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Techstars Blog

3rd March 2015

Staying Organized with Workflow

I might be the most organized person I know; people tell me that all the time. I am a pretty busy guy, so I have to be: my calendar is mostly full of meetings and calls, I get 300+ emails a day, I travel most weeks. But I get to inbox zero every day and I’m proud to say that I respond to every email that someone sends me. I don’t drop any balls and I’m not afraid of my email. I also get nine hours of sleep a night and I get to spend quality time with my family every night and every weekend.

There are lots of views on individual techniques. Use keyboard shortcuts (huge benefit), block time for emails (I don’t use that one), use a text expander for common responses, etc. Although valuable, I think that I get more benefit from having a defined workflow than any of these individual tricks. Here is what I do:

  1. Email Order. I process my email from oldest to newest. Yes, I cheat sometimes and answer a new one, but I try not to. It’s harder in Gmail because you can’t sort chronologically, but I just start at the bottom.
  2. Folders. I don’t waste my time filing stuff away. I archive it and if I need it, I know how to search for it.
  3. Filters. I use filters (rules) heavily to move email to a “later” folder. These are newsletters, group emails, etc. that aren’t time critical for me; usually they are just “read and delete”. I use airplane time or other down time to clear my “later” folder. I am disciplined about doing that at least once a week.
  4. Tasks. I make heavy use of tasks (I use Wunderlist, but there are plenty of good ones). In fact I think of tasks as being integral to my email workflow. Here’s what I do:
    • I keep my task manager up on my screen at all times. It’s as important as email.
    • If I don’t think that I can take care of an item on the same day, I create a task and archive the email.
    • I put a due date on every task, so that I can look at “today” and not see everything.
    • Every morning, I star the tasks that I MUST get done today. I try not to have more than 5 of those.
    • Every morning, I move out the due date of tasks that I know I won’t get done today. I know that 20-30 is the most I should have on any given day.
  5. End of Day. Every night before I leave (or before I go to bed if I’m travelling), I look at the tasks that didn’t get done and move their due dates. I also try to clear out my inbox, making tasks if needed. This allows me to go home with a clear mind – no tasks due, no emails. It takes discipline to do this, but if you don’t, you just get behind and give up.
  6. Sleep. The organization of the workflow and clearing the decks every day gives me peace of mind. I sleep like a baby for nine hours a night. That allows me to wake up refreshed and clear headed so that I can have a great day.


Give it a try and let me know if it works for you. I always love hearing about other efficiency techniques and am constantly trying to improve my own.

2nd March 2015

Applications are Open for the New York Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars

Today we open applications for the New York Barclays Accelerator powered by Techstars, and I’m thrilled to be leading the program as Managing Director. In partnership with Techstars, Barclays is making a significant contribution to the further development of the New York City FinTech ecosystem with plans to activate its international banking network to help participating start-ups succeed.

My personal journey includes several years at a large multi-national bank where I spent nights and weekends toiling away on my own start-up. And when it came time to execute on the vision, my banking network (colleagues, clients etc.) supported me by providing funding and distribution opportunities. As such, partnering with a forward thinking financial institution like Barclays, has particular significance to me.

FinTech founders interested in 3 awesome months of mentorship in New York, the opportunity to interact with Barclays and up to $120k in funding from Techstars should apply by May 10, 2015. We’re looking for a diverse group of innovative companies working at the intersection of finance and technology including: payment solutions, applications and lending, digital banking solutions, currency products, securities trading platforms, machine learning, cyber security, data and analytics amongst other topics.

For more information please visit the Barclays Accelerator website. To see videos and news of what it’s like participating in our Barclays Accelerators, visit our dedicated blog.

Jenny Fielding, Managing Director

Techstars | @jefielding | @techstars

 

27th February 2015

Techstars Brings the Developer Community Together with Meet-up in Chicago

Despite numerous events offering opportunities for companies to pitch and network with other startups, we are creating a night specifically targeting developers and coders to get together to show off their awesome technology chops.  Earlier this month, we kicked this year’s first night of Techstars Show-and-Tech with a group of leading Chicago technologists.

