I’m nervous. Public speaking is listed as a top fear among the vast majority of the world, right next to spiders and heights. Good thing there are no spiders around, right?
Standing on stage at the El Rey theater I look out across the venue to see Anna Barber, Managing Director for the Techstars LA program, along with the rest of the founders eagerly awaiting a turn to pitch their startup. We’re at dress rehearsal working out the final kinks before demo day, an event where top venture capitalists will come to see what the inaugural LA class has to offer. In typical Ross fashion, I keep my nerves at bay by being silly.
Hi, I’m Matt Damon… and I’m here to talk about cats.
People laugh, though I get an unamused stare back from Anna indicating that I should stay focused and get through my pitch. I start again, this time for real.
Our industry builds technology for humans, but maybe we forget what that means sometimes.
I forget my next line…
I’ve had my fare share of ups and downs since leaving Google. But Techstars is the best decision we made to give Maslo a proper start. The model for the accelerator is simple: in exchange for six percent of your company, they give you the best resources in the world to help your business start and succeed. Over the entrance, a big neon sign shines “Give First” — and we’d soon come to understand just how much Techstars lives by this principal.
Give First is the belief that guides the Techstars community in an effort to give startups hands on mentorship from founders, partners, investors, and business leaders, with no specific expectations in return. And their numbers are compelling. In the 10 years Techstars has been around they’ve guided founders to raise more than four-billion-dollars in venture capital, helping entrepreneurs solve important problems.
I’m no stranger to Techstars. As a lead at Sphero, I had the opportunity to learn alongside cofounders Adam and Ian as they went through the Disney Accelerator. The partnership was a success. The Disney connection allowed Sphero to launch more than eight Disney robots, most notably the quirky BB-8 Droid from Star Wars. That opportunity let me see first hand how powerful the experience could be, so I was eager to repeat again, albeit in a much more central fashion as the cofounder of Maslo.
Now, in the LA program, we have an endless amount of work to do and things to learn. Weekends are seen as optional work days where Cristina Poindexter and I dedicate most of our time building a business. We work late into the night as regulars of the ‘late night crew’ — a group of the founders whose interests in their companies cross that line between work and life.
It was in these hours when Cristina discovered my various voice accents, which were often fueled by the 5 hour energy drinks I’d consume. For the record, she charted 7 distinct voices. And I learned that Cristina needed to be outside in nature on a daily basis, even if it was short walks around the Techstars office where she’d return with flowers and leaves I’d never noticed before in Los Angeles.
Starting a business is tough. You become painfully aware of everything you’re bad at. Which is why a cofounder is a must. We keep each other accountable and have a lot of fun in the process — growing and learning. Some of the most valuable lessons were the ones that come from time spent with patient mentors. Mentor feedback is always paradoxical, but memorable, like when Nicole Glaros said to get curious the first week of the program.
As the youngest company in the program, we had a lot of catching up to do. We came with a basic prototype and a big idea. Everything else was built from scratch. In the span of three months, the vision grew and so did our team. The team came from amazing professional backgrounds like Disney, Google, Apple, Sphero, and Vimeo, but more than the logos on our resume was the collective curiosity and love for the creative process. Great ideas are nothing unless you can bring a team together.
Even then, dreams don’t work unless you do.
I’m on stage searching for my next line and glance over to Cristina who looks at me with a hint of encouragement. I shift my gaze back to the room full of founders and notice them looking on with reassurance. I remember my line.
What if technology could function as we do — with an understanding of emotions, social skills, and psychology?
As I finish the pitch and walk off stage, I feel an intense gratitude come over me. Tomorrow we’ll face an endless amount of struggles that will test us in ways we can never imagine. However, it’s important that we keep pushing. It’s been difficult, but being surrounded by amazing people — mentors, founders, and staff — made the long days feel short and turned three months into an experience I’ll never forget.
Growth comes to those who are willing to put in the time and effort.
So get curious.
This was originally published on Medium.