We are excited to announce the eleven companies that will be joining Techstars in Austin for our 2014 summer program. We kicked things off this week on June 9th and are deep in our three month sprint to Demo Day on September 3rd. Save the date!
Heading into the second program in Austin, we’re fortunate to have many of our 2013 Austin alumni on the ground as well as almost 100 incredible mentors. Thank you, mentors! We’re incredibly grateful for your support last year and your continued time and guidance. We couldn’t do it without you.
We love this city and know 2014 is going to be an amazing year for both Techstars and Austin. Let’s do this together!
Without further ado, here’s the Techstars Summer 2014 Austin class:
I’m Jason Seats and I run Techstars Cloud. Before I pitch you on why you should apply, let me briefly tell you about myself.
More than you probably wanted to know about Jason Seats
I’m an engineer (double major CS and EE) and in 2006 I co-founded a hosting company called Slicehost with a good college friend, Matt Tanase. Rackspace acquired us in 2008 and inside of Rackspace I launched the Rackspace Cloud Server product and eventually took over managing the engineering teams for their full cloud portfolio. I left Rackspace in 2010 and spent nearly a year in an existential limbo, around the time that Matt and I did this interview. I knew I wasn’t cut out for bigco, but wasn’t sure where my heart was.
Building Slicehost was a crazy ride, filled with tons of pain, lots of fun, and a new challenge every day. One thing we never had though was any true mentor or advisor. Largely this was a result of being a bootstrapped company, which itself was a result of not having a very big personal network. In any case, there were mentors out there for the taking, but we were too naive and unaware to notice or take advantage of them. I’ll give you a crazy example – one day in the normal course of running Slicehost, Pierre Omidyar, Ebay founder, wanders in our chat room working on a personal project. How easily we could have just said, ‘Hey Pierre, what would you think about giving us some advice on our business?’ Instead in our infinite wisdom we decided we were going to go out of our way to treat him exactly the same as every other customer. We were total idiots.
If I had it to do all over again, this would be the one thing I assuredly would have done differently. After gaining some great personal mentors (including the fantastic senior leaders at Rackspace), I figured out what I was missing. As I was pondering my ‘what next’ move, I knew for sure I wanted to spend as much time as I could with startups, giving them what I wished someone had given us.
By 2011 I had begun relationships advising a few companies when the opportunity fell in my lap to run the first Techstars Cloud program. When I met with David Cohen and Nicole Glaros to discuss it, my biggest concern was that I wasn’t sure if I even ‘believed in the whole venture thing.’ I built my company with my own money, why shouldn’t everyone else have to walk through the same sludge? I realized even as I expressed this view that I was revealing a pretty big chip I had on my shoulder about the whole startup scene.
Techstars has bootstrapping in its genes
The response that I got was not one I expected. David Cohen, having also been a bootstrapper, was more similar to me than I knew. Recognizing that my internal bias against fundraising was due to my own negative experience raising capital, I walked away with opened eyes. I decided that I definitely wanted to be connected to Techstars. Over my last year at Techstars I’ve become much more balanced about both sides of this debate. For my part, I’m happy to recommend bootstrapping or financing to companies when it’s clear which option is optimal. Otherwise, I defer to their wishes. And in every case, as the Techstars mantra says – it’s your company, you make the call.
I’ve also personally invested in over a dozen companies, which is a far cry from where I was just a year ago. Accelerators work on investors and mentors too. I’ve crammed years worth of investing knowledge into the last 12 months.
About Techstars Cloud
So enough about me, back to Techstars. Why should you care and why does this matter to you?
This was kind of a long winded way of saying, I’m one of you, a founder. I built a company and sold it, and I did it the hard way (all alone). I’m skeptical of the hype bubble and ‘news of the day’ startup nonsense, just like you are. This program is for real companies building real things and mostly I just want to help people avoid making the mistakes that I made. In fact this is the essence of what Techstars is all about, sharing the hard earned wisdom that hordes of founders have gained before you. We believe that the best way for you to increase your chances of success is to simply decrease your risk of failure.
We have assembled a top notch set of mentors who have been there too. We have founders of bootstrapped startups with exits, VC funded companies, VCs themselves, operators at all stages of the game, and 6 years of alumni doing amazing things. The most common reason that our mentors give when pressed for why they contribute their time is that they had a great mentor in their past. The Techstars network very much is one big family. Imagine the confidence you’d have tackling your startup’s biggest challenges when reaching out to Brad Feld is as easy as getting ahold of your Great Aunt Edna. Jim Franklin, CEO of SendGrid is like a second cousin and Mat Ellis, founder of Cloudability, is like your older brother who will come home to visit from college and beat you up right when you need it. The technical bench is pretty deep too, with technical founders like Nathan Day from SoftLayer, Dirk Elmendorf of Rackspace, Jud Valeski of Gnip and Eric Jensen from Summize/Twitter.
Techstars is three months long, it’s intense and it’s worth it. For a TMI version of what bits of the process feel like, you can read the inside thoughts of the Keen.io team (TS Cloud 2012) before, during and after.
What does ‘Cloud’ mean?
Everything above is true of all the Techstars programs. Techstars is something pretty special and I’m proud to be a part of it. The Cloud program, though, is a little different than the others, and that difference requires some extra clarity.