In front of a group of 100 or so Chicago technologists, the night’s attendees were introduced to Stylie, an open-source animation tool; new tech hardware that may be a potential solution to the USB hack; The Ropes, an application that helps companies on-board new employees; Rithmio, which uses gesture recognition technology for smart devices; and Elastic Method, an application focused on helping business and technology teams work together in harmony, defining successes, and celebrating them.

But the night’s crowd favorite came from Eli Albert, Sr. Software Engineer of Techstars alumn SimpleRelevance, who demoed “Fridge Magnets With Friends.” As a small side project in his free time, Eli worked on Fridge Magnets to test out the angular -> firebase technology stack on a real-world problem: massively multiplayer collaborative poetry. It took about eight hours of work for the first 90% of the project, and another eight hours for the remaining 10% (all the polish and bug fixes that made it usable). The entire platform is served by static files and firebase, which makes scaling it very easy.  With no immediate plans for Fridge Magnets, Eli is open for suggestions on where to go with it next. You can find the code here, and Eli’s homepage here.

This just the start for what Techstars has in store for developers and engineers moving forward.  Techstars will be the place engineers come to share with other engineers the hard problems they’ve encountered. Want to learn how a new, hot technology is being used in an application? Or hear about how developers are incorporating React Java Script into high-performance user interface? Or brainstorm new ways to write native mobile apps? Come out to our next open house and discuss all!

To keep the momentum going after this month’s successful TECH Show-and-Tell, join Techstars as we begin hosting recurring Techstars DEMO nights every four to five weeks. If you are a developer or engineer interested in joining us at the next event and showing off some awesome tech, get your ideas ready, your GitHub links set, and tweet your projects over to @troyhenikoff #chicagoDEMOopenhouse.

 

26th February 2015

Patriot Boot Camp, Presented by Techstars is coming to New York City from April 17 to 19, 2015.

Patriot Boot Camp, presented by Techstars (PBC) is an intensive 3-day event designed to engage, inspire, and mentor Veterans and the military spouses to start, innovate, and scale the next generation of technology-focused businesses. Over the course of the event, PBC provides participants with entrepreneurial education and mentoring to help them solidify a business idea, focus their fundraising pitch, and demonstrate progress along their entrepreneurial and employment path.

Patriot Boot Camp was started in partnership with Techstars as part of a broader effort to bring underrepresented populations into technology entrepreneurship.

The first Patriot Boot Camp (PBC) was held in July of 2012. Since that event in Washington DC, PBC events have been held 4 times and have helped more than 288 military Veterans and spouses along their startup journeys. In 2015, the PBC team has set an ambitious goal of reaching even more Veterans and military spouses by bringing PBC events to 4 cities, the first in New York City.

PBC is modeled after the three-month Techstars accelerator and is provided to Veterans, active service members, and/or their spouses at no cost. The application period is open now and will close on March 19, 2015.

Please help us spread the word. Click here to tweet: http://ctt.ec/c2i42

 

25th February 2015

The Network Effect: Techstars Mentor Becomes CEO of a Techstars Company — Q&A with Rob Taylor

We sat down with Rob Taylor, one of the Techstars mentors in Austin, to talk about his experience being an entrepreneur, moving to Austin and mentoring startups. We couldn’t be more excited to keep him in the Techstars family when he recently decided to join one of the Techstars companies, Pivot Freight, as their CEO.

How did you get involved with the Austin tech scene?

As I was transitioning out of TrueCar in Santa Monica in the summer of 2011, my family and I were looking to move out of LA and considered a few geographies – primarily Boulder and Austin. My brother has been a successful entrepreneur living in Austin for 15 years, so it’s always been a bit of a second home for me. I was amazed by the willingness of everyone in Austin to lend a helping hand and get me connected as I executed my job search here. Austin is one of those rare cities where everyone is genuinely interested in everyone else’s success, very different from my experience on the west coast. It was through this process I was introduced to the BlackLocus founders, hit it off with them, and joined in the fall of 2011.  Frankly, for the first year we were heads down building the business, so it was difficult to find capacity for mentoring and networking.  Thanks to folks like Josh Baer and Jason Seats, who really created the center of the universe for startups in Austin through Capital Factory and Techstars, mentoring became more efficient by aggregating the supply of awesome entrepreneurs.

