Techstars is a whirlwind experience. Thanks to this incredible program, the business growth that happened for Revolar is mindblowing and keeping up with the pace pushed my team beyond what we thought was possible. But having taken Revolar and our team through this process twice, I can say with absolute confidence that the magic is in the mentorship.
This summer, I was honored to have Brian Cornell, Target’s CEO, as a lead mentor to Revolar. I had no idea what to expect when I first met Brian. I had, of course, read all about him and was excited to meet the man who had gone undercover in his own business to hear out what his guests truly wanted. This is also the man who I read had flown across the globe for the love of his life and who, in my opinion, had taken an incredibly powerful, historical and empathetic stance on the safety of his guests.
I’ll never forget our first meeting. I wanted to learn from him what it took to be the CEO of a massive business and a ubiquitous brand.
So I asked him pretty much point blank, “What does it take?” His answer caught me off guard and still makes me smile. In essence, Brian told me that a CEO needs to be very self-contained: calm in the midst of chaos. You can’t let what is happening in one area impact your ability to focus on what is in front of you.
Then I told him what I had seen in my first few weeks at Target’s HQ. I told him I saw Pride. I saw his team take pride in having stood on the right side of history, pride in the innovation he was bringing to Target. But I knew that could not have been an easy decision to make, so I asked him, “Why?”
The DNA to Care
His answer moved me. Brian walked me through the history of Target. He told me it was in their DNA to give back to communities. Did you know that since day one, Target has given 5% of their profits back to the community? That’s millions of dollars every week! Did you know that Target was also the first retailer to feature African American models in its advertising? I didn’t. But he taught me that it was in their DNA to care.
By the end of the meeting, he gave me his contact information, agreed to mentor our team and told me not to hesitate to reach out. It’s a promise he’s kept and I’m never one to be shy when I need help. I remember leaving that meeting and knowing to my core that I had met someone who had it in his DNA to care.
At our second meeting, I asked him about communication. “How do you best communicate new things to your team?” Communication in any business is difficult, but I couldn’t even fathom what that looks like with 340,000 employees. He told me to keep my communication simple enough that a child could follow along. People have a million things running through their minds and it’s your job to make the message as simple and concise as possible so that a wide and diverse group of people can immediately follow along.
Thoughts, Learnings, New Actions
Then he dug deeper and we started whiteboarding. He told me that when I present new information, I should break it down into three areas: thoughts, learnings and actions.
- Thoughts – reviewing the assumptions we made. By stating them as thoughts and referring to the whole group, you take any blame away (because it’s not about blame, it’s about learning from what we thought).
- Learnings – now that we have tested what we thought, what did we learn?
- Finally, he said to present New Actions – how are we moving forward from here?
Thoughts – Learnings – New Actions. Simple, right? This has seriously made my life so much easier!
For our third session, he asked me to present what I had learned about the program and what we would be working on moving forward. As you can imagine, I was thrilled (but nervous) because I knew that we had been brought to Techstars not just to grow our businesses, but to help Target learn from startups how to improve and do more faster.
How would he receive our honest observations? Would he like our proposal?
We presented to him in the same fashion he had recommended. Thoughts – Learnings – New Actions. We also shared the good, the bad, and the ugly. Here’s what I learned about Brian that day: he is not only an incredible leader of people, but he appreciates honesty and has a great sense of humor.
Mentorship and Friendship
There’s one thing about mentorship that I think many people misunderstand.
It’s not a take-take relationship and it’s not about having someone’s ear. Mentors are friends whose advice you actually take.
Mentorship is friendship with a focus. They are the friends that help turn your hurdles into leaps of progress. My team and I have made friendships this summer that will span the rest of our lives. We’ve made friendships that have positively impacted not only the trajectory of our business, but helped us grow as individuals.
The best part? Mentorship, like friendship, doesn’t end just because the program is over. Thank you to Brian and to all of our Target mentors for an incredible summer I’ll never forget!
Because April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Revolar is selling its second safety wearable on Indiegogo for a big discount off the retail price. Click here for more info and connect with them online.
Interested in receiving invaluable mentorship for your startup? Apply today. Applications close April 9.
I majored in International Studies and Spanish. I was a teacher with Teach for America. I did oppositional research for political candidates. I’m Latina, young, and have zero background in engineering.
However: I am also a tech entrepreneur, a CEO and a founder. If you come from an untraditional background, you can be one too.
Here’s the wonderful thing about life: you get to redefine yourself if you want to. Some people do this based upon the crowd they’re spending time with or what their family may try to dictate. Throughout my life, I’ve chosen to constantly redefine myself based on my aspirations.
I remember in an interview, the reporter asked me if I always knew I was going to be a CEO. Without thinking twice, I answered yes. She seemed surprised by my answer. I explained: I planned Revolar; I named myself CEO and worked my butt off to grow into that title. Was it all rainbows and sunshine? Heck no! It took tremendous amounts of research and mentorship from members of my community to get to this point. It took endless meals of ramen and potatoes before we were first funded.
I’ll never forget the day my very supportive then boyfriend asked me why, when at a party, I answered that I was a teacher but I didn’t mention Revolar and that I was a CEO. It was early on and I explained to him that I wasn’t comfortable telling people yet because they usually didn’t believe me, or thought I was crazy.
He stopped me and said, “You have to get used to describing yourself as what you want to be.” He said this because it’s true. Your thoughts are powerful and you have to believe them and live them in order for them to come true. From that day forward, I intentionally brought it up to everyone and anyone who would listen. It was awkward at first, but necessary.
