The Hustle and Bustle of Techstars’ FounderCon

Wikipedia defines accelerators as “fixed-term, cohort-based programs, that include mentorship and educational components and culminate in a public pitch event or demo day.”

Does this mean accelerator programs end on demo day? Not quite. Amos Schwartzfarb, our Managing Director from Techstars Austin, remains fully engaged with Casabots (Austin ’16) even though the program ended several months back.

He recently introduced us to a great hire and keeps connecting us to customers. We have periodic mentor sessions with Techstars Ventures’ superstars, who invested in us. And last week, we were at Techstars’ annual conference, called FounderCon, which ended up being quite useful.

Now, let me tell you about FounderCon…

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FounderCon started off with a touch of glamour. The Mayor of Cincinnati addressed us at the home stadium of the Cincinnati Reds, the first pro baseball team in the United States. Following that, Techstars companies that exited over the past year were recognized, providing ample motivation to the rest of us to work hard, grow a successful company and provide good returns to our investors.

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Then, it was party time! Yes, every evening had at least 2 parties. I’m not normally the partying kind, but these parties were fantastic networking opportunities – you cultivated relationships with employees whom you could hire later and with investors who were attending FounderCon.

Perhaps most importantly, you got to spend quality time with fellow founders in your Techstars class. You have a special bond with these founders, probably because they experience the same day-to-day hustle and bustle. Spending time with them helps you cope better with the 18 hour workdays, constant learning and intense multitasking that’s typical for a startup.

FounderCon had three days of educational programming running in parallel to other events. These talks helped coach us for the next stage of our startups.

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As many of you know, Techstars has more than a dozen accelerators around the globe now. Each of these programs has a Managing Director who is superbly connected within his or her city. FounderCon is a great place to meet Managing Directors of other Techstars programs and leverage their contact networks to build your sales funnel or investor funnel.

One of the days at FounderCon was called “BizDev Day” where we could meet bigger companies Techstars has relationships with. These included names like Target, Walmart, Kroger, Amazon, McDonald’s, Best Buy, Instacart, Microsoft, Intel, Google and many others!

One of the cool things about our product, a salad making robot, is that we can potentially place our robot in all these companies’ cafeterias. So, we got a great set of potential customers to talk with, who felt Techstars startups were top-class and were eager to explore collaborative opportunities.

During Foundercon, they had one afternoon allocated to “Investor Day” where startups had 30 minute sessions with investors. We met a bunch of cool investors who were superbly connected in our space. A bunch of our current investors were in Cincinnati for Investor Day too… I got a chance to pick their brains about our project.

We aren’t fundraising right now, but it always helps to meet future investors early and have them observe your work over a period of time – it lowers their investment risk.

It’s always a good sign when your existing investors say they like your progress and want to invest in your future funding rounds too – 3 investors I met during FounderCon said that! Which was cool.

Not many people think of Silicon Valley as slow moving, but regular work in San Jose seems slow compared to the intense 3 days of hustling at FounderCon!

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This post was originally published on Casabots’ blog.








Building a Culture

Today’s Founder Friday post comes from Deepak Sekar, Founder and CEO of Casabots (Austin ’16).

Casabots is spending three months at the Techstars Accelerator in Austin. People often talk about how the Techstars network has benefited their fundraising and business development. In this post, I’ll cover a facet of Techstars I find quite interesting: Culture and Processes. Startups coming into the accelerator often have small teams with little established culture and processes. The processes and culture at the accelerator can profoundly influence a company (both during the program and after). Since these are some of the key determinants of employee happiness and productivity, I’m trying to observe and learn.

Let me share some of my learnings with you in this post.

The Ego Basket

Let me start with my favorite part of Techstars Austin culture. You’ll notice in the picture below – there’s a little basket at the bottom right of the entrance. It says “Ego Basket.” Every day, as someone enters the building, they are reminded to leave their ego at the door and not carry it into the workplace. I’ve worked in companies where one person with a big ego compromised the entire team’s progress and happiness. Too bad I didn’t know about this ego basket idea back then! I would have put an ego basket at the door.

“Happies and Crappies”

Every Wednesday, all ten startups that are in Techstars Austin have dinner together and a session of “happies and crappies.” Everyone talks about their happiest moment of the week and also the crappiest moment. It’s amazing how this practice builds close relationships between various people in the room.

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#GiveFirst

Techstars encourages mentors and team members to help each other without any expectation of return – with its “give first” tagline. If you hear this phrase twice a day, it becomes ingrained into your psyche and you follow it. It’s quite satisfying to help others and you know they are trying their very best to help you too. It creates a great culture.

No cubicle walls

Most people at Casabots came from a cubicle culture. At Techstars, we sit on tables with no walls between team members. This is what many startups do nowadays – it makes the company feel less like an old fashioned 80s style company and encourages more collaboration. I was worried about my productivity going down due to lack of cubicle walls initially… but that hasn’t happened.

KPIs

All companies go through a process of determining Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and measuring themselves every week on it. The KPI is typically a single metric that drives your business and revenue. For example, Facebook found out many years back that once someone added 7 friends, they were spending a lot of time on the platform. They optimized their marketing, development and sales efforts to encourage people to get 7 friends within 10 days of signing up (this was their KPI metric). And they grew their business significantly as a result of that. I’m willing to bet most Techstars companies retain the KPI process after they leave the program – it allows you to focus on important things.

Leveraging software tools for various processes

Once you reach Techstars, you notice processes of companies around you and discuss what processes work best. Casabots has been exposed to new tools for CRM (customer relationship management), web signing of documents, telecons, email marketing and a whole lot more. Techstars companies get deals on many of these software tools too, which is cool.

These are just a small subset of the things I’ve observed. Every week, I write up a summary of my learning for some of our team members who are still in California. We’ve spent just a few weeks at Techstars so far – its amazing how much we’ve learned and grown and how many smart and uber-connected people we’ve met.

Thanks to Amos Schwartzfarb, Jason Seats, Sarah Spear, Andrea Aguiluz and other Techstars people for introducing us to all these ideas.