It wasn’t until the acquisition of BlackLocus in late 2012 that I became deeply involved in the local community at Techstars, Capital Factory and more generally taking every inbound request for help from other entrepreneurs. Yes, every one. In Techstars language, we call this Give First.

How long have you been mentoring Techstars’ companies?

I had the fortune of meeting Jason Seats and Andy Aguiluz when they were making the rounds in Austin to set up the Techstars program here (2 classes ago now). I had been stalking Brad Feld through his blog, along with the progress Techstars had been making in other cities. Why? Because philosophically I am aligned with how they approach their work in a values-driven way – Give First – and how that directive permeates the way that Techstars recruits, markets and most importantly, operates.  Everyone I met that was associated with Techstars – from the corporate staff in Boulder, to the local team here in Austin – was a good person first and foremost, deeply committed to the Give First mission, and obviously great in their roles.

I’ve been a mentor for 3 Techstars classes, 2 in Austin (2013 & 14) and 1 in Boulder this past summer.  I’m energized by it mostly because I’ve made a LOT of mistakes over the past 15 years building companies and my “dark years” were characterized by a lack of ecosystem support and mentorship. I really could have used a program like Techstars back in the day, so now one of my own personal core values is to Give First.

What was it that brought you and Pivot Freight together?

Dan, Carson and Jenny went through the last Austin class this past summer.  As a Techstars mentor, you come in for a full day and meet all the teams in back to back sessions. I was immediately drawn to them for two reasons. First, they are just good people. Second, the freight industry is huge and behaves in many ways from a technology and data perspective very similar to automotive (from my TrueCar experience). There is opportunity there and I think it will be fun to figure out where it is.

What are some tips you have for entrepreneurs?

Well, I don’t purport to know it all by any stretch, but here are a few things that have rung true for me across several startups now.

  • Spend every ounce of your time, energy and capital figuring out who your customer is and what they will actually pay for. Until that is determined with some repeatability, nothing else matters.
  • Find influencers in your local market and more broadly successful entrepreneurs that understand your space, and creatively engage them. Focus on creating your own unique ecosystem for success – your investors, mentors, advisors.
  • Seek advice and counsel from a variety of folks, but don’t let the whiplash stall your own decision making or conviction. This is a cautionary tale of going overboard on my second point. You don’t need 100 people giving you advice. You may touch 100, but go deep with a handful.
  • Surround yourself with experience, not just outside your company, but inside. That’s right, hire your most critical leadership gap quickly and reduce your risk. You don’t know what you don’t know, hire someone who does. This is a point many will disagree with because these folks are expensive, but if executed properly and the right hire is made at the right time (an art in itself), they will up your game and shortcut or eliminate much risk.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve seen startups make?

The same ones I’ve made! The biggest one I’ve seen over and over is confirmation bias. Developing a hypothesis about who your customer is or how the product should be built or any other foundational hypothesis, then seeking out only information and data that confirms it instead of focusing first on data that would disprove it.

Here’s a real life example. At BlackLocus, our original hypothesis was to bring the sophistication that the large, enterprise level retailers had in competitive pricing intelligence & dynamic pricing down to the small business retailers, and help them compete against Amazon. At the time, we had a handful of mom and pop retailers paying $99/month in subscription fees, so we could have said “check”, let’s ramp our spend and aggressively go after this market. Instead we asked, “What are all the conditions that would render this hypothesis false?” which led us to have discovery conversations with mid-market and large enterprise retailers to understand their pain, how they approached the pricing problem, what tools they used.

What we found is that there was NO sophistication amongst these large companies and only manual, non-scalable tools. The second approach was to look internally at our costs to service customers. It was incredibly expensive to acquire, process and store the massive amount of product data we were aggregating – we’d lose money hand over fist at $99 per month. So, these two important realizations disproved our original hypothesis even though we had confirming evidence in that first handful of paying, small customers.

We immediately flipped our business model on its head and built an enterprise SaaS software business targeting large retailers and quickly closed a dozen or so annual contracts with six figure ACVs for essentially the same product capabilities. Fifteen months later as we were preparing for a Series B, the company was pre-emptively acquired by our largest customer, The Home Depot, a company we never would have targeted or met under the previous model.

Who mentors you?

