How To Build and Scale a Customer Success Team from Scratch

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One of the most critical elements your company can invest in early on is a holistic focus on the success of high-growth customers – starting from the moment they sign up for your product.

Customer Success is a hot topic. In this post, I will share introductory knowledge on how we approach Customer Success at DigitalOcean, tools we’ve created to monitor customer health, and our engagement mechanisms. If this is your first foray into Customer Success, I hope you’ll be able to apply our concepts to help shape your process as you scale your startup.

So…what is Customer Success anyway?

Customer Success (CS) is an organizational approach to cultivating high-growth customer loyalty. Customers won’t stick with you if you don’t have the team, processes, and tools to ensure they continually find value in your service quality and product. This is not to say you shouldn’t value every customer, because you should. However, your high-growth customers are likely to have more stringent support needs, and in many cases, a larger footprint utilization of your services.

A “high-growth customer” means something different for every organization; it could be the highest spending customers, potential partners, or even a customer that will bring in consistent revenue.

Below is a recent quote from Dusty Davidson, CEO of Flywheel, that illustrates the impact Customer Success can have on your customer life cycle:

“We’ve worked with DigitalOcean since very early on in their life – I think they had launched something like 8,000 droplets at the time (vs 7M+ today). To say that the support we’ve received over the years has improved is a tremendous understatement, and I can almost pinpoint the inflection point to when they brought on a dedicated Customer Success team to deal with large customers like Flywheel. Today our teams interact regularly – on support, new features, upgrades and more – and we know that they’re deeply invested in our success as a customer and are dedicated to helping us grow.”

Outreach efforts at time of sign-up

In most organizations, Customer Success gets involved with a high-growth customer after a hand-off from the Account Executive team. At DigitalOcean, our CS team is a hybrid of inside sales and account management. We reach out to potential high-growth customers at time of sign-up.

Our CS team created an internal tool that tracks real-time information to segment potential VIP customers.


(Note: client contact info is removed as well as a few internal metric columns)

From the moment a customer signs up to DigitalOcean, our Customer Success Engineers can see how much funding they’ve raised, who their investors are, and how quickly they are growing in terms of company size and social media presence. We complement this private company data with a few internal product usage metrics to predict end of month spend.

After we’ve defined a core set of target customer indicators to build our CS funnel, we implement ongoing KPI metrics to continue honing in on our high-growth customers. A few examples of ongoing CS KPI metrics include: conversion rate, spend percentage increase, and total month over month revenue increase.

There are great tools out there that can provide your company with private growth indicators. One of tools we leverage is Mattermark. I recommend signing up for their trial if you want to learn more about their proprietary mindshare and growth score metrics.

Once you’ve created a funnel of high-growth potential customers, it’s time to reach out!

The more technical your product is, the more your customers will appreciate outreach efforts up front. At DigitalOcean, a Customer Success Engineer will be responsible for reaching out to offer assistance around cloud architecture planning, product overview, cost spend analysis, and more. Even just offering a more direct contact for them to reach you goes a long way.

Summary: Automate the ability to segment who’s signing up to your product, reach out to your high potentials early in the funnel, and see an increase in not only conversion, but also revenue spend of those conversions.

Identify a VIP health score

You have excellent relationships with all your customers and a pulse on every single one of their needs, right?… It’s nearly impossible to stay on top of this –

A Customer Success management tool comes in handy by tracking customer spend, feature requests, product feedback, and utilization trends. It’s a no brainer: the earlier you reach out to a churning customer, the better. It all comes down to building a comprehensive customer health score that makes the most sense for your product and customers. At DigitalOcean, we look at items like Droplet creates vs. destroys, sentiment of last interaction with customer, and how deeply integrated the customer is with our various services.

(Client information is removed as well as a few internal metric columns)

The “guardian” feature of our tool allows us to directly send re-engagement emails to our VIP customers. If we get no response, we know it’s probably time to pick up the phone; the customer may be ready to churn, and we need to avoid churn at all costs!

This leads me to emphasize how necessary it is to have real-time indicators. Below you can see one of our bots that reports in real-time to the #customer-success Slack channel when a user begins to destroy servers (and more importantly if that type of action is out of ordinary for the customer).

Cultivate a “customer first” mentality

All of this funnel building and health score data should support the most crucial mission of your Customer Success team – preventing churn. At DigitalOcean, we do this by providing great technical support, managing customer expectations, looping feedback to the product team, and most importantly ensuring our team goes above and beyond for customers in every interaction.

