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An Angel in NY: Brian Cohen

brian angel new york angels

Brian Cohen, current Chairman of the New York Angels, has been considered the father of science and technology communications since he founded Technology Solutions, Inc. in 1983, supporting startup tech companies ever since.

Backing up a bit, in graduate school he dipped his feet into the publishing world, helping pioneer computer trade publications like Computer Systems News and InformationWeek magazine. He did this all the while working on a master’s degree in science communications from Boston University’s School of Public Communications, where he currently on the Dean’s Board of Directors. Cohen also received two honor B.S. degrees from Syracuse University in biology and speech communications.

In 1996, TSI was recognized as the No. 1 fastest-growing agency in the U.S., and it was awarded the Gold CIRPA award in 1998 for creating the IBM Deep Blue/Gary Kasparov Chess Match communications program. Between acquiring accolades, the company was bought by the McCann Erikson Worldgroup in 1997.

Cohen, a researcher at heart, maintained a broad strategic communications partnership with Sony and IBM for more than a decade, all the while creating Focus Technology, which provides research and instituted the RPM model of integrated communications.

Last year, Cohen and his son Trace founded launch.it, the first straight-to-consumer, self-publishing PR news platform. Their goal was to allow startups an arena to get quality visibility for their new ideas and products.

Having invested over $50 million in more than 70 early-stage businesses, Cohen is known for his belief that all products, services and ideas should be easy to discover and share. He has been part of immense success as Pinterest’s first founder, an investment he discovered while listening to its founders pitch a different project. He invested in Pinterest after consulting his family, which, he says, is a common practice of his.

“After my first 15 or 20 investments, I got tired of telling my family. Twelve months ago I came home, before there was any noise, and I said to my daughter, ‘Have you heard of this company?’ She said ‘Really, Dad? My friends are obsessed with it.’ That’s when I knew.”

How did Pinterest and the other 70 businesses catch his eye? He shared his secrets on Sramana Mitra’s One Million by One Million Blog, giving startups a little advice when seeking out investors:

  1. The Elevator Pitch – “A short, well-crafted explanation of the problem you solve, how you solve it, and how big a market there is for that solution…Consider the most fundamental problems your product or service solves. Then create a short one-sentence statement for each. Don’t sweat the wording just now. Just talk them out as if you were talking to your best friend.”
  2. Show Me Some Chutzpah – “If you can’t muster the assertiveness to get through an angel investor’s relatively open door, how are you going to persuade impatient prospects to give you the time of day, or journalists to cover your launch, or valuable employees to join your fledgling startup?”
  3. Tell Me What You Want – “Not generally, not a year from now, but what, specifically, do you want to happen as a result of meeting with me?”
  4. Whet My Curiosity – “I’m a curious guy. I don’t know a single active angel investor who isn’t. Try to intrigue me.”
  5. The Single Best Question to Ask Me – “What excites you about my business?…It totally connects with me as a high-touch investor who invests by the thrill I get down my spine.”

Most recently, Brian has written the book What Every Angel Investor Wants You To Know: In Insider Reveals How To Raise Money For Your Billion-Dollar Idea, which was published by McGraw Hill this past March.

Investments:

Multiflow Computers, Inc. (1984, Went Bankrupt in 1990)
Media Armor, $1.53 million (February 2012)
Pinterest
PublicStuff
Comixology
Tripshare
Magnify Networks
School Loop
1000Museums
Social Genius
Ambient Devices
eJamming
Tommy Johns

Expertise areas:

Information technology, finance, strategic marketing, public relations, advertising, sales and marketing, social media, consumer I­­­nternet

Boards:

Dean’s Advisory Board of Directors at Boston University’s School of Public Communications
Center4

Get to know Brian Cohen:

Linkedin
Twitter

Memorable Quotes:

On being an angel investor: “I can’t imagine a better thing to do at this stage in my life. I believe that it’s a privilege to be an angel investor working at the disruptive edge of ideas that could change the world. I believe that entrepreneurism is the embodiment of creating a newer, better world for my children. When people ask me about my faith, I reply that I believe in the entrepreneurial spirit.”

On investing: “The biggest driver for me is the thrill of inspiring advising and mentoring, the brightest young minds in the world as they work incredibly hard to create something new and exciting.”

On Pinterest’s Growing Success: “Unless he’s tapped into some real, larger purpose of the Internet — he’s found some sort of heartbeat that’s going to continue to beat faster.”

On fellow angels: “My angel investors are some of the finest people I have ever met. My fellow New York Angels are now among my closest friends. I love how networking with other angels spawns smarter investments, more collegial relationships, and better-performing startups.”

On hearing pitches: “I’m fascinated to have a front-row seat at the development of what I hope will emerge as the next Google, Twitter or Pinterest.”

On the growing angel investor community: “There’s a lot of ‘wanna-preneuers’ out there that are getting funded by too many angels who have done very little ‘do diligence.’ There is a lot of money, but I don’t see a bubble forming.

On investing mishaps: “Don’t invest in a startup where the owners are boyfriend and girlfriend.”

For more information on startup funding and investments, visit our funding section.

About the author: Emily Roland

Emily is a recent graduate from The University of Mississippi with a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. While at Ole Miss, Emily worked at The Daily Mississippian newspaper, most recently as editor-in-chief. She is currently focused on copy-editing at AlleyWatch.

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