Fighting the Good Fight: Looking Back Five Years

I was recently invited to share the story of my company, Hip Pocket, with another startup community. The organizers’ stated goal for my talk was to help attendees, “hear your Fintech startup story” and because, “we need to inspire hundreds more like you.”

The organizers were lucky enough to catch me on a great week and my talk was inspiring…according to those who talked with or emailed me afterward.

But, the attendees were catching me on a pretty great week that was almost five years in the making.

The truth is, many entrepreneurial weeks – maybe most – feel like this:

Many – maybe most – of my fellow founders will identify with the feeling of being knocked down unexpectedly…from behind…then slammed around repeatedly…then pushed off the edge…only to fall face first and mouth open into dirty water…and I think I saw a bandaid in there…maybe two…and now I have an infection.  

That can be the entrepreneurial experience in the bad times. The “we’re almost out of money, crying in the kitchen with your spouse” times.

I’ve been there! You?

When that happens, it’s easy to question why anyone would want to go on this ride.

For many, it’s a compulsion from the onset. Or a deep seated unrelenting drive to create.

But for others, like me, it was mostly accidental and only makes sense now in hindsight.

This September will mark five years since the Startup Weekend where the base idea for our company was first uttered aloud in a simple one-minute pitch format.

I went to that 2012 event by myself as a non-technical participant. I had been in the financial services industry for seven years at that point and was curious about how technology would impact our industry. This event could help me better understand how technology can impact industries as well as how you can take an idea to prototype in a short time.

Before going, a friend who would later go on to found one of the early GAN accelerators, suggested I consider pitching my own idea vs. just expecting to join another team. That day, I worked on this:

And yes, I still have this piece of paper.  

The basic idea – with the worst name ever in “NetWorthing” – was that people often make less than optimal financial decisions on most products, while banks make a lot of money when this happens. But, what if everyone could easily see the best financial decisions of anonymous peers and then act quickly to never fall behind?

At the root of my pitch wasn’t the solution. The root was that banks make money unfairly due to customer inertia and technology could be an equalizer.

The idea received enough votes to recruit a team of three others to help build the idea out, and enough validation and traction to finish third overall that weekend.

Since then, here’s some of our story in numbers:

  • Four co-founders in 2012
  • Several co-founder “Come to Jesus” meetings over the summer of 2013
  • Only one founder left by fall of 2013
  • Two accelerators in 2013 and 2017
  • Four angel investors in 2016
  • One substantial pivot & two abandoned products in 2016
  • Three brief times into negative cash balance
  • Fourteen corporate clients over the years
  • Countless wipeouts we only sometimes saw coming:

Oh yeah, nice try…we got this, we got this like a boss…..IEEEEEE!!!!!

After all of this, we were invited to share our “Success Story” at that event…as well as here on the Techstars blog.  

I didn’t ask any of the organizers why they considered us a success worthy of a spotlight.

Are we a success because we’ve survived five years?

Are we a success because we’ve been able to generate sales, investors, and some potential large partnerships?

Or, are we a success because we’ve had our asses handed to us repeatedly and we still get back up again and again?

Something like this:

There’s something to that last one in hindsight. Something I didn’t understand before reflecting on it.

We’ve been through the startup valley of death in that we’ve experienced many of the top reason startups fail, and yet we haven’t stayed down.

You could label our story as obstinance or tenacity, but we came through the fray and now have assembled a team that has fallen in love with the problem of helping people save money from their phones in just minutes.

The solutions and partners and paths forward have changed a lot over time, but we’re still on a mission to compete with all we have! We haven’t forgotten why we got into the arena in the first place…because we believed we could win!

Or, at a minimum, that we had to get into the arena and fight the good fight. We had to fight the problem.

This despite selling B2B into a regulated industry…which has challenges:

Just one more corporate vendor vetting step to clear and then contract is…IEEEEEE….MY FACE!!!!

When you’re in the thrash of entrepreneurship, aka the wipeouts, it can be hard to take stock of where you’ve been as well as staying focused on what’s ahead. It’s hard because you’re experiencing the physical and emotional shock of the recent blow, which is understandably disorienting.  

