[VIDEO] Mentor Spotlight: Julia Austin

Today’s mentor spotlight is on Julia Austin! Julia is an entrepreneur herself and an advisor and investor of early stage startups. Right now, she is advising a bunch of early stage companies in the Boston area and stewing on the next big thing. Julia has been a Techstars Mentor since January 2014 as well as an investor in several Techstars companies.

Check out this one-minute spotlight video to learn what being a Techstars Mentor means to Julia!

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[VIDEO] Mentor Spotlight: Jennifer Lum of Adelphic Mobile

Today’s mentor spotlight is on Jennifer Lum! Jennifer is the co-founder of and Chief Strategy  Officer at Adelphic Mobile, has been a Techstars mentor since 2011, as well as an investor in several Techstars companies.

Check out this one-minute spotlight video to learn what Jennifer believes is key to becoming a successful entrepreneur.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

You may hear us talk a lot about #givefirst at Techstars. It’s the philosophy that you give without expecting anything in return. It’s really a powerful mindset and was one of the guiding principles Techstars was founded on. Brad Feld talks about it here.  We have thousands of amazing mentors who have deep engagement with our founders, and we’re endlessly thankful for their ​dedication to helping them succeed​. These relationships don’t end after the program does,​ but often continue for life.

With that, have a wonderful and happy Thanksgiving!

Interested in learning more about Techstars mentors? Watch here.

Bill Flag

Tom Higley

Jim Franklin

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Mentor Spotlights

It’s time to show off some more amazing mentors in the Techstars network.  Below are some super short videos with tips and recommendations from some of the most seasoned entrepreneurs from across the Techstars network.

Jason Mendelson, Managing Partner at Foundry Group

David Mandell, CEO & Founder at PivotDesk

Howard Diamond, CEO at MobileDay

Chris Moody, Data Strategy at Twitter

Kevin Menzie, CEO & Founder and Jeff Rodanski, Partner & Creative Director of Slice of Lime

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Mentor Spotlight: Matt Lauzon and Paying it Forward

Mentor: Matt Lauzon, Founder and CEO of Gemvara
TechStars Program: Boston

Tell me about being an entrepreneur.
I’ve always been entrepreneurial. I grew up with a paper route and when high school dances got canceled, I rented out a club and organized my own. I fell in love with the jewelry industry and started Gemvara in 2007.

What’s your role at TechStars?
I showed up to an event two years ago. I remember thinking, “Is this a good idea? I have a lot to prove.” I was thinking to myself how lucky I was to even be there and meet people. This year and last, I did an intimate, no tweeting, closed doors, completely confidential session about what it’s been like getting my company off the ground. I just turned 27 so I’m a young person running a 70 person company and we’re growing like crazy. I try to be completely open about the ups and downs of it all and it’s been really well received. Last year I spent a lot of time with Hardi Meybaum and the GrabCAD team. One of the things I love the most about mentoring at TechStars is that it becomes a peer relationship, just like Brad Feld always says.

I know you’re a Pinterest enthusiast. Why?
From my perspective, there is a massive frontier opening up on what I call the the emotional web; the movement of people who haven’t already been savvy are finally getting comfortable curating and creating things online and it’s a massive opportunity. We’re believers in that another Amazon can and will be built. Places like Pinterest build a relationship, not a transaction.

I think the first time I learned about you was your appearance on #ScotchoClock but your name is synonymous in Boston with the hashtags #RubyRiot #payitforward.
I’m a really big supporter in paying it forward and for me it started when a guy that I went to the school I went to heard I needed $20K to get my company off the ground. He essentially gave me the check. Rather than worry about paying him back one day, he said to do the same for another student once Gemvara became successful. Boston and the startup world are a safe place to learn and make mistakes. It’s such a perfect place to make mistakes.

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Mentor Spotlight: David Mandell and Getting Out of Your Own Shorts

Mentor: David Mandell, Senior Marketing and Communications Executive and Entrepreneur
TechStars Program: Boulder

You have been with us for every program in Boulder. How did your relationship with TechStars begin?
I was lucky enough to know David prior to TechStars through some of the blogging that he was doing. And then Brad had told me about the program after he and David put it together. My co-founders and I had recently started Me.dium, which eventually became OneRiot, and had moved from New York to Boulder. One of the main reasons we decided to locate the business in Boulder was because of the tremendous support we received from the Boulder community for what we were doing. Almost everyone we met with in the community was incredibly supportive and we decided to make supporting the local community one of our focuses. One of the first ways we did that was starting a local tech meet-up, which my partner at Me.dium, Robert Reich has so successfully nurtured and morphed into BDNT. The first one, which was held in our office above Frasca was about 12 to 15 people. We were constantly looking for things we could do to reach out to the community and TechStars seemed a perfect way to do that.

