I only met Ron Conway once. He was an early investor in Datahug and when I met him it was at his home in San Francisco. This was not your normal investor meeting. It was all about introductions and understanding who I wanted to meet. It was sublimely simple yet hugely effective.
Just in case you haven’t heard of Ron Conway, he is probably the most famous and successful angel investor in Silicon Valley. He was an early investor in Google, Facebook, and Twitter and is an institution in Silicon Valley. Therefore, it was no surprise that we were A. delighted to have him as an investor and B. pretty nervous that we were about to meet this living legend.
We arrived at Ron’s apartment and were greeted by his associate. The meeting was probably about 45 minutes and I only really remember three things:
- Ron was very calm, laid back and friendly. He mentioned his Irish roots and that he had recently met the mayor of my hometown, Cork.
- I joked that since our vision involved unlocking relationships that someday “Datahug might build an automated version of Ron Conway.” I didn’t get the laugh I was expecting… Oops.
- Ron had several sheets of paper in front of him. Each of those sheets contained about 50 names. Every one of those names was a top tier VC, Angel or Corporate Dev Lead. This is when I discovered the power of having Ron Conway as your Angel investor.
Ron asked just one very powerful question, “Who do you want to meet?”
I rattled out four or five dream introductions without blinking. He asked his associate to go ahead and make those intros on his behalf. He said that he would make up to ten initial introductions and that if I needed more to get back to him for the next ten. He leafed through his printed Rolodex and suggested four or five more people he thought we should meet with. His final words were that if for any reason we didn’t see the introductions coming through we should just contact those people directly and “tell them Ronnie sent you.”
And that was it. 5 minutes later we were back outside his apartment armed with 10 hugely valuable introductions to key Silicon Valley insiders. We leveraged these introductions to build momentum, secure early customers and gain valuable insights into our markets. They made an impact on our business and I will be forever grateful and a fan of Ron Conway. I’ve not met with Ron since, but every now and then I’ll reach out to his team with an introduction or request for help. They are always responsive and great to engage with.
As an investor, and former founder, I want to add value like Ron Conway and his team did for us. I want to #GiveFirst and help other founders succeed where I can. I’ve been lucky enough to witness how one or two well-placed introductions have helped founders raise capital, win customers, and build their teams.
When mentoring teams here is why I always try to ask “Who do you want to meet?”
You discover how you can add value.
The answer to this question often triggers connections in my head that I would never have considered. You often don’t really know how you can help until somebody asks. The answer gives me a better sense of ‘directionality’ for how I might help.
For example, I recently spent time with a great founder in Bulgaria. We had a great chat and at the end, I asked my usual question. He immediately replied that his dream introduction was to the founders of Hired. I had randomly bumped into that founder twelve hours earlier and was able to take out my phone and connect them straight away. I would never have thought about connecting them until he implicitly asked for it as I had failed to see the connection (which became blindingly obvious when he explained why). They ended up hitting it off and spent several hours together which has led to more follow on introductions and meetings for that founder.
You learn more about the founders.
I have learned so much about founders by how they answer this question. It’s fascinating to hear about the types of people they want to meet. It’s also a really great way to gauge how focused and up to speed a founder is on their sector. Founders who can’t immediately answer this question with conviction immediately raise a red flag for me. You also learn a lot about the founder when they explain why they want to meet X or Y.
You remember the founder and their company.
You will remember really specific asks like ‘I want to meet owners of NFL or NBA Teams.’ It could be four months after you’ve met the founder when you might randomly bump into the person (or type of person) that the founder wanted an introduction to. These specific introduction requests always stand out in my mind and it’s a great way to reconnect with a founder by helping them with an introduction several months later. This proves to founders that you listen to them and genuinely want to help and support them.
You add more value to your network.
The best introductions are where both sides of the introduction benefit. By making highly targeted introductions you help create genuine win-wins. For example, other investors are often very grateful for targeted introductions to Founders who you are working with. The same is true for potential recruits, customers, and partners.
You get to #GiveFirst.
I’ve always been impressed by how Techstars has built their whole culture and reputation around this #GiveFirst mentality. Call it karma but being helpful today is probably the best long-term strategy to being successful as an investor in the future. Helping founders with introductions is not just good business but equally rewarding on a personal level when you can help entrepreneurs succeed.
Ron Conway and networks like Techstars are testaments to this simple, but often neglected, way of giving. It’s so simple to ask, can be hugely impactful, and costs very little in terms of time to execute. I’d encourage you to include it in your next mentoring conversation. 🙂
P.S. If you want to learn more about the #GiveFirst philosophy and it’s proven impact in business then read ‘Give and Take’ by Brian Lewis. I first heard about this from David Cohen and it’s a good read with good examples of how givers outperform takers.