But the pain of each blow is eventually paired with time-tested knowledge that “this too shall pass.” Eventually, the time between shock/pain and recovery gets quicker.

NOTE: I’m referring to the outside pain of the startup journey and not the pain of depression, which is very real and can f*ck with a lot of us. That’s real and requires the strength to engage with those around you for help. A strong founder support group is vital for this and so many other reasons. Here are some resources on this topic.

There will be shocks and pain ahead. But, if you believe in your industry, in the problem you’re solving, and in your ability to address it, then you should stay the course. You should fight through and endure some of the pain.

It’s to be expected, especially toward a point of breakthrough. Recently, I’ve found it useful to reread “The Dip” by Seth Godin at these times of potential greatest pain and greatest breakthrough.

If the fundamentals of your industry are the same and you believe you can get through this, then you owe it to fight through the last mile at a time when so many give up.

I wrote this piece to share our own LONG journey with those are are on the same path.

I wrote this for those of you in pain.  

I wrote this for those who may be starting and unaware of the potential obstacles – which despite the painful pictures above – are often just obstacles to be bested.

I wrote this for 2012 me who read and was told how hard entrepreneurship is and yet was still unprepared and had to experience the pain for himself to really understand.

And I wrote this for so many of you in the final dip.

Wherever you are, know this: You. Are. Not. Alone!

You have many, many fighting the fight with you.

Entrepreneurship isn’t an overnight success story, though it can seem so when you compare your own struggles with someone else’s exit.

I hope today is a great day. Or a good day. Or even just a day.

I hope the same for myself but I know you or I will still be OK if there’s some pain. I finally understand this. It just took me five years to figure that out.

Are you ready to learn, network, startup? Find a Startup Weekend event in your region today!

This post is also published on Medium.








Empowering Entrepreneurs and Building Communities in Asia Pacific

As the Asia Pacific region is growing into a global center for innovation, there’s an increasing challenge of how to offer the best resources for new startup communities. Oko Davaasuren, Techstars Regional Director in APAC, and Anurag Maloo, Techstars Regional Manager in APAC, answer questions on how Techstars is working to help inspire entrepreneurs in the region.

Watch the whole AMA here.

What is your vision for Techstars and building communities in Asia Pacific?

For some of you who don’t have a larger view of Techstars, this question comes up a lot as I’m traveling to different countries.

Techstars has three distinct parts to it. The first part is our startup programs, which includes Startup Weekend, Startup Week, and Startup Digest. These give access, education, and exposure to the communities or ecosystems.

The second part is what Techstars is mainly known for, which is our mentorship-driven accelerator programs. We’re running about 29 of these accelerators all around the world.

The third part of the business is the venture arm, which invests in startups that mainly go through our accelerator program and maybe some outside. Those are the three main pillars of Techstars as an organization.

We are running startup programs in about 28 countries out of 50 plus in Asia Pacific. We are running about 500 programs, including the bootcamps and other editions of our startup programs. We’re seeing about 10-20 percent growth year-by-year.

With that said, although we run thousands of Startup Weekends around the world, there are a lot of people we haven’t reached. You hear people who have been touched by these programs and know the impact of these programs in their communities. These people know how awesome it is.

The mission here is, “how can we share this awesome experience with as many people as possible?” We literally get to change people’s lives.

In the simplest terms, we want to enable and empower individuals in communities all around the world.

We want to continue doing that, because there’s so much still to go, especially in Asia. Economic growth is here and it’s the frontier of everything. This is where people need access, power, and exposure more than anywhere else.

Besides that, we’re not just talking about the individual impact programs, but as a collective of accelerators and the investing arm, we’re trying to help ecosystems in Asia Pacific to grow so that the true values of Techstars are materialized.

Entrepreneurs should be everywhere. You should be able to build your startup wherever you are from or where ever you are. But in order for that to happen, your ecosystem needs to grow and have all the right elements to be able to provide the environment for people to do that.

With the collective, our goal is to basically make Asia Pacific better than Silicon Valley or become an iteration of Silicon Valley by finding the strength of ecosystems to help it grow.

