An interview with TechStars NY's new Managing Director, Alex Iskold
After a bumpy year, TechStars NYC is hoping to build some continuity with a new managing director. Today the program announced it has appointed Alex Iskold, former CEO of GetGlue, to run its New York chapter.
Iskold founded AdaptiveBlue, GetGlue's parent company in 2007. The company raised $24 million in venture funding for its second screen app, which had almost five million users. Last year, the company agreed to sell itself to Viggle, but the deal fell apart when Viggle was unable to secure debt financing. As PandoDaily first reported last month, Iskold stepped down from his CEO role at GetGlue in September. Last week, GetGlue sold to a company called i.TV.
Now, Iskold will lead TechStars, one of New York's most prominent accelerator programs. Last year the program experienced a bump in the road when Managing Director Eugene Chung was fired three weeks before the demo day. Prior to Chung, Angel investor David Tisch had run the program for two years.
Iskold says he is "absolutely positive that won't happen to me." He will work with Nicole Glaros, the TechStars managing director who helped with the transition from Tisch to Chung. Iskold discussed his plans for the program with me, which I've transcribed below (with some paraphrasing and editing).
What happened at GetGlue? We'd been at it for some time and we had a lot of success early on. We were very established in the second screen space. Then we had a failed M&A deal. We launched a big update that I worked on for six months and it was really awesome and useful, but our numbers weren't where they needed to be. The bottom line is, when the numbers are flat, it's the CEO's fault. That's just how companies work.
I pretty much had done all I could and we had an agreement with investors. At the same time, there were inbound M&A inquiries. I stepped down day-to-day and continued to be involved in the M&A process. The company was sold last week.
What ideas do you have for evolving the TechStars program? I don't know for sure yet because I'm literally just starting, but number one will be tapping more into the alumni community and the mentor community, which is pretty incredible in NYC. I'd like to create not just a program-centric environment, but more of a strong open network environment that is happening around the year.
First and foremost, in terms of the actual program, I'd like to set a very high bar for getting into the program. I'd also like to focus on a bunch of futuristic themes and tap into the things NYC has been traditionally wonderful at. Like finance, which is a super important part of New York. Fashion and online shopping has been strong in NY. And media is huge, obviously. GetGlue was a media company. So, tapping into these native themes and finding exceptional people.
As I go through it, I'll be figuring a lot of things out. Nicole (Glaros) and the team will be helping me.
Can you elaborate on your interest in futuristic themes? As an entrepreneur I have all sorts of crazy ideas. One such thesis I have is that in the future, people will be paying for computing power the same way they will pay their electricity bill.
I'm incredibly interested in wearables. The connected home -- TechStars has a dedicated accelerator for that with R/GA. And it probably would not be a fit for TechStars now, but I'm personally getting interested in biotech. I'd love to broaden the scope and have like one to two, or maybe more companies that are really out there doing something super interesting and futuristic.
You've been a TechStars mentor for prior classes. What do you bring from your past experience as a mentor and entrepreneur to the managing director role? For one, I want TechStars to be a home for all entrepreneurs and investors from the industry -- anyone and everyone who wants to partake. We'll be working on a bunch of new programs, like having an open door office hours, where anyone can be welcome. We're really thinking about being a home for entrepreneurs and helping people start companies.
The second big thing is the focus on quality and growth metrics, including a lot of things we were learning and struggling with at GetGlue. The biggest value that I, as an engineer and product-oriented person, can bring is rigor and discipline, on not only product, but also on growth and metrics. Beyond that, there is the focus on turning ideas into real companies.
Lastly, I'll be identifying entrepreneurs who are qualified to start companies and be successful. There is a science to it. There is a degree of luck and art, but there are also patterns and rules and do's and dont's. We're helping people avoid mistakes and get somewhere faster.
[Image via grammy.com]