In 2009, when we first founded Datahug we did not know many other founders, investors or mentors who could help with advice or introductions to customers or investors. Equally, when we did manage to get that rare early introduction or connection, we had very little validation or credibility in the market to convince people they should trust us and work with us.
We had a huge access and credibility problem.
The Access Problem
First time founders usually don’t have strong networks in the startup ecosystem. They simply don’t know any experienced founders or mentors who can help with valuable mentorship and introductions to potential customers, partners or investors. They often have to build new networks from scratch, which requires an awful lot of energy, time and luck.
B2B founders especially know that relationships are everything, and that the right introduction at the right time can be a game changer to help them build momentum.
The Credibility Problem
“Hi, I’m Connor from Datahug” – “Sorry who are you? And what is a Datahug?”
In the beginning, customers have absolutely ZERO reason to trust you. Let alone even take a meeting from you. Enterprise customers are also very conservative and risk averse when it comes to working with startups they have never heard of and who have mediocre customer references.
The Magic of Techstars
Since joining Techstars as managing director of the SAP.iO Foundry, Powered by Techstars Accelerator earlier this year, I’ve had some time to think about how we overcame this at Datahug and how I believe the Techstars Worldwide Network helps entrepreneurs succeed.
Techstars helps by:
- Engineering Serendipity by surrounding early stage founders with 100+ mentors when it matters most to their early growth and success.
- Lending Credibility by allowing founders to leverage their Techstars brand association to help our companies build early trust.
I call these two advantages, Hello and Halo.
Hello World – Tapping into Mentor Network Effects
Relationships are everything. A common fallacy in enterprise SaaS in particular is that businesses buy from other businesses. They don’t. Instead, what really happens is that a person (Mary) at Company A buys something from another person (Ingrid) at Company B.
Therefore, it should be no surprise that building relationships with early customers, partners, investors and potential hires is one of the most impactful activities B2B founders can do. This is why at the core of every great accelerator program is a strong and experienced Mentor Network.
At Techstars, we believe in the power of mentors so much that we have built our whole accelerator model around Mentor Networks. Within the first month of any Techstars program, our founders experience what we call Mentor Madness. An intensive 3 weeks where our teams have up to 100 1:1 meetings with mentors from our network who can often help with advice, introductions, sales or investment.
Typically, it could take a founder years to meet so many highly supportive mentors who have a #GiveFirst mentality (people who ask ‘how can I help’) and genuine experience in either a specific domain that is related to the founder’s company (whether it be potential customers, angel investors, or experienced founders who’ve experienced and overcome the same challenges facing your startup).
Access to these mentors is a game changer for our companies. Founders typically build networks and insights that would have taken them two years to achieve outside Techstars. By helping engineer serendipity and hundreds of warm ‘hellos’ we help our companies #DoMoreFaster.
The Halo Effect – Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
“Hi, I’m Connor from Datahug. We are an SAP.iO and Techstars backed company” – “Hi Connor. Interesting as we are a SAP customer… or we have invested in Techstars companies before…”
This is nothing short of a game changer. If you have ever done sales, then you know the importance of reference customers or brands to help establish trust and early rapport. At Datahug, when Salesforce invested in us they brought us no real clients or direct deal flow.
Instead, they gave us huge credibility in the marketplace and really helped us ‘earn the right’ to pitch and ultimately convert more contacts to leads and eventually more customers.
As we built momentum and secured more global brands, we then expanded our pitch to include things like “We also work with Deloitte, Qlik, Optimizely, Silicon Valley Bank etc…” It’s why you always see client logos plastered over every SaaS companies website or investment deck.
Ultimately, founders and investors know that logos and brand association matters. Credibility matters. Techstars and SAP are probably two of the biggest global brands in venture capital and enterprise Saas respectively (in fact, SAP is also well known in the VC industry through its Sapphire and SAP.iO funds). Not a bad resource to have on your side!
So, Do You Want to Say Hello/Halo?
If access and credibility are important to your B2B SaaS company, then we’d love to see how Techstars and SAP can help you succeed. You’ll still need to have a great team and proven ability to execute and deliver.
We are very protective of our mentors’ time and brand equity, but once you are in Techstars, you are in for life. We call this #TechstarsForLife. That is why we love working with strong teams who we know can leverage our network effectively and will be great brand ambassadors for Techstars globally as a proud alumni.
If you want to learn more, then I’d encourage you to apply – the SAP.iO Foundry, Powered by Techstars Accelerator is now open for applications.
Our deadline is June 18th and we encourage you to start your application early so that we can get to know you well ahead of our selection process (we review applications every few days and often reach out with questions – this is a great way for us to get to know each other more ahead of selection).
We are also hosting an AMA and Webinar on May 22nd where you can learn more and ask us any questions you might have. (If you are reading this after the webinar, check out the same link for the recording).
