This guest post is written by Kevin Krauth, CEO & Co-Founder of Orderly Health (Boulder ’16).
Recently, the founders of all the Techstars companies currently in program were invited to participate in a personal growth and emotional self-exploration session with Jerry Colonna. In a previous Techstars alumni panel, one of the founders dubbed Jerry Colonna as “the human onion, because he makes everyone cry.”
By his own admission, one of Jerry’s claims to fame is that he made Jason Calicanis – entrepreneuer, angel investor, and notorious hardass – cry. Needless to say, I was intrigued…
The classroom side of the the room (the same space where yesterday I broke a couch in front of Brad Feld) was configured into a semi-circle of chairs situated around a makeshift stage created from lines of tape on the carpet. When I arrived, I couldn’t help but notice boxes of tissues strategically distributed around the room. Now I was nervous.
As someone who cries at movies like Miracle and The Patriot (warning, if you are a cryer, you might not want to click on those links… you’ve been warned), I’m just not sure I’m mentally prepared to turn into a sobbing, snotty mess in front of a bunch of other startup founders. I scooted a box of tissues closer.
For three hours, Jerry walked us through a series of slides that were coupled with a few exercises, constantly checking in to ask how we were doing.
At one of those interludes, he noticed one of the founders looking a little distraught. He put the agenda on hold to investigate. The rest of the room observed silently as Jerry dove deeper into what was going on with this founder.
In a gesture that was more sincerity than showmanship, Jerry approached the founder and knelt down, just a couple inches from him.
Jerry: “Can I ask what’s going on?”
Founder: “I’m four years into my ‘overnight success,’ and — I’m tired.”
My understanding of the day, my situation, and perhaps even myself changed over the course of those two sentences. With his simple admission, this founder summed up some of the most misunderstood aspects of starting a company.
Namely, it’s really, really hard.
People often think that startups are all about ping-pong and kegerators, free coffee and snacks. That they are just some adult playground where we do trust falls and draw pictures on whiteboards until investors throw money at us.
You’ve probably heard the adage that over 90% of companies fail, but that masks the humanity behind the stories. For every one of those startups that fail, there is someone who started that company from scratch, recruited others to join them, and asked them to pour their lives into their vision. And who also spent countless hours and expended blood, sweat, and tears to try to make it work.
That same person now has to break the news to the team. He has to tell employees that trusted him with their livelihood that they no longer have a job. He has to explain to investors that the money they gave him is gone.
He has to explain to his family and loved ones that the thing he has been working on so hard for the last however long no longer exists. He tried. He failed. He has to start over. The worst part? That failure could take years.
The founder from the conversation above is far from failing. In fact, his might be the company best positioned for success of all the Techstars’ companies in this class. But it’s taken years of carrying the burden of the fears I’ve outlined above, and in that moment, you could see the weight of that burden in full force.
I only just managed to choke back my own tears in reflecting on what he was going through, but then again, I’m pretty early in this journey. I’ve still got three more years before I’m at the same point in my quest for an “overnight success” of my own.
I just hope I have the strength to make it that far.
Reprinted with permission from thisis.orderlyhealth.com
We’re thrilled to announce the 13 companies in the 2017 Techstars Boulder class.
This is our 11th class since starting in 2007. The newest class has a diverse mix of founders:
- This year’s class includes five companies from Colorado, two from New York, and one each from Atlanta, Austin, Canada, Los Angeles, Portugal and San Francisco.
- 77 percent of the company founders are from under represented groups based on gender, ethnicity, nationality, race or age.
- This class has five companies from within the Techstars network, either as mentors who are now taking their companies through Techstars or participants in our Rising Stars, Patriot Bootcamp or another of our accelerator programs.
- We’re thrilled to welcome our first non-profit into Techstars Boulder through a unique partnership with the Techstars Foundation, highlighting new ways we can support organizations and causes that don’t typically fit into the traditional company structure for our accelerator.
As we enter our 10th year in Boulder, the core of our program remains the same. We continue to connect our companies with a fantastic mentor community who help the companies accelerate. We love our mentors, they provide incredibly valuable advice, time and energy. The network is powerful here in Boulder and also leverages the scale and connections of the broader Techstars’ network.
What We Look For
As in all prior years, we look for great teams working on complex and important problems. For us, great teams are defined by four specific things:
1. They are uniquely qualified to solve this program through their passion for and prior experience with the problem.
2. They have proven they can execute and move fast.
3. The founders love, trust and feel loyal to each other and they relish feedback and mentorship.
4. Founders who have drive and vision and they understand the ‘why’ behind what they are doing. They have coherence around a set of values and a mission that aligns with their life’s work. They are not trying to make something better than what existed before, they want to change the game and deliver a solution that is different.
