When I took over as Managing Director of Techstars Berlin a few months ago, I set out to find ten amazing companies with founders and teams that had extensive backgrounds in the industries they were aiming to disrupt. Within a couple of months, we had engaged with thousands of startups from around the world, giving them feedback on their businesses and helping them understand how Techstars helps entrepreneurs succeed. In response, we received applications from a diverse pool of talent, covering markets across the world.
Starting today, we’re embarking on three months of growth and development with 10 amazing and diverse companies who have come to Berlin from all over the globe. We’ll cap it all off with a Demo Day for investors in mid-May 2019.
The Berlin Startup Ecosystem
Techstars launched in Berlin in 2015, and in three short years—together with our partners in Berlin—we’ve invested in over 100 companies. Together, these investments total €20 million that Techstars has injected into early-stage startups coming to Berlin. When we invest in these companies, the founders join our worldwide network, making connections and gaining access to resources to grow their companies. Some of these founders joined Techstars even after having led companies that achieved tremendous successes, including those who’ve previously raised tens of millions of dollars from top tier VC firms like Sequoia, and even some that had led their previous companies through an IPO.
The Techstars footprint in Berlin doesn’t just cover our accelerator programs. We also run events like Techstars Startup Weekend empowering the local community to foster an ecosystem that is equipped with all the necessary tools and knowledge we’ve honed over the years. Techstars Startup Digest Berlin supports the entire startup ecosystem and connects local founders. I’m pleased to see proof of startup communities like this one maturing across Europe—one of the companies we’re announcing today was formed when the founders launched their idea at a Techstars Startup Weekend in Romania just a few years ago.
More Diversity, More Profit
I’m a firm believer that individuals who come from different backgrounds will bring a wide variety of ideas, which spur innovation, and in turn, profit. The ten companies we’re announcing today prove our commitment to diversity and inclusion, with a number of founders from underrepresented groups. All 10 teams have at least one founder from a group that has been underrepresented in tech, seven of our CEOs are women, and we have eight teams with female cofounders. I’m proud that Techstars is working to increase every person’s access to entrepreneurship, and our investments in these ten companies shows the results of those efforts.
Not only are the founders themselves diverse, but their companies are as well. This Techstars Berlin class includes startups in HR tech, fintech, hardware, SaaS, IoT, and more. They are solving global problems worth solving.
I would like to thank our esteemed mentors, investors, Global Network Partners, Techstars alumni, and the wider Berlin ecosystem for their generous support throughout the gruelling selection process. Together with my wonderful colleagues Sebastian Campos Groth, Marco Muccini, and Samir Mirza, I’m super-thrilled today to announce the ten high-growth companies joining the ranks of incredible teams who have been part of Techstars Berlin.
Here are the ten companies Techstars Berlin is investing in, for 2019:
Anytype: Note-taking and file storage for web 3.0 era
Cassiopeia: Creating Safe Workplaces Worldwide
Eversend: The mobile-only banking alternative
GoSave: Next Generation Piggy Banks
Hiveonline: Making the Future a Fairer Place to Work for Small Businesses Everywhere
Medijobs: Career Marketplace for Healthcare Recruitment
Missfits: Every woman deserves a bra that fits
Nifty Learning: All-in-One Training Administration Software
eQuoo: The emotional fitness game
Zoi Meet: The AI Communication Platform
I’m incredibly excited to announce that I’m the new managing director for the Techstars Berlin Accelerator, taking over from Rob Johnson.
Rob oversaw our Berlin accelerator for the last three years and had invested in forty amazing teams since he joined Techstars in 2015. I’m very aware that I’ve got big shoes to fill. Techstars is grateful for all of Rob’s effort growing the Techstars Berlin Accelerator program and we are excited to stay connected with Rob as he focuses on his next adventure. #techstarsforlife
As one of Europe’s most active angel investors, I meet with dozens of startups every week, and I’m constantly reminded of how difficult it actually is for founders to navigate the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and to get the right advice.
From taking the right legal steps when establishing and incentivising a founding team, to negotiating with customers and determining pricing, and from building a cap-table to raising a round from high quality investors, it’s incredibly important that entrepreneurs surround themselves with mentors who have experienced the joys (and pains) of building and growing companies.