Below you’ll see the churn data of our high growth customers in the past 6 months; it’s something that DigitalOcean is very proud of. While we’ve gone to great lengths to build technological tools to funnel potential VIPs and nurture their health and loyalty, a tool means nothing without the effort of a strong CS team.

There are many aspects of the business that your CS team will have little control over. At DigitalOcean, it’s at the core of our culture is to go above and beyond for our customers in every interaction, and find ways to proactively fight for their best interests. If your customers know this about your team, they will be your biggest champions in the field!

Build the right Customer Success team

Rather than hiring traditional “Technical Account Managers”, DigitalOcean’s Customer Success Engineers comprises of linux sys admins and developers with experience in Python and Ruby on Rails. Due to the technical nature of our product, it was critical for us to cater the positions around the needs of our customers.

Not only do our CS Engineers roll up their sleeves to problem solve technical issues with customers, but to our benefit, they have actually built the very tools that we use internally to manage customer success.

Build vs. buy is a whole other topic, so we’ll focus on why building our own tools significantly helped our Customer Success initiatives. The initial time investment needed was roughly about 1 month, if you focus only on building “what works” vs. something that will be featured on Dribbble. Our tool simply WORKS. It’s fully customizable, dedicated features that actually mean something to us, and immediate changes can be made as needed.

Having a customer management tool gives you the ability to map your customer’s entire journey, which will allow your team to focus more on impact(rather than spend time figuring out how to make a difference).

From first-hand experience, I understand that building a Customer Success team from scratch at a start-up can be daunting. Where do you start? Balance the pressure to accelerate from 0 to 60 MPH, and take the time to build your foundation: define high-growth customers, build your outreach process from time of sign-up, identify health score metrics, promote a “customer-first” mentality, and then focus on building the right team around you.

I spent my first 3 weeks on the job just talking to customers and learning from their experience with DigitalOcean’s product. What were we doing well? What were the opportunities for improvement? Above all else it is critical to tap into the voice of your customer. Empower your customers to help define what Customer Success means to your organization.

I hope this post will be useful to you as you build out your own Customer Success team and startup. If you have any questions, ideas, or feedback, feel free to reach out to me directly at edward [at] digitalocean [dot] com

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Startup Next Fall Program Announcement by Techstars

Techstars is excited to announce 18 Startup Next pre-acceleration programs taking place this fall in 11 countries across 4 continents. Startup Next is now part of Techstars, which brings an extended network of mentors, investors and entrepreneurs, providing more opportunities to Startup Next companies.

If you’re a startup trying to get into a top tier accelerator or raise a seed round, have a well-rounded founding team in place and are at least at the MVP stage, this is for you! Find a program near you and apply. The program is free of charge and no equity is taken.

Startup Next is a mentorship driven program and consists of 3-hour weekly sessions for 6 weeks. This way founders are able to continue building their product, while receiving top quality mentorship and getting access to a global network. Startups that complete the program will move their business closer to product/market fit and be better prepared to answer the tough questions any accelerator or investor will ask.

After the program, Startup Next team will be helping alumni startups with referrals to a large network of accelerators and seed investors worldwide. So far, Startup Next has helped more than 50 startups get into 30 different accelerators and raise more than $40 million dollars in funding.

Check out for more details and feel free to reach out to with any questions. See application deadlines and program dates below.

City Applications close Program starts
Toronto 5-Oct 19-Oct
Dublin 7-Oct 21-Oct
Madrid 8-Oct 13-Oct
Mumbai 13-Oct 24-Oct
Recife 15-Oct 29-Oct
Hong Kong 16-Oct 3-Nov
Santiago 17-Oct 21-Oct
Los Angeles 19-Oct 26-Oct
Austin 19-Oct 2-Nov
Mexico City 22-Oct 5-Nov
NYC 26-Oct 9-Nov
San Francisco 27-Oct 11-Nov
Lisbon TBD TBD
Buenos Aires TBD TBD
Boston TBD TBD
Seattle TBD TBD
Montreal TBD TBD
London TBD TBD

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Techstars & PwC to Launch IoT Accelerator in NYC

Techstars is excited to announce a new accelerator program with PwC focused on the IoT (Internet of Things) market. PwC is a founding partner in a consortium of companies for the Techstars IoT Accelerator. The program will bring industry leaders in the new IoT market together with the most innovative emerging startups in the industry for our three month, mentorship-driven  accelerator program.

