Announcing Our Diversity Commitment as Part of White House Demo Day

Today we are excited to announce our Diversity Commitment as part of White House Demo Day.

The topic of diversity (or lack thereof) is a hot one in our industry. We know the numbers are not good across the board and we all need to step up to make them better. Techstars wants to improve opportunities for women and underrepresented minorities throughout our global ecosystem and open the door to entrepreneurs everywhere.  We know that these founders not only bring a diverse perspective and a wealth of innovative ideas — but according to recent research — companies with female founders often outperform their male peers.

To advance inclusive entrepreneurship, Techstars commits to:

  • Double the number of women in our accelerator program applicant pool and across our mentor network over four years.
  • Track participation in our programs by underrepresented minorities and double that from the baseline over the same time period.
  • Publish our diversity data annually.
  • Train staff on ‘unconscious bias’ and ensure that every selection committee includes at least two women so that female founders are represented in the selection process.

Through our continued partnership with the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), Techstars will set aggressive goals for internal change as a key player in NCWIT’s national entrepreneurship strategy. We will offer access, membership, and resources to the 600+ companies in our portfolio and to the 200 companies we add annually. Additionally, we will offer mentorship opportunities between our Managing Directors and our extensive network of founders to the technical women in the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Community.

We are proud of our partnership with NCWIT and look forward to doing great things together. We are also excited to expand on the work done by our Rising Stars program to open the door for female and minority founders everywhere.

To learn more about the Techstars partnership with the Obama administration to advance inclusive entrepreneurship, check out the White House Fact Sheet. I’ll be there today to represent Techstars as part of the announcement.

If you’d like to learn more, the White House will be tweeting live from the event today at 3:45 p.m. ET from the @WhiteHouse and @WhiteHouseOSTP handles using the hashtag #WHDemoDay.

The event will also be live streamed at www.whitehouse.gov/live.

We are excited to be a part of it!








Techstars Acquires UP Global Including Startup Weekend and Other Programs

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Today we are excited to announce that Techstars has acquired UP Global, including the organization’s Startup Weekend, Startup Week, Startup Next and Startup Digest programs.

Techstars and UP Global have a long-standing relationship dating back to 2007 when the idea for Startup Weekend was born out of the Techstars basement in Boulder, CO.  Startup Weekend was created as a community event for the first Techstars class to get to know each other — we’ve always had a close relationship and share a similar vision of empowering entrepreneurs worldwide.

Together, we’ve built programs and resources for every stage of the entrepreneurial journey – from community catalysts who are focused on early stage grassroots community development to entrepreneurs looking for more formal opportunities that provide education, a powerful mentor network, acceleration, funding and beyond.

All UP Global programs will now become part of Techstars but will remain open and independent in their execution at a community level. The programs will continue to run as they do now, and we expect additional expansion of these programs, as well as our existing accelerator programs, in the future. We’re excited that Google for Entrepreneurs will continue to partner with us by powering the Startup Weekend and Startup Next programs. Furthermore, effective immediately, fees previously associated with Startup Next, UP Global’s pre-accelerator program, have been eliminated – enabling more entrepreneurs to take advantage of that resource to help them scale.

By joining forces with UP Global, Techstars can continue to accelerate the pace of innovation by strengthening the path for entrepreneurs, providing better support for entrepreneurial communities, and helping to grow the worldwide entrepreneurial ecosystem. We will also continue to collaborate with other accelerators in the UP Global network, as we believe this will benefit all startups, not just those that are part of Techstars.

We are excited about the newly merged organization and the injection of top talent. Marc Nager, CEO of UP Global, will continue in his role as leader of the UP Community as Chief Community Officer. Marc will continue to lead most UP employees, with other core functions (marketing, IT, finance) combining teams.

The combined organization is global in reach, diverse in makeup, broad in expertise, and rich in startup experience. We are stronger together.

With today’s announcement, the entire team at UP Global will be joining Techstars and will continue supporting the community so that we can remain focused on managing and expanding our existing accelerator programs. Techstars will remain the high quality network and programs we know and love today.

We are committed to the lifelong impact that entrepreneurs have on the world, no matter where they choose to live. We believe this partnership is great news for entrepreneurs everywhere. Together, we will leverage each other’s areas of expertise and combine resources to provide more sustainable support for communities and the entrepreneurs within those communities.

To everyone in the UP Global Community — welcome to the Techstars family! Techstars is for life. We are proud to be joining forces with you and look forward to working together towards our combined vision of creating the world’s first truly global ecosystem for entrepreneurs to bring new technologies to market.

