Never Stop Learning: New Updates to the Techstars Code of Conduct

The Techstars 2019 staff photo

At the bottom of the Techstars Code of Conduct, right above the—as of today—1802 signatures to it, there’s a line: “The Techstars Code of Conduct is a living document managed by our community.”

We take this idea of our code of conduct as a living document seriously, and we’ve made changes to it a few times since we introduced it in March 2015. We’ve made these changes because, as people and as a company, we’ve grown to better understand the issues at stake and what we believe are the right ways to address them: issues like the profound importance of Diversity & Inclusion, how to engage with a #GiveFirst network that benefits everyone, and when to take “no” for an answer. 

I’m actually quite proud that we’ve made changes over time—this shows that we’re still thinking hard about these problems, and still doing our best to solve them. Something like a code of conduct should never be considered finished, because that would imply that we’d stopped learning. 

Never stop learning. 

Today’s Changes 

While I encourage you to give the whole Techstars Code of Conduct a read, especially if you haven’t done so recently, here are the changes we’re making today. 

In the header section, we’ve tried to clarify exactly what our code of conduct is, as well as why it’s important, and we pulled out a few top-level instructions about response time and sharing opportunities—things that, when we all do them, really make our Give First network benefit everyone over time. 

Some of the numbered changes are similar; practical details about how to live and work #GiveFirst: 

2. We respond quickly in-network. We make every attempt to prioritize and respond to requests from fellow Techstars network members, ideally within two business days.

5. We respect “no” as an answer. If another member says no to a request, we respect their decision.

6. We share talent and business opportunity. Whenever we have finalist candidates that we choose not to hire directly, we share them with others in the network. When we become aware of good business opportunities that we choose not to pursue directly, we share them with others in the network.

A few more are clarifications of previous statements:

12. We do not steal assets or content. We encourage and respect independent, innovating thinking. We do not plagiarize content from anyone.

13. We are responsible with controlled substances. If consuming alcohol, we do so responsibly and in moderation. Alcohol is never provided to minors. We do not drive under the influence of any legal or illegal drug. We do not distribute, use, or operate under the influence of illegal drugs (defined by local or federal law) while participating or engaging in any Techstars program or event.   

18. We are committed to diversity and inclusion. We are committed to building inclusive work environments that reflect and value the diversity of people and cultures found in the world, which we believe leads to better companies. To ensure that our commitment to diversity and inclusion are tangible, we adopt the Kapor Capital Founders’ Commitments, a set of four actions known as “G.I.V.E.” (Goals, Invest, Volunteer and Educate).

Finally, we’re making sure that these rules, however obvious they ought to be, are written out rather than assumed:

14. We abide by all local and federal laws. We do not do business with bad actors. We honor international sanctions. We are careful to do business only with lawful parties.

15. We do not pay or accept bribes or kickbacks. We do not engage in any form of corruption. We act with integrity in our dealings with others and strictly prohibit corrupt activities. 

22. We respect our legal agreements. We follow the spirit and intent of our legal agreements.

Do you have suggestions for additional changes to the Code of Conduct? If so, please contact us. And always, if you have witnessed a violation of our Code of Conduct, please report it here








A New Generation of VCs, A Virtuous Cycle

There are now fourteen Techstars accelerator alumni or Managing Directors who have gone on to create new venture capital funds. We’re excited by this trend and have decided to highlight these funds on our web site as “in-network funds.”

I already see a common thread between these funds: Give First and the Techstars Code of Conduct  are ingrained in the fund managers.

I believe that these people, and therefore also these funds, will do things the right way, with the right values, and put the needs of entrepreneurs first.

While none of these funds are officially dedicated to supporting Techstars companies, they all know first hand the quality of the startups that come through Techstars. Through our in-network funds, we have a virtuous cycle of capital directed back at existing—and future—Techstars portfolio companies, which increases our ability to help entrepreneurs succeed.

This growing pool of micro VC funds shows how much our MDs learn from their experience at Techstars, as we have created a unique environment for learning for future fund managers. MDs at Techstars participate in selecting, investing, and managing 10 companies for each program. In a short time, they get incredible experience as a pre-seed and seed-stage VC.

The more I think about, and work toward, helping entrepreneurs succeed, the more I see the importance of a strong ecosystem in startup success. These in-network funds are a natural extension of the Techstars Network, and a great addition to the startup ecosystems in cities across the U.S.

