Like many young Americans, I took college a bit for granted. The education I received was top-notch, but aside from the pedigree of my degree, I didn’t gain nearly as much as I could have. I didn’t take advantage of the mentors I had access to or the opportunities to learn on-the-job skills as well as some of my classmates. I thought that my “real” education would come in my professional experiences. However, in the three years of working after graduation – at my family business, at one of the largest banks in the country, and at a late-stage startup – I was still feeling unfulfilled in my career. I was frustrated with the pace of post-grad life and felt as though my learning was not complete. I wanted more; more skills, more responsibility, more experiences, more connections… just more everything.
So in late Spring of this year, I sought out to change my career path and I applied to Boston Startup School. During the six weeks of intense skill development, networking, and personal growth, I finally felt like I was in my element – but I still didn’t feel like I was done learning. With job opportunities weighing on my mind, I met up with Jesse Bardo, VP of Alumni Engagement at EverTrue – a Techstars graduate. Jesse listened to every option I had at that time and then asked the question that would change my life: “Have you thought about being an Associate at Techstars?”
The next day, I sat down to talk about this possibility with Shaun Johnson, a former Techstars associate and Boston Startup School co-founder, and my interest was piqued. Aaron O’Hearn and Shaun then introduced me to Lizzie McGlinchey and one conversation later, I knew that this was the opportunity that I had been waiting for and it was now or never. The collective Techstars experiences of Shaun, Aaron, and John Capecelatro combined with the leadership of Katie Rae and Reed Sturtevant that I had come to know during my Boston Startup School experience were all it took to convince me to join the Techstars family. Time to dust off the notebooks and book-bag again.
From my first day as an Associate, Techstars became much more than a job – it became my support system. The week before the program started, I unexpectedly lost my grandfather. From the understanding emails I received while I was home to the positivity and excitement brought by the program kick-off, Techstars became my therapy and everyone there helped me through a very difficult time in my life. From the bottom of my heart, thank you all for that.
Over the three months of the program, I made a conscious effort to take everything in and I was determined not to let the Techstars experience slip by me like college had. From sitting in on mentor meetings with David Cohen and getting to know people like Tuan Pham better to playing flip cup with Nicole Stata and Katie Rae, I was constantly awed by the position I was in. Am I really here with these 13 incredible companies? Are Dave Balter and Jen Lum really playing foursquare in our lounge? Am I really in Chinatown with Bill Warner right now? Yes, yes, and yes. Wow.
As I bask in the afterglow of Techstars and transition into my next role, I am only beginning to understand the true value of this experience. My role as an Associate will certainly give me a competitive advantage when I apply as a company in the future and also help me to make the most of the program having been through it before. I sought to keep learning and now I am part of a network that will challenge me intellectually for the rest of my career.
Through Techstars, I’ve learned that work-life balance isn’t about the amount of time spent at each, but actually about finding colleagues who care about your life as much as your work. I’ve learned that if you have a good idea with great people, you can make magic happen. I’ve learned that if you put 70 people in a co-working space for 14 hours a day for three months, things get a little weird. Most importantly, I’ve learned that Techstars is a community that believes in who you are and what you do and will always, always have your back.
So, what will Techstars help you learn?
Techstars Boston is now accepting applications from startups, Associates and HackStars for the Spring 2013 session. Apply here and register to attend one of our upcoming informations sessions here. The early application deadline is December 3rd. Final application deadline is December 17th, one second before midnight, PST.
Being a founder is difficult, to say the least. You spend countless hours working on your idea, forget to eat and shower, lose sleep, and your friends have submitted a photo of your missing face to milk carton companies. You have even applied to a few startup accelerators, but haven’t had any actual success. It’s frustrating because you keep iterating and improving the product. If you’re already doing these things, how can you develop the best company? Easy. Work on developing a better founder: yourself.
A company’s idea is important, but not as important as its leadership. Perhaps what’s holding your company back is that you aren’t at the professional level necessary in order to effectively build a successful, profitable startup. So how do you improve your own personal and professional development?
Recent programs have been developed that are aimed at teaching highly applicable skills for the entrepreneurial tech industry. If you’re committed to becoming a web developer, then Dev Bootcamp can teach you Ruby on Rails in just ten weeks. Of course you will learn the skills to code, but perhaps more importantly, you will learn how to be a professional coder. Maybe you’re interested in product design or want to pursue a career in marketing. In that case, you’re going to need Boston Startup School. With tracks in product design, marketing, sales, business, and web development, BSS takes a holistic approach to teaching skills. Focused on recent college graduates and career-changers, Boston Startup School will lead you through six weeks of intensive curriculum about in-demand skills, guide you through workshops on personal growth, and teach you how to network at a high speed.
Aaron O’Hearn, former program manager of Techstars in Boston, now co-founder of Boston Startup School, says that the program is a great career move for both current founders and aspiring entrepreneurs:
Going through Boston Startup School shows the community that you’re serious about making your company successful because you’re committed to learning the skills that will make it all happen. We will challenge the way you think about your business and you’ll learn how to operate in a lean startup setting. Along the way, you will meet dozens of people who will support and fight for you and your vision.
Katie Rae, managing director of Techstars in Boston, sees the program as a great opportunity for founders to grasp, in her words:
The systematic way of thinking about progress. Early in your career, these concepts are foggy and Boston Startup School can bring clarity.
Katie Rae’s partner in Project 11 and Techstars, Reed Sturtevant, echoes her sentiments and says that these programs help founders listen well and learn quickly from peers and colleagues who both push and challenge.
After you develop your own skills through Boston Startup School, there’s no better way to learn how to lead an early stage startup than to actually work for one. Kailey Raymond, co-founder of inLieu Giving, attended Boston Startup School and then joined the team full time as their Customer Success Manager. “I aim to become a better founder, first, by being a better learner,” Raymond tells us. Between the skills Raymond learned in the sales and business development track and working side-by-side with O’Hearn, she discovered what really motivates her and just how far she has to go from here. “I have already learned more than I could have ever imagined. Sales, marketing, operations, development, you name it. If I want to experience it, all I have to do is ask. And what better way to learn than by doing?” Find a CEO or founder that you admire and become an employee of their company. BSS believes that there’s no better way to learn to be a founder than to work for one.
We’re admitting students in to our Fall class which starts November 5th. You can apply here or learn more about the program and why it might be for you. If you can’t commit to a full time program, companies like General Assembly and Intelligent.ly provide single day classes and workshops on specific subjects. The important thing is to keep moving and challenging yourself. If you cease to learn, you cease to improve.