Techstars Cloud is a thematic program, which means we are somehow filtering companies with the criteria of what we consider to be ‘Cloud.’ So what does that filter look like? Well, one short-cut would be to just tell you to look at the companies we selected in the last batch. In the past, we described our target company as one that is building the ‘plumbing of the internet’. That’s a great metaphor, but it may be a little misleading. In some sense, this program is more like Techstars Technical in that any sufficiently technology heavy company is probably going to feel like a fit.
I still worry that we are causing some of you to self-filter incorrectly. Does this mean we only take b2b businesses or can consumer oriented companies still count as cloud? Both qualify. There is no question in my mind that a company like DropBox is a cloud company or all of the Google Apps products or even Gmail itself. To me the key on the b2b side is deeper technology and on the b2c side it’s innovation around the delivery of technology (in other words I think consumer cloud is more about usability innovation). In both cases though, the hallmark of cloud is the step function increase in output that the user gets from the technology. Cloud is about leverage.
In summary, if any of the following words relate to you, more likely than not, you are a fit: analytics, big data, infrastructure, security, platforms, developer APIs, storage, SaaS, enterprise software and hosting. And I’ve always said, I’d rather rationalize why a fantastic company is a ‘cloud’ company than miss the opportunity to see that awesome company in the first place.
Is this for you?
I hope you have a least a little better understanding of why I’m personally doing this, what Techstars is about and what makes a cloud company ‘cloudy.’ If you think this might be for you, then your next step is to apply here. Also feel free to hit me up on Twitter : @seats or email me directly (jason AT techstars.com). I’d love to hear about what you are working on.
Digital Ocean is currently in the Boulder Techstars program. They make cloud hosting simple and easy so you can manage your site, not your infrastructure. Jason Seats is the managing director of Techstars Cloud and a mentor to Digital Ocean. He sat down with Ben Uretsky, CEO.
Jason: Has your company’s focus changed since the beginning of the year?
Ben: When we first started, we were going to compete head to head with the large cloud providers but as development continued, we saw a better opportunity around keeping things simple. For the last ten years, I’ve been involved in infrastructure– physically setting up servers myself. With the growth of the cloud, we started building a product to scratch our own itch. We’re all engineers that launch virtual servers but we weren’t happy with anything that was on the market. After reading The Lean Startup, we realized we desperately needed to get user feedback. We launched in January of this year and people really enjoyed the interface. It wasn’t until we actually got into Techstars in May that we started to formalize the vision of Digital Ocean. Simplicity is what we loved, without much exploration. The vision began to come together with all of the mentorship here. There are a large amount of users that want to get up and running on the cloud but see it as a complicated process. We see the major players catering to the major companies, which ignores a huge market segment. Without realizing it at the time, we had already positioned ourselves as the simple alternative from the beginning. We came full circle and realized, this really does work.People really do want to get up and running fast.
Jason: How hard it is to get started with other providers?
Ben: With other providers, there are a lot of choices with very little guidance so you don’t necessarily know where to begin. It makes for a confusing experience. We eliminated a lot of the unnecessary options and bundled in things such as free bandwidth and free backups. Our process asks for only the essentials, meaning it’s just one click to deploy a new server. From there, managing your servers online offers a variety of options, but you’re already launched. Whether you’re managing one server or many, our interface is straightforward and designed to be flexible.
Jason: What makes Digital Ocean special in such a crowded space?
Ben: Other cloud providers have focused too much on the technology and not the people that will actually be using it. We kept the user experience as our core focus and top priority to make sure it’s built for real people. Infrastructure is the most neglected user experience ever and we’re addressing that.
Jason: As founders, how do you decide what to prioritize?
Ben: We credit (Techstars mentor-in-residence) Zach Nies of Rally Software. He has been providing so much guidance for us. He taught us how to run effective meetings. Now we work collectively to establish a purpose, create an agenda, and make the necessary decisions to drive product and business development. We are on weekly sprints at the moment, using Basecamp to stay coordinated with one another.
Jason: You have been blogging about personal lessons learned while in Techstars in Boulder. What has been the most surprising aspect so far?
Ben: What has surprised us is the sheer volume of advice we have received. It’s pushed us in so many directions. I’m really glad that the team synthesized all the information and now we’re able to keep our focus on being the place for people to launch their servers online.
Jason: What do you ultimately want to be known for?
Ben: We want to be known as the easiest place to launch your server online. We build a product geared toward developers and making their lives easier through an intuitive, controlled path. We take the complexity out of cloud services and we’re building a really great product that people love. Traction is certainly never guaranteed but at the end of the day, whether we succeed or fail, if our product is up to our own standards, we feel it’s a success.
Jason: What happens after Techstars?
Ben: Sleep. Then we’re headed back to New York City to see our families. We initially applied to Techstars for one reason: we had never scaled a company or gotten venture backing. We really want to engage the New York City tech community the same way we have been able to make our presence felt in Boulder. New York is the second largest startup market in the country and there is a lack of infrastructure providers that are actually local. We want to be recognized as the go-to place for startups and developers, entrepreneur to entrepreneur. As part of our user focus, we want to be heavily involved with the tech community and provide servers for free for events like hackathons. We want to be synonymous with the ease of launching a virtual server. We want to be known as a cloud provider whose differentiator is love, because why should anyone hate the tools on which they rely?