Today’s Founder Friday post comes from Deepak Sekar, Founder and CEO of Casabots (Austin ’16).
Casabots is spending three months at the Techstars Accelerator in Austin. People often talk about how the Techstars network has benefited their fundraising and business development. In this post, I’ll cover a facet of Techstars I find quite interesting: Culture and Processes. Startups coming into the accelerator often have small teams with little established culture and processes. The processes and culture at the accelerator can profoundly influence a company (both during the program and after). Since these are some of the key determinants of employee happiness and productivity, I’m trying to observe and learn.
Let me share some of my learnings with you in this post.
The Ego Basket
Let me start with my favorite part of Techstars Austin culture. You’ll notice in the picture below – there’s a little basket at the bottom right of the entrance. It says “Ego Basket.” Every day, as someone enters the building, they are reminded to leave their ego at the door and not carry it into the workplace. I’ve worked in companies where one person with a big ego compromised the entire team’s progress and happiness. Too bad I didn’t know about this ego basket idea back then! I would have put an ego basket at the door.
“Happies and Crappies”
Every Wednesday, all ten startups that are in Techstars Austin have dinner together and a session of “happies and crappies.” Everyone talks about their happiest moment of the week and also the crappiest moment. It’s amazing how this practice builds close relationships between various people in the room.
Techstars encourages mentors and team members to help each other without any expectation of return – with its “give first” tagline. If you hear this phrase twice a day, it becomes ingrained into your psyche and you follow it. It’s quite satisfying to help others and you know they are trying their very best to help you too. It creates a great culture.
No cubicle walls
Most people at Casabots came from a cubicle culture. At Techstars, we sit on tables with no walls between team members. This is what many startups do nowadays – it makes the company feel less like an old fashioned 80s style company and encourages more collaboration. I was worried about my productivity going down due to lack of cubicle walls initially… but that hasn’t happened.
All companies go through a process of determining Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and measuring themselves every week on it. The KPI is typically a single metric that drives your business and revenue. For example, Facebook found out many years back that once someone added 7 friends, they were spending a lot of time on the platform. They optimized their marketing, development and sales efforts to encourage people to get 7 friends within 10 days of signing up (this was their KPI metric). And they grew their business significantly as a result of that. I’m willing to bet most Techstars companies retain the KPI process after they leave the program – it allows you to focus on important things.
Leveraging software tools for various processes
Once you reach Techstars, you notice processes of companies around you and discuss what processes work best. Casabots has been exposed to new tools for CRM (customer relationship management), web signing of documents, telecons, email marketing and a whole lot more. Techstars companies get deals on many of these software tools too, which is cool.
These are just a small subset of the things I’ve observed. Every week, I write up a summary of my learning for some of our team members who are still in California. We’ve spent just a few weeks at Techstars so far – its amazing how much we’ve learned and grown and how many smart and uber-connected people we’ve met.
Thanks to Amos Schwartzfarb, Jason Seats, Sarah Spear, Andrea Aguiluz and other Techstars people for introducing us to all these ideas.