How the Boulder Program Has Evolved
While the central idea remains the same and our companies will make significant progress on their company, we continue to innovate on the accelerator model and this year is no different.
We are investing more resources into supporting our entrepreneurs directly, providing a more holistic approach to entrepreneurship through founder coaching, mental health resources, and interpersonal and intrapersonal content and coaching. We are integrating lean practices and principles from the leading Lean Startup experts around the world to help our companies do more of the right things faster.
We’re also connecting our founders into our powerful Techstars network at the local level in a whole new way, and providing access to the full global network which opens doors and new opportunities. We’re incorporating many of the principles in the book Play Bigger to help our companies build companies that are different, not just better.
And, we’re emphasizing companies and founders who have a passion and commitment for giving back to their communities such as our relationship with Pledge1%.
We’re thrilled to introduce you to the 13 companies in the 2017 Techstars Boulder class:
Airstream Health – creates a new health plan to fix America (Boulder, CO)
Cheryl Kellond, Julia Hutchins and Kathy Keating of Airstream Health are tired of healthcare sucking money from retirement savings, education, infrastructure, and wage increases – so they have set out to fix it. Founded by a diverse team which includes a Techstars mentor, the head of a Colorado health insurance company and an experienced CTO, they have the perfect blend of horsepower, leadership and industry experience. They are pioneering a new type of health plan for self-insured employers that is network-less, provides a higher level of service and support, and saves employers and employees significant money — all powered by a data-driven technology platform at its core. It’s a big, hairy, ambitious vision that’s different from anything else out there and it’s starting to work. They have a large pilot customer who they’ve been working closely with and who is thrilled at the improved healthcare experience for their employees and reduced cost to their bottom-line. We share Airstream Health’s vision for a future where purchasing and using healthcare will feel easy, painless and no different than purchasing other services.
Attentive – powers competitive intelligence as a service to help make better, more informed decisions (Braga, Portugal)
Daniel Araujo, Pedro Araujo and Luis Miguel Braga of Attentive are building a competitive intelligence engine to power an information assistant for every professional so that they can be more proactive and productive. This team has spent years in the belly of top firms like Google deeply understanding how data can influence decisions and believe there is a fundamental shift happening as enterprises no longer rely on proprietary siloed data sources and use open platforms (Salesforce, Slack, etc.) and open datasets (LinkedIn, Social, News, etc.) to gather and analyze external data sources to inform decision making. We believe by collecting, structuring and standardizing this data they can help everyone make better day-to-day business decisions with no manual work. Attentive.us is an alumni of the Techtars Risingstars program.
Blank Slate Systems – enables workflow management and prototype sketching tools to desktop manufacturing (Boulder)
Kyle Kuczun and Gabe Johnson of Blank Slate Systems have developed a cloud-based workflow management system for creating and manufacturing 3D printed, CNC and laser cut prototypes and a touch based sketching tool for rapid prototyping. This team is made up of industry experts with 10+ years in the desktop manufacturing space, startup veterans with 20+ years developing high growth tech companies, and have a Techstars mentor as the CEO. We share Blank Slate’s vision that desktop manufacturing will become more ubiquitous and having simple tools to manage the prototyping and manufacturing process is critical — and the solution needs to be device and format agnostic. We believe by enabling creative professionals to simply and quickly go from idea to sketch to concept while managing the process to reduce cycle time and increase opportunity they will make desktop manufacturing accessible to anyone.
CANDL – provides simple, secure, and global connectivity for travelers around the world through a global WIFI hotspot providing 4G/LTE coverage in 150+ countries (Atlanta)
Tom Cox and Jason Talley are on a mission to build the go-to solution for global mobile connectivity devices by becoming the high-end yet affordable supplier of cellular, satellite, UHF, and 5G handsets for international travelers, explorers, and highly mobile populations. Tom and Jason are also on a social mission to reconnect 1 million displaced, distressed and disconnected people around the world by 2021. They believe connectivity is a fundamental human right and should be available to everyone whether they are in their home country, traveling the world, or in a refugee camp. Tom and Jason were both satellite controllers in the US Army in the 1990s and have worked their entire 20+ year careers in telecommunications in both startups and Fortune 100 environments. They perfectly blend strength in hardware design and product management with building large-scale systems and global technical teams. Connectivity is as important as ever and like CANDL we believe new tools are needed to connect our global population and often the times we need connectivity the most are the times getting connected can be the hardest, until now. CANDL is an alumni of our Patriot Bootcamp program.
