We’re excited to announce that DigitalOcean is expanding its support and boosting their perk to $250,000 in hosting credits for founders that go through a Techstars accelerator program.
DigitalOcean, a Techstars Boulder 2012 company, is a cloud infrastructure provider focused on simplifying innovation for software developers. Learn more and watch DigitalOcean Startup Stories on “A Saturated Market“, “Massive Growth“, and “Tipping Point.”
“Techstars was a transformative experience for DigitalOcean. They provided us with life-long mentors and industry connections that continue to help us today. We understand first hand the challenges of bootstrapping your business from the ground up. Infrastructure is typically a large expense for businesses that begin to scale rapidly. We want to give back to the startup ecosystem and provide support by offering a $250,000 credit on DigitalOcean to enable the next generation of startups to succeed. We are truly excited to see what each new class of Techstars can build,” said Ben Uretsky, CEO of DigitalOcean.
Not only is DigitalOcean an alum—they are also a global sponsor of Techstars, supporting founders in all of our programs. Want to learn more about how DigitalOcean has grown? They’ve shared how to growth hack to 1,000 users and beyond, and how to build and scale a customer success team from scratch. We’re pleased to be working closely with DigitalOcean to help entrepreneurs build great businesses.
Cofounders Felipe Aramburu and Rodrigo Aramburu are building a real time data science platform. Blazing, a Techstars alumni (Boulder ’15), handles the configuring, tuning, and optimizing of servers so that data scientists can do what they do best: design experiments and analyze data. We chatted with the Blazing team to learn how they’ve worked in partnership with SoftLayer, a global sponsor of Techstars accelerator programs. SoftLayer’s Catalyst Startup Program provides entrepreneurs with infrastructure and support to scale their companies.
Q: Why did you start Blazing?
We were doing data science consulting, and on one project with the Peruvian government we received a massive data set. Each query would take hours, so we built V0 of Blazing, and brought that down to seconds. That’s when we knew we had something different—all from using the video graphics card (GPU).
Q: What has Blazing been up to since going through the Techstars Boulder 2015 program?
A lot. We’ve launched a fully redesigned web application, added over a dozen users representing 6 large enterprise organizations, expanded the functionality of our platform to support deep learning, and much more.
Q: How did Blazing discover—and choose to develop a partnership with—SoftLayer?
We were aware of SoftLayer’s offerings before Techstars, but with the Catalyst program we were able to truly test and iterate over their servers to find what worked best for us.
Q: What do you think sets SoftLayer apart?
Great customer support and the bare metal nature of SoftLayer’s servers means we can get any configuration we need very quickly. Not only that, but they have allowed us to use cutting edge hardware that we really had trouble finding on other cloud providers. Who else can give you 12 raided SSDs, two tesla K80’s, and 48 cores on one rig with an uptime of a few hours?
The SoftLayer team was also willing to spend time with us to both understand our architecture and explain the SoftLayer architecture so that we made sure we got the best tools possible. It feels more like a concierge service than other cloud providers. When you are making a simple web application this level of service isn’t as important, but if you are trying to squeeze every drop of performance, like we are, this help is tremendous.
Q: Do you have any advice for other founders who want to build good relationships with their platform/hosting providers?
Understand each other’s value proposition and goals. We found ourselves with this huge need for very specific servers (with GPUs), and SoftLayer was able to effectively support us from day one.
The next most important piece of advice is to give back. I’m a huge proponent of SoftLayer to my fellow entrepreneurs, advisors, and investors. SoftLayer knows this as we support each other.
Q: What is the latest at Blazing?
Come January 2016 we’ll be launching a new version of our application. More details to come, but we have upgraded the code editor, included tutorials of running massive data analyses on our open data sets (SEC and World Bank data), all running on our massive GPUs rigs with SoftLayer!
We recently chatted with Mike Stone, cofounder of MakersKit, a Techstars alumni (NYC ‘14). MakersKit was founded to inspire creativity. The company shares its favorite ideas and offers the best tools and supplies to make DIY a blast. While MakersKit was in the Techstars program in New York City, they met and partnered with American Airlines, a global sponsor of Techstars. Under their Innovators Initiative, American Airlines has been supporting Techstars companies within all of our US-based programs with marketing opportunities, connections, travel grants since 2013.
