By LAURA LOREK
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
Amos Schwartzfarb took over as Managing Director of Techstars Austin in 2015. Before that, he founded several companies and worked for numerous startups including Joust, BlackLocus, mySpoonful, Business.com, HotJobs.com and others. He enjoys working with entrepreneurs and in Austin’s vibrant technology startup scene.
Q. What brought you to Austin?
AS: My wife and I came here for a weekend in 2007 to visit a number of friends that had moved here and we fell in love with this city. Things were starting to bubble up here. Austin seemed to have the makings of a great tech scene plus great weather, outdoor activities, music and great people. It had everything we were looking for.
Q. What was your first startup?
AS: The first startup I was a part of was a company called Shoreline Mountain Products in 1997. It was a paper catalog company that sold rock climbing and outdoor gear. We put the company online in 1997. Although we didn’t realize it at the time, we were one of the first online retailers. We didn’t realize we were doing anything crazy. It turned out we were breaking new ground. That company sold to Mountain Gear in 1999/2000. That was in the Bay area.
Q. What attributes do you think make a good entrepreneur?
AS: Passion, tenacity, perseverance and a love for doing really hard things and enduring lots of pain to achieve success. People forget to mention that last one. Starting a company is really hard.
Q. Do you think that there’s romanticism about running a startup that isn’t reflected in reality?
AS: I absolutely do. It seems really romantic to be a founder and to start a company. It sounds so awesome. The truth is most companies are not successful and the ones that are have to work way harder and fight through more challenges than one can ever really prepare for. It is just so much more work than you can ever imagine. I think if anyone remembered how hard it was the first time that they wouldn’t do it again. But it’s also one of the most rewarding things you can do whether you’re successful or not. To create something new with your own hands and your own brain it’s a pretty powerful experience.
Q. Why did you decided to become Managing Director of Techstars Austin?
AS: The timing was right. After being an operator for over 20 years and dabbling in investing the opportunity was presented and it just made sense. This role allows me to take my experience and passion of growing businesses and combine it with choosing 10 amazing founders/companies each year who are solving real problems and growing real businesses. Getting to be a “hands on” investor is the best of all worlds for me and is incredibly rewarding.
Q. How did the first class of Austin startups under your direction do?
AS: I’m obviously biased, but I think it’s an exceptional class of phenomenal founders. Most of them are done with fundraising. They continue to build their business. In truth, only time will tell but I’m still very bullish on all of them.
Q. What surprised you about the Techstars startups?
AS: The way the teams all came together and were able to help each other. There is a lot of power in that. They were leveraging each other, as well as, the program. It was an amazing thing to witness and even more amazing to see it continue on several months after the program has ended.
Q. And what stage is Techstars Austin in right now?
AS: Applications for the next program close in three weeks on Oct. 15th. In December, we’ll make our decisions and on January 23rd the program starts.
Q. Anything in particular you are looking for in startup teams?
AS: I would say the biggest things I’m looking for are really passionate founders solving real problems.
Q. They can be from any industry?
AS: They can be from any industry and anywhere in the world. And really any stage too.
Q. Why is Austin a great place for tech startups?
AS: I think Austin is a great place for tech startups for several reasons. The energy in this town is phenomenal. The “give first” attitude makes it very friendly to early stage companies and open for collaboration. It’s not as expensive as being on one of the coasts. All of those things combined are really helpful. Then there is a sheer number of people trying to do new and exciting things that creates positive energy and innovation. It all builds on each other.
Q. What about the venture capital availability in Austin? Is it here? Do we need more?
AS: That’s a question everyone ponders. A lot of people say there is not enough capital. I think there is enough capital for great founders and companies to get funded. The market will continue to evolve as the breadth of the companies evolve. There are plenty of great companies getting funded all the time.
Q. One of the hot topics in technology is about diversity and the need for more diverse startups what is your position on that?
AS: This is a hot topic at Techstars too. I think it is an extremely important topic. The fact that we have to talk about it shines the light that we have to be involved. Personally, I try to be completely agnostic to everything and simply focus on finding awesome entrepreneurs. That said, there is more to be done.
Q. Where do you go from here?
AS: I love this job and getting to work with so many talented entrepreneurs and I love this city. This past spring I closed the next Techstars Austin fund which will fund the next four programs/years I look forward to many more years working for Techstars in Austin and with great founders from all over the globe.
Editor’s note: Amos Schwartzfarb was featured in Silicon Hills News’ 2016 Austin Technology calendar. SHN will run Q&As with all the people featured in the calendar. For information on how you can sponsor or be a part of the 2017 Austin Technology calendar, please contact Laura@SiliconHillsNews.com. Thank you.