The Techstars IoT program will take place in New York in 2016, and applications will open later this year.  Application deadlines, program dates and additional information will be released soon.

By 2020, an estimated 50 billion devices around the globe will be connected to the Internet – the majority of which will be sensors, actuators, and newly invented intelligent devices that monitor, control, analyze, and optimize our world.  Products ranging from connected consumer devices to industrial solutions will be candidates for this program.  Estimates of potential economic impact by 2020 range from $2 trillion to more than $14 trillion.

Whether it’s a BrewBot to make your next batch of craft beer, a motion sensor from Notion, or baby monitoring with Owlet, Techstars has a successful history of nurturing and supporting the fundraising of IoT companies.  

Techstars is following the successful model that has been proven with Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit, to engage multiple partners in the Techstars IoT program. We are excited that PwC has chosen to lead the way as a founding partner.

For partners who would like to participate or founders who would like more information before applications open, contact


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Attend Denver Startup Week and take the next step in scaling up!

Techstars is proud to be a part of the 4th annual Denver Startup Week!  Denver Startup Week is bringing innovation to life by taking the skills and drive of an entire team; founders, developers, product managers, designers, marketers, sales teams, and makers. It is where every member of that team can come to learn, grow, and be ready to take on the next challenge.

Techstars is heavily involved in the programming at Chase Basecamp on Thursday, Oct. 1. Chase is a the national title sponsor of Startup Week in partnership with Techstars. Six other cities this year are Chase sponsored: Seattle, Tampa Bay, Phoenix, Dallas, Columbus and Detroit. Learn more about the partnership here.

With 232 events on the Denver Startup Week 2015 schedule (and more being added each day), there’s something for everyone!  All events are free, but registration is required.


Check out these upcoming #DENStartupWeek #ChaseBasecamp events with Techstars:

Why Colorado Is A Great Place To Be An Entrepreneur – Thursday, 10/1 8:00am — 9:30am. In this panel discussion, we will discuss and explore what concerted efforts—focusing on Startup Colorado and the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network—are taking place to support entrepreneurs from getting involved in the entrepreneurial community, to early stage companies, and up through fast-paced gazelles ready for a major exit event.

Feld & Friends – Thursday, 10/1 12:00pm — 1:30pm. Join Brad Feld of Foundry Group and he brings his favorite #squad members to chat about investing, startups, and life as an entrepreneur.

Founders Story: Brad Feld Of Foundry Group – Thursday, 10/1 3:00pm — 3:30pm. Join us daily from 3:15 to 3:45 at Basecamp for a quick chat with a superstar Colorado startup founder.

Pitch Techstars – Thursday, 10/1 4:00pm — 6:00pm. Six lucky individuals will get the chance to pitch Natty Zola of Techstars and get feedback.

Check out the full schedule for Denver Startup Week here.

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A Discussion of Accelerators with Brad Feld & Ian Hathaway

The economist Ian Hathaway recently interviewed Brad Feld, Techstars co-founder and Managing Director of the Foundry Group, about the startup accelerator phenomenon.

In this video discussion, they cover the origin of accelerators, startup communities, seed stage investing, immersive education, the downside of learning by doing, and the value of mentorship. Brad offers best practice tips for accelerators around mentor dynamics, program rhythm, and investor engagement. He also explains how founder stress and conflict can help to build the muscle which eventually helps startups succeed.

If you’ve been through an accelerator, are a mentor to an accelerator program, or are interested in what’s important around accelerators — check it out.

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Meet 14 New Techstars Companies from Fall 2015 NYC Class

We are very pleased to announce the new Techstars class here in NYC. This will be our 7th session in the city, and my third as the Managing Director. The class started this week, and will end with the demo day on December 17th.

We had an overwhelming amount of high quality applicants. Thank you very much to everyone who applied. Fourteen companies that made it into the class represent less than 0.8% of applications. Seven of the companies are from NYC, two from Los Angeles, and one from Bay Area, Boston, and Seattle respectively. We also have two international teams – one from Paris and another one from Lagos, Nigeria. This is the first time that a company from Africa made it into a Techstars NYC class! 

