Creating and Hiring for Culture: Post #3 in our “Bend the Curve” Blog Series

Welcome to the Bend the Curve blog series on Techstars.com! We are excited to share with you the newest book for entrepreneurs, Bend the Curve, authored by Andrew Razeghi. (More about Andrew below.) In this handbook for entrepreneurs, Andrew has tirelessly captured the brilliance and insights of over a dozen of our most sought-after mentors. Everyone from first-time entrepreneurs to seasoned veterans will find useful, practical advice from other founders that you can use on your journey.

Over the next couple of weeks, we will continue to release short excerpts from the book including stories of entrepreneur success and failure. Today, read about Creating and Hiring for Culture and the story of Giveforward. Check it out and come back next week for the next post!

Bend the Curve
Chapter Three excerpt: Creating and Hiring for Culture

In this chapter, we’ll talk about:

  • Where company cultures comes from.
  • How to create a culture of innovation.
  • How to hire for the culture you want to create.
  • How to sustain that culture as you grow.

In the early days, when you are cash-strapped and unable to pay competitive salaries, you really have only two tools to attract the best talent: equity and culture. People join start- ups for different reasons, but among them is a very personal feeling that they “fit in.” They believe in the mission that the company is on, the product the company sells, and perhaps most importantly the culture that the company has created. As a founder, you are not only competing with the competitors in your category, you are competing for talent. Don’t wait to work on culture. It’s never too early to start thinking about it and, more importantly, to start living it.

Several years ago, when I first met Desiree Vargas-Wrigley and Ethan Austin, co-founders of the crowdfunding platform Giveforward (a Techstars company), I was taken aback by their commitment to culture. They had come to my office to pitch me as investor in their seed round. I loved the problem they were out to solve and I loved their business model, but what struck me most was a comment Ethan made after their pitch.

He said they were really serious about their culture and went on to explain their values. As much as he was engaged during the pitch, he physically lit up when he spoke about culture and leadership. This typically would come as no surprise. Culture is a big deal. Many companies talk about culture. Founders believe in it. People know it is important. But what struck me about Ethan’s enthusiasm for culture was the simple fact that, at that time and in that moment, Giveforward had one employee. One. And she had just recently become a salaried employee after working for 18 months as an unpaid intern. Ethan spoke about culture not as if they had one employee but as if they had one thousand employees. I invested.

Today, Giveforward is the leading crowdfunding site for medical expenses. They employ 29 people and have a Net Promoter Score (NPS) that rivals Amazon, Apple, Harley- Davidson, and Zappos. NPS, a measure of customer loyalty, is a direct reflection of a company’s culture. Essentially, a company’s NPS is the difference between those customers who enthusiastically recommend the company (promoters) and those unhappy customers who enthusiastically detest the company (detractors). The average company has a Net Promoter Score in the 5 to 10 percent range (meaning they’re barely breaking even, on a net basis, between the customers that love them and those that hate them). Many firms (and entire industries for that matter) have negative Net Promoter Scores (you know who they are).

In contrast, Giveforward’s Net Promoter Score is 80! Eighty! Based on analysis by Bain, companies that achieve long-term profitable growth have Net Promoter Scores two times higher than the average company and grow at twice the rate of their competitors. All those who poke fun at culture as a flavor-of-the-month initiative, do so at your own peril. Culture matters, a lot.

I liked that. Give me more. To order the book: http://bendthecurve.co/ 

About the Author

Andrew Razeghi is  an educator, author, speaker, consultant and angel investor. He is a limited partner in Techstars and integrally involved in the Chicago program. Andrew is a lecturer at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and is also founder & managing director of StrategyLab, Inc., a growth strategy & innovation consulting group.

Andrew is a contributor on the topic of innovation for a series of shows on The Travel Channel and is the author of several books including The Future of Innovation, The Upside of Down: Innovation through Recessions, and The Riddle: Where Ideas Come From and How to Have Better Ones. The Riddle was chosen by Fast Company as one of its “Smart Books.” You can reach Andrew by email at andrew@strategylab.com or follow him on twitter @andrewrazeghi.








Extreme Bootstrapping: Story #2 in the Techstars “Bend the Curve” Blog Series

Welcome to the Bend the Curve blog series on Techstars.com! We are excited to announce the hottest new book for entrepreneurs, Bend the Curve, authored by Andrew Razeghi. (More about Andrew below.) In this handbook for entrepreneurs, Andrew has tirelessly captured the brilliance and insights of over a dozen of our most sought-after mentors. Everyone from first-time entrepreneurs to seasoned veterans will find useful, practical advice from other founders that you can use on your journey.

Over the next few weeks, we will release short excerpts from the book including stories of entrepreneur success and failure. Today, read about Jeremy Smith and Extreme Bootstrapping. Check it out and come back next week for the next installment!

