Running a “city program” accelerator at Techstars LA, we can invest in any vertical – and there are several I’m tracking – but the real draw is always the team. So what makes a “great team”? Below are seven characteristics of teams that I believe contribute to success.
“That’s surprising. Tell me why you think that?”
A learning mindset, or as author Carol Dweck refers to it, a “growth mindset” is probably the single most important quality in an early stage founder. There is a close to zero percent chance that the plan you have today will be the best plan in six months. Therefore, only the people who are willing – eager – to learn and adapt will succeed.
Two CEOs in the Techstars Los Angeles 2017 class had multiple prior successful exits and decades of experience, and still showed up ready to ask questions and listen to feedback, including ideas from others younger and less experienced. That has allowed them access to great thinking from all around them and has strengthened their companies.
A learning mindset across a whole team is even more powerful. When the team is more interested in the best ideas rather than their own ideas, people can safely challenge each other, ask great questions and develop better solutions than they can individually. The value of a learning mindset increases exponentially when applied across a whole team.
“I really screwed up.”
In this context, vulnerability is the willingness to be wrong and the willingness to expose your flaws and fears to your team and to the world. I saw this all over Techstars LA and would hope it was in part because we kicked off the program with a brutally honest talk I gave, called, “the five dumbest things I did as a founder.” There’s a shorter and somewhat sanitized version of this talk available here.
As Brene Brown describes in her excellent TED Talk on vulnerability, there’s great strength to be found here. And founders need the strength that comes from that vulnerability.
“Our first product flopped, so we talked to all our users to find out why and went back to square one.”
The ability to press forward in the face of unexpected obstacles is essential for the marathon of building a company. The innovative researcher Angela Duckworth termed this quality “grit” and founders must have this. Your co-founder will quit. Your MVP will fall flat. You will come close to running out of money, possibly many times. And you will need to go on and to innovate around the impossible obstacle. Again and again.
Grit sometimes looks annoyingly persistent. It looks aggressive. Sometimes it looks myopic and foolish. When it works, in hindsight it just looks like patience.
“Everyone around us thinks we are crazy to still be doing this, but we can’t stop thinking about it.”
My mother was a literary agent and she used to advise people only to write professionally if they felt actually compelled to write – like there was no other choice. I feel the same way about founding teams. Is this team as a whole obsessed with the problem they are solving and the product they are building? Are they waking up in the middle of the night thinking about it? A shared obsession towards a purpose is the glue that binds together a group of different people and turns them into a team. And it’s what keeps them going when things become challenging.
“If we aren’t getting along and don’t feel like the rest of the team has our back, nothing else works.”
Respect for the people above all else is paramount. Nothing else is more important than the relationships between the team members. Last summer I watched a pair of co-founders diligently work through their personal relationship and invest a lot of time in listening to each other and talking about feelings. They negotiated their spheres of influence and worked through how to separate the personal relationship from the professional. Every minute they spent on this painstaking work, there were “more urgent” tasks calling them. This team came out of that process stronger and better able to address the big market opportunity in front of them. They were willing to “waste time” on things that didn’t feel urgent, for the long term health of their team.
Great teams know that the team has to come first, before the work, before even the customers. They respect the importance of the team and the value of each person.
We laughed a lot at Techstars LA in 2017. We put on dumb costumes, we sang in public, and we made fun of ourselves. Many different people brought the funny and helped us laugh even when we were exhausted. Humor, I think, breeds compassion and empathy and takes us out of our self-involvement. Look for that person who is going to bring the levity to your team. On my team, it’s Ethan Austin. Thanks, Ethan!
“I see that my communication style isn’t working for you. Can you tell me more about that?”
Empathy is grounded in seeing and feeling things from the point of view of the other. “Become the other person and go from there,” the saying goes. I like to think about empathy as perspective, rather than feeling, although feelings are involved. It’s about working to turn the lens around so you see things differently, as someone else does.
Empathy allows us to learn from each other’s perspective and inspire one another to be better. When we are driven by empathy, our interactions become transformative, rather than transactional. The great thing about empathy is that it tends to spread and yes, you can get better at it. Empathy can be worked like a muscle. One simple exercise is active listening, but there are many others.
As we kick off the application period for Techstars LA 2018, the first hurdle is the what and the where: we’re looking for transformative ideas addressing large markets, built by teams with hard skills. But it’s the who and the why that really matter; teams with these seven qualities are where we’d like to invest.