We have a lot of work to do.

Are you ready to help your community learn, network, and startup? Organize a Startup Weekend event in your area today!








Startup Weekend AI: Are Bots Going to Take Over the World?

Technology has long wanted to make the world a better place, a new place, and yet, the future seems still unstable. At what extend is Artificial Intelligence critical? At what extend will Artificial Intelligence erase human creativity, even replace it?

Everyone talks about AI but do we really understand what it stands for, it’s exponential growth and where it can bring us? Do we know how to create a business around it?

Are bots going to take over the world?

Not likely, we’re too far from having enough data. Here’s where we stand (deeplearning by MIT). 

Joke aside, we need educate ourselves enough to stop believing this nonsense.

I had the pleasure of attenting one of Martin Wezowski, chief designer at SAP, talks on creating the future we want to live in. Jobs in sequential steps, that can be translated in algorithms, will be replaced by robots and automized. So we must rise higher, leave the dirty work to them and head towards more creative & innovative endeavors.

Let’s indeed create a future we all want to live in!

Global Startup Weekend Artificial Intelligence

AI can influence and change health, wealth, jobs, and the world. Do we want to stand besides and take the risk of getting left behind or do you want be part and influence the change? We know we want to be part of the change! What about yourself?

This is why at GlobalSWAI we believe that we need to help communities educate on the theme, democratize the AI concept, and push them out of their comfort zone to build the better tomorrow.

It all started in Paris

It’s been already more than 6 months that the first Startup Weekend in the world dedicated to Artificial Intelligence has been organized in Paris with my wonderful friend Josse Blais as co-lead.

In November 2016, during 54 hours, one hundred web developers, graphic designers, business experts, engineers, researchers, and students interested in the entrepreneurial experience worked intensively on functional startup prototypes, presented to a panel of experts, investors and local entrepreneurs on the Sunday evening.

The insights of PhD students and researchers are very valuable in the field of artificial intelligence.

Based on the fact that too few researchers transform their discoveries into real products and further on into real companies with business models, we partnered up with INRIA (French National Research Institute Dedicated to Digital Technology) to build a bridge between the institute researchers and the French entrepreneurial ecosystem.

We believe that the insights of PhD students and researchers are very valuable in the field of artificial intelligence, and they need to get closer to the entrepreneurial mindset to think beyond the technology and into a practical business.

This first edition was such a great success that we came to realize that this need for researchers profiles is a global need and not limited to France, and several cities around the world soon started talking to us to bring SWAI (Startup Weekend AI) to their city.

In addition, the theme of Artificial Intelligence appears to be one of the main challenges of the coming months, with the multiplication of natural interfaces interacting with computers, machine learning, and all the benefits coming around in med- and bio-technology.

This is how the idea of a Global Startup Weekend around the theme of artificial intelligence saw the light. At the end of September 2017 and during two weeks, Startup Weekend will flourish in more than fifteen global capitals. The list of cities is growing, including Mexico City, London, Paris, Barcelona, Seoul, Cork, and Hong Kong.

This global initiative is more than a simultaneous event in several capitals around the world. It is federating a genuine community around artificial intelligence, democratizing its use, and making it more diverse, inclusive and impactful by removing boundaries.

Awesome communities and startups are supporting this initiative. They will help merge communities interested in AI around the world to discover trends and knowledge on how to apply AI in products and services and steer collaboration in this field among startups, developers, corporates, investors, and researchers.

“The problem with the AI space is that there is too much hype and too little collaboration in terms of sharing lessons learned. It’s time to zoom into the business value of AI, be transparent about the downsides and push relevant change. There is an incredible opportunity here, but AI is not a solution in itself. We forget thats its people who are shaping our future and we need a global community to enable more cross border sharing and collaboration.” say Mike Reiner and Christoph Auer-Welsbach, co-founders of CITY.AI

Snips backed SWAI last year and in the spirit of their community. This year, they are going global with us. The Snips Voice Platform allows anyone to integrate AI powered voice interaction in their devices with ease and all teams participating in GSWAI will get to use the platform.