When people ask me about how they can make the transition to being a funded entrepreneur, I tell them the same thing. First: define yourself accordingly. No one is going to give you anything; you have to claim and earn it. The next step is to do all the research necessary. Go to local meetup groups for entrepreneurs, actively seek mentorship, and continuously educate yourself on your field.
There is no one tried-and-true way to become the person or professional you want to be. People may not see it at first. It took my close friends and family some time to completely come around to my newly defined self. It’s ok, be respectful along the process and never lose sight of why you started.
Now that it’s been several months since the program, I want to share (from the CEO perspective) the one thing I would have done differently prior to entering Techstars.
Now, there’s no doubt in my mind that Techstars was incredibly beneficial to our growth. It allowed me to meet with incredible mentors and during your time at the accelerator, important contacts are even willing to come to you to meet.
The program is three months long and is broken down roughly like this:
– 1st month: Mentor Madness AKA Mentor Whiplash. This is a solid month with the most brilliant people in their fields giving you advice in 30-minute increments and it’s ABSOLUTELY INSANE.
You will walk away from this first month, or at least I did, more confused than when I started, but with some really awesome mentors who are in it for the long haul.
– 2nd month: Execution. You get one month to go full force and literally accelerate your business as rapidly as you can. How are you able to get so much done so quickly? You’re able to accelerate because Techstars is there to help you access every and any resource you need.
– 3rd month: Preparations. This really kicks into full gear for Demo Day. Demo Day is a very big deal. Don’t lose your mind. Until you nail it, they will keep pushing you to get better and better.
Here’s what I didn’t anticipate: building relationships with investors doesn’t happen overnight, and it rarely happens in a month.
I walked into Techstars thinking that they would give me access to the investors I wanted to meet. What I had not considered was the time it would take to build those strong relationships.
Everything worked out wonderfully for us. I am very lucky to have formed such a strong relationship with Seth from the Foundry Group because three months post Techstars, we closed a $3 million round with them. But here’s the thing, I knew Seth from before. In fact, even before we were accepted into Techstars, we had done our seed round with Seth as our lead with the FG Angels.
So as a CEO, if I were ever to do an accelerator again, I would do my research ahead of time.
I would have walked into Techstars on day one with a list of researched VCs and have a clear reason for why I believe they would have been a good fit for us and why we would be a good fit for them.
Then on day one, I would have given that list to my MD, along with the person I believed would be ideal to contact in their group and then asked for introductions. This would have given me three months to work on building a relationship with them versus trying to find the time to do all this in the madness that ensues during those three months of acceleration.
As a first time CEO, I had never thought of these things, but hopefully this helps you prepare to use your time as effectively as possible while in your accelerator program. If nothing else, it forces you outside of your comfort zone and that’s where the true growth comes from.
Best of luck!
[Application deadline for the next session of Techstars programs is March 20th. Apply now for Atlanta, Retail, Chicago, NYC, Mobility and London.]
Today’s Founder Friday post is from Jackie Ros, CEO and Founder of Revolar (Boulder ’15).
Phishing is defined as the attempt to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details (and sometimes, indirectly, money), often for malicious reasons, by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.
Phish the band is great, too. Fishing is even better.
But this blog is about phishing and how it can impact a startup that is moving full speed ahead. It’s also about trusting your team.
Here’s what happened:
I’m rushing to leave my house in time to get to the airport when I get a call from Joanna, our SVP of Finance. Joanna is frazzled. I’m frazzled. It’s a week before Christmas and we’ve been on a full on sprint to stay ahead throughout the holiday madness.
“Jackie, what is the deal with this $40,000 wire transfer you want me to do for GPS devices in the UK?” she asks.
At this point, I’m sure I’m losing my mind and somehow forgot this. I let her know I’m not sure what she’s talking about but could she please send me our email dialogue and refresh my memory.
She forwards me the conversation and my stomach does a backflip when I read it.
It’s not me she’s been emailing back and forth. Whoever it was, was not a lazy Phisher. They had taken the time to try to make the emails look real and sound like a legitimate expense.
What I read though in Joanna’s response made me so proud and relieved that it compensated for the earlier mini panic attack.
She is fighting “make believe me” in every email. Joanna is demanding (of course politely) from someone who she thinks is me proper documentation. She is demanding that I follow procedure as this person tries to pressure her from my perspective making her think time is of the essence.
Now I’ve never been one to micromanage. It’s not my style. It’s my personal belief that as a leader, you should work with people who are smarter than you, better at their jobs than you could ever be, and that you need to empower them in order to move as quickly and efficiently as possible with a startup.
I am so relieved that Joanna wasn’t afraid to stand up to me. I’m so grateful she didn’t just accept what she saw in those emails. She handled the situation perfectly, even though she was tired, even though she was overwhelmed.
If Joanna were not so dedicated to our mission and dedicated to putting her best foot forward at all times, if she did not so clearly embody our values just like our other coworkers I’m proud to call part of the Revolar team, things could have ended differently.
When I shared my story with a group of CEOs from other startups, I was shocked by how many people had dealt with phishing recently. I have no doubt someone will try again, and I have no doubt my team will catch it in time.
All I can say is stay vigilant and empower your team. I know I won’t forget this lesson.
About the Author: Jacqueline Ros is the CEO and Founder of Revolar (Boulder ’15). Revolar is a wearable technology that empowers your loved ones with unique intervention solutions. Press the hidden button and in under a minute your loved ones know where you are and that you need help. See revolar.com to learn more.