For more details, here is a link to UP’s announcement.

To learn more about UP Global’s 1,800 worldwide events, check out their impact report.

If you have questions about TS+UP, please visit http://www.whaTSUP.community/ for FAQs and more information.








Announcing New MDs for London, METRO Accelerator and Boulder

As Techstars continues to expand, we are bringing on new talent to help manage our global programs – now totaling 18 programs in 13 locations. Read on to learn more…

Meet Max Kelly, our new Managing Director of Techstars London. Max has a long background running innovation and entrepreneurship at Virgin. While there, he was responsible for the strategy of the group and for starting several companies which eventually exited for over $500M. Alongside his Virgin commitments, Max also co-founded lastsecondtickets.com which had a successful exit in 2014.

(Not to worry, Jon Bradford isn’t going anywhere. He is helping Max get up to speed through the next program before taking on a broader role in the Techstars organization.)

In Berlin, we recently brought on Rob Johnson as the Managing Director for the Techstars METRO Accelerator. Rob was co-founder of Makers Academy which quickly exploded into Europe’s largest coding boot camp and was recently ranked by the Guardian as the #1 place to learn to code in London.

In Boulder, Nicole Glaros will continue as a Partner in Techstars Ventures as well as moving into a Chief Product Officer role where she will be responsible for assuring that we continue to maintain a high level of quality across all of our programs. Nicole is passing the baton for Techstars Boulder onto a team of two new Managing Directors, Zach Nies and Natty Zola (clearly, it takes two men to fill Nicole’s shoes).

Zach Nies is the former Chief Technologist for Rally Software. His entire career has been dedicated to entrepreneurship at startups and inside large companies. He uses that experience, guided by his core value of Learn, Do, Teach, Learn, to help companies of all sizes successfully bring new products and services to market. Zach has served as a Mentor with Techstars since 2008.

Natty Zola is the co-founder of Everlater (an anagram of e-traveler), a consumer travel blogging platform and a CRM tool for tour operators, which was acquired by AOL in 2012 and merged into MapQuest. Natty brought his company through Techstars Boulder in 2009 and understands the entrepreneurial journey first-hand.

We couldn’t be more excited to bring them on as co-MDs who have been an integral part of the Techstars program for many years.

Check out this new video which gives more details on the transition of our Boulder program.


Welcome Max, Rob, Zach and Natty. Good luck to all of you and to Nicole in your new roles!

 

 








Here’s what ‘fail fast’ really means

As entrepreneurs, we’re all familiar with the phrase “fail fast,” but what does that really mean? And how do you put it into practice? In addition, what is a “pivot;” can it be done without abandoning everything and starting over?

Failure can take many forms. It could be a feature, it could be product-market fit, it could be the business model, the choice of a cofounder, a hire, or the whole idea of starting a business in the first place. Fail fast does not apply to all of these categories. Let’s break it out.

Let me start with the things that fail fast does not apply to. If you do a lot of market research, are passionate about an idea, start a business with your best friend, work at it for a time, but struggle to get the business off the ground, does that mean you should fail fast and shut the business down? Of course not. Most of the world’s biggest businesses stumbled around for a while before finding the right formula to take off. As the CEO of a very successful company once told me, “It took me 10 years to become an overnight success.”

Similarly, if you are building a business and things are going great, but you don’t get along with your CTO cofounder, do you just jettison them and find a new person? Maybe not; building a successful business can be stressful, and you should invest the time to work on your relationship with your CTO. If you don’t, you’ll hire another one and have the same problem with them soon enough.

Fail fast isn’t about the big issues, it’s about the little ones. It’s an approach to running a company or developing a product that embraces lots of little experiments with the idea that some will work and grow and others will fail and die.

Not sure if your product should require users to give a lot of information before starting to use it? One approach would be to talk to a lot of people, get all the different points of view, assess their opinions, decide what to do, schedule it on the product roadmap, develop and test it, and then release it. Or you could just get something out there and if it doesn’t work, fail fast, pivot, and try something else.

Can’t decide if your target market is group Fortune 500 CEOs or soccer moms? You could do a market analysis, talk to stakeholders, conduct focus groups before going to market. Or you could just try it out, and if it doesn’t work, fail fast, pivot, and focus on the right group.

Agonizing over the unproductive inside sales person you hired? Give them one more chance? Give them more training or coaching? Wait until the product is more mature to remove customer objections? Maybe. Or you could realize that you made a bad hire and that you should fail fast, pivot, and move on.

These are examples that illustrate a way of doing business day-to-day, week-by-week. It’s not a meta view, it’s an approach. Develop a culture of experimentation, be willing to try stuff, do it quickly. But if it’s not working, be willing to fail fast and pivot.