It’s gonna be legend. 

We want to bring the communities together at Hello Tomorrow, a global non-profit on a mission to accelerate the transfer of breakthrough technologies into real world solutions by highlighting, empowering, and connecting the most promising deep-tech entrepreneurs across the globe with the right enablers.

Innovation will take place around the world and countries showcase their startup communities during GSWAI.

Two weekends for over fifteen cities to organize a SWAI end of September.

Over 1000 entrepreneurs and researchers will come together for tens of events during the two last weekends of September 21st and 29th, 2017 for Global Startup Weekend Artificial Intelligence.

We want to connect entrepreneurs, organizing teams, and startup communities for innovation to take place around the world and for countries to showcase their startup communities.

Join today and learn, connect, and startup at Global Startup Weekend AIOver 20 cities have applied already!

 

This post was originally posted here.








Startup Weekend — Cambiando la cultura de un país

Honduras ha sido famoso por ser un país con alta tasa de criminalidad, los medios de comunicación tradicionales tanto nacionales como internacionales han lavado el cerebro de gran parte de los habitantes de manera que el crimen, el futbol y el amarillismo son lo que más vende.

En los últimos años se ha generado un cambio en la mentalidad de muchos emprendedores, a tal grado que se ha propagado como un virus, donde cada día hay más y más personas dispuestas a cambiar como funcionan las cosas. El nacimiento de una fuerte comunidad, creciente en dos ciudades del País (Tegucigalpa y San Pedro Sula), la cual ha generado una cantidad abundante de startups de tecnología, meetups y eventos para emprendedores, diseñadores o desarrolladores.

La evolución ha sido tal que Honduras pasó de un evento de emprendimiento cada 6 meses; a semanas donde se realizan entre 3–4 eventos simultáneos. Con un total de más de 40 eventos diferentes teniendo entre los más populares: Startup Weekend, GDG, Angel Hack, Game On!, BarCamp, TEDx y Geek Meetup.

Este post trata sobre el evento que más impacto ha tenido en la comunidad de Honduras. En el que los emprendedores están inmersos en el entorno ideal para que ocurra la magia de las Startups. Me refiero obviamente a Startup Weekend.

¿Qué es Startup Weekend?

Es el programa mundialmente más grande para emprendedores, donde en 54 horas personas de todos los dominios se reúnen para crear una empresa centrada en una idea. Desde la noche del viernes hasta domingo los participantes trabajan para hacer cosas increíbles.

El objetivo de Startup Weekend es ayudar a las personas a iniciar en su vida emprendedora brindando una experiencia similar a la que tendrían trabajando en su propia Startup, incluyendo altos, bajos, diversiones y presiones.

Desde el 2007 Startup Weekend reúne las siguientes impresionantes cifras:

  • Organizado en más 150 Países.
  • 1,142 ciudades diferentes.
  • Con más de 234,000 participantes globales.
  • 4,157 eventos hasta la fecha

¿Quiénes pueden participar?

Hackers, Hustlers, Creativos, Emprendedores, Estudiantes, Expertos. Todo el que tenga ganas de emprender es bienvenido en Startup Weekend.

Startup Weekend San Pedro Sula

 

Esto es lo que pasa en un Startup Weekend

Al inicio del viernes los participantes interesados en trabajar en su idea hacen un pitch de 1 minuto donde explican que problema, la solución y los perfiles de participantes que buscan para su grupo. Luego se hace una votación y se arman los grupos.

El sábado está enfocado en trabajar, los equipos se reúnen con mentores para recibir retroalimentación de su proyecto y luego salen a la calle a tratar de vender o recaudar más información. Por la noche se enfocan en construir un prototipo o MVP (Producto Mínimo Viable).

La presentación final se acerca, así que el domingo los equipos participantes finalizan de validar su modelo de negocios y empiezan a prepararse para realizar un pitch ante el jurado calificador. Se premian los mejores proyectos y luego todos los participantes están invitados a formar parte del after party.