At Techstars, we strongly believe that entrepreneurs are the primary drivers to creating a better future. Techstars is the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, and we do this by supporting entrepreneurs throughout their journey, from inspiration to IPO.
I’ve been a Managing Director at Techstars for a year now, and can attest to the power of the local networks that Techstars has cultivated in every corner of the world. These local networks are complemented by a pool of partners and mentors that can adapt to, and support, a young company’s experiences at every step of their entrepreneurial journey. Don’t just take my word for it, though – you can read how we at Techstars showed Xeno, a startup I’d previously invested in, the steps required to build and scale a startup.
This network has never been stronger before, and my newly adopted home city of Berlin, is the easiest place to showcase this fact. After all, Techstars runs more programs in Berlin, than any other city in the world. Whilst Berlin is a city that is renowned for its open-mindedness and independent thinking, there’s another reason why Berlin has become a major startup hub in the past few years. It’s an ideal breeding ground for creativity and successful businesses with its high quality of life relative to the low cost of living, which naturally attracts great talent but still has an active angel and VC ecosystem. It’s also cemented its reputation as a creative hub for sustainable and social businesses.
We’ve now opened applications for our 2019 Berlin City accelerator program, and we’re searching all over the world for entrepreneurs who have exciting and scalable ideas, and want to build great companies with the support of our worldwide network, by launching in Berlin at our Demo Day in May 2019.
We’re looking in particular for technology-first companies that aim to solve real, everyday problems for individuals and businesses, in areas that include AI, blockchain, cryptography (including cryptocurrencies and platforms), distributed systems, edtech and govtech, social enterprise, travel, and ad-tech as well as marketing.
Applications close in early November, and the program will commence in mid-February. If you’ve got questions, you can message me on Twitter, or find me on LinkedIn. Click here to start your application.
At Techstars, we are on a mission to help entrepreneurs succeed. Over the past 10 years we have helped over 1,200 companies grow and raise over $4 billion in funding, with a market cap of $10 billion. Now we’re on a search for the next wave of companies to join our worldwide network!
We currently have applications open for Techstars Mentorship-Driven Accelerator programs around the world. Join our program staff for an evening of networking, Q&A, and a chance to show us what you’re currently working on. They will be there to connect with you, inspire you, answer your questions and tell you more about our programs.
WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT:
- 12:00pm – Doors open, food and drinks served
- 12.30pm – Techstars Presentation
- 1.00pm – Question Time
- 1.15pm – Open Networking
Event ends 2.00pm
ALREADY KNOW THAT TECHSTARS IF A GOOD FIT FOR YOU?
Apply for Office Hours, a 30-minute session on the day of, the day before or after the Meet and Greet Event, where you meet one-on-one with one of our attending Directors.
- Techstars Dubai in partnership with GINCO ➡ Request Office Hours
- Barclays Accelerator, Powered by Techstars – London ➡ Request Office Hours
- Techstars Lisbon with Semapa Next ➡ Request Office Hours
- Techstars Berlin ➡ Request Office Hours
It feels like just yesterday that we kicked off the first-ever Techstars program in Germany, here in Berlin in the summer of 2015. With this fourth Techstars Berlin program launching this month, we’ve invested in over 60 companies across four Techstars programs in Berlin alone – more Techstars program than we have in any other city in the world!
Those companies have gone on to raise over $80M in follow-on financing.
We’re not slowing down anytime soon as we continue to invest in Berlin as one of the greatest startup ecosystems in the world.
Here are the eleven companies joining Techstars Berlin in 2018:
Archain: On demand permanent data storage
Aazzur: Innovative cross-border banking services
Czar Securities: Plug-n-play rock solid security for websites
Inuru: Light & motion on paper with cutting edge printed light tech
Ninox: Empowering any user to create business Apps for teams
Stark Mobility: A new way of transportation
Subhe: On-demand skill development in Indian Languages
Viar: We help manufacturing companies create step-by-step augmented video instructions to guide their workers on what needs to be done.
Involvesoft: Employee engagement through volunteering
OptioAI: Helping young people to build better spending habits
Shelf Network: Shelf Network enables multi-merchant auctions across the globe
Fundraising is an important part of most entrepreneurial journeys. If you are an entrepreneur, the standard process followed by many venture capital firms is well worth knowing. While every case is unique, having an idea of the key stages means you will have a sense of where you really are, what you have achieved, and what is left to achieve in order to secure funding.