Applications for Techstars LA are now open! If you are working on an exciting idea with a team that has these qualities, we’d love to hear from you!
Last week marked the end of the first Techstars LA program, which wrapped up with Demo Day at the El Rey Theatre in mid-Wilshire. The first class of Techstars LA was built on a #LongLA thesis, with 9 of the 10 companies headquartered in the area. We also looked for founders with a combination of courage and coachability, addressing large markets with a big vision.
Last week the teams presented to a capacity crowd of investors in invite-only morning sessions and to a mix of investors and community members at the Demo Day event at the El Rey. I’m thrilled to present the ten companies from Techstars LA 2017.
Please get in touch if you’d like to connect with any of the companies or feel free to reach out directly.
Avisare is a marketplace simplifying the multi-trillion dollar B2B contracting industry through process improvement and automated regulation compliance. Our mission is to foster an inclusive ecosystem to level the playing field for all small businesses to compete for contacts.
Hollywood is ignoring badass millennial women. Blue Fever is a video discovery service where young women watch movies and series made and curated by people just like them. Blue Fever talks to young women like a best friend and reaches them where they already are: messenger.
DirecTech Labs uses AI to power its “behavior engine” for the $183B direct selling industry. Our system is currently helping customers ($500M and $1B companies) engage and retain direct sellers around the world as we work to turn this unsung industry into an even more powerful complement to e-commerce and retail.
Heartbeat is a marketing automation platform backed by 125,000+ female consumer brand ambassadors. We have created a turn-key affordable solution for small & medium sized businesses that allow them to engage consumers to create user-generated content on their personal social channels at scale that accomplishes key marketing objectives.
LIV is powering spectator experiences for VR that allow the audience to better relate with the action. Our proprietary technology puts real people inside digital worlds and broadcasts that experience to the world.
Maslo builds digital companions to enhance your wellbeing. By building technology to function as we do – with an understanding of emotions, social skills, and psychology – we can all become better people, together with technology.
PlayFull has a mobile game and CRM that helps the largest restaurant brands in the world engage customers and increase sales. Partners include Subway, Chick-fil-A, Denny’s, Coffee Bean and more.
Slingshot is building the next generation of signal processing AI. Slingshot customers worldwide make high-value decisions utilizing insights based on earth observation data, the world’s largest untapped data source. This allows customers to reduce cost, improve competitiveness, and operate more efficiently – leading to better business results.
Solutions Vending International (SVI) is an automated retailing technology company that makes vending machines intelligent through consumers data and analytics. We help retail brands, vending machine manufacturers, and operators learn more about their customers by offering them customers to create accounts and engage with their machines like never before.
For more information click here.
Founder & CEO: Dawn Dickson
Stackin’ is a millennial finance company that helps over 3 million monthly users improve their financial fitness through digital video programming and intuitive tools.
We are excited to announce the ten companies that will be joining the Techstars Los Angeles Accelerator for the 2017 program, which kicks off today and concludes with Demo Day on October 10.
We had a simple thesis for Techstars LA this year: going long on LA and southern California. Our hunt for great companies was focused on the rapidly expanding local startup ecosystem. Outreach activities took our team from Pasadena to El Segundo, from Santa Barbara to San Diego and everywhere in between.
One-third of the eventual applicants were based in SoCal. Throughout the selection process, we have been impressed with both the breadth and depth of talent in the LA area. Of the companies we ultimately selected, nine are local to southern California.
Our class also reflects the diversity of Los Angeles. Half of the class includes a female co-founder, including three female CEOs, as well as diversity across a number of other dimensions. These teams are building great companies in e-commerce, media, retail, enterprise data, aerospace, AI, marketing and esports.
Techstars is the Worldwide Network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. It’s worldwide, but also local, and we called on our local network for great referrals. We would like to thank LA investors Taylor Adams, Jesse Draper, Arlan Hamilton, Mark Mullen and Robyn Ward for referring companies that will be joining Techstars. Many others supported our search and we are very grateful; we can’t be successful without your support.
Techstars LA joins two other programs here in Los Angeles: the Techstars Music Accelerator and the Cedars-Sinai Accelerator, Powered by Techstars. We are excited about Los Angeles’ vibrant tech scene and, most of all, thrilled to announce the ten companies joining Techstars LA:
Estoy emocionada de haberme unido a Techstars en un trabajo de ensueño, como Directora De Programa del nuevo programa de aceleración en Los Ángeles. Como recordatorio, hicimos la introducción del nuevo programa en Octubre. Techstars LA llevará un enfoque horizontal y aceptará startup tecnológicas de todos los lugares del mundo que estén innovando en un variado rango de industrias, buscando construir una red más profunda a través del ecosistema tecnológico de Los Ángeles.
