entrepreneurs work on their ideas. Three years ago, I had started to explore launching a new accelerator, to support women entrepreneurs in Los Angeles. I met a bunch of people in the context of doing that, and one of them was Kara Weber, who is now a venture capitalist. She remembered I was interested in the area, and when the opportunity came up, she recommended me and introduced me to Cody. What I love about that, was it was something I had been thinking about doing, and the seed was planted three years ago and came back to me in an unexpected way. I am thrilled that sh remembered me, and made that connection, and how this has worked out. It's a fantastic opportunity to support other entrepreneurs, and learn a lot of new things myself, doing something that I really enjoy. It's great to be part of this very exciting technology ecosystem in LA, where there is so much interesting stuff happening.
What had you been doing before?
Anna Barber: I have what I would call an eclectic background for my career. I started as a corporate lawyer in New York, and worked as a strategy consultant at McKinsey. In 1999, I moved out to San Francisco to join the tech scene there, and worked at a couple of e-commerce companies in product roles. In 2000, I moved to Los Angeles, and I've now been living in LA for 1 years. I worked in entertainment for five or six years, and film for 5 years, then at Scribble Press, which was a retail entertainment concept for kids, to let kids make their own books. They turned to digital when the iPad came out, when we realized that the iPad was the perfect animal for what we were trying to do, which was easily let kids create and publish their own books. I sold Scribble Press to a company in San Francisco called Fingerprint Digital, and have been working since then at Fingerprint in a product and strategy role.
Having both worked at startups in San Francisco and Los Angeles, what do you think is the biggest difference you've seen between the two markets?
Anna Barber: I think one of the key differences, is LA is so spread out. There are so many different pockets of interesting companies, and different vertical that are strong in LA. Of course, there's a lot of concentration in LA along Siliocon Beach, but there are great things in Pasadena, Claremont, Downtown, and the Valley. It feels more spread out to me than it is in San Francisco. That's both a challenge and an opportunity. LA also has so many other strong industries beyond technology, that it also helps to inform, contribute, and enrich what is happening here in the technology sector. That's exciting. Southern California also has a long history in manufacturing, and a long history and anchor companies in aerospace and transportation. It also has really strong universities supporting research, which helps to drive innovation. There are a lot of different things supporting the tech industry here.
What are your goals at Techstars?
Anna Barber: My overall goals, are to support the growth of the Los Angeles ecosystem overall, and specifically, for our program to find great teams of entrepreneurs solving big problems with technical solutions. It's a really broad mandate. We're a horizontal program, like other Techstars city programs. We're not looking at a particular vertical, and there are not certain ones we are interested in. Overall, we want our companies we support to reflect the variety and diversity of Los Angeles.
What do you think is the toughest challenge for startups program like yours?
Anna Barber: I think the toughest challenge for startups is being able to constantly respond to new information. They have to be able to take a direction and move towards it, but change direction when you get new information. It's a really difficult skill. Most of the challenges that startup face, come down to being able to understand and absorb feedback and data coming and you, and making good decisions. I think that these are more personal challenges, versus idea challenges. Any company entering and accelerator with an idea has differences at the end versus the beginning. It's all about how the team and founders are able to approach, process, and absorb input during the program. That is critical to how successful they are. It's the long way of saying, Techstars really looks at the team, is really interested in teams that want to become best-in-class at absorbing feedback, that are highly motivated, and extremely coachable.
Thanks, and congrats on the new position!