Above all, I’m proud. I know every one of these people, and each one of them is #TechstarsForLife. I’m proud of what they’re doing to help entrepreneurs succeed.








Here’s SendGrid’s seed round pitch deck

In 2009, coming out of Techstars, SendGrid set out to raise a seed round. The original target was $300,000. They ended up raising $750,000 in that round. Eight years later, they went public at around a $1B valuation. Shortly thereafter, Twilio acquired SendGrid for $2 billion.

Great success stories have humble beginnings. This was true for SendGrid.

I hope you find this deck useful or at least entertaining to see. In looking back at it a decade later, I notice two things:

1) The deck is remarkably similar to the business they built.

As a seed investor and accelerator, we often see major changes from the seed round pitch deck to what the business actually ends up doing. This was not the case for SendGrid. The founders stayed true to their original vision, which is somewhat unusual.

2) The deck isn’t overly stylized.

Today, we see people spending a lot of energy making their decks look super beautiful. SendGrid didn’t do that, but there’s a lot of substance. While design does matter, the content of the pitch and the business are by far the more important things.

When it comes to your pitch deck, substance matters a lot more than form.

If you want even more commentary on this deck, here’s a video where we break down the pitch done by Isaac Saldana, co-founder of SendGrid, a few years after their Techstars Demo Day:

And if you want to know what a founder does after a $2 billion exit, you can read all about what Isaac’s up to now.

***

Want to learn how to #domorefaster and give a great pitch? Learn more about Techstars mentorship-driven accelerators.

A version of this post appeared originally on David Cohen’s blog.

 








Why Make A Give First Podcast?

Today, I’m excited to announce the launch of the very first podcast from Techstars: the Give First podcast. Brad Feld and I are co-hosting this weekly podcast that digs into what Give First means.

I can tell you that I’m having a great time making it, and I’ve already learned so much from the people we’ve had as guests.  

What is Give First?

Give First is one of our core values here at Techstars. It means helping others with no specific expectation of return. It’s not transactional—it’s the idea that if you’re helpful, it will come back to you in completely unexpected ways.

Why Make a Podcast?

This is great, but I know it can sound a little abstract if you haven’t experienced it yourself. You may be wondering if it really works. Do busy people—and entrepreneurs are notoriously busy people—actually stop and Give First?

Yes, it really works.

I hope that you listen to the Give First podcast for insights into how exciting and successful a life and career guided by the principle of Give First can be. Here are just a few examples from the first few episodes:

  • Hear Paul Berberian, CEO of Sphero, tell the story of being mobbed in Times Square like a rock star when Sphero’s toy BB8 was the number one toy in the world.
  • Listen to Wendy Lea talk about the risks of saying “no” when opportunity comes knocking.
  • Troy Henikoff tells a decade worth of Give First stories that all intertwine—and resulted in companies growing, careers thriving, and millions in funds being raised, all while the Chicago startup ecosystem is expanding.
  • Mary Grove shows the power of Give First at scale, with her adventures in community-driven change, starting Google for Startups and traveling on the Rise of the Rest bus.

Like I said, Brad and I are having a blast making the Give First podcast. We get to have fascinating conversations with accomplished, generous people. But most of all, Brad and I are making this podcast as yet another way to Give First. We hope that by sharing these stories with you, you’ll be inspired to Give First as well.

Listen now to our introductory conversation, where Brad and I talk about where the idea for Give First came from and what it means to each of us. And subscribe to the Give First podcast!








Techstars Co-Founder Jared Polis is Colorado’s Next Governor

Techstars was founded in 2006 by David Cohen, David Brown, Brad Feld, and Jared Polis. Those who have been around Techstars over the last decade have heard quite a bit about co-CEOs David Brown and David Cohen, Brad Feld, and others in the early cast of characters such as Nicole Glaros and Jason Mendelson. But, perhaps some of the Techstars community doesn’t know Jared Polis nearly as well. Before we get to some fun (and slightly embarrassing) photos and videos from the early days of Techstars, we want to tell you a bit about Jared.

Jared is a fantastic Colorado entrepreneur, who founded amazing companies including American Information Systems (sold in 1998), BlueMountain.com (acquired by Excite@Home in 1999 for $780M in cash and stock), and ProFlowers.com (which went public after being renamed to Provide Commerce and was subsequently bought in 2005 by Liberty Media for $477M).    