I have a few folks that I keep close and meet with regularly – one is a serially successful entrepreneur and the other is my best friend, who is also an accomplished entrepreneur. My professional mentor is actually involved in my companies as an active advisor, so he helps keep me in check with respect to some critical decisions related to the business. My best friend is not as involved in the day to day, but he helps me personally. Building companies is hard, not just on you as an entrepreneur, but on all those who love you – your family and friends. Because he is embedded in my personal life, he can coach me through the tough business decisions that impact my family and make sure I’m maintaining some reasonable balance there.

So, one deeply imbedded in my business, the other in my personal life.

22nd February 2015

How Techstars Came to Austin

In April of 2012, Mike Dodd and Tom Ball of Austin Ventures reached out to me with a simple email. It said, in effect, “We need Techstars in Austin, and we’d like to help make it happen.” A few weeks later, Mike came to Boulder to meet with us. They helped us understand what was happening in Austin, and why it would be a great market for Techstars. In classic #givefirst style, they offered to do whatever they could to help us make progress and remove roadblocks.

Many things happened behind the scenes over the next year and Mike, Tom, and the whole gang at Austin Ventures helped with connections and really got behind the effort. One year later, we publicly launched Techstars into the Austin market with the support and backing of the broader community, including more than 100 fantastic local mentors. Watching how those mentors have dug in and helped startups succeed there has been inspiring.

Now Austin is part of the global ecosystem that is Techstars today. We operate accelerator programs in Austin, Berlin, Boston, Boulder, Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, London, New York City, San Antonio, San Diego, and Seattle. Those 100 mentors in Austin are now part of a global network of more than 1,500 mentors across our system. Techstars has funded about 500 companies now, and those companies have gone on to raise an average of $2.2M each, and more than $1.1B in total.

Austin is now a big part of the Techstars global network. With the addition of our new $150M fund, we plan on continuing to invest in Austin. Jason Seats is a partner in this fund and is based in Austin. Derek Keller, a Principal with the fund is also based in Austin full time.

With the news last week that Austin Ventures would not be raising a new early stage fund, the headlines proclaimed that the experts were worried about the lack of availability of startup capital in Austin going forward. I have no idea who those “experts” are, but that’s not something I’m concerned about when I think about the Austin startup community. There are truly great startups being born there regularly. Money will always follow high quality entrepreneurs. Techstars will continue to make seed investments through the accelerator in Austin, but also watch for us to make Series A investments locally as well through our new fund and our active presence there.

Austin Ventures has obviously been a huge part of the growth and maturity of the Austin startup community.  Thanks in part to their foresight and efforts, there are now many other sources of early stage capital in town.  Techstars, and many other organizations in the city today have Austin Ventures to thank for encouraging and supporting us. They could have looked at us as competitive, but instead they put entrepreneurs first and thought deeply about the needs of the overall community, now and into the future.

Hats off to Austin Ventures.

20th February 2015

Techstars London Winter 2014: The Trilogy

Just over 3 years ago Techstars announced its launch in London and in the intervening period, it has gone on to open a further three programmes that includes Techstars Berlin, the Techstars Metro Accelerator and the Barclays Accelerator which has recently opened in New York. Any doubts about whether the European tech scene has hit its stride has been dispelled.

Demand to get tickets for the Techstars London Demo Day has been unprecedented and with over 1,000 people signed up; making the event into one of the top 20 tech events in Europe. As a result, a second screen at the Genesis Cinema has also been opened to allow everyone to attend – effectively running a second Demo Day simultaneously – think Techstars “unplugged”.

Alongside the Demo Day itself, fireside talks and panel discussions have also been arranged with moderators including David Rowan (WIRED), Mike Butcher (Techcrunch) and Robin Wauters (Tech.eu). Participants include Liam Casey (PCH International), Nicolas Brusson (BlaBlacar), Usman Haque (Umbrellium), Roland Lamb (Roli) and Mikkel Svane (Zendesk); as well as investors from Union Square Ventures, Wellington Partners, Balderton Capital and Index Ventures.

From over 1,000 applications to pick from Techstars London Winter 2014 finally settled on 10 companies that includes our first company from Kazakhstan, and founders from the Middle East, Canada and the US. There is also a strong representation from London and elsewhere in the UK – including companies from Edinburgh, Cambridge and Norwich!! The batch also includes five companies led by previously successful entrepreneurs with the average age of the founders being 33 years old.