When did you first get the startup bug?
I first made the shift from the corporate world to the start-up world in 2000. At the time, I had been running global communications for Deloitte Consulting out of New York. I had been in the agency and corporate world all of my life until that point. A friend introduced me to Kimbal Musk and I left Deloitte to join him at a start-up called FunkyTalk. Up until that point, I had spent years fighting layers of political backlash trying to effect change and that was the first time I felt like I could made a clear difference on the outcome of a business quickly and directly.

Do you still keep in touch with founders that you mentored during the program?
I’ve worked with quite a few of the founders over the years. and many, many of them have been great to work with. I truly enjoy that fact that I am still in touch with a large number of them and they don’t hesitate to call when they need some help, guidance, or simply someone to bounce some ideas off of. One thing that was interesting to me during my work with the founders — and it hasn’t really changed since TechStars has grown — is that even though these are clearly very smart, technically savvy people, there seems to be a consistent need for helping them focus around core positioning and messaging strategies. The ability to tell your story clearly, and as a result, have some clear focus on how to drive your business forward, is still fairly foreign to many of them. Very few of them realized that in order to move a start-up forward successfully, you have to be incredibly focused on motivation and priorities. And, until you have a clear positioning for your business, that process becomes cloudy quite quickly.

How is VentureVoodoo able to specialize in startups?
I love working with startups for the same reason I love working IN them – decisions can be made quickly and your input can have a massive impact on the business in a short period of time – whether that’s around funding, product development, or day to day business strategy. There’s a lot of energy and they tend to be open to ideas. One of the things I enjoy doing most, and one of the things that I truly believe a good mentor should focus on, is helping the founders understand what it is that they want to be doing – not telling them what I think they should be doing. We get all their thoughts on the board and then fine tune. They get so much more productive with some guidance; where they can focus on specific values, differentiators and strategies.

One of the questions I hear a lot in our social channels online is, “How do I rebrand?” What’s your take?
Core market strategy is a business strategy and you have to know yours. Why should your market care emotionally? Customer and client decisions are based on emotion. Think about the clothes and electronics you buy, services you use and you realize that you made the decide to purchase them based on emotion. Then you back up that decision with logic. The real reason people buy, try or use something is based on an emotional hook. That’s why it’s so critical as a start-up to really know who your market is. You need to know what their emotional or “pain” drivers are, what the competitive options are in the market and how you can create a compelling story through your product or messaging that can differentiate you, and provide the emotional driver the audience needs. If you ask an entrepreneur who their target market is and they say, “anyone, ” you know they’re in trouble right off that bat. You can’t drive decisions and iterate if you don’t know who you’re connecting to. Specifically understanding your market is critical.

One of your pet peeves is making the mistake of assuming your audience is ignorant. How do new founders avoid this?
I see way too many people put their heads in the sand and say, “They just don’t get it.” Ten minutes after they have decided what they are going to, they should start gathering feedback. Whatever it is they think they are going to do ends up changing. Sometimes it changes drastically and one thing they anticipated to be a feature becomes their core product. If you’re too heads down, “caught up in your own shorts” as I like to say, you miss the opportunity. Your ego gets in the way of understanding how your and your company/service are perceived. You have to get out of your own shorts.

What advice do you have for any entrepreneurs that are reading?
The misconceptions of marketing…There tends to be a very big bias in the start-up community against marketing. I’m not talking about tactics like buying ads or using PR – which is what most people believe marketing is – I’m talking about the ability to understand your current and future markets, use that understanding to drive your business strategy, and continue to communicate with and listen to those markets either through your product or messaging. If you’re a CEO of a start-up and you don’t understand those things, then you need a someone that does quickly.

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Mentor Spotlight: Rand Fishkin and Undoing Geographic Bias

Mentor: Rand Fishkin, CEO and Co-founder, SEOmoz
TechStars Program: Seattle

Andy Sack tells me your relationship with TechStars started very organically.
That’s true. My first relationship was with Andy but this most recent class I even knew some of the participants, Marcelo Calbucci, in particular. I visited to give a talk about inbound marketing for startups. From that, I met with a few of the teams and have been taking meetings here and there near the SEOmoz offices, chatting with the founders about what they are up to and how I can be of help.

What is about mentoring that makes it worth your time?
I’m extremely passionate about the city of Seattle and the start-up scene here. I’m of the belief that we have far more talent and capability than we get credit for. As a Seattle based startup who has had a nice run of things so far, one thing we have not been lucky with is raising money and part of that stems from a geographic bias that seems to work against us. I’d like to see that change and I know that being a mentor fosters that growth. I want to get us on exciting road maps.

What’s keeping you busy seasonally?
I recently did a speaking event with Hackers and Founders, an organization of about 4,500 people in the early stage technology world in Silicon Valley. Day to day, SEOmoz is growing month over month and we’re up to 50+ employees.