Aquí hay tres razones por las que estoy tan emocionada de tener esta oportunidad:
- Los Ángeles es una gran ciudad para fundadores.
- El área de LA tiene el tercer ecosistema más amplio, después de San Francisco y Nueva York, en Estados Unidos, con la tasa de crecimiento más grande en comparación de cualquier otra región metropoli.
- Esta región, también gradua más estudiantes de ingeniería que cualquier otra región metropoli.
- El capital que están recibiendo startups en Los Ángeles creció un 200% de 2012 a 215, alcanzando más de $3 Billones de dólares en inversión de capital que se dieron a 202 compañías.
- Hay muchos retos interesantes en los que el área de Los Ángeles tiene historias enriquecidas, una selección fuerte de talento y negocios de industrias principales existentes.
- Compañías de transporte y aeroespaciales de próxima generación. En el patio trasero de SpaceX y Hyperloop, hay un número de startups naciendo. Por necesidad, la región de Los Ángeles necesitará adoptar tempranamente nuevas maneras de moverse. Siendo la primera mayor ciudad en sincronizar todos sus semáforos, Los Ángeles ya está en el otro lado de la curva.
- Energía limpia. En contra del clima político actual, estamos buscando compañías que se enfoquen a transformar cómo creamos, distribuímos y usamos energía.
- Biotecnología. Como líder en tanto innovación agricultural como protección ambiental, California es la casa natural para soluciones creativas, seguridad alimentaria y protección ambiental.
- E-commerce y cadenas de suministro. Establecidas por compañías como el Dollar Shave Club o Honest Company, el área de LA es pionera y tiene hambre de más innovación, apoyada por una población local de líderes en tendencias.
- Realidad aumentada y realidad virtual. Como la casa de la industria del entretenimiento, Los Ángeles se ha convertido en el centro de la próxima ola de experiencias de contenido. Estamos interesados en el rol de la realidad aumentada y la realidad virtual para crear valor en la educación y otras industrias.
- Medios. Finalmente, esto es Los Ángeles. La ciudad que dio vida a Hulu, Maker Studios y Snapchat es un ambiente rico para contenido nuevo y conexiones de negocios.
- Equipos diversos: Los fundadores de compañías seleccionadas para Techstars LA reflejarán la diversidad de Los Ángeles. No es solamente algo bonito que tener, nosotros creemos que es buen negocio.
Esto puede parecer una franja ancha a través del paisaje de tecnología y está diseñado para ser así. El Programa de Techstars Los Ángeles está interesado en compañías que resuelven problemas difíciles con soluciones tecnológicas profundas. Y un poco de magia en el proceso.
- Techstars se está triplicando en Los Ángeles.
- Hemos seleccionado un gran equipo para Techstars LA. Uniéndose a mi como Director del programa de aceleración de Techstars LA, tenemos a un alumni, Ethan Austin, co-fundador de GiveForward. Ethan es un escritor fantástico, amante de los burritos, y profesado adicto a las startups, quien se acaba de mudar desde Chicago. Y Lara Jeremko se unirá a nuestro programa del 2017 como emprendedora-en-residencia. Lara is inversionista, co-fundadora de una startups y consejera que viene de Austin, Texas. Previamente, Lara manejaba un fondo de inversión de capital de $1.5 billones de dólares en la Universidad de Texas y también es co-fundadora de re:3D, una compañía de impresión 3D. Lara está emocionada de sumergirse en la comunidad tecnológica de LA y mejorar la escena de comedia.
- Techstars LA está uniendo dos programas verticales – Techstars Music y el programa de Cedars-Sinai Accelerator Powered by Techstars. LA también tiene una comunidad de casi 100 alumni, y una comunidad externa fuerte que se alimenta de este grupo, así como otros programas existentes de Los Ángeles.
- Y, Techstars entrega resultados, Desde el primer día de la clase de startups en Boulder en el año 2007, Techstars ha graduado más de 1000 compañías. Estas compañías han conseguido más de $3 Billones de dólares y tienen una valuación colectiva de $6.7 Billones. De acuerdo a Mattermark, Techstars es líder en la producción de compañías que cierran inversión de Serie A.