Want to learn more about how startups can build marketing partnerships with corporations? Continue reading…
What has MakersKit been up to since going through the Techstars NYC 2014 program?
It has been a crazy year, in the very best way possible.
Before Techstars, it was just the two of us working out of my apartment. And now, a year later, we’ve created nearly fifty new jobs and our products are available in over 5,000 stores with retail partners including Urban Outfitters, Macy’s, West Elm and Williams-Sonoma. We’ve partnered with major brands like National Geographic, Macy’s and TOMS helping them use digital media to connect with millennials. The Techstars program helped us figure out our secret sauce, and now we’re helping brands create an experience by doing what we do best.
What is our secret sauce? We use digital media to teach new skills in an entertaining way, it’s all about the experience. We’re good at it because we’re authentic, our team is made up of makers and doers. Are we the best at what we do? I think we are, as do the brands that are working with us. Awesome brands like MakerBot, LittleBits, Raspberry Pi, and Bare Conductive are made more mainstream and accessible by partnering with us.
How did MakersKit discover—and choose to develop a partnership with—American Airlines?
American Airlines was one of the many sponsors of our Techstars program in NYC, but to us they stood out by being the most helpful. Through their Business Extra program, we received travel grants and benefits because of their partnership with Techstars. We travel, a lot. The three month program was right in the middle of our national book tour in partnership with Macy’s, and every flight we took was with American. The Business Extra program has great perks and the Admirals Club lounges don’t hurt either. Complimentary cocktails? Yes, please
MakersKit was featured in American Airlines’ American Way in-flight magazine. How did that happen? And what were the results of that feature?
Any press is good press, but being featured in American Way is great press. They feature one up and coming startup every month in their “Innovators” article. We honestly didn’t know what to expect to come out of the article at first, but then the calls started to come in, “I read about you while on a flight to…” which would lead to “how many containers can you ship”… not digital containers, but freight containers you can fit a couple houses into.
Oh, and it also caught the attention of Home Depot, who happens to have over 2,000 stores.
What is the latest at MakersKit?
We’re publishing our second book, opening up pop-up stores in LA, Austin, NYC, Chicago and Seattle, launching NatGeo by MakersKit, and partnered up with TOMS #TOMSxMakersKit. We also won first place Content Technology Company at Las Vegas at SXSW V2V.
Do you have any advice for other founders who want to leverage corporations for marketing and business development opportunities?
Do it. Seriously.
Partnerships and deals with major companies give us a step up over our competitors. Find out what you do better than anyone else, and leverage that to get you things that even money can’t buy. Find brands that align with your mission or customer base, it basically has to make sense for both of you. NatGeo is ranked #1 among social publishers so why would they ever partner with a startup like us? Long story short, there’s something we do better than any other company, too. MakersKit has the largest US and Canadian retail distribution in our industry, something every brand would love to leverage by partnering with us.
We recently spoke with Morgan Linton, cofounder of Fashion Metric, a Techstars in Austin company. Fashion Metric takes the guesswork out of sizing. The company provides a big data SaaS solution for apparel retailers and brands to gather intelligence about their customers and personalize the online apparel shopping experience, helping customers get measured for custom clothing or select the best ready-to-wear size.
Morgan shares about the “Fanatical Support®” that Rackspace, a sponsor of Techstars, provided to Fashion Metric at a crucial moment. Rackspace recently interviewed Morgan (see more here), and you can watch the video below:
How did Fashion Metric discover – and choose to work with – Rackspace?
We have known about Rackspace for quite some time and decided to work with them when we first started our company back in 2012. It was the concept of “Fanatical Support®” that initially inspired us to give Rackspace a shot.
In your opinion, what makes Rackspace unique?
Without a doubt what makes Rackspace unique is their support. We initially thought that Fanatical Support® sounded great, but was probably just a marketing ploy. After our first month with Rackspace, we realized that the support is like no other. It really is fanatical.
What impressed me the most was when I called Rackspace with a question about a Git issue we were having. I had just made a fatal coding error and was unable to rollback my changes. Even though I knew this wasn’t something Rackspace support was expected to cover, I thought I’d ask them about it.