Tegucigalpa y Paraguay

 

Al final, Startup Weekend te ayuda a superar la parte más difícil de emprender, la cual es iniciar y lo hace generando comunidad. Lo más probable es que haya un Startup Weekend cerca de tu ciudad, si estás en Honduras no te puedes perder el siguiente evento: go.startupweekend.org/tegucigalpa.

En Honduras las cosas están pasando, dentro de poco será un HUB Internacional de emprendimiento con una cultura de #NoTalkAllAction y #Hacelopue.

Si te gustó este artículo, compartelo y dale click al ❤️ de abajo para que otras personas puedan verlo. Cualquier comentario me lo puedes hacer tambien a @Crisgarner.








Celebrating the 10th Birthday of Techstars Startup Weekend

We’re celebrating the 10th Birthday of Techstars Startup Weekend. On July 7th, 2007, the first Startup Weekend was held in Boulder, Colorado with 80 entrepreneurs. In 10 years, we’ve grown to:

  • 13,837 organizers in 153 countries
  • 4,531 Startup Weekend events
  • 363,000+ Startup Weekend attendees
  • 45,375 Teams
  • $410M+ in funding secured

And we’re just getting started. We are so proud of the community and honored to see all the impact over the years. To celebrate our 10 years of events around the world, here are 10 of our favorite Startup Weekend stories:

  1. How Zapier came to be
  2. Solving grassroots problems in a Brazilian slum
  3. Historic Startup Weekend in Turkey/Armenia
  4. Syrian entrepreneurship thrives against all odds
  5. Easy Taxi Raises $40M Series D To Expand In Asia, Latin America
  6. Cuban Tech Scene on Display during First Startup Weekend in Cuba
  7. Mental health app Design My Day wins Startup Weekend Bali
  8. Pitch Like A Girl ; Empowering young girls to build companies and skills
  9. Pakistani Beauty Startup Clears the Way for Female Founders
  10. Four Ways Startup Weekend Changed my Life

We’ll be celebrating throughout the month and would love to see your favorite Startup Weekend story or picture, share with us online using #HappyBirthdaySW.

Thank you to everyone who’s played a part in this community. We wouldn’t be where we are today without all our great community leaders and Startup Weekend advocates around the world. Cheers to a bright future of more impact to come.








Announcing a New Look for Techstars Startup Programs

Two years ago, Techstars and UP Global joined forces to allow us to successfully build a global network of entrepreneurs. Since then, we’ve made an effort to ensure Techstars Startup Programs are integrated into the larger Techstars network to provide the most value to our community. One part of this integration is ensuring the same visual family across all the Techstars and Startup Programs brands.

Today we’re excited to announce a new, refreshed brand that helps Startup Weekend, Startup Week and Startup Digest feel part of the Techstars family.

What does a new brand mean for you as a Community Leader?

  • Being part of the broader Techstars brand will deliver increased global recognition which will allow you as Community Leaders to further leverage the Techstars global network.
  • In regions where Startup Weekend has a stronger presence than Techstars the consistent brand will allow us to more easily support ecosystem development with new accelerators and other programs, through the Startup Weekend brand equity. This will enable you as CLs to further strengthen the growth of your startup community.
  • A more consistent feel across all Startup Weekend and Startup Week events will allow you to showcase your connection to the global network of events and build increased brand equity across attendees to support growth.
  • More design support with brand packs created for key verticals to showcase a more professional, exciting and consistent look and feel.
  • The new way to customize logos really allows organizers to match the design to the personality of the community/event.
  • New Startup Weekend Facilitator deck built with your feedback in mind showcasing a cleaner design, increased readability and more engaging content.

We wanted to take you through the evolution of our brands, Startup Weekend, Startup Week and Startup Digest, so we created a short video that highlights how we came to what we’ve delivered today.

We felt it was important the new brand represent the community in the most authentic way. Part of that process was ensuring the design firm we worked with understood what Startup Programs brands mean. This is one reason we chose 23 Design to execute the rebrand. As community leaders themselves, and having previously designed several Startup Weekend custom event logos, they knew the importance of keeping the brand true to the community.