To keep this post as useful as possible, I have not written-up exactly how we do it at my own firm, but I have instead tried to break the process into eight stages that many firms will go through.
A good investor will know about you, your company and your market before you speak to them for the first time.
Good VCs track AppAnnie, Alexa, Linkedin, GitHub, ProductHunt and similar services to spot interesting companies and monitor trends. They also keep up to speed with highly-rated angel investors, syndicates, seed funds and incubators to ensure they hear about the companies and founders who are impressing the other investors they respect.
On the entrepreneur side of the conversation, you can start early too. While you have to build your product and company first, it is worth spending some of your time with investors, before you actually need or want to raise money.
Two: Initiation of the Process
Depending on the situation, either the company or the investor can start fundraising process.
If you want to make the first move, you should ping a personal note to the investors that you already have a relationship with, signaling that you are thinking of raising money. For those you don’t know, avoid a cold email and either build a quick relationship (meet in person at an event, etc) or use your network (angel investors, employees, friends) to get warm introductions. I wouldn’t give a huge amount of information away via email too – it is always more powerful to give your ‘pitch’ in person or even over the phone.
Sometimes an investor who has been tracking a company closely (in some cases they are already an investor, in other cases, not) will pre-empt a fund raising process. Nakedly, this is because they are excited by your company and want to own part of it before it gets bigger or is better known. You need to decide if this aligns with your needs too.
Three: Early Process
If a VC is interested, a number of people at the firm will now get to know you. Expect to go through your deck two or three times as you meet a combination of Partners, Principals, Associates and Analysts. Be sure to know what each of these people do and how they will play into any final decision-making process.
During these meetings, you will be answering a lot of questions on your background, your team, and what the company and its products do. Be prepared for people to dig deep on the specific challenges that face your sector. If you run a delivery marketplace, you’ll be asked about unit economics; if you’ve built an advertising technology company, you need to know about what Google and Facebook are doing; and if you the CEO of an open core software company, you’ll be asked about your engagement with developers, and your conversation rate to premium software.
After you have run this gauntlet of questions, your answers will be reported back to the firm. An internal discussion, sometimes enhanced by external expert opinions, will take place. Ultimately this rolls up into a decision of whether they want to dig deeper.
Four: Deep Process
More than one partner usually gets involved at this stage. Usually just two, but sometimes (in smaller firms) all of the partners will participate. You will be expected to go into a huge amount of detail, so ensure that you know the finer points of your company and your market.
The objective of this stage is to really get to know each other. If an investment occurs, you may work together for many years to come and so, for both sides, it’s important to get a feeling of how that could work.
Articulating goals, hopes, and concerns is important – it is way better to have these understood and agreed upon at this stage, rather than discover them further into the relationship.
Typically there will also be a lot of third party due diligence and the investor will probably ask for references – both on the founders as individuals, and from customers and partners of the company.
All the while, the Partner you’re spending most time with will be preparing a much lengthier investment memo or dossier that contains all of the information that has been gathered, along with her view on each aspect.
Five: Partner Meeting
You will be invited to meet the whole team. This may be over videoconference, but more usually it will be face-to-face and, wait for it, you’ll do your pitch again. Expect lots of questions. Many of these are factual in nature – understanding the product and the company – but many are also posed in order for your potential investor to better understand you, your team and your personalities. The way you answer the question is as important as the answer itself.
Feel free to ask your own questions. You should already know one of the partners extremely well, but will the rest of the firm do for you?
At the heart of a great investor/entrepreneur relationship is a mutually respectful, two-way dialogue. Today is the day to start that dialogue.
Six: Term sheet
Assuming you impressed the team at the partner meeting and the firm has decided to invest, you will be issued a term sheet.
A term sheet is a high-level document that sets out the proposed investment, the valuation of your company, the terms pertaining to the investment and also what you can expect from the firm in addition to the financing. Often these are only one or two pages long. I’ll cover term sheets and what to expect in a future post.
If everyone is happy, all parties sign the term sheet. At this point everyone is signalling that they want to do this: you are almost done.