For the first year or two of Techstars, Jared was a regular super-mentor to the original Boulder accelerator classes. At this time, Jared was already a public servant and a member of the Colorado State Board of Education. Then, about two years into Techstars, in 2008, Jared was elected to Congress and we understandably started to see less of him around Techstars. He was re-elected to Congress four more times by Colorado voters in 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016. Then, in 2018, Jared announced his run for Governor of the state of Colorado.

The three of us (David, David, and Brad) were thrilled for Jared and for the people of Colorado after he won this latest race and officially became Colorado’s Governor-elect just last week!

It’s always been exciting to have someone who truly understands the power of startups representing our country and now our state. To us, Jared’s service in government is an incredible expression of his lifelong #GiveFirst attitude.

We thought it was appropriate to offer our congratulations, but also toss in a small collection of Jared’s Techstars history below. So, from the bottom of our hearts: Jared, thank you and here’s to you!  

Boulder Daily Camera article announcing the creation of Techstars, January 2007. Photo courtesy Boulder Daily Camera.

Here’s the Denver Post article “How Techstars Was Born” with some nice embarrassing photos below of Brad, Jared, and David Cohen. David Brown knew better than to show up for this one. Photos courtesy of the Denver Post.

And Finally, circa 2007, Jared makes an appearance in the original marketing video for Techstars.








From Inspiration to IPO – SendGrid Goes Public

Today, Techstars alumni SendGrid rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Having served alongside Mark Solon on SendGrid’s board of directors since 2009, we were honored to be invited to help SendGrid open the market today.

Today, we congratulate the entire SendGrid team. It’s truly been an honor to work with them as their earliest investors in 2009, from inspiration to IPO.








Ask David Cohen: When is the Right Time to Apply to an Accelerator?

We held an AMA with Techstars’ Co-CEO, David Cohen, where he answered commonly asked questions from founders about topics such as forming a team, developing an MVP and applying to an accelerator program.

This post is the fifth in a series of five. To sign up for our next AMA, check out the schedule here!

I am in the middle of building out my prototype and I want to apply to an accelerator. The longer I wait to apply, the more functional my prototype will be. Based on that, should I apply as late as possible? Why or why not?  

My general advice on this is apply as early as you can. Apply the minute that you know you want to. The reason for that is because of the multiple touchpoints and experiences you can have with the selection group that is selecting the companies. I’m part of that group usually later in the process, when we have it down to about 20 or 30 companies that we are looking at for the 10 or so that will get in.

There is a group of people that are going through those applications early, screening them and filtering them. It’s not “yes or no”, it’s, “that’s interesting, I’d like to learn more.”

As you update the application through the application system (F6S), we get those updates and we see the progress. My friend Mark Suster wrote a great blog post a long time ago that I refer to all the time called, Invest in Lines, Not Dots. That means, as investors, you are trying to see progress over time and have multiple experiences with an entrepreneur or with a company before you have to make a decision.

Don’t think of it as a snapshot in time, think of it as a relationship that you build throughout the application process, and apply early.

Interested in joining our worldwide network and getting a head start on your own entrepreneurial journey? Apply today








What Techstars Gave Me: Founder Stories

We recently celebrated our 10 year anniversary at Techstars. Over the 10 years, we have met so many great founders, mentors, partners and community leaders. We are honored to get the chance to work every day with amazing people building awesome companies, all around the world.

One of our core values since day one is #GiveFirst. Not only does this value and tradition still hold true today, but we are seeing founders, mentors, and more carrying it on throughout our Worldwide Network. We give without asking for anything in return and help any time we can. This is what helps entrepreneurs succeed.

We wanted to highlight the stories and work being done by some of our founders. We thought it would be an interesting new perspective to have them tell you what it feels like to be on the receiving end of #GiveFirst in the context of their Techstars experience. We hope you enjoy the video!








Funding and M&A Across the Techstars Worldwide Network

The last few months have brought several notable funding announcements and M&A activity for many Techstars alumni.

Congratulations to:

This brings us to a total of 121 Techstars companies acquired, and $3.5B raised by our accelerator companies.

In addition, here are the companies that have recently received significant investments!  

DataRobot (Techstars Class 21), raised another $54M in March to automate data science tasks. DataRobot transforms businesses with automated machine learning.

Placester (Techstars Class 9), raised $50M to expand real estate software tools. Placester is a digital marketing platform for real estate professionals.