The updated brand is just the start of our process to ensure we’re delivering increased value to our community. Things you can expect from the Startup Programs team coming soon:

  • new & improved resources
  • brand new facilitator training
  • new community sites
  • more ways to connect with other CL’s globally
  • ….and much more!

All assets and the way we use our refreshed Techstars Startup Programs brand now live on spbrand.techstars.com

For any questions or comments, please contact your regional manager or brand@techstars.com, let’s make sure we continue growing our brand together!








Announcing Techstars Startup Weekend Presented by INFINITI

We are excited to announce a new partnership with Techstars and INFINITI Motor Company to deliver Techstars Startup Weekend Presented by INFINITI in target markets around the world. This partnership is the latest initiative in INFINITI’s longstanding commitment to fostering entrepreneurial talent and harnessing the power of innovation.

The Techstars Startup Weekend Presented by INFINITI will bring together a diverse range of talent across six markets from multiple industries. Entrepreneurs will have an opportunity to leverage Techstars’ worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, including influential community leaders, founders, mentors, and investors. Participants will pitch new startup ideas and work as teams to develop prototypes, demos and pitch presentations.   

The first Techstars Startup Weekend Presented by INFINITI will take place in Hong Kong on April 21 with a focus on Women in Tech. The event will provide an innovative platform for female founders, showcasing the incredible entrepreneurial talent in Hong Kong.

Registration for Techstars Startup Weekend Presented by INFINITI Women in Tech closes April 19. Register today!








[Interview] Here’s how this Startup is set to become the “Netflix of Mobile Comics”

This is a guest blog post by Hira Saeed, Community Leader, Startup Weekend Karachi who writes about AI startups, Chatbots and Big data.

The digital boom is everywhere. People who used to sleep with paperbacks in their hands are now keeping Kindle on their side tables. After bringing music, reading and writing to the palm of your hands, the digital world is now rapidly reinventing the comic industry. According to the American Association of Publishers, the industry generated $28 billion in revenue in 2015. While the latest Pew Institute studies show that 28% of Americans now consume published material through electronic formats, there is a prevailing lack of original comics created for the mobile medium.

Among many startups that are disrupting this interesting niche, there is one that stands out as the “Netflix of graphic novels”…an app named Stela. Stela is topping the charts as a one-of-its-kind app that has a curated library of original visual content created by award-winning artists and storytellers, including graphic novels, comics, illustrated novels and other rich visual media. I got a chance to interview its CEO, Jason Juan to discuss the state and future of the digital medium.

Hira: What exactly is the Stela app? And most importantly what’s the mystery behind the name “Stela”?

Jason: Stela is a reading app with original titles covering tons of amazing stories, comics, and illustrated books. For the first time in history, all the content on Stela is originally designed specifically for mobile phones. Fresh new content can be accessed monthly with our affordable subscription model.   

Hira: What inspired you to make this idea a reality? How do you consider yourselves the “Netflix” of mobile comics?

Jason: Netflix is the subscription model we really like and it allows readers to read whatever they want, whenever they want. We believe this is what the majority of the audience in the US would like to have. Eventually, Stela will NOT be just limited to comics. We consider Stela the future bookstore or library for the mobile industry. Graphic novels and comics is the first step on that journey.   

Hira: Are you a comic reader or maker? How did it start?

Jason: We are all comic readers and makers. We discovered that the mobile space lacks real reading content that moves people. Most content is news or content that is in a poor format which is impossible to read on a mobile device. Stela wants to solve that by providing a truly premium reading experience with rich visuals and deep stories that draw readers in and lets them escape.

Hira: Are you planning to have a web portal or will this be a mobile app forever?

Jason: The web portal has recently been launched, and you can read some free chapters now at https://www.stela.com/read. The full experience is still mobile app only. We will release a subscription for the web portal soon for the people who would like to read all the content directly on browsers.

Hira: What genre of comics are you featuring the most and how are you planning to take submissions?

Jason: It is not so much about the genres, but more about the premium quality that I believe is the most important for the readers and Stela. We feature top quality content and we do take submissions from talented storytellers.