Seven: Post-Term sheet diligence
This part of the process is highly detailed, but straightforward. The diligence will involve lawyers, accountants and security, identity and technology experts who will ensure that everything you represented during the early part of the process was accurate. Assuming you didn’t lie at all, you should have nothing to worry about. Minor misunderstandings are common and usually cleared up quickly.
In parallel, longer documents will be drafted to detail the basic terms contained in the term sheet. Lawyers lead this part of the process but it is key for both the entrepreneur and the VC to remain engaged.
The Promised Land. When the diligence is completed, and no major questions have been raised, the documents will be signed and the cash will be wired. And then it starts to get really interesting…
Germany has always been a country of inventors and innovators. No wonder that technology has become one of the most important industries in Germany. Almost 100,000 tech companies are based in Germany, and thousands of new startups are launching every year. Public and private investments in R&D amount to €83bn – that’s 2.9 percent of GDP, making Germany the fourth biggest R&D nation after the US, China and Japan. The thriving German startup community is living proof of this innovative environment.
Founding a startup has never been easier for German entrepreneurs than today: By automating some of the most resource-intensive parts of building a business, from processing invoices and communicating with customers to accepting payments online, third party tools today play a big role in making it easier for founders to grow and scale their business.
Stripe has partnered with Techstars, Factory Berlin, TheFamily, Paua Ventures and BuildersNetwork to find out more about this ecosystem of tech tools, and about how German startups benefit from it. Between February and March, 2017, we conducted a survey amongst German startups, and more than 200 of them shared their insights with us.
The results are striking: 90 percent of participants of the study agreed that new tools and technology have made it easier to launch a startup today. Tool availability is in fact for them the number one factor that has made it easier to start a business – way before government support, for example. Three quarters of startups use more than five third party tools, and two thirds of respondents went as far as saying that their startup couldn’t exist in its current form without this ecosystem of third party tools.
In addition to that, 80 percent stated that tools have also made it cheaper to run a startup. That’s particularly great for a country like Germany, where 84 percent of founders still use their own savings to fund startups – cost efficiency is of utmost importance.
The five most important business areas German startups use third party tools for are:
- Team collaboration & communication: 58% of respondents ranked this area highest, with Slack and Trello being the most frequently mentioned providers.
- Hosting & data storage: 48% (AWS, Google Cloud Platform)
- Analytics: 43% (Google Analytics, Tableau)
- CRM: 42% (Salesforce, Hubspot, Pipedrive)
- Payments: 29% (Stripe, Paypal)
The main benefits of third party tools that respondents mentioned most frequently are increased productivity and reduced operating costs – this is directly related to the specific German startup need of cost efficiency. Quicker product development and faster time to market are additional advantages that were frequently mentioned.
44 percent of founders in Germany consider their product to be globally unique, so they need to focus very much on product development, and get as many non-product related business tasks out of the way as possible. We consider this the main reason for the strong use of third party tools and technology: The German startup community is running on an infrastructure of third-party tools that cater to the two specific German needs: cost-efficiency and product focus. Stripe is a part of this infrastructural ecosystem, and is happy to do its part to make German entrepreneurs thrive globally.
Keep on building!
In 2015 and 2016, Techstars ran the first two programs focused on hospitality with our partner, METRO, Europe’s largest wholesaler to restaurants and hotels.
The 21 companies that went through the programs have now raised over $50 million in capital. While this is very exciting, we are anticipating another benefit that we think can add serious value to startups: lead generation.
Over the last year, METRO has quietly been building up the Horeca.Digital unit. This subsidiary markets digital solutions to restaurants and hotels across five countries in Europe (Germany, France, Austria, Italy, and Spain). In those five countries, there is a dedicated sales force that does nothing but market digital products.
Now, every startup that goes through the METRO Accelerator for Hospitality, Powered by Techstars has the opportunity to run a pilot with Horeca.Digital. In this pilot, we test lead generation of the product with the Horeca.Digital sales force. If successful, there is potential for a multi-year lead generation agreement.
Over the last month, Horeca.Digital has delivered over 1,000 warm leads to one startup with which they have just signed a deal. Now this company has been scrambling to hire salespeople. What a problem to have!