Techstars NYC continues its commitment to funding exceptional, technology-focused founders. The companies in this class are working on improving mobile search, automating shopping and help desk assistance, making it easier to buy health insurance, building intelligence platform for law enforcement and teaching girls how to code through programmable jewelry. We are also very excited to welcome back an alumni, Jason Baptiste, who previously went through Techstars NYC as the CEO of OnSwipe. His new company is called Morsel.

We want to take this opportunity to thank the 70 Techstars NYC alumni companies and 150 mentors for their ongoing and generous support. We look forward to an amazing session this Fall.

Here are the companies:​

 1442614714375 Flip enables people to buy and sell leases from each other.
Gorgias builds customer support software powered by machine intelligence to maximize productivity.
GreatHorn is a cloud security platform that detects and prevents data breaches.
Haubby is a SaaS platform for beauty freelancers, offering client engagement, business management and product sales tools.
Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 4.06.50 PM Homemade is a marketplace for homemade food.
Impact Health helps consumers select and buy optimal health insurance.
Jewelbots are programmable friendship bracelets that teach girls to code.
LiveLike is creating a live-sports viewing platform that combines the immersiveness of Virtual Reality with the power of social.
MAX is hyper-local on demand delivery for Urban Africa.
Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 4.09.10 PM Mona is using machine learning to create a fully automated retail shopping assistant.
Morsel is a monthly lunch subscription service delivering healthy meals to your desk.
Sailo is an online boat rental marketplace.
Slash is a smart mobile keyboard making it easy to share anything, without switching apps.
SPIDR is the next generation communication and intelligence platform for law enforcement.

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Introducing The Techstars Foundation, a Non-Profit to Improve Diversity in Technology Entrepreneurship

Today we are excited to launch the Techstars Foundation.

Over the past year, many of our alumni, investors, and mentors have encouraged us to think hard about inclusive entrepreneurship. We decided that we wanted to do something very meaningful that would have a lasting impact on this issue — and so we created the Techstars Foundation. The goal of the foundation is to improve diversity in tech entrepreneurship by providing opportunities for underrepresented entrepreneurs through grants, scholarships, and sponsorships.

Creating the Techstars Foundation is also a way for us to take further action on top of the White House Diversity Commitment we made in August. That commitment involves increasing the numbers of female applicants and mentors in our accelerator programs, tracking and increasing minority participation, adding women to our selection committee, and publishing our diversity data annually. We want to do all of this as well as having a direct impact financially.

Founders and employees of Techstars, along with a number of alumni and mentors, have made an initial cash contribution to the Techstars Foundation, which launches today with more than $500,000. We are thrilled to offer a way for Techstars accelerator alumni, partners, mentors, Startup Weekend and Next alumni, and other supporters to Give First by providing access and opportunity to underrepresented minorities and – together – create stronger entrepreneur communities worldwide.

The Techstars Foundation is fortunate to have the guidance of an incredible board of advisors, including Brad Feld (Managing Director, Foundry Group), Mary Grove (Director, Google for Entrepreneurs), Jenny Lawton (Chief Strategy Officer, littleBits), Rod Robinson (Founder and CEO, Connxus), and Lucy Sanders (Founder and CEO, National Center for Women and Information Technology).

If you would like to get involved, please consider donating cash or stock to the Techstars Foundation. You can also name the foundation as a beneficiary. Your contribution is tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

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Demo Day Round Up: September 2015

It’s been busy lately at Techstars’ accelerator programs around the world with FIVE demo days this month. From Berlin to Boston to Boulder, and in the world of Robotics and Mobility, we’ve welcomed 50 new companies into the Techstars family!  Here’s a quick recap:

Berlin Class of 2015

It was the first year for a Techstars program in Berlin and the event went off without a hitch! Managing Director, Jens Lapinski, showcased this exciting class in a beautiful old theater in Berlin. The founders’ pitches were well received as the audience learned about solutions for online collaboration, booking musicians, sports venues, online tutoring and more.

Congratulations to the Berlin class of 2015!

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Boston Class of 2015

Led by Managing Director, Semyon Dukach, the Boston Demo Day was a big night showcasing the best of Beantown and beyond. One highlight of the night included the 100 year old co-founder of the iconic restaurant chain, Friendly’s, S. Prestley Blake, who introduced his grandson, ThriveHive co-founder, Adam Blake. Founder wisdom passed on through the generations!

Congratulations to the Techstars class of Boston ‘15!