  • BidVine:  a service to help you find the right professional without all of the legwork;
  • Big Data for Humans: a B2B solution that automating customer insights without massive costs of employing data science;
  • GeoSpock: a real-time database that can handle can any scale data with no performance degradation;
  • Indybo: modular robotic toy company that transforms the way kids learn about programming and electronics;
  • Kimono: an enterprise messaging platform that transforms how people communicate at work, with an unbelievably simple solution;
  • Knyttan: is a vertically integrated fashion brand whose unique technology allows it to offer more designs and respond to trends faster than any existing retailer;
  • Lystable: is the platform for the lean enterprise, helping large organisations manage their suppliers and external resource;
  • Rainbird: is a symbolic AI platform that is transforming the way that businesses are automating human-intensive knowledge work;
  • Swarm: allows you to create and crowd fund a collaborative company.
  • UB: provides a native shopping basket for apps that aggregate products, significantly increasing their conversion rate.

18th February 2015

Upcoming Webinars to Learn about Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit

Are you a connected car, next generation transportation, logistics or urban mobility startup? Are you curious about the rebirth of Detroit as it becomes the mobility hub of the world?

Then join one of these upcoming webinars to learn about Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit.

Ted Serbinski, Managing Director of Techstars Mobility, will be hosting these 45-min webinars and answering questions. He will cover what is Techstars, how your startup can benefit from being in a program like Techstars, the details of the mobility program running this summer, and answer any questions.

Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit runs this summer from June 9 through Sep 10th in downtown Detroit.

Applications for Techstars Mobility close March 15You can apply online by clicking here.

10th February 2015

Techstars Opens Second Program in Berlin with the Techstars METRO Accelerator

Hot off the heels of launching Techstars Berlin, today we’re announcing the Techstars METRO Accelerator, a hospitality-focused accelerator based in Berlin. Berlin has a fast-growing ecosystem for entrepreneurs and we couldn’t be more excited to play a role in helping to establish this historic city as a burgeoning tech hub.

The Techstars METRO Accelerator will run in conjunction with our partners METRO AG and its sales line METRO Cash & Carry, a leading international player in wholesale trade, focusing on the restaurant, hotel, and catering industries. The wholesale company strives to be championing the passion, creativity and flexibility of independent business. Our second partner is the digital agency R/GA with whom Techstars has already run two accelerator programs.

Companies offering innovative technology applications for the restaurant, hotel and catering industries are a perfect fit for this program. Think hospitality start-ups who offer technology-based products and services that help to simplify, accelerate and digitize operations or enhance customer engagement.

The joint partnership between Techstars, METRO and R/GA provides companies with:

  • Techstars’ proven accelerator program (we now have 17 programs worldwide) and our network of over 3,000 mentors, investors, alumni, and corporate partners.
  • METRO’s hospitality expertise, with deep program engagement from procurement, sales, marketing, strategy, finance, legal and communication experts representing business operations that span 26 countries and 21 million customers.
  • R/GA’s worldwide brand strategy and brand creation services.

Applications for the Techstars METRO Accelerator program will open on April 27 but interested companies can sign-up for the latest news and updates at www.techstarsmetro.com. The three-month program kick-offs on October 12, 2015 and will be based out of the same location as our Techstars Berlin program at the German Tech Entrepreurship Center (GTEC) in the heart of Berlin.

Check out our video trailer to see what the program is all about!

3rd February 2015

Startup Stories – Contently

Contently, who went through Techstars New York in 2011, is a marketplace that connects quality journalists with amazing publishers. They have been growing at an extraordinary rate.  Today with 50,000 journalists, nearing 70 employees, and 100 enterprise customers, mainly Fortune 500s like Coca-Cola, GE, Google, and American Express.  It’s impressive to watch them grow and make a positive impact in the world of marketing.

People have always said history is told by the victors but now in the digital age everyone has the opportunity to record their own history.  So in a sense those who tell the stories do rule the world today.
– David Goldberg, Contently

Watch this video below to hear about how they tackled the struggles of growing fast in a booming industry.  You can watch more videos about Techstars companies here.

Startup Stories – Contently “Growing in a booming industry”