By Sabrina Kelly, Techstars Vice President of People Operations
At Techstars, we define our mission in People Ops as the following: “We are strategic partners in building Techstars business by maximizing the value of our most important asset—our people. We attract, retain, develop, and support Techstars employees globally and aim to uphold our culture and values, in a manner that is inclusive to all.”
As VP of People Ops, I hear a lot of questions from founders. This series aims to answer the most frequent questions.
Q: What is the single biggest People Ops mistake you see startups make?
Hiring the wrong leaders and not course correcting soon enough.
Hiring leadership is hard at any stage, but there is a crazy amount of pressure on startup founders to hire them quickly. It’s really easy for founders to lose sight of the values that are important to them in these hires, due to pressure from the Board or other advisors on “who” and “what” is right for their business. This whiplash is amplified by the fact that they likely have a bunch of employees that need experienced leadership, and they are band-aiding that at the moment themselves.
Mainly, don’t ever make that hire unless you are 110% pumped to sit in the trenches with them.
My advice, as impossible as it might sound, is to take the time to get it right: be extremely thoughtful about the profile you are looking for, get alignment with your leadership team on how to interview, proactively source from diverse pipelines or hire a recommended agency to support. Mainly, don’t ever make that hire unless you are 110% pumped to sit in the trenches with them.
So, what if you do all of that and in six months you start to sense that it’s not working? As painful as it might be, you need to dedicate the time to figure out what the problem is—and if you find out it’s them, you let that person go as soon as humanly possible. It might feel like the company will crumble if you have to start over, but that pain is nothing in comparison to what can happen if you put up with the wrong leader for too long.
Want to #DoMoreFaster? Apply to a Techstars mentorship-driven accelerator today.
In 2018, Techstars and Community Leaders have already run over 900 Techstars Startup Weekends in cities around the globe—and the year’s not over yet. Over 200 more events will take place during the month of November. Techstars Global Startup Weekend kicked off earlier this month and continues for one more weekend: November 16-18.
During these weekends, around 15,000 entrepreneurs worldwide challenge themselves to build a company in just 54 hours. It’s a truly awesome undertaking, and a massive thrill for everyone involved.
We asked some of our Techstars Community Team; (the people who make Techstars Startup Weekend happen) for their best advice on how to get the most out of the experience. Here’s what they said:
Be an open and active participant! Startup Weekend is an experience – so don’t sit on the sidelines during the weekend. Pitch an idea, learn a new skill, talk to as many people as possible, and step out of your comfort zone. It’ll be the best thing you do that weekend!
– Lalitha Wemel, Regional Manager Asia Pacific
Be present. Be respectful. Ask for help. Take charge of your own learning. It’s okay to make mistakes, and learn from it. Surrender yourself to immerse into one of it’s kind of entrepreneurial experience in a safe, secure, risk-free, diverse and inclusive environment.
– Anurag Maloo, Regional Manager South & Central Asia
Test the market and fail hard; over and over again if needs be. And finally, be coachable, always be coachable!
– Emily Skinstad, Operations Manager, Techstars Startup Programs
You get out what you put in. Clear your calendar, remove expectations, and immerse in the process!
– Jordan Rothenberg, Regional Manager Western U.S. & Canada
Stop pitching your idea to mentors, use their expertise and let them push where it hurts.
– Margaux Joly, Customer Experience Coordinator
Techstars Startup Weekend is a box of entrepreneurship magic. The way you use this magic box is by talking to everyone. You’ll never find the same mix of mentors, judges, organizers and attendees in any other room so unlock the magic by talking to everyone and getting to know as many people you possibly can.
– Luis Rodriguez, Product Manager, Community @ Techstars
It’s crucial that you and your team don’t waste time on minor decisions like the startup name, logo, colors etc. Time management is one of the keys to succeeding at Techstars Startup Weekend. If it’s taking too long to make a decision, do a roman vote and move forward to the next item on your list. You will have plenty of time after the weekend to polish it.
– Jose Iglesias, EMEA Director – Startup Programs
15,000 entrepreneurs at 200+ locations around the globe believe they can build a startup in a weekend. Come to Techstars Global Startup Weekend, November 16-18, 2018. Challenge yourself. Join us.