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Boulder Class of 2015

This year marks the ninth class of the Boulder program, led this year by new Managing Directors, Zach Nies and Natty Zola. Founders were invited to take a step towards corporate philanthropy with Pledge 1%. Techstars co-founders David Brown and Brad Feld took the stage to talk about local success story, Sphero, Techstars global growth and the entrepreneur’s journey. During the evening, Zach also announced that the spring 2016 Boulder Demo Day will align with Boulder Startup Week!

Congratulations to the Boulder class of 2015!

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Qualcomm Robotics Accelerator, powered by Techstars

Epic. That’s the word used to describe the inaugural Qualcomm Robotics Accelerator, powered by Techstars, Demo Day in San Diego, CA, last week. Ryan Kuder, Managing Director of the program, led the event, which showcased some of the most innovative robotics technology on the market. Robotic arms, robots for gaming, drones and bringing natural sunlight indoors are only a few of the amazing products that came out of this hugely successful show!

Congratulations to the Qualcomm class of 2015!

Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit

The resurgence of Detroit is palpable. Led by Managing Director, Ted Serbinski, the Mobility demo day showcased exciting new technologies that address the movement of people, goods, and services —increasing mobility and productivity. The big news of the night was that two of the companies, My Dealer Service and SPLT, will make Detroit their new home!

Congratulations to the Mobility class of 2015!

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During the event, a film promo was premiered – Restarting the Motor City – a documentary feature focused on the cultural, economic and social shifts happening in Detroit on the back of innovation and entrepreneurship. A Kickstarter for the film was also announced to fund the next stage of production. Good luck to Long Haul films on this awesome project!


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Techstars & Target to Launch Retail Accelerator in Minneapolis

Techstars is excited to announce a new accelerator program with Target focused on retail innovation. Target and Techstars are committed to inviting the most promising and innovative entrepreneurs to Minneapolis to create the best new technology in the retail industry.

The Techstars Retail Accelerator, in partnership with Target, will launch next year and will open the doors to any startup that aspires to improve the retail experience, whether online, in-store or a combination of both.

The partnership, which will seek innovations that address all aspects of retail, will have a powerful impact on the Minneapolis / Twin Cities startup community. The area was recently named by Forbes as one of the fastest growing for tech jobs in the U.S. and Target’s investment in building the startup community will only accelerate this growth.

The Techstars program, a three-month, immersive, mentorship-driven startup accelerator, will be based near Target’s headquarters in downtown Minneapolis, MN. Important application dates will be announced before the end of the year along with further details.

For founders who want more information before applications open, contact

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Seattle Startup Week is Back and Bigger than Ever!

Seattle Startup Week is back, and this year’s organizers are expecting it to be bigger than ever. Registration opened today on the Seattle Startup Week website, and you can sign up and attend as many events as you’d like!

Seattle Startup Week 1

Seattle Startup Week is a free, five-day celebration of the Seattle startup community happening October 26-30, 2015, that builds momentum and opportunity around entrepreneurship. It’s led by local entrepreneurs and hosted in amazing spaces all over town.

One of those spaces is Basecamp, Powered by Chase. For the second year in a row Basecamp will take place at Impact HUB Seattle, 220 2nd Ave S, Seattle, WA. Basecamp is a great place to network, recharge and take in great programming. Plus, they have daily Happy Hours from 4-6pm that are always a lot of fun!

Here are some programming highlights for the week:

    Monday, Oct. 26 // Intellectual Property Essentials for the Hyper-growth Startup

–    Tuesday, Oct. 27 // Operation Failure: Learning that failure is a constant

–    Wednesday, Oct. 28 // Sustainable Design for Hardware Startups

–    Thursday, Oct. 29 // Grit and Resilience: What You Need to Scale Up

–    Friday, Oct. 30 // Rethinking 21st Century Higher Education

Check back often as new programs will be added daily leading up to the event.

While Seattle Startup Week is mostly about learning, there’s also a lot of celebrating that goes on. The Opening and Closing Parties are not to be missed. It’s a great way to connect with others to celebrate the spirit of entrepreneurship.

And of course, none of this would be possible without the generous support of the Seattle Startup Week sponsors. We’d like to thank Chase for their continued support of Startup Week and for returning again this year as the title sponsor. Their support of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Seattle is truly remarkable and we’re very thankful to have them as a partner.

Sign up today to get your all-access pass and RSVP for as many programs as you’d like!

To follow the event on social, use these hashtags: #ChaseBasecamp, #StartupWeekSEA.

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