Sphero (Techstars Class 6), the Boulder-based company that created the BB-8 toy robot, recently raised another $35.4M in early April.

Outreach (Techstars Class 12), raised $30M in late May. Outreach provides Sales and Marketing teams with the capabilities to drive deeper engagement with prospects.

Synack (Techstars Class 22), announced a $21M raise in early April. Synack is a security startup that combines software security tools with a network of white-hat hackers to help keep its customers secure

Filament (Techstars Class 45), a provider of wireless industrial networks, raised $15M in late March.

Tenfold (Techstars Class 47), the Austin-based startup that integrates customer relationship management systems with company phone systems and other communications tools, recently raised $15M.

Latch (Techstars Class 45), raised $10M in early May. Latch created internet-connected smart locks for the enterprise market.

Kalo (Techstars Class 46), formerly Lystable, raised $10M in March. Kalo allows companies to manage freelancers, track their work and pay them on time.

Freight Farms (Techstars Class 22), the company that builds automated farm systems in shipping containers, raised $5.6M in a new round.

Bitfusion (Techstars Class 47), an AI lifecycle management platform, raised $5M in a Series A round to strengthen their R&D efforts.

Chowbotics (Techstars Class 66), the company that created Sally, the salad-making robot, raised $5M in early March.

Amper (Techstars Class 96), raised $4M in March. Amper is a startup that offers AI-powered music composition.

Morty (Techstars Class 77), the first ever fully digital mortgage broker, raised $3M to make its mortgage marketplace available to users.

Remesh (Techstars Class 60), a software platform that uses AI, machine learning and natural language processing for market research, raised $2.25 million in seed funding.

RateGravity (Techstars Class 95), raised $2M in early May. RateGravity provides an automated service for matching homebuyers with low-interest mortgages.

MeetMindful (Techstars Class 68), raised $1.8M in April. MeetMindful is a relationship platform that connects a large, growing number of people pursuing a healthy, mindful lifestyle

Fam (Techstars Class 53), a video-chat app from the company Smack, raised $1.8M in mid March.

Stackery (Techstars Class 92), provides a production-grade, operational toolset for developers building serverless applications. Stackery raised $1.75M in April.

IronCore Labs (Techstars Class 91), the company that provides turnkey encryption customer controlled data for SaaS companies, recently raised $1.5M.

Sea Machines Robotics (Techstars Class 95), the company that provides autonomous self-driving systems for boats, raised $1.5M in May.

Polis (Techstars Class 67), raised $1.3M in March. Polis provides easy and scalable door-to-door outreach software for campaigns and corporations.

Apostrophe  (Techstars Class 91), is an innovative health plan that saves self-insured employers up to 40 percent on their healthcare costs. Apostrophe recently raised $1.15M.

Patch Homes (Techstars Class 81), provides home equity financing at 0 percent interest and no monthly payments. Patch Homes raised $1M in seed funding in April.

Prospectify (Techstars Class 88), raised $1M in March. Prospectify offers account-based intelligence that’s automated but personalized.








Help Us Stand Up for a Free and Open Internet

The success of America’s startup ecosystem depends on more than improved broadband speeds. We also depend on an open internet — including enforceable net neutrality rules that ensure internet service providers like big cable companies limit how and what we share on the internet.  

Without net neutrality, the incumbents who provide access to the internet would be able to pick winners or losers in the market. They could impede traffic from our services to favor their own services or established competitors. Or they could impose discriminatory fees on us, inhibiting consumer choice. Our companies should be able to compete in the marketplace based on the quality of our products and services, not the ability to pay tolls to internet access providers.

In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission put in place light-touch net neutrality rules that not only prohibit certain harmful practices, but also allow the Commission to develop and enforce rules to address new forms of discrimination. We believe this is the right approach.

Now is the time to voice support of net neutrality. The new leader of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Chairman Ajit Pai, has said he wants to roll back existing net neutrality rules that prevent big cable companies from discriminating against online companies and services. Congress is lining up behind him.

Together with Engine Advocacy and Y Combinator, we are organizing a letter opposing these actions, signed by startups, investors, accelerators, incubators, and entrepreneurs. Help us stand up for a free and open internet.

If you also support net neutrality, we invite you to add your company’s name to this letter, and share it with other entrepreneurs and innovators in your network.

We will transmit the letter to Chairman Pai on May 1. All signatures must be received by 5 pm ET April 28.