A bright future ahead for Hydrologistics Africa
Exactly one year! A colossal opportunity to launch ‘World’s First Virtual Water Network Operator’ in the heart city of Paris a thousand miles away from our country (Kenya). In an industry that has seen little disruption over the past decades we begun the journey to model technologies with a view to bring intelligence in water distribution network.
While water stress occurs throughout the world no region has been more afflicted than Sub-Saharan Africa which suffers from greater levels of water stress. Which begs the question as to why we came all the way to Europe with the idea (Bring value in every drop/every drop of water counts). Lack of water is an infrastructural concern effected by inefficiency in water distribution network which results from the conflicts of unpaid water bills, aging and leaky pipes, broken water mains and faulty meters.
Three months in Paris building Hydrologistics Africa a water technology company bringing intelligence in water distribution by automating billing through mobile money and monitoring consumption real time through an online dashboard. First and foremost Techstars helped us conceptualize and sharpen the idea to create a business case that would stand out from the traditional models one that may blend to growing African population with few if any of our prototypes still at the development stage. Armed with technical expertise and advice from Techstars partners and mentors during long office hours (hardware development) shouldn’t be the order of play but rather scout for a partner manufacturer and fix attention on financial modelling, structuring and fundraising for the business.
In that period our team knocked door-door, remotely conducting a survey that would later accumulate as much data with insights showing over 90% of Nairobi residents needed a solution that could enable them monitor and manage their water consumption. This informed us from the beginning why Techstars uniquely positioned us to be ‘go to’ water service provider partner for major utilities across the African continent. Creating a Pan-African service group is significant strategic advantage to scale as first as possible and the reason Paris was the scene to network with renowned giant water companies (Veolia and Suez) just to mention a few.
First forward to 2018, we’ve built a platform that integrates mobile money with Kenya’s giant Mobile network operator Safaricom and we are building a mobile application for households to monitor water usage. What keeps us awake every other day? Signing up homes and gated communities to test the solution which we began with an average 200 monthly installations with the aim to reach 1,500 households by the end of 2018. We are partnering with Liquid Telecom the leading independent data, voice and IP provider in eastern, central and southern Africa with the aim to use their well-established infrastructure where already Sigfox network exists to set up water monitoring sensors.
In a nutshell, Techstars put a lot in us that made us a first. #GIVEFIRST. We look forward for exciting times ahead!
This November we’re celebrating entrepreneurs and startup communities around the world with Techstars Global Startup Weekend! This global showcase of entrepreneurship will feature hundreds of Techstars Startup Weekend events around the world, from Bali to Anchorage.
A global showcase wouldn’t be complete without some prizes to help the winning teams move forward with their new startups. At Techstars we praise our worldwide network as the #1 tool to help you succeed after an event. In addition to the network support, here are the other prizes for this year’s Techstars Global Startup Weekend winners:
- Conference Tickets (by region) (5–8 tickets)
- Techstars Job Portal Profile Feature
- Regional winners will be highlighted on our Job Portal website, for a lifetime! Companies will be able to see this highlight & badge of excellence when looking at candidate profiles.
- Techstars Water Bottles & Techstars T-Shirts
- Google for Startups Cloud Credits
- $3k in Google Cloud credits!
- WeWork Hot desk for six months
- Access to any open seat in the common area! Just show up, set up shop, and get to work.
- Google For Startups Cloud Credits
- $100k in Google Cloud credits!
- ClassPass membership
- Get an all-access membership to a global network of 10,000 fitness studios, or try their at-home workout videos! Relax after TGSW and try strength training, cycling, and more. Prize covers four $100 gift cards towards memberships.
- Rocketbook Everlast
- The Everlast notebook provides a classic pen and paper experience, yet is reusable and connected to the cloud. Add a drop of water and the notebook erases like magic. Prize covers four notebooks for your team.
Want to win these prizes to help launch your startup? Are you ready to be part of the biggest entrepreneurial celebration around the world? Find a Techstars Startup Weekend near you!
by the TerraManta team (Techstars Class 111)
It’s difficult to believe that one year has passed since TerraManta joined Techstars Paris 2017 program.