Data Nerds – helps anyone buying or selling a home get the data they need to make an informed decision (Kelowna, Canada)
Josh Fraser has quietly spent years aggregating real estate and property data from around the US and Canada to bring information transparency to the real estate market. The data and insight he has is unlike anything available and his years as a PPC expert has helped him develop a unique competitive advantage in driving demand to his products. While growing his business he’s built a stellar team, a unique culture and a huge learning engine – impressive for a solo founder. We believe Josh has the special capacity to build a huge business in this space and as data becomes more and more important for making all decisions, the data and insight he has will turn Data Nerds into the world’s most comprehensive and powerful database for real estate and property record information, thereby helping millions of people make better decisions with their most important asset.
Global EIR – expands economic opportunities in the innovation economy by supporting international entrepreneurs (San Francisco)
Craig Montuori and Christopher Nicholson founded the Global Entrepreneur-In-Residence (EIR) Coalition with Brad Feld and Jeff Bussgang which allows universities and their centers for entrepreneurship to hire immigrant startup founders or partner with their startups to give the founders access to the visas they need to get back to the hard work of building great businesses and growing the American economy. At the same time they provide expert mentors for their entrepreneurial-minded students. The founders have years of political and startup experience and aren’t afraid to get involved in policy. While the startup and tech communities have historically not wanted to get involved at the policy level, we share the Global EIRs belief that needs to change and it can be a powerful tool. The Global EIR initiative is a non-profit, which is new for us at Techstars Boulder, but we couldn’t be more thrilled to help support the mission of making it easier for great entrepreneurs to start and keep meaningful companies in America. Global EIR is also a grantee of the Techstars Foundation.
Hardbound – helps people understand the world better through fascinating stories designed for the phone (New York City)
Nathan Bashaw and Joe Nguyen are on a mission to popularize and become the market leader in “tap stories” — a new media format that’s designed for smartphones, and a much more engaging way to read than plain text. They’ve been passionately and diligently building the app for the past few years and have generated a loyal and engaged following. They’ve chosen to focus initially on content for the ‘curious mind’ that makes you smarter and have created an incredibly interesting and engaging media property, but ultimately their vision is to become the platform for tap stories by enabling other brands to leverage this new medium for their audiences. We share their belief that this new media format will be consumed by hundreds of millions of people, and tens of thousands of creators will be making them, while earning a great living. We believe in this new media format, and it’s exciting to see this one emerging under the guidance of Nathan and Joe.
IronCore Labs – enables simple end-to-end encryption as a service making it easier than ever to secure data (Boulder and Bozeman, MT)
Patrick Walsh and Bob Wall’s mission is to make end-to-end encryption usable and reasonable for all use cases involving sensitive data and make it the undisputed best-practice requirement for all enterprise cloud software. Bob and Patrick have worked together for years designing and building enterprise cloud software systems including access controls and data protections at Oracle. In the course of working together, a shared desire to build a better foundation for cloud software was formed and eventually they left Oracle to pursue the vision. We share their belief that to make more secure applications and fix the state of computer security, it needs to be easier for developers to integrate strong security into their applications. And as an approach, proactive security is far preferable to the reactive kind. IronCore Lab’s developer tools dramatically reduce the risk of a security breach, government subpoena to a vendor, and provide better compliance with privacy and security regulations with an easy to use API.
Monday – makes it easy to find a job and work that matters (New York and Spain)
Evan Walden and Raul San Narciso have created a personalized job discovery experience that is fundamentally different from the “search-based” job boards that exist today, and attracts passive talent who need a trusted tool to filter the signal from the noise, and are too busy to do it for themselves. They’ve spent years in the job placement space including creating a company called ReWork that had hundreds of clients and was named to Outside Magazines Top 100 places to work. We share their belief that business is a powerful lever to solve our world’s most intractable problems, and in order for the most impactful companies to succeed, they need the best talent. At the same time, we all believe that everyone deserves to make meaning at work, and that our model of torturing ourselves in a 9-5, only to live life on nights and weekends, is an old model that will only die out if professionals have the tools they need to find work they love. When Monday succeeds they’ll be making sure the most competitive professionals are making an impact on the world’s greatest problems.
PreFix – frees homeowners from the unexpected cost and burden of home maintenance (Austin)
James Bilodeau wants you to own your home, not its problems by providing a home ‘primary care physician’ that manages all the monitoring, management and maintenance of a home for a low monthly fee. By applying health care best practices to the home maintenance market he is transforming how homeowners manage their largest asset and at the same time the economics of the model while providing unprecedented customer service. James’ model will create hundreds of middle income jobs and provide opportunity to those that wouldn’t otherwise have it by using technology and training to create a whole new category of home service professional. We share James’ belief that homeownership can be easier and by changing the way we interact with our home, like our healthcare, can save significant time, hassle and cost while better enjoying the asset.