Before I knew it I was on the phone with a Git pro who told me while that while they officially didn’t provide this kind of support, they still wanted to help. In the end he helped me solve the problem quickly. He literally saved the day. After that I was convinced that Fanatical Support® is a real thing.
Do you have any advice for other founders who want to build good relationships with their platform/hosting providers?
Techstars does a great job of connecting founders with people other companies who are there to help founders, including Techstars’ sponsors. These companies will go above and beyond to make sure founders have a truly exceptional experience.
I consider Adam Hansen from Rackspace to be a friend. Along with helping me get everything right at Rackspace, he has also sent new clients our way. I’d encourage other founders not to think of the sponsors as service providers, but rather to think of them as people. That changes everything.
Fashion Metric sits squarely in the eCommerce world. What’s most frustrating about eCommerce right now? Most exciting?
The most frustrating thing for apparel eCommerce retailers is low conversion rates and high return rates. We built Fashion Metric to make a major impact in both of these areas. We know that people want to buy clothes online, but at the same time they want to try them on first to make sure they fit. We empower them to do that without going into a physical store.
The most exciting thing about the eCommerce world is the shift to mobile. More people are shopping from mobile phones and tablets. While this creates more challenges for apparel retailers, it also creates new opportunities to engage customers online like never before.
What’s the latest at Fashion Metric?
At Fashion Metric it’s about more than building a great product—it’s about working with incredibly passionate people who want to change the world. While it might sound cliche, that’s our goal: we want to fundamentally change the way people buy clothes both online and in-store.
We’re also attracting clients who want to engage their customers in an entirely new way. In 2015 we’ll be working with some of the most forward-thinking and innovative apparel retailers in the world. For us, the combination of the best retailers and the best team is nothing short of pure magic.
We recently moved the company from Los Angeles to Austin, and we’ve hired some amazing new team members in the last two months. It’s an incredibly exciting time for us and we couldn’t be more excited for the journey ahead! Visit fashionmetric.com to request a demo—we’ll show you FashionMetric in action.
You can read other stories in our Sponsorship in Action series here.
Huy Le, Operations Director of DataRobot, talked to us about how the company has worked with Amazon Web Services. He also offers great advice for startups that are faced with choosing a hosting platform. DataRobot, a Techstars Cloud company, helps data scientists of all experience levels build and deploy better predictive models. AWS Startups is a sponsor of Techstars and helps startups scale quickly, go to market faster, control costs, and stay lean.
How did DataRobot discover and then choose to work with AWS?
We connected with AWS at Techstars Cloud Class of 2013 in San Antonio. We received hosting credits through the AWS Activate program, a free program with resources for startups to get the most out of AWS.
AWS was a natural choice for us. One of the products AWS offers caught our interest: their Spot Instance offering. Using Spot Instances is like bidding for a product on eBay. You choose the server type you want to use and set the highest price you’re willing to pay. If there are servers with prices at or below your set price, you use the server and pay the current market price. Most of the time, the market price is just a fraction of the regular on-demand price.
Our application does a lot of number crunching. With Spot Instances our application can do massive number crunching at a fraction of the usual cost.
AWS’s wide range of server types and sizes was attractive, too. We use servers as small as t1.micro, which cost about $15 per month to run; and servers as large as r3.8x, which cost over $2,000 per month to run. AWS has a server size for every kind of need.
How have DataRobot and AWS worked together?
AWS’ SPOT team and our account manager have been instrumental in us making the best use of AWS Spot Instances. The SPOT team visited our office to learn about our application and advised us how to get the most out of Spot Instances and keep costs low. Our account manager also analyzed our overall usage and suggested cost-saving strategies. Overall, we have really benefited from the advice and support AWS has provided.
What do you think sets AWS apart?
A customer-centric philosophy sets AWS apart. When the customers speak, they listen—and they act on customer feedback. They are about helping customers succeed.
For example, I once experienced database performance issues. I called my contact at AWS and asked if there were other options to get faster storage systems. He told me that he had many other customers requesting better storage systems too, and AWS was working to fulfill those customer demands. About six months later, my contact reached out with news that AWS had just announced a better storage system. I was thrilled.
