Matthew Jaeh is the Managing Director of the Techstars Alabama Energytech Accelerator. Matt founded ProctorU, an edutech company that enables people to sit for assessments anywhere in the world. After an incredible exit from ProctorU, he felt the need to give back and share the hard entrepreneurial lessons learned from operating for over a decade. Matt believes that helping and enabling the right people to become successful is the key to long term global prosperity.
The first and most important aspect of a startup is the founder and their team. I firmly believe that given the right team, they can accomplish anything. I want founders to show me they are confident, know and understand their strengths and weaknesses, can take feedback, and have the grit to make it to the end.
Second, I want to know that the problem is well-researched/validated and its solution is something that people will pay for. Be ready to articulate and communicate your vision and connection to the problem and solution.
Lastly, I want evidence of traction, trial and error, and execution. Show me that you know how to set an objective or goal and demonstrate how you are measuring your success.
In 2009, I was inspired by Arnold Schwarzenegger's 6 Rules For Success.
Trust yourself. You are the only one who can define success for yourself, not your parents, friends, or anyone else. Believe in yourself and your ability to make your vision a reality.
Break some rules. The game of life is full of rules. Understand the game and know which rules must be followed and which can, or even should be broken.
Don't be afraid to fail. Life is all about taking chances. I've lost count of all the times I've failed at something. The lesson here is that you learn from each failure and make yourself better.
Ignore the naysayers. This is similar to "Trusting yourself", but it deserves a special call-out because there will be a lot of "haters" on your journey. They will say what you want to do can't be done or is "impossible". I personally turn that into motivational fuel that drives me to prove them wrong.
Work like hell. Nothing of value in life is free. Everything that I've achieved required putting in the work.
Give something back. Success is not achievable without support. There are ladder climbers and ladder builders. Be a ladder builder.
Coming from Los Angeles, I was legitimately shocked to find how great Birmingham is. They don't call Birmingham the "Magic City" for nothing. You can feel the energy in the air. The growth in the tech and startup scene over the past decade has been incredible. Including my company, ProctorU, we've had over 5 companies exit north of $500MM, with 2 being over a billion dollars. I believe this is due to the culture, community, infrastructure, and support of partners like Alabama Power. All the founders that have come here are always amazed at how welcoming, supportive and accessible everyone is.
In the short time I've dedicated to helping founders, there have been so many situations where I have felt that I've made a difference. These situations range from something small like a hiring decision to something larger like a series A capital raise. So far, my favorites have been seeing the proud faces of founders after they've raised their first serious rounds of capital. I hope to see those same founders and many future founders as they close their first successful exits!
I could not have asked for a better partner. They dedicated an entire team of people to support Techstars. Alabama Power is more than just a utility company. Their innovation team is a multi-disciplinary group that works side-by-side with founders daily while in the program and even after. The value they provide goes well beyond the possibility of pilots and learning how to work with an enterprise-sized organization. They make invaluable connections and leverage all the resources at their disposal to best position the founders for success.