We did not know what to expect prior to arriving in Paris. What we found was an incredible ecosystem of mentors, advisors, and investors powered by overwhelming desire to help Techstars companies succeed.
Before sharing highlights about TerraManta progress, I have to express countless thanks to the Techstars team – both local and extended, the city of Paris for being our home away from home, and our launch customer – an integrated oil and energy company based in France.
How long would it take for a complete outsider to become an expert in a deep domain?
That’s the question my co-founder, Andrei Klimanov and I, asked prior to starting TerraManta. For example, doctors require at least 10 years of education prior to practicing medicine with more years invested later in advancing their professional competency.
Crude oil is the biggest commodity market in the world. Companies which depend on crude oil and distillates face enormous economic risks. Airlines often hedge fuel prices by purchasing future contracts at a certain price. Crude oil prices go up? Airlines win. Crude oil prices go down? Airlines often have to close fuel hedges – at a price – to take advantage of lower oil prices. The economic risk ranges from hundreds of millions of dollars to billions of dollars annually for these companies.
So how long would it take for a complete outsider to become a crude oil expert capable of forecasting future oil prices? Probably at least 2 decades, while learning from other experts who have biases.
When crude oil prices collapsed in 2015 reaching $28 / barrel by mid January 2016, it became clear that crude oil experts were no longer equipped to analyze the impact of geo politics on crude oil market fundamentals (supply, demand, inventory, distribution, exports, imports) and resulting price actions.
Something was missing.
That “something” is a platform for domain specific analysis of unstructured and structured data with the goal to apply machine learning in deep domains where humans require many years to master and learn with inevitable biases.
The platform is based on a goal centric learning principle, just like human analysts do when they elect to learn something. They set a goal which aligns their knowledge acquisition approach. Acting just like a human crude oil analyst, TerraManta software instead will do the same.
The first goal – can future crude oil prices be forecasted more accurately – became the first product: TerraManta for Crude Oil. Our software analyzes about 4,000 energy relevant news from public data sources every day, obtains crude oil market fundamentals every month, and looks for correlation between topics influencing fundamentals and how changes in fundamentals cause price actions in the market. What human analysts do today, TerraManta does automatically on a mass scale while learning every day.
Today, crude oil prices more than doubled since January 2016. As a result, the interest in TerraManta is growing.
Several dialogs are in progress: US based airline, major bank in Canada, another major bank in France, leading company providing specialized risk analytics for global corporations, and another leading company providing energy analytics.
We are also excited to support a 17-user trial with another global oil company
Does TerraManta software work? We believe so. The software generated a price forecast on 25 September 2019 which was on target until 11 October 2018 (when this blog post was written).
The Techstars Paris program created many memories which will be forever remembered. To name a few ….
Friendships and relationships which transcend borders and continents. Exceptional coffee. Equally exceptional croissants. Grace under pressure redefined by program manager and associates.
Above all, ‘give first’ was transformed from a spoken comment into a real and sustainable personal belief.
by the Snapswap Team (Techstars Class 111)
Opening an account online is still a painful process for customers and we hardly see people registering and verifying themselves directly from their phone or laptop.
Most of people are still going through the process manually whereas demand for digital services is increasingly booming. It represents a waste of time for customers and a waste of money for financial institutions. We wanted to develop a solution that would improve this process and this is how we came up with the idea of a remote automated onboarding solution for banks, the investment industry and other businesses. We created a white label customer onboarding solution, available 24/7, allowing customers to complete initial onboarding in less than five minutes rather than days. It allows customers to register themselves in a secure an instant way and consistently improve customer knowledge and traceability.
With our team, we put together the different set of skills in business, project management, computing and compliance to provide a brand new solution to the French market that would facilitate the onboarding process and provide a great user experience. Thanks to their past experiences, our team members have a deep knowledge of the bank and the insurance industries. They understand the needs and specific requirements of such demanding verticals, which allowed us to develop a customized solution with a corporate partner of the Techstars program.