Another thing that sets AWS apart is its ability to provide additional capacity as soon as it’s requested. At times, we’ve needed our capacity limit increased by thousands of servers. AWS has been able to do that on the same or next business day each time. I’ve made similar requests with other service providers. It would take those providers more than a week to fulfill the request, and then the request would be only partially fulfilled.
Do you have any advice for other founders who want to build good relationships with their platform/hosting providers?
In short, you want a service platform that is scalable and secure, and you want to have a provider who is ready to assist you whenever you need help. Here’s my advice:
Select the right service provider from the beginning. Don’t put this off until you’re ready for customers. Every service platform is different. You’ll want to work with the same platform from the beginning so you don’t waste your time learning new platforms as your needs change.
Security needs to be the top criterion. Choose a service provider that has granular access control to your cloud account, so that you can grant different levels of access to employees on an as-needed basis.
Choose a provider that offers three key features:
- A wide range of server selections. Start with a small server and scale up as needed. Test your product on different, larger servers as you gain more users and prepare for product launch.
- Autoscale support. Ideally, you want your platform to automatically scale as load demand fluctuates. For consumer or social applications, expect to have bursts of traffic.
- PCI compliance and hardware encryption support if your product will be handling payments. And make sure you meet the additional compliance requirements for your specific product. If you’ll be using health care data, for example, you want a server provider that is HIPAA compliant.
What’s currently going on in DataRobot’s world?
We have great success with our private beta customers. We’re working relentlessly to polish the product and are excited to release it at the beginning of 2015. Anyone working on predictive analytics who wants to build better models faster is invited to sign up for beta access at datarobot.com. (We’ll provide VIP access to early sign ups.)
You can read other stories in our Sponsorship in Action series here.
We recently spoke with David Mandell, cofounder and CEO of PivotDesk, a Techstars in Boulder 2012 company. PivotDesk helps startups that need space find host companies that have space.
David talks about the company’s relationship with Silicon Valley Bank. SVB is banking the world’s most innovative companies, and has been a sponsor partner of Techstars for nearly four years.
How did PivotDesk meet SVB?
I’ve been working with Silicon Valley Bank for more than ten years. First with other startups, and now with PivotDesk.
How have PivotDesk and SVB worked together?
They’ve been a great networking and business development partner. There are really three key ways that SVB has helped PivotDesk:
First, they understand the needs and dynamics of a startup. There are no weird reactions to what we’ve got going on at the company because they understand startups from a market perspective and a growth perspective.
The second way they’ve been helpful to us is through access to their network. SVB’s clients are potential clients for us as well. So our partners at SVB have done their best to cross geographies to introduce us to others where it makes sense. The are a great business development partner to us.
Third, they put a spotlight on us. They invite us to contribute to conversations that are a huge benefit to a company at our stage. As an example, SVB kindly hosted our team for SXSW – saving us on expensive hotel rooms and connecting us with contacts who could really help us move the needle forward. One of the best parts? SVB’s CEO joined us for dinner and gave us time to pick his brain. It’s not too often that a company like SVB gives you such direct access to their resources and we’re thankful for it.
What do you think sets Silicon Valley Bank apart?
I’m not pushing a huge rock up a steep hill every time I talk with my banker. SVB understands startups. There are no weird reactions when I tell them what’s going on in my company: from cash flow, to banking account structure, to the speed of change in a startup—they get it.
They also have relationships across the VC community and understand how venture capitalists operate, which makes our banking easier. I don’t have to explain the process to them.
Do you have any advice for other founders who want to build good relationships with their banking partners?
Look at your banker as a partner. The more your banker understands you, your business, and how your business functions, the better they can serve you. If you—whether you’re the CEO or CFO—don’t make the effort to help that relationship, a productive relationship is not going to happen.
What’s the latest and greatest in the PivotDesk world?
This summer, we released a product called Cultivate that leverages the PivotDesk marketplace to enable commercial real estate brokers to help growing businesses avoid the static nature of traditional office space and find solutions that make sense for their needs today.
Cultivate means brokers no longer have to say no to servicing smaller clients. Instead, the platform allows them to find flexible space for growing businesses, help offset costs for larger businesses with extra space and manage their relationships with these businesses as they grow and change over time.