Bend the Curve
Chapter Two excerpt: Extreme Bootstrapping

Everyone is familiar with the image of the bootstrapper. Duct tape in one hand. Ramen noodles in the other. Jeremy Smith, co-founder & COO of the popular on-demand parking app, SpotHero, defines bootstrapping as: “Financially hacking your life to allow yourself a desired lifestyle while you grind day in and day out in search of Ramen Profitability.

Few have mastered the art of the lifehack more than Smith.

In this chapter, we’ll talk about:

  • Bootstrapping as a lifestyle
  • Checking your ego at the door
  • Inspiration happens when you least expect it
  • Crowdsourcing (the new way and the old way)
  • Never taking your eye off your bank account
  • Abundant and cheap forms of startup capital
  • The importance of a technical co-founder

“After leaving corporate,” recalls Smith, “I took five months off to enjoy life and find direction. At some point in that time I got into online sales and tried some pretty crazy things. One time I went to the bank and pulled out 75 $2 bills that I ended up selling on an eBay auction for $185! I even received positive feedback from the buyer, WTF? I pushed the envelope even further by going into baby bottles, steel canisters, textbooks, electronics, designer dresses and belts, and dog clothes. I didn’t care because it was a ton of fun and I started to learn the opportunities in running my own small business.”

His personal life started changing as well. “Mark got me into hosting couchsurfing guests. In any given week I would wake up to a crew of travelers sleeping in my main room.

These guests became my built-in group of friends to explore the city with while I lived on funemployment. Most of them were bootstrapping poor so I got used to doing all the fun free things to do around the city. I got into salsa dancing, biking the Lakefront Trail, hitting the beach, going to museums, cheap stand up shows, and a whole bunch more. I got pretty into all the free hacks this city had to offer. I moved into free drinks and food all over the city by checking out websites like brokehipster.com. You would think this would get old, but those were some of the best days of my life. I could get everywhere, explore, and eat at most places for free.

“The free movement occurring in my life was an important factor in shaping my social consciousness and my beginning in giving back to everyone else. I hosted, cooked, and acted as a tour guide for all of my couch surfers. When I moved out of that apartment, I posted all my old stuff, food, and clothes for free pickup on Craigslist. In general I would offer a helping hand in any situation I could. I love working out and so I would help all my buddies move out of their apartments too. They loved the help and always had things leftover that I would then take to my place. That helped me outfit an entire apartment with furniture and electronics for two years. Now that I was a world-class vagabond, I was ready to enter the world as a bootstrapping entrepreneur.”

Want more? To order the book visit: http://bendthecurve.co/

About the Author

Andrew Razeghi is  an educator, author, speaker, consultant and angel investor. He is a limited partner in Techstars and integrally involved in the Chicago program. Andrew is a lecturer at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and is also founder & managing director of StrategyLab, Inc., a growth strategy & innovation consulting group.


He is also a contributor on the topic of innovation for a series of shows on The Travel Channel and is the author of several books including The Future of Innovation, The Upside of Down: Innovation through Recessions, and The Riddle: Where Ideas Come From and How to Have Better Ones. The Riddle was chosen by Fast Company as one of its “Smart Books.” You can reach Andrew by email at andrew@strategylab.com or follow him on twitter @andrewrazeghi.








How to Get Accepted into Techstars

This post was originally published by Katie Roof on foxbusiness.com.

Startup founders know Techstars as a prestigious accelerator program, an early stage mentorship opportunity which helps startups kick ideas into action. With locations throughout the world and partnerships with large corporations, Techstars identifies founders with talent and vision.

Techstars CEO David Cohen spoke in a video interview with FOXBusiness.com and described what it takes to be amongst the 1% of applicants that get accepted. The program has launched some rising stars in the startup world, including Classpass and Sendgrid.

Techstars is “looking for amazing people with big ideas and some momentum on that idea,” Cohen said. He said they evaluate founders on what’s “motivating them to change the world” and that ideally, their passion comes “from the heart.”

With locations in Colorado, Chicago, London, Berlin and more, Techstars mentorship programs span the globe. The team has also launched accelerators in conjunction with Disney, Nike, Barclays and Sprint.

The programs last three months and in addition to mentorship, the startups get receive an initial seed investment in the company. Techstars also participates in subsequent financing rounds and recently raised a $150 million fund for early stage venture capital.

Techstars is headquartered in Boulder, Colo.

“We are creating quite an ecosystem across the world of both funders for venture capital as well as mentors who help the companies,” Cohen said.








Introducing the Techstars “Bend the Curve” Blog Series

photoWelcome to the “Bend the Curve” blog series! In conjunction with the Techstars Chicago program applications opening today, we are excited to announce the launch of this new book for entrepreneurs, “Bend the Curve,” authored by Techstars mentor, Andrew Razeghi. (More on Andrew below.)

In this handbook for entrepreneurs, Andrew has tirelessly captured the brilliance and insights
of over a dozen of our mos
t sought-after mentors. Everyone from first-time entrepreneurs to seasoned veterans will find useful, practical advice from other founders in this book. 