Connor & Sanah
Our European expansion continues with the launch of our fourth program in Berlin – SAP.iO Foundry, Powered by Techstars Accelerator. I’m excited to officially come on board as the managing director and I’m joined by Sanah Ahmed as program manager.
The program will run in partnership with SAP.iO and is focused on B2B and enterprise SaaS companies, specifically on machine learning and artificial intelligence. This will be one of the first dedicated enterprise and machine learning accelerators in Europe and offers a huge opportunity for startups to come to Berlin and be part of the fastest growing startup ecosystem in the world. It’s an exciting time for this industry, as IDC estimates that machine learning will generate $47 billion (€44 billion) in revenue by 2020.
Applications open today and the program begins in September 2017.
What we are looking for
You should apply for this program if you think Techstars can help your learning enabled enterprise SaaS company be more successful. Founders often ask what it takes to join Techstars and I tell them it’s simple. We have 6 selection criteria when looking for companies, and in order of importance these are; team, team, team, market opportunity, traction, and idea. To us, the team is important and we’re looking to back those behind the idea.
Therefore, I think it’s equally helpful for founders to use these same 6 criteria when thinking of applying to Techstars (or any accelerator). Founders should ask: Who are the people behind the accelerator? How will they help my company succeed? What evidence supports this? And what is the core idea behind the program?
Team – The Techstars Team
Techstars was founded in Boulder, Colorado in 2006 by David Cohen, Brad Feld, David Brown, and Jared Polis. It has since grown to over 160 team members across the globe that are all focussed on helping entrepreneurs succeed via our 29 accelerator programs, startup programs (including hundreds of Startup Weekends) and venture funds.
Team – The SAP.iO Team
SAP.iO helps innovators inside and outside of SAP build products, find customers, and change industries. SAP.iO is part of SAP (NYSE: SAP), the market leader in enterprise application software. SAP helps companies of all sizes and industries run better. From back office to boardroom, warehouse to storefront, desktop to mobile device – SAP empowers people and organizations to work together more efficiently and use business insight more effectively to stay ahead of the competition. SAP applications and services enable more than 345,000 business and public sector customers to operate profitably, adapt continuously, and grow sustainably.
SAP’s Chief Innovation Officer (Juergen Mueller), Chief Strategy Officer & Executive Vice President (Deepak Krishnamurthy), and SVP and Managing Director, SAP.iO Fund (Ram Jambunathan) are all involved as mentors and sponsors of the program. In addition, teams will engage with up to 50 mentors from within the wider SAP ecosystem.
Team – The Berlin Ecosystem & Mentors
As a mentorship-driven accelerator, Berlin is where the majority of the program’s mentors will come from and where you will get to build most of your network during the program. Berlin is attracting founders from all over Europe who are coming to build their companies amidst a sea of top talent, a supportive community and a great place to live. Investors from all over Europe and the rest of the world are traveling to Berlin to invest here. If that does not convince you, then read Jen’s original announcement for the first Techstars program in Berlin or watch this very funny pitch about Berlin’s Startup Home as a Service 🙂
Startups fail 95% of the time. Techstars provides capital, mentorship, and a 13 week program to help companies achieve a 90% success rate and build connections that last a lifetime. This unique partnership between SAP.iO and Techstars brings two networks together into one accelerator program that offers entrepreneurs unprecedented access not only to a leading global software company, but also to Techstars mentor and investor relationships.
Techstars has 10 years experience helping entrepreneurs build great businesses. Our network consists of 11,000 founders, alumni and mentors globally. We have invested in 1,000 companies, of which;
- 90% are Active or Acquired
- $3.0 B Total Funding
- $7.8 B Market Cap
We believe in full transparency. Here is a complete list of all of the companies that we’ve ever funded, and their current status, funding raised, and more.
SAP.iO is an exciting new early stage fund from global software giant SAP.
- SAP innovations help 345,000 customers across 190 countries work together more efficiently and use business insight more effectively
- SAP has annual revenues of €22B
- SAP has over 84,000 employees globally
- SAP.iO is an experienced corporate partner with Techstars IoT in NY
Techstars helps entrepreneurs succeed. We do this by opening doors to capital, mentorship, marketing, business development, customer acquisition, and talent recruitment.
Like any good idea, we’re constantly iterating and improving with every program and company we invest in. Techstars is today much more than a 3 month program. Techstars is for life — our global ecosystem of founders, mentors, investors, and corporate partners work together to create a network of support that lasts throughout your entrepreneurial journey.
How can I apply or learn more?
If you are a startup founder and want to apply for the program, you can find the application form here.
If you want to reach out to discuss SAP.iO Foundry, Powered by Techstars Accelerator, you can also apply for office hours or register for our upcoming webinars.