Hira: How are you managing the comic library? Is it free for all, freemium or premium?

Jason: We measure how readers react to the titles and chapters. Based on our algorithm we sort our page and content for the readers. We are also constantly growing the content weekly. Because of the high originality of the stories, our model is premium with a few chapters free to try.

Hira: Where do you see Stela in the next 5 years? What is the vision behind the app?

Jason: We would like Stela to be the place for all the premium comics, top quality illustrated books and most mobile-friendly books where every single title is 100% designed for a mobile device.

The vision is the revolution for true digital books. Each book needs to be designed to every single pixels, not just a text file, or rich text file, such as ebooks.

Hira: What stage is your app is currently at?

Jason: There are still many features we are currently building for the app. We also want to have more more premium contents, and we constantly raising the quality bar. We will also expand into various types of books such as food, drink, literature, art, and design.

Hira: I don’t see any competitor for Stela out there. Are there any? Enlighten me.

Jason: Amazon Kindle. 🙂

Our ten-year goal is to beat Kindle. In the end, each book requires a designer to design, not just a simple ebook. Stela designs every single book where readers can truly enjoy the content and not worry about font setting or background color or an uncomfortable flow.   

Hira: Who are you targeting as an audience? Male, female or both? What’s in it for girls especially as they aren’t into comics as much.

Jason: Anyone on earth who wants to read a premium quality story with rich visual graphics is our target audience. Recently we tested ad campaigns reaching out to female readers. The surprising result was that acquisition costs for new subscribers dropped drastically as female-targeted ads saw consistently high returns. Now our subscriber base is over 45% female and growing, subverting the traditional belief that girls don’t read comics.

The problem isn’t who, it’s what. Unlike traditional publishers and distributors, Stela isn’t limited to your typical comic content and genre, meaning we can provide readers with a wider range of material to suite different tastes, interests, and lifestyles – including material that appeals to a female audience. Because as cool as they are, we can’t all love super heroes and zombies. Unlike the traditionally male-dominated comic book industry, Stela’s creative staff is over 80% female, providing our audience with content from a hitherto unexplored point of view.  Stela’s creative and growth team is led by writer and illustrator Sandra Lanz – creator of the House Girls series, and VP of Development Yaling Catorcini – a veteran of both Apple and T-Mobile.

Hira: Any other comments? I’d be happy to feature!

Jason: Since computers have been invented, digital books have never been designed properly, especially any books with pictures. It has been more than 40 years and someone has to fix it. Today finally almost everyone can have a phone with Internet access if they want and all the phones are roughly the same size with about 4.5 to 5 inches of display space. All the creators finally have a standard to aim for which means each book can be now be designed without a moving target. I would like to see each book actually being designed and presented in the best format for all the phone readers to enjoy.








Announcing Jennifer Cabala as New Head of Startup Programs

I couldn’t be more excited to announce my new role as the VP of Startup Programs leading both Startup Weekend and Startup Week on behalf of Techstars.

My love of Startup Programs goes back to my first Startup Weekend in Seattle in 2010. I signed up at the last minute not knowing what to expect. Like so many attendees, I was quickly caught up in the magic of the event. Being around like-minded people who just wanted to build things was so powerful. We stayed up half the night building a niche social network (it was 2010 after all). We “won” the pitch competition, but the real rewards were the lifelong friends I made, and the passion and excitement I discovered for what was possible through startup programs.

My winning team at Startup Weekend Seattle 2010 – I’m in the middle

I was lucky enough to join Startup Weekend as the second employee leading marketing and business development. During my time there, Startup Weekend grew from 75 events to 350 a year – an amazing time of growth that also brought us into many new countries and communities that had no programs to help entrepreneurs. As an organizer and facilitator, I heard hundreds of amazing stories of people who were changing their lives and their communities for the better through the power of a weekend.

In 2012, I joined Techstars co-running the Microsoft Accelerator programs and two years later moved to lead program operations for Techstars globally. I created many of the systems currently in place to help us scale, including writing the first playbook on running a Techstars accelerator.