Over the next several weeks, we will release short excerpts from the book including stories of entrepreneur success and failure. Today, read the story of Chuck Templeton from OpenTable.

Check it out and come back next week for the next installment!

Bend the Curve
Chapter One excerpt: Beginner’s Mind

On May 21, 2009, Chuck Templeton, founder of the popular restaurant reservation system, OpenTable, celebrated yet another milestone for his company at the opening bell of NASDAQ. He even wore a suit (a rarity) and a tie (rarer still). The stock opened at $20 per share and closed at $32 per share (up 60%).

It was pretty cool,” recalls Chuck. “To be up there and to see OPEN flashing all over the place was awesome. NASDAQ was also promoting a bunch of OPEN stuff on the big billboards in Times Square. To see this idea I started, in my bedroom on my little laptop computer, become an idea that attracted thousands of customers, millions of users, hundreds of employees, and an IPO—it was incredible.”

In this chapter, we’ll talk about a few Chuck-isms:

  • Don’t worry. Be scrappy.
  • Manage a white-hot vision with a substandard product.
  • Get others vested in your success.
  • Recruit for uncertainty & deal with doubt.
  • Design for impact.
  • Adopt a penchant for problem-solving & a bias towards action.

Keep in mind, when Chuck started OpenTable back in 1998, most restaurants didn’t have Wi-Fi. No one had Wi-Fi. Few had computers. And, if they did, they likely didn’t have Internet connections. Not only did Chuck need to build a business, he needed to create the infrastructure on top of which he could create his business.

To understand how difficult this was, consider this: In order to win one San Francisco restaurant’s business, Chuck paid to install and run a physical Internet connection to the hostess stand. Given where the hostess stand was located—in the middle of the floor at the front of the restaurant (not near a wall)—this involved jackhammering the designer concrete floor, laying wire, and replacing the floor. It cost him several thousand dollars, but that account was an influential restaurant that many others followed. It mattered. And it worked.

Today, OpenTable serves over 31,000 restaurant customers globally and helps over 12 million diners each month find restaurants. In 2014, 16 years after a Eureka moment inspired Chuck to start the online restaurant reservation service, Priceline acquired OpenTable for $2.6 billion (or $103 per share). Technically, going public is a mechanism for raising capital.  And ringing the bell is not a business goal per se. To quote Facebook founder Mark  Zuckerberg the day he rang the bell: “Here’s the thing. Our mission isn’t to be a public company. Our mission is to make the world more open and connected.”

That said: the bell is symbolic. It’s an entrepreneurial waypoint—public recognition of the struggle (and payoff) associated with building the dream…

Chuck recalls: “[It was 1998 and] I was watching my wife attempt to make restaurant reservations using CitySearch, Microsoft’s Sidewalk, and the Zagat Guide, which was not online yet. She spent three-and-a-half hours one Saturday morning trying to make restaurant reservations for the next Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. She left several messages, asked about menu items, etc. I thought, ‘There has to be a better way.’

I had a few friends that were starting companies in Silicon Valley and I thought that if they can do it, I could do it. I tried to get a job at like ten other Internet startups and no one would hire me. I didn’t have enough Internet experience (in 1998!). I had a professor in my first attempt at an MBA that said the key to being successful in the Internet world was to make the way people were doing things in the real world exactly the same way in the virtual world. This would help to reduce the learning curve for customers to adopt anything new. And so that’s what I did.

We emulated exactly how restaurant hostesses took reservations. We didn’t try to come up with some new way to do things. We just did the same things they normally did offline, online. For my market research, I hung out in a ton of restaurants, always near the hostess stands so I could listen to how they took calls. I wrote down exactly how they answered the phones when calls came in for reservations: What did they say when they picked up the phone? What questions did they ask? In what order did they ask these questions? And so on.

We designed OpenTable to emulate these actions. We made it easy. And it worked.”

To keep reading and to order the book visit: http://bendthecurve.co/  

About the Author

Andrew Razeghi is  an educator, author, speaker, consultant, angel investor and Techstars mentor. He is a lecturer at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and is also founder & managing director of StrategyLab, Inc., a growth strategy & innovation consulting group.

Andrew is also a contributor on the topic of innovation for a series of shows on The Travel Channel and is the author of several books including The Future of Innovation, The Upside of Down: Innovation through Recessions, and The Riddle: Where Ideas Come From and How to Have Better Ones. The Riddle was chosen by Fast Company as one of its “Smart Books.” You can reach Andrew by email at andrew@strategylab.com or follow him on twitter @andrewrazeghi.








Important Deadlines for Techstars Programs

Just a quick announcement about several upcoming important deadlines for Techstars’ global accelerator programs!

Sunday, March 15:

Applications CLOSE for the following programs:

Monday, March 16:

Applications OPEN for the following programs:

Good luck to all of our applicants!