- Techstars LA se basará en esa experience para construir una clase de nivel global y un portafolio igual de importante.
El lanzamiento de Techstars LA es una gran oportunidad para construir una red de conexiones a través de los diferentes escenarios de innovación que están sucediendo en Los Ángeles. Techstars y su filosofía de Dar Primero (#GiveFirst) apoya la meta de construcción de comunidad. Este programa se trata de encontrar y agregar valor a grandes compañías, pero también de ayudar a que el ecosistema de emprendimiento local crezca. Estoy muy emocionada de ser parte de #LongLA con Techstars.
Las aplicaciones para el programa de Techstars Los Angeles están abiertas. ¡Esperamos hablar contigo pronto!
I am thrilled to have just joined Techstars in my dream gig, as Managing Director of the new Techstars LA program. As a refresher, we introduced this new program last October. Techstars LA will take a horizontal focus and will accept tech startups from around the world that are innovating across a wide range of industries and challenges and seeking to build a deep network across the Los Angeles tech ecosystem.
Here are three reasons I’m so excited about this opportunity:
1. Los Angeles is a great city for founders.
- The LA area has the third largest startup ecosystem, behind San Francisco and New York, with the highest growth rate of any metro region.
- The LA region also graduates more engineering students than any other major metro.
- Capital flowing into LA startups grew 200% from 2012 to 2015, reaching over $3B in invested capital going to 202 companies.
2. There are a wealth of interesting challenges where the LA area has a rich history, strong talent pool and existing anchor businesses.
- Next-gen transportation and aerospace. In the backyard of SpaceX and Hyperloop, there are a number of new startups emerging. Out of necessity, the LA region will need to be an early adopter of new ways to move around. As the first major city to sync all its traffic lights, LA is already ahead of the curve.
- Clean energy. Against the backdrop of the current uncertain political climate (pun intended) we’re looking for companies aiming to transform how we create, distribute and use energy.
- Biotech. As a leader in both agricultural innovation and environmental protection, California is a natural home for creative solutions to food security and environmental protection.
- E-commerce and supply chain. Anchored by companies like Dollar Shave Club and Honest Company, the LA area is primed for more innovation in e-commerce, supported by a local population of trendsetters.
- AR/VR. As the home of the entertainment industry, Los Angeles has become the center for the next wave of content experiences. We’re interested in the role of AR/VR to create value in education and industry.
- Media. This is Los Angeles, after all. The metro that birthed Hulu, Maker Studios and Snapchat is a rich environment for new content and connection businesses.
- Diverse founder teams. The founders of companies selected for Techstars LA will reflect the diversity of Los Angeles. This is not just a nice-to-have, we believe it’s good business.
This may seem like a wide swath across the tech landscape and it’s meant to be. The Techstars LA program is interested in companies solving tough problems with deeply technological solutions. And a little sizzle in the mix.
3. Techstars is tripling down in LA.
- We have put together a great team for Techstars LA. Joining me as Director of the LA program is Techstars alum Ethan Austin, co-founder of GiveForward. Ethan is a terrific writer, burrito lover, self-professed startup junkie and recently relocated from Chicago. And Lara Jeremko will be joining our 2017 program as Entrepreneur-in-Residence. Lara is an investor, startup co-founder and advisor relocating from Austin, Texas. Previously Lara managed a $1.5 billion portfolio of venture capital investments at the University of Texas endowments and also co-founded re:3D, an industrial 3D printing company. Lara is eager to immerse herself in the LA tech community and improv comedy scene.
- Techstars LA is joining two vertical programs – Techstars Music and the Cedars-Sinai Accelerator Powered by Techstars. LA also has a large community of nearly 100 Techstars alums, and a strong mentor community that draws from this pool of alumni as well as the existing LA programs.
- And, Techstars gets results. Since its first class of startups in Boulder in 2007, Techstars has graduated 914 companies. These companies have raised over $2.8b and have a collective valuation of $6.7b. According to Mattermark, Techstars is a leader in producing companies that close Series A deals.
- Techstars LA will draw on all of that experience to build a world class program and portfolio.
The launch of Techstars LA is a great opportunity to build a web of connection across the many disparate pockets of innovation already happening in Los Angeles. Techstars and its #givefirst philosophy support that larger goal of community building. This program is about finding and adding value to great companies, but also about helping to build the local startup ecosystem. I’m thrilled to be going #LongLA with Techstars.
Applications for Techstars Los Angeles are now open. We look forward to talking with you!