If you run a startup where your product is aimed towards restaurants or hotels, you should apply for this program. Here are the details of what you’ll receive:
- An offer of 120.000€ of investment
- Mentorship from and access to key METRO and Techstars executives and leaders, other hospitality industry leaders, venture capitalists, and experienced entrepreneur
- An opportunity to test with METRO lead generation of your product to restaurants or hotels in one country (Germany, France, Austria, Italy, or Spain)
- Free dedicated working space in the heart of Berlin for the duration of the program
- A Demo Day in December 2017, where each team will present their company and product to hundreds of investors
- The chance to become a member of the METRO and Techstars alumni network for life
If you are interested in joining the METRO Accelerator for Hospitality, Powered by Techstars, apply before the final deadline on June 30th. If you apply before April 30th, we will be able to help give you feedback on your application.
From Startup Weekend organiser… to Community Leader… to Techstars Associate. How Maciej Jankowski from Poland has truly embarked on the Entrepreneur’s Journey.
Maciej Jankowski first became involved in developing the local startup/tech community in his hometown Szczecin (Poland) in 2007, when he started organising Netcamp meetups. Events grew quickly and 3 years later became a base to launch Netcamp Foundation, a local NGO supporting development of startup ecosystem and tech education.
It wasn’t until April 2011 when Maciej met Jarek Białek who took part in Startup Weekend Eindhoven a few months before when he was inspired to organize SW in Poland. He was very impressed about the benefits it gave to entrepreneurs.
After Startup Weekend Warsaw, Maciej in Szczecin in October 2011, he decided to co-organised the 3rd Startup Weekend in Poland. He decided to organise the first Polish-German event, in order to start a cooperation with the Berlin startup community. This way a great way to show that the nationality of founders is not important when solving technological problems and creating new companies. The winner of that event–Scatchup– won all 3 categories, then raised around €200k seed investment from HackFwd after just 6 months moved to Berlin.
Maciej was already hooked to the wonderful world of Startup Weekend. It was after his second event, that he realised the most important thing to him was the impact the events had in fostering local startup ecosystems. It is a fact that most of the teams after a Startup Weekend event split up. However, many participants stay involved in the community and often get involved in other projects with people they worked with during the event. In the 2nd edition of Startup Weekend Szczecin, a young team from Wroclaw received a special award from some of the mentors, and were invited to an acceleration program in Gdansk.
Despite the first event’s success, the next Startup Weekend event in Szczecin took 4 years to happen. The problem was building a new organising team, as Jarek, one of the lead organisers, had moved to another city. The next event therefore took place in 2015, and in the meantime, Maciej organized Nethack and other city focused hackathons, whilst also focusing on building the TEDx community in his city.
In September 2016, Maciej got accepted as Techstars Associate in the METRO Berlin Program, he travelled to Spain to speak at a conference there, went on to Warsaw to attend the Techstars Europe Unsummit, and ended up starting his exciting new journey in Berlin a few days later.
“It’s a really intensive program, especially for founders,” he said. For Maciej in particular it was also intense as he was participating in three Techstars programs in parallel–coordinating Startup Weekend Szczecin – Smart City/IoT back home, working as an associate in Berlin and becoming a volunteer for the pilot of the Startup Next mobility edition with Ford. Those 2 months were very busy for him –working 15 hours per day both helping founders and also leading his Startup Weekend team, making the two hour drive back to Szczecin each weekend to meet with them.
During the METRO program in Berlin, Maciej was very surprised because half of the associates team were from the US. They had moved just to join the program. A really important take away was to see how entrepreneurs from different countries build startups and the sort of problems they want to solve based on their local communities. It really doesn’t matter if you live in Canada or Australia when it comes to the way you build your startup.
An interesting part for him was being involved in the mentor madness sessions–2 full weeks with mentors talking with founders to give their advice and feedback. Maciej loved the vibrant feeling of Berlin, the startup ecosystem and many startup events gave him a global perspective on Startups and what’s going on in the startup world.
One of Maciej’s favourite moments was one of his first successes in the program. Every Thursday there was ‘social thursday’– in the METRO program each associate had to organise one of them. When it was his turn, he organised it based on the feedback of the participants and it turned out to be one of the best social thursdays, playing pool and integrating in one of Berlin’s awesome clubs. Another highlight was standing on stage during demo day in a big cinema room full of 600 people: founders & associates were invited to go on stage being recognised for their work.