As Techstars accelerator programs expanded internationally I moved to Berlin and have loved spending time meeting entrepreneurial leaders in other communities, and from other cultures.

What I love most about startup programs is our potential to make a difference. We have always worked to be inclusive which means anyone can come to a startup program and find a welcoming community of people who are working towards something better through entrepreneurship. I have seen first-hand how our startup programs truly change the trajectory of people’s lives and I’m eager to find new ways to strengthen and support that.

My vision for the future of startup programs includes growing the worldwide network of community leaders, making it easier to connect to each other and all of the Techstars family, and continuing to make our programs accessible to all. This community is made up of powerful doers, makers and change agents and from the most mature startup communities to those in the earliest stages, I want to widen access, break down barriers, and connect entrepreneurs across the world.

I truly believe that Techstars Startup Programs provide the very best inspirational and educational resources founders need to support them along their Entrepreneur’s Journey and I’m excited to work closely with John Beadle (Startup Weekend), Matt Helt (Startup Week), Jessica Ford (Startup Digest), regional directors and managers to strengthen our global impact.

Techstars is committed to continuing to invest and grow startup programs around the world. I am excited to step up to lead those efforts to grow the programs that I love – and changed my life.








Taking on Tampons: Startup Weekend Success from a 19 Year Old Founder

Claire Coder is the 19 year old founder and CEO of Aunt Flow. She first pitched Aunt Flow at Startup Weekend in 2015. Shortly afterward, she dropped out of college, picked up a few waitressing jobs, and began work on Aunt Flow full time. 

Aunt Flow is a subscription box for 100% cotton tampons and pads. Menstruators can go online, customize a box, and have it delivered to their door each month. For every box they purchase, Aunt Flow donates one to a person without access to menstrual products in the US.

I couldn’t spend a weekend pretending that I wanted to code another fitness app. Honestly, the only thing I could think about were the cramps I had from my period. The weekend was Startup Weekend, and I was in my first semester of college.

Growing up, my mom never shied away from sharing with me the realities of life. As an art therapist, she frequently worked with menstruating clients struggling with basic needs. She explained that the women she served often wore plastic bags and multiple layers of clothing to stop the flow. It was easier to soil garments than to get a tampon. I didn’t understand why.

Now, I understand menstrual products aren’t covered by WIC or food stamps. When pressed for money, both menstruators and shelters decide food takes precedence over menstrual products.

It’s one thing to understand. It’s another to ideate, plan, and execute a sustainable solution.

Following Startup Weekend, I dropped out of college, picked up a few waitressing jobs, and went full time on my startup, Aunt Flow. My friends and family were concerned and doubtful. I was 18 years old. It did not matter.

Aunt Flow is a buy-one, give-one subscription box for 100% cotton tampons and pads. Menstruators (and FlowBros and anybody) can go online and subscribe to Aunt Flow for $13/month. They receive a personalized period product box on their doorstep each month, and for every box they buy, we donate one of the same quality to the rotating beneficiary organization of their choice.

In Aunt Flow’s first year of business, I have raised $47,000 via crowdfunding, taken on an employee, been featured in Forbes & Teen Vogue, named best startup in Columbus, gathered over 10,000 pieces to donate, and I am selling 100% cotton tampons and pads all across the United States.

Sounds great, right? That list of accomplishments doesn’t include the all-nighters, weight gain, unpaid hours, and all the time trying to pretend everything was “okay.” But, hey, it’s still pretty great.

Aunt Flow is much larger than a product company – it’s a movement. We seek to ensure ALL menstruators have access to these necessary items, no matter their economic status, gender-identity, or ANYTHING. We’re breaking the taboo on menstruation, because the sooner we aren’t afraid to say the word “period,” the sooner we can get menstrual products into the hands of those that need them.

I tell all new entrepreneurs, “Starting a company is hard. Starting a company that only half the population can truly relate to is even harder. Starting a company surrounding something that no one wants to talk about is f*cking difficult.” But it’s worth it when you have a meaningful drive. For me, success is not a college degree; it is how comfortably you can talk about tampons. Flow forward.