We recently spoke with Yoav Lurie, founder and CEO of Simple Energy, a Techstars in Boulder 2011 company. Through relevant messaging and engaging software services, Simple Energy partners with utility companies to help consumers make sense of their energy usage, save more and enjoy doing so.
Yoav talks about the company’s relationship with a Techstars sponsor as a strategic partner, Cooley. Cooley is a global firm with an entrepreneurial spirit and deep, substantive experience helping founders build businesses and transform breakthrough ideas into successful companies.
How did Simple Energy meet Cooley?
We connected through Techstars. Two partners from the Colorado Cooley practice, Noah Pittard and Mike Platt, came to Techstars while we were in the program.
How have Simple Energy and Cooley worked together?
Cooley is our strategic legal partner.
About nine months after we finished the Techstars programs, we were finding that the process of negotiating and documenting commercial relationships with public utilities was really driving up our legal spending in a way that felt unsustainable. So we and Cooley sat down together and—at no cost to us—developed a planning structure for negotiating and documenting future public utility contracts. The result was a tool sheet that we could use with customers that helped us work through the terms of our agreements in a clear and efficient way. The net impact of this tool sheet was reducing the legal costs of partnering with public utilities by about 70 percent.
We’ve saved money by working with Cooley. They have always been really transparent at every turn, particularly with pricing. When it came to a specific litigation matter, for example, they recommended another local legal partner who could handle the matter at a reduced cost while Cooley maintained an overall strategic advisory role. We’ve found that sometimes the best way for us to engage Cooley effectively is by having them supervise local counsel on lower-stakes day-to-day work.
Cooley is also not afraid to leverage technology to make their services more cost-effective. For example, when we were raising our Series B round, we wanted to use a company called eShares for cap table management and 409a valuation, and, once Cooley got comfortable that using eShares wouldn’t lead to unintended adverse consequences to our business, they were totally supportive. Since then, Cooley has helped many of their other clients move to using eShares. Leveraging technology allows Cooley to be more strategic, and focus less on transactional matters.
Regardless who our counsel is for a particular issue, whether it’s Cooley or a firm that Cooley recommends, the final decision is almost always made with Cooley as the overarching counsel on the negotiation.
What unique value does Cooley bring to the table?
Cooley’s ability to think about their strategic value add sets them apart. Also, the Cooley brand itself lends a lot of credibility, including the local partners in Colorado that we work with.
Do you have any advice for other founders who want to build good relationships with their legal partners?
Yes. Find a legal partner who you know can be a strategic value add—a firm that will be your partner. It may be one of your biggest decisions. Find a partner early and keep them engaged over a long time period. Having a legal partner will save you from a lot of mistakes. And it will save you money over the long run. Also, have a candid relationship with your counsel about other legal partners you may be using. You have to have a partner you trust, who is aligned with you, and who understands the capital constraints of startups.
Cooley has been that partner for us.
What’s the latest and greatest in the Simple Energy world?
We’re gaining a lot of traction overseas and are looking at opening an office in Europe. And as we expand into areas where the Techstars network exists, we’ll use the Techstars network to make that expansion.
We’re hiring, too: http://simpleenergy.com/company/
We recently talked with Riley End, co-founder and CEO of Given Goods Company, a company from our 2013 program in Boulder. Given Goods curates beautiful, high-quality home goods and everyday accessories that drive authentic social impact. Riley talks about a recent experience with Techstars’ sponsor partner American Airlines, as well as what Given Goods is working on right now.
We recently saw your tweet (pictured here). Where were you flying?
— Riley End (@RileyEnd) March 3, 2014
I was flying to New York for a meeting with a potential investor that I felt necessary to do in person, face to face.
What happened during that meeting?
It was a quick trip and the meeting went very well on all fronts.
As a Techstars 2013 company, you received the American Airlines perk for Business Extra points that could be redeemed for flights. Did you use those points for this trip?
Yes! On a Thursday evening, I found out that I needed to meet with a potential investor in just a few days. On Friday morning, I called American’s Business ExtrAA service line, the service rep found non-stop flights both ways at the exact times I needed and I could use the points we were awarded. The flights were totally free, which was a big value add for us money-wise.