This article originally appeared in Venture Beat








Staying Organized with Workflow

I might be the most organized person I know; people tell me that all the time. I am a pretty busy guy, so I have to be: my calendar is mostly full of meetings and calls, I get 300+ emails a day, I travel most weeks. But I get to inbox zero every day and I’m proud to say that I respond to every email that someone sends me. I don’t drop any balls and I’m not afraid of my email. I also get nine hours of sleep a night and I get to spend quality time with my family every night and every weekend.

There are lots of views on individual techniques. Use keyboard shortcuts (huge benefit), block time for emails (I don’t use that one), use a text expander for common responses, etc. Although valuable, I think that I get more benefit from having a defined workflow than any of these individual tricks. Here is what I do:

  1. Email Order. I process my email from oldest to newest. Yes, I cheat sometimes and answer a new one, but I try not to. It’s harder in Gmail because you can’t sort chronologically, but I just start at the bottom.
  2. Folders. I don’t waste my time filing stuff away. I archive it and if I need it, I know how to search for it.
  3. Filters. I use filters (rules) heavily to move email to a “later” folder. These are newsletters, group emails, etc. that aren’t time critical for me; usually they are just “read and delete”. I use airplane time or other down time to clear my “later” folder. I am disciplined about doing that at least once a week.
  4. Tasks. I make heavy use of tasks (I use Wunderlist, but there are plenty of good ones). In fact I think of tasks as being integral to my email workflow. Here’s what I do:
    • I keep my task manager up on my screen at all times. It’s as important as email.
    • If I don’t think that I can take care of an item on the same day, I create a task and archive the email.
    • I put a due date on every task, so that I can look at “today” and not see everything.
    • Every morning, I star the tasks that I MUST get done today. I try not to have more than 5 of those.
    • Every morning, I move out the due date of tasks that I know I won’t get done today. I know that 20-30 is the most I should have on any given day.
  5. End of Day. Every night before I leave (or before I go to bed if I’m travelling), I look at the tasks that didn’t get done and move their due dates. I also try to clear out my inbox, making tasks if needed. This allows me to go home with a clear mind – no tasks due, no emails. It takes discipline to do this, but if you don’t, you just get behind and give up.
  6. Sleep. The organization of the workflow and clearing the decks every day gives me peace of mind. I sleep like a baby for nine hours a night. That allows me to wake up refreshed and clear headed so that I can have a great day.


Give it a try and let me know if it works for you. I always love hearing about other efficiency techniques and am constantly trying to improve my own.








Techstars’ 2014 Year in Review

As I reflect back on 2014 at Techstars, it was a really good year. Here are some highlights:

  • Techstars portfolio companies received $534M in venture capital in 2014, bringing the total to well over $1B and their market cap to over $2.5B.
  • 513 companies in the portfolio, up from 341.
  • 59 exits across the system, in the past year this included:

Highlighter, Glider, Wander, Vizify, DocTracker, Pickie, Appetas, Laveem, Graphicly, Shelby.tv, Mocavo, Senexx, MobileDevHQ, Poptip, UberSense, OnSwipe, GrabCAD, MarketVibe, Smart Toy (fka Ubooly), SocialCrunch, Revolv, Qunb, Spill, Captimo and Vidmaker.

  • The aggregate value of our entire portfolio including our venture funds is now over $44B!
  • Overall, it was a year of expansion, with 5 new programs added over the course of the the year (Disney, Cloud, Qualcomm, Berlin, Detroit). This brings our total to 15 programs, 8 horizontal and 7 vertical.
  • We increased the number of employees from 41 to 55, including 18 dedicated investment professionals.

Our strong foundation positions us well for 2015. We believe that in this year, entrepreneurship will continue to grow around the world as more and more ecosystems are created to support startup endeavors, and more and more corporations turn to startups to help bring innovation into the corporation and to bring new technologies to market. We feel that we are well positioned to be at the center of these trends.

We will continue to expand our services to our founders in 2015 and find ways to serve even more entrepreneurs as we continue to expand. It’s going to be a great ride.








Reflections on my First Year Back at Techstars

At the one year mark of my full-time return to Techstars, I am releasing a second edition of the story of my first startup, called “No Vision All Drive” to include the founding of Techstars. In writing the update, I find myself reflecting on how much has changed since my return.