When asked what advice Maciej would give to anyone wanting to become a Techstars Associate, he said that if you are an expert on something or simply love working with startups and are open to learn then this is a great starting point. “I was involved for many years in the Startup ecosystem so I think I got some extra points for my Startup Weekend initiatives and other things I had been doing for startups, which showed the managing team that I had the passion and some work experience to support them.”
For Maciej the biggest take-away from the experience was extending his network, meeting many cool people in Berlin, and seeing how a Techstars accelerator works from the inside. “You can of course read a book like ‘Do More Faster’, but a much better way is to get a real life experience and participate as an associate. For me it was also kind of a hack –how to get accepted into a TS accelerator without being a startup that has to build a really strong team, a great product, have a traction, and compete with hundreds of other great founders all around the world. I got a very similar experience as an associate, so that was a good choice for me.”
When comparing the difference between Berlin and Poland in terms of startup activity, Maciej noted important differences on how talent is accessed in tech. In Poland we have some of the best developers in the world but most of our founders have mediocre sales/marketing skills and not enough experience on how to scale startups globally. In Germany or the UK the situation is the opposite. There is also a lot more money raised by Berlin startups –with bigger rounds than in Central and Eastern Europe.
Number of accelerators, many corporate-backed and access to seed funding was another main difference, which was more international in Berlin. Germany still has a lot more success stories than Poland does, and when talking about the whole ecosystem there is a culture problem –not just for Poland but for the whole Central and Eastern Europe region. There is still a lack of openness and trust to talk about what you are doing, your ideas with other people, whereas in Berlin people are much more open and willing to talk and network.
Maciej has now moved back to Szczecin and as a co-founder of Startup Poland is working on a new startup support program with the local government. His goal is to attract more VC money to the region. He is considering opening a local pre-acceleration program that could be a good link to cooperation with the Berlin startup ecosystem.
When he was asked what comes to mind when someone says the word Techstars, he said “I think it’s all about community/network of open-minded people that believe in this #GiveFirst attitude of helping each other. Even if the founders are doing something similar,they are not competing against each other, if they see they can share knowledge and help others. That’s a big differentiator of Techstars. The Give First mentality which is what I love the most.”
Apply to a Techstars Accelerator Program now.
This post was originally published in Factory Berlin’s Magazine.
Nothing good comes out of sitting around, making educated guesses about which city has the potential of becoming the next Silicon Valley. Techstars is the living proof that with a mission-driven approach, it’s possible to build lively startup hubs anywhere around the globe.
Serial entrepreneur David Cohen co-founded the startup accelerator in 2006 in his hometown of Boulder, Colorado, with the goal of enhancing the local startup ecosystem. The city, which has a population of 100,000 people, is now home to Google, Microsoft and Twitter, and provides the headquarters for the accelerator with nearly 1000 portfolio companies worldwide and a collective investment of $2,750,000,000.
David truly lives by Techstars’ mantra “give first” and is convinced that entrepreneurs have a better chance for success with the support of their local communities.
We caught up with David during his recent visit to Factory Berlin to chat about the recipe for successful startups, celebration of failure and Techstars’ experience in Berlin.
You’ve seen hundreds of companies starting up, failing or succeeding. What patterns do you see in successful startups?
The most important success factor lies within the team: their raw talent, desire to learn and ability to create. Building a startup means creating something from nothing. It’s basically art.
Another important aspect I focus on are the founders’ source of passion. All great entrepreneurs are passionate about what they do, but it’s important to understand why they are passionate about their project.
Entrepreneurship should not come from the head, but from the heart. If you’re doing something merely for the profit, it’s probably not going to work out in the long run.
Mission and purpose-driven entrepreneurs tend to perform better. The best scenario is if you’re doing that specific thing you’re doing because you’re attached to the problem that your product is destined to solve.
My favorite example for this kind of passion-driven entrepreneurship comes from one of our portfolio companies, a healthcare startup called ScriptPad. The idea behind the company is to allow doctors to use iPhones or iPads instead of a piece of paper to bring up patient records and write prescriptions. The founder’s father almost died because of a misinterpreted doctor’s prescription, so his drive for starting the company was to fix that particular problem and prevent such mistakes.