One of my meetings in New York was canceled and I realized I could fly home earlier than planned. I called American and asked to change the flight and it was no problem. Even though there was a huge snowstorm on the east coast and many flights were canceled, the whole process was amazingly easy. American Air was incredibly helpful once again.
What is Given Goods working on right now now?
We recently moved from Boulder to San Francisco. The move is a big deal because San Francisco has a great talent pool, lots of connections in the e-commerce space, and is a consumer-focused, trend setting city which is important to our concept. It was difficult to leave Boulder but it made sense for the business.
Besides the move to San Francisco, we launched a product offering with Quirky over the holidays to benefit the American Cancer Society. It’s the first company on Given Goods that we worked with to create a one of a kind give back model. With every purchase of Quirky products on Given Goods, 20% of the profit goes directly to the American Cancer Society.
We’re excited to announce PowerMoves.NOLA Risingstars Boot Camp presented by Techstars, an intensive boot camp event for minority entrepreneurs July 3rd-5th in New Orleans.
PowerMoves.NOLA is an initiative of the New Orleans Startup Fund, sponsored by Chevron, and in promotional partnership with 2014 ESSENCE Festival Presented by Coca-Cola. PowerMoves.NOLA supports two key needs: the economic empowerment of minority entrepreneurs and the growth of New Orleans as a hub of minority entrepreneurship.
The Risingstars Boot Camp is an intense 2-day program whose goal is to help early stage entrepreneurs build viable, sustainable, revenue generating technology startup companies. Participants will receive intensive hands-on guidance and coaching on their business models directly from Techstars mentors and other successful entrepreneurs. Mentors will focus on all aspects of an individual participant’s business model, including developing a strong business value proposition, selecting effective customer development strategies, achieving product/market fit, identifying early adopters and establishing sustainable revenue streams while controlling costs.
With the help of proven Techstars mentors and other successful entrepreneurs, early stage entrepreneur participants will leave the PowerMoves.NOLA Risingstars Boot Camp equipped with a strong foundation for building successful technology startups.
One entrepreneur will receive a $25,000 cash prize from PowerMoves.NOLA. In addition, PowerMoves.NOLA will select one entrepreneur to become a PowerMoves.NOLA fellow and receive a $50,000 investment. We will also be selecting up to 5 entrepreneurs to join the Techstars Risingstars mentorship program.
Risingstars Boot Camp is a program under the Techstars Risingstars Program, which extends opportunities to demographic groups that are currently underrepresented in the technology startup community. Graduates of the program include Pigeonly, a company that makes it easy and efficient for prison inmates to share photos and conversation with loved ones, as well as Nexercise, a health and wellness platform that makes exercise rewarding.
The event is provided to the entrepreneur at no charge. Selected entrepreneurs are responsible for their own travel and lodging. To help with lodging costs, PowerMoves.NOLA has secured a block of discounted rooms.
Apply today and let us help you build your startup.
Risingstars Boot Camp details:
- Learn more & apply here.
- Applications close Apr 15th. Participants notified by May 15th.
- 25 early stage minority entrepreneurs will be selected to participate
- The event will begin Thursday evening, July 3rd and end on Saturday, July 5th
- The event will take place in New Orleans
Questions about the event? Contact Tom Chikoore, Director, Risingstars.
We’re delighted to announce American Airlines as a new national sponsor of Techstars.
American Airlines is committed to the success of entrepreneurs, and supports a variety of entrepreneurial programs and organizations. Their Innovators series shines a monthly spotlight on entrepreneurs and small businesses (and there you can find out more about the entrepreneurial activities they support).
Through their business travel rewards program, Business ExtrAA, American is offering all 2013 Techstars founders rewards to be redeemed for up to 5 roundtrip domestic airline tickets.
Founders can use their tickets to head to the opposite coast to meet with an investor, hop on a flight to meet with a vendor, close the next big deal face to face, and more.
We believe founders are going to find great value not only in getting to where they need to go, but also in a real partnership with the team at American. We looking forward to sharing the experiences of founders who propel their companies forward with American Airlines.