When I co-founded Techstars in 2007 along with David Cohen, Brad Feld and Jared Polis, we set out to create a new model of how startups were created and funded. The idea was born from experiences of starting our own businesses and the frustrations we had with angel investing. While I was involved in the early years of Techstars, it was more as a mentor to some of the teams and an advisor to Techstars overall, but it was not my full time gig. That changed in 2013 when I returned as Managing Partner to join David Cohen and Mark Solon to help lead Techstars. While David and Mark are just as deeply engaged in Techstars as ever, the growing investment activities relating to our venture funds and the expansion of Techstars created a need for additional leadership that I was more than happy to fill.

My focus since I joined Techstars about a year ago has been on the operations of the growing the number of Techstars locations. We currently operate Techstars-branded programs in Austin, Boston, Boulder, Chicago, London, New York and Seattle. In addition, we run similar programs with corporate partners in Kansas City (Sprint, mobile healthcare), London (Barclays, FinTech), Los Angeles (Disney, entertainment), New York (R/GA, connected devices), New York (Kaplan, EdTech) and San Antonio (Cloud). We support all of these locations with a global team of over 50 very talented people in Boulder and at each of the locations.

The power of participating in a Techstars program has shifted over the years. While initially a great way to accelerate and fund a business, the growth of the network has opened new possibilities. The network of hundreds of companies and thousands of mentors and investors in the Techstars system allows our graduates to have unprecedented access to resources around the world with many different sets of experiences and skills.

In addition to this, we have expanded our programs to partner with premier brands, such as Disney, Nike, Barclays, R/GA, Kaplan, and Sprint. These partnerships, along with the vertical focus of their respective programs, have allowed Techstars companies even more access to industry players and expertise.

Our expansion has been deliberate and has been done with a relentless focus on quality over quantity. It is important to us that Techstars remains the gold standard for startups that want to connect their businesses to our network for acceleration, mentoring, business development, funding, and M&A possibilities. We are proud of our companies that have built thriving and valuable enterprises in their own communities. We want to support the idea of many great startup communities around the world, not just a few.

It’s been a great year, but the work is just beginning. Our network is large and powerful, but we need to continue to find new ways to make it even more so and we have plans to do just that. Our mission is to change the way startups are built by arming them with a massive interconnected network of founders, mentors, and investors. We are well on our way, but you should expect even more leverage from our network in 2014 and beyond.








A 14-Step Guide to Being Consistently Pitch Perfect by David Brown

At Techstars, I see lots of pitches. I get them during the application process, when I first meet the companies, when I listen to presentations meant for customers, when I listen to founders pitch to investors, when I read job descriptions and at demo day.

Your pitch is your message. You deliver it to all of your constituencies — mentors, employees, investors, family and friends. It’s a misconception to think pitching is what you do just for demo day.

Maybe the best advice for putting together your pitch is one of my favorite quotes, from Albert Einstein. “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Little is more important than getting the pitch right, so here are my tips for persuading your audience that you understand it well enough. This works preparing for demo day but the content is useful every time you need to explain your company and its purpose.

1. Earn your audience’s attention. A startling fact. An interesting story. Contradict conventional wisdom. Make them laugh. Play on a known fear. Be appropriately different. Make them think. Be interesting!

2. You know the most. The audience doesn’t know your business, your market or your product like you do. Make it easy to understand. You want them excited about your business, not trying to figure it out.  Use simple words.

3. The first minute. Your first minute is critical, either they pay attention or check their phone. Show you are credible, what problem you are solving, and how, as well as why they should care.

4. The solution and the problem. After the first minute, illuminate the problem. Do a product demo and tell a user story. A good transitional phrase after one minute is “Let me show you how this works” or similar.

5. No crescendos. Get to the good stuff right away.

6. Show, don’t tell. A slide that takes more than 30 seconds to read is too long.

7. Confluence. You slides must amplify, enhance and prove what you say, never compete with it. People will read before they listen. No bullet points!

8. About the money. Explain how your business model will make money.

9. How it’s going, so far. Demonstrate your traction. The earlier you do that, the better.

10. Keep to your idea. Don’t talk about your competition, do talk about how you are differentiated.

11. Talk about your team. Show their pictures, explain their roles and list their experience, include logos.

12. Closing. Stick the landing. Be strong. Make an ask.

13. They will compare. Make your presentation stand out. One way to do that is subtle humor. Another is crushing proof that what you are doing is awesome. Another is just to be more interesting than everyone else.

14. Know what you’re after. Your goal is to get a meeting. Nothing more.

Founders who hit each of these points really stand out. They have a clear message that shows off their business to mentors, employees, investors and friends. Keep these tips in mind and you’ll explain your business simply, but completely, so everyone can understand it well enough.