Growth is happening everywhere! The accelerator scene is alive and well.
Agreed. One of the things that excited me about last year was the $100K convertible note for TechStars companies. It encourages founders and people who either more risk-averse or in need of cash flow to to even consider TechStars in the first place. Then when they’re in, you see more energy as a program. These kind of incentives create a higher and higher calibre of companies applying and I think it’s wonderful. I’d love to see an increase in geographic diversity of mentors and the folks that do the actual funding too.

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Mentor Spotlight: Cyril Ebersweiler and the China Market

Mentor: Cyril Ebersweiler, Visionary Punk
TechStars Program: Boston

You work all over the world. What makes the Boston tech scene unique?
I think it’s definitely the people. I’m living in between China and the U.S. so Boston is a long distance relationship. I’m French and I live in Boston for a few months at a time. The people in Cambridge are very accessible, a bunch of great folks willing to help everywhere they can. Most of them are extremely successful yet low-key and humble. It’s great that you can get their support or grab coffee with almost anyone. There is no need for formal introductions or the extra layer of sophistication. People are naturally open.

How did your relationship with TechStars begin?

I got involved during Boston’s second year. Sean O’Sullivan is my investing partner based in Europe and I’m in China and the U.S. We wanted to be part of the TechStars adventure so we became mentors during the second year program in Boston. For me, it was interesting that I decided to spend the entire year at the program on-site. I spent three months with teams from beginning to the end. It was a fantastic time in my life and a long love story.

Who are you still in touch with regularly?
In 2010, Marginize and SocialSci. In 2011, I went back to Boston and spent two weeks with the teams helping out where I could and doing group lectures. I stayed in touch with GrabCad

When the founders come to you for feedback, what’s your specialty?
Most of the time, it’s all about product. It’s been quite some time in working on the product and finding out what makes sense. Since I’m a fundamental geek, it was all about creating something useful that people love. I really enjoy building things for the world and I love Demo Day. You could really witness the founders’ improvements over the course of the program and for me, we shared a very little part of the feeling– being onstage in front of everyone. As a mentor, you’re so proud of them and can’t wait to see them continue to build a company out of it. 

What’s been keeping you busy the past few months? Tell me about Hackathons.
One of our Chinaccelerator founders won TechCrunch Disrupt. Our new batch starts in June. In the meantime, I’ve launched Haxlr8r which is based in the Bay Area and really focused on hardware. It starts on the March 1st. For entrepreneurs working on devices, we bring them to the market faster by making sure they get everything they need in terms of physical need and mentoring. By the end, we hope they are ready to manufacture since the investment mentality is so much scarier and difficult for investors when compared to software. I’m also investing here and there. Hackathons are a coding contest that we hold over a few days. The China market is extremely different than the American market. It’s not as mature. There’s a lot of groundwork to be done in inspiring people to create things. It’s about leveraging various platforms in order to build an interesting, fun product. It’s all about programming. Hopefully you can find a business partner. We organize it all over China once a month.

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Mentor Spotlight: Pat Condon and the Consumption of Computing

Mentor: Pat Condon, Founder of Rackspace Hosting
TechStars Program: Cloud

What are you working on lately?
I spend most of my time at Rackspace thinking about what’s next for the company – lines of business we should be in, where we should go as a company from spending time with customers. SMB customers tend to pull us forward, they are early adopters moreso than bigger companies. One of the unique insights we have is that out of our hundreds of thousands of companies, many are startup in nature. It gives us a first look in terms of where things are going in a macro view.

How did you first meet Jason Seats?
I knew Jason through Slicehost. He was looking for new projects and TechStars Cloud was such a perfect opportunity for him. We have been connected the whole time. He and I work together as mentors on another project, 3 Day Startup, which is geared toward undergrads and grads and based in Austin. As a mentor or a student, you learn on the fly in that program.

This is our inaugural class for Cloud. What’s exciting about cloud infrastructure?
That’s easy. Every generation has a kind of big moment where there’s a shift in the way things are done. Ours is the way computing is being consumed. Now it’s being done over the web and not in some back room. It drives the price down and when things become cheaper, there are more ways to utilize things. It used to be that everyone had to generate their own electricity locally, paying for what you used. With Cloud, instead of digging a theoretical well at your house, you just pay for what you use over the web and as a result everyone is going online in bigger, broader ways. Looking at what our customers at Rackspace are doing, I see something new that amazes me on a daily basis.

At the time of this conversation, Cloud has just begun. Have you met the founders yet?

I met with half of the founders yesterday and it’s a great group of companies. One thing that’s different about this program is that it’s vertically focused so you end up getting companies that are more similiar than they are different. Everyone is somehow related to cloud infrastructure and I think they will collaborate because they’re using the same technologies and it will increase both the quality of mentoring and how they support one another as a class. I’m so excited to watch it unfold.

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