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Seed Capital From Angel Investors: Brian Cohen, Vice Chairman, New York Angels (Part 2)

Posted on Friday, Dec 24th 2010

By guest authors Irina Patterson and Candice Arnold

Brian: At the age of about 28 or 29, I ran into a guy by the name of Regis McKenna, whom many people to this day don’t know. Regis, who wrote The Regis Touch, was the first real marketing strategist in Silicon Valley.

He announced Apple computer, he announced Intel and became their counsel. He asked me why no one was doing that on the East Coast.

So, in 1978, I left the publishing business and started the first major science and technology PR strategy agency in the United States. I built that into one of the largest agencies – hundreds and hundreds of employees around the world. I handled the IBM Corporation – all the divisions, 52 of them – for more than 14 years.

I introduced IBM to the Internet space. At the same time, I handled Sony and did all of Sony Corporation’s PR strategy for more than a decade.

I had the opportunity, during that period, to launch just about every major Internet company, every major tech company from idSoftware to telecom companies to financial software companies like Schwab. We had the opportunity to play in fields and areas that were some of the most exciting and revolutionary in computing and the Internet.

In 1997, I saw the clouds forming. I sent a letter to the major agencies at the time and a public group of companies, Omnicom, WPP, Publicis and said, “I’m ready to sell.” I had owned the company 100%.

I had grown it without borrowing a penny, without any investment except my own cash flow. In 60 days, I sold the business and retired. I had just turned 40. My wife was my partner. My children were nine, seven, and five. And I decided to do the one thing in life you never have the chance to do as a businessman, which was to be a father. So, I stayed home, raised my children, promised them I wouldn’t go back to work until the last one went off to college.

During that period, I did what one would imagine you do when you have things at your disposal to help the world. I built a children’s museum, did a lot of child-related building in schools, sat on a lot children’s boards.

Again, recognizing that I had this great gift through my children, I felt a responsibility to give back and enjoyed 12 years of playing as a father and as a husband with my wife of 28 years. But my joy in the tech industry never went away. I kept tracking it, and one day the angel business began to evolve. A dear friend and client, David Rose, called and said, “I’m getting an angel group together. Would you like to join?” and I said, “Fine.”

I became an active angel. Now, I am the vice chairman, running the New York Angels, and I run it with the tenacity, vibrancy, and love that New York City, as the heartbeat of the creative and innovative economy, needs. It occupies an enormous part of my day-to-day work. So, that’s how I got here.

Irina: How many members are in your angel group?

Brian: The size of the angel group varies between 70 and 80 or so per year. As a group, it represents the heartbeat of a lot of entrepreneurs in the New York area. Broadly based, the names on the list over the years, people like Scott Kurnit, Esther Dyson, and Gideon Gartner, real people who resonate in the industry through IT and somewhat through the Internet space . . . many examples of people who have been great entrepreneurs.

Irina: Esther Dyson started as a journalist, too, right? Does she spend any time in New York? I see her going to Russia all the time.

Brian: That’s correct. And, yes, she’s very much into Eastern Europe. She certainly loves space travel as well; she’s into space. She has deep interests. A lot of people tend to look at what she invests in and say, “I’m going to do that, too.” She’s one of those social investor types whom everybody sees as a visionary. She’s always great to have at our meetings.

This segment is part 2 in the series : Seed Capital From Angel Investors: Brian Cohen, Vice Chairman, New York Angels
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