What’s your favorite startup success story?
I think a prerequisite of entrepreneurial success is being bold enough to open up to change and taking advice from others. Take one of our companies, SendGrid, an email delivery and management service currently sending out around 2 percent of the world’s emails.
Coming to Techstars, it became clear that the founders were incredibly technical people and highly respected in their field, but they had no prior business experience. However, they were amazing in bringing people in for management positions.
The founding CEO has replaced himself twice with more experienced CEOs, and that’s been a huge push for the company’s growth. His ego didn’t stop him, he just wanted to see his company thrive with the help of smart people who know exactly how to run a major business. Now, SendGrid is an important part of the Internet’s infrastructure and it has been amazing to watch how fast it has grown.
At Techstars, you celebrate failure just as much as you celebrate success. What’s your favorite failure story?
My favorite failure story is emblematic for Techstars’ mantra, “give first.” It’s about a company called EventVue that comes from my hometown, Boulder, Colorado. The company raised $1 million after taking part in our accelerator program, but failed fundamentally.
The founders were really great people, but the market wasn’t there and they couldn’t figure out the right product. After they failed, the community in Boulder held a wake for the startup. They carried the guys to the streets, cheering: “You did a great job,” “Your next company will be successful.” The investors, who lost money, were also part of the celebration.
Instead of saying “You’re a failure,” which in some places is disgraceful, the community embraced their experience and learned from it.
One of EventVue’s founders went on to become a key executive at Gnip, which was later sold to Twitter. This is the reason why Twitter now has an office in our community. Google and Microsoft have offices in Boulder because they bought local startups as well. This is amazing!
You don’t operate in Silicon Valley. Why is that?
We have a small office in the Valley, but we don’t run an accelerator program there. That doesn’t mean that we’re anti-Silicon Valley, but I’d say we’re pro everywhere else. We’re growing a global ecosystem, a network that supports entrepreneurs wherever they want to build their businesses. If the best expert in a particular field happens to live in Berlin, we should be able to leverage that. For us, that means expanding more and being present in more places.
Besides our US locations, we currently operate in Berlin, London, Tel Aviv, Cape Town and now Adelaide, Australia. We’d like to see more extension throughout Europe in the next couple of years and are actively looking at cities like Stockholm, Paris or Amsterdam.
How has your experience in Berlin been so far?
When people ask me which part of Europe I get the most excited about, I always say Berlin. I love the vibe of the city. Look at the level of activity and energy going to entrepreneurship. People want to invest in the local startup community because it’s really creative.
You’re present in London too. What’s your take on Brexit?
We work with local investors to fund the operations of our programs. My initial thought was that we might lose a few investors in the UK, but we haven’t so far. I think people were generally surprised by this decision, the stock markets went down and came back up, but it feels like it’s going take a while until we can judge the long-term implications. To be honest, I don’t expect it to have a major effect in the long run.
In fact Twilio, a company we invested in from our first venture fund, went public on the same day Brexit happened by mere coincidence. I thought “oh, what a terrible sign,” but the company is up by 300% since then.
What would be your advice to young entrepreneurs starting out?
Surround yourself with amazing people. It’s a people game, it’s all about the network that you can put yourself in the middle of. Great ideas die all the time because of the lack of access and network.
You have to get out of your chair once in while, spend time with people who can make introductions, find the right investors for your business and find the right organizations to do business with. Trust me, it makes a huge difference.
Techstars is my fourth company. Anything that I’ve been successful at has been a major result of being a good networker. It’s all about who you know and beyond that, who you are actually getting engaged. The better you are at that, the better your chances are at building something that matters.
What’s the best way for a startup to connect with the Techstars team?
The unique thing about Techstars is that we operate around the world. We run accelerators in 16 different locations, so there’s a good chance to connect with somebody from our network at your local startup hub.
To date, we have nearly 1000 portfolio companies, so if you know one of them, don’t hesitate to ask for an introduction. We also run Startup Weekend in literally every corner of the world. Make sure to check out the next one in your community!
Applications are now open for many of our programs. Apply today.
This post was originally published in Factory Berlin’s Magazine.