Sitter – find, book and pay for babysitters (Boulder)
Kristen Stiles and Matt Stueve have built an app for parents to connect with babysitters to enable their own work or play. Whether it’s booking and paying existing babysitters or finding a new one in a pinch from friends’ networks, Sitter makes the whole process hassle-free so everyone gets a sitter they trust when they need one. Founded by parents who love spending time with their kids, but like all of us need that precious adult time too, they’ve hit the mark with thousands of parents already using the app. We share Sitter’s vision that all parents need and deserve some time off every once in awhile to be our best selves and our best partners. Because happier parents make happier kids and grow happier families. And yes, it’s fun to see a movie before it hits Netflix.
Stateless – provides network functions as a service (Boulder)
Murad Kablan, Eric Keller and Nigel Sharp have built a patent pending network virtualization technology licensed from the University of Colorado, Boulder which provides scalable and fault tolerance software-based network functions (firewalls, NAT, and load balancers) that are automatically configured, managed, and monitored in data center environments. Stateless provide these network functions on-demand “as-a-Service”, eliminating the need to acquire, install and maintain specialized hardware or provision capacity up-front, which have the benefit of also being able to be offered to Cloud Managed Service Provider’s tenants, as a value-added service. Founded by a team with PhDs from Princeton and Colorado, the Stateless technology is based on years of research with an ultimate aim of having an impact beyond an academic publication through large scale commercialization of their breakthrough. Like the Stateless team, we believe in the power of no-ops environments and believe that change and innovation is critical in the networking functions of data networks to unlock the scale and potential of the future.
Who: Techstars Alumni and other entrepreneurs interested in joining Techstars
What: Alumni Event
When: October 13
Where: Trident Booksellers and Cafe, 940 Pearl Street, Boulder, CO 80302
Details: Click here to register for the event. Come say hello to some fellow alums, a few folks interested in the next Techstars class, and celebrate the fall weather at the back patio of the Trident!
Who: Startups interested in applying for the Austin, Barclays Cape Town, Barclays London, Barclays Tel Aviv, Berlin, Boston, Boulder, Cloud – San Antonio, Healthcare in Partnership with Cedars-Sinai (Los Angeles), New York City or Seattle Accelerator.
What: Info session
When: September 29
Where: Startup Hall – 1100 Northeast Campus Parkway #200, Seattle, WA 98105
Who: Startups interested in applying for the Techstars Boulder Accelerator
What: Office Hours
When: September 22 or September 23
Where: Bozeman, Montana
Details: Link TBD.
Who: Startups interested in applying for the Techstars Boulder Accelerator
What: Office Hours
When: September 21
Where: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Details: Link TBD.
Who: Startups interested in applying for the Techstars Boulder Accelerator
What: Office Hours
When: September 15
Where: Denver, Colorado
Details: Link TBD
Who: Startups interested in applying to the Techstars Boulder Accelerator
What: Alumni Q&A
When: September 8
Where: 2420 17th St, Denver, CO 80202
Details: Click on any time to make a booking. Come hear from a panel of Techstars grads about their experiences in the program and what happened afterwards.
We hope to see you at Denver Startup Week. Please join us at the following events.
- Chase Startup Week Diversity Panel Discussion — from 9–11am at DSW Basecamp. Add to your schedule here.
- Get More of the Right Things Done with Zach Nies — from 2–3:30pm at Davis, Graham & Stubbs LLP (1550 17th Street, Suite 500). Add to your schedule here.
- Mentor Office Hours — from 9–11am at DSW Basecamp. Sign up for time with me (near the bottom of the list) or Julie Penner or any of the other amazing mentors.
- Techstars Hiring Fair — from 1–2pm at DSW Basecamp. Come meet Techstars and mentor companies that are hiring to find your next great job. Add to your schedule here.
- Chain Reaction Panel: From Founding to Funding with Amy Baglan, Sue Heilbronner, Chris Marks and Seth Levine (attendees to be confirmed) — from 2–3pm at DSW Basecamp. Add to your schedule here.
- Pitch Techstars — from 3–4pm at DSW Basecamp. Either apply to pitchor come watch and learn how to give a great startup pitch. Winning pitch gets an automatic invitation to the private Taste of Techstars later this month. Add to your schedule here (if you want to pitch, make sure to apply separately).