Why I Didn’t Want to Join Techstars (and How I Changed My Mind)

Jan 29, 2018

By Kate Edwards, COO and Co-Founder of Heartbeat

As a co-founder of Heartbeat, I came into the office each day knowing exactly what to do. Or at least, that’s what I thought at the time. We were building the world’s biggest network of brand ambassadors – all millenial women – and I felt sure about what we needed to do in order to scale the company.  

We started Heartbeat with the idea that real women, not bloggers or celebrities, were incredibly powerful. We believed that the type of word-of-mouth marketing normal women engaged in could be game-changing in the marketing world, as long as we were able to scale.

When one of my co-founders suggested we apply to Techstars, I was skeptical. I had completed my MBA at UCLA Anderson a few years earlier, and I didn’t feel like I needed more education. I also had a huge network – if I already knew everyone in LA tech, how would Techstars help? I just wanted to put my head down and build Heartbeat, and I certainly didn’t need an accelerator program that would slow us down with busy work and trust falls.

Even though I was stressed non-stop, I thought our business was in a good place. We had real revenue, dedicated employees, and from the outside, everything seemed like we were headed in the right direction. In my opinion, we were too “far along” to apply to Techstars – our traction was undeniable.

With hesitation, I completed the application for our team. I actually didn’t mind it because I’m one of those people who oddly enjoy filling out forms. Despite my apprehension, we made it to the next round.

That’s when we met Anna and Ethan.

Have you ever had that feeling where you just know you’re in the right place with the right people? I remember feeling that way when I walked on campus when looking at potential colleges when I was 18, and knowing immediately which school felt like home.

Although my brain told me that we didn’t need Techstars, meeting Anna, the LA Managing Director, changed my mind. She and Ethan, the Program Director, were highly intelligent, and asked probing questions right away. Even during our interviews, they were able to tap into the underlying framework of our business, and clearly saw the bigger picture.

From the get-go, they identified issues we didn’t even know we were dealing with. By the time we completed numerous rounds of interviews, intense questioning from mentors, and a lot of team heart-to-hearts, we knew we wanted to be a part of the program. When we got the offer to join the first Techstars LA class, we accepted on the spot.

As it turns out, joining Techstars was transformative in ways I could never have imagined, and the decision to participate was one of the biggest surprises of my life.

During Techstars, we went through rapid growth and massive change. We were headed full speed ahead with our product, but in the wrong direction. The mentors helped us get back on track, and evolve our technology in a much stronger direction.

We hadn’t focused enough on our culture, and certain people had become toxic. We lost a member of our key founding team during the program, an event that might never had transpired had we not had such strong coaching and mentoring throughout the process.

We left with a thriving, exciting company culture and a newfound energy for what we were building. Most importantly, our business has really broken through, and we’ve seen our highest revenue numbers to date. We also raised another $1M a few months after Demo Day.

We also left with new friendships, new mentors, and an incredible network of investors and advisors. It turns out that I didn’t really know everyone in LA. Today, our business is in a phenomenal place.  

Techstars truly surprised me, and it might surprise you, too. And the biggest secret of all? I actually loved the trust falls.