Our Techstars journey represented a real trampoline for us, since we could meet key stakeholders of large French companies and develop new business connections. Techstars had a great team that was always pushing us out of our boundaries to provide the best in class solution. We received useful mentoring classes and intense training, would be put in connection with the right persons, would be given all the keys for the road of success. Today, our main focus for us is on international expansion and we are going to have major improvements in our product, in security and compliance.
by the Lovys team, from Techstars Class 111
Roughly one year ago we started our new adventure in France by setting big goals! We were thrilled by the ambition of giving to french customers a better solution for the way they buy any type of insurance. We were getting to a market that had been seen little changes since 15 to 20 years ago and whose actors have not been changing much either. France was known in this market by its solid insurance groups that despite their incredible resources were not managing to reinvent the way people relate to insurance products. What was wrong with the market? In many cases, purchasing and claim reporting were not 100% digital. In most of the cases, the interface with customer were full of jargon and poorly designed. In almost every case, insurance companies were giving no freedom to people to cancel their insurance whenever they wanted to.
So one year ago we challenged ourselves to build the most flexible digital insurance of the market. We wanted to offer people a faster purchase, clearer language and a painless management. All this in a form of a monthly subscription where everything they pay is clear and that they cancel or change anytime. One year after, we are glad to say we already launched insurance for smartphones – and home insurance is just about to being launched! Also, we are very glad with our UI/UX design of our website we are just finishing and can’t wait to launch. Our next step is to build our car insurance service to launched early next year.
We are proud of the pace and that is thanks to our amazing team’s energy. Our crew has a very diversified background with one thing in common: our ambition to make the company grow fast (in addition to our taste for mexican food, of course). They have created the first insurance comparison websites in Brazil, led projects of new product development for cosmetics brands and worked for the first Uber’s pilot for helicopters pooling. And they are eager for what is to come.
Last but (definitely) not least: Techstars’ role in Lovys first steps! More than providing useful business advice and putting us in contact with great mentors and advisers (which they did more than we could have expected), the Techstars team created an unforgettable working atmosphere. They were the first ones to believe in our project and we would never be where we are today if it was not for their very early support. Techstars also greatly helped in our development by putting us in contact with large players in the insurance industry and give us the credibility to develop meaningful partnerships.
If we were to sum up our time at Techstars in two words: Dynamic and enthusiastic (or Family Dinner)
Techstars Startup Weekend Facilitators are stewards of the Techstars Startup Weekend mission. They are the on-the-ground support at events around the world, there to ensure that every community has an amazing experience.
Q: How did your journey start with Techstars Startup Weekend?
Filippos: My first experience with Techstars Startup Weekend was back in 2012, when I was a volunteer helping out the organizing team for Athens Startup Weekend University. I was blown away by the event, its structure, the overall vibe and the impact it had on the participants. I remember how it felt different from every other startup event I had been to: it felt global, and it felt real. It wasn’t about long presentations or sponsor talks, it was truly all about action. It made me want to participate, to organize, to be more involved. After this event, I went on to become a leading organizer for the university vertical in Athens, bringing people together from different universities all over Greece to team up, share ideas and turn them into viable businesses.
Q: Why did you decide that you wanted to become a Facilitator?
Filippos: I have a huge passion for educating, connecting, and motivating people. To be able to combine that with meeting different communities from all over the world is something incredible. I knew I wanted to become a Facilitator from the time I saw David Andersen absolutely rocking the Athens stage with his passion and great energy, he was the person that truly inspired me. I wanted to further explore how different local communities approach entrepreneurship and the Techstars Startup Weekend mission, and being a Facilitator was an amazing opportunity for me to do so.
Q: What do you enjoy most about being a Facilitator?
Filippos: Meeting community leaders from all over the world, helping them grow their local communities, and being able to support and empower people with big aspirations. As facilitators, we get to be at the forefront of innovation at any place we visit. We are there to help, to listen, to share, and to act as connectors. It’s something extremely rewarding and unique, and has been one of the most important factors for my personal growth in recent years.
Q: What is your best memory of facilitating at a Techstars Startup Weekend?
Filippos: I have numerous great memories from facilitating, but I’ll always remember one from the first event I ever facilitated in Sheffield, United Kingdom. During the Sunday after party, one of the oldest participants came to me and said: “On Friday night you said this event would change our lives, and I thought it was just a corny, motivational statement. And I was wrong. Because of the people, the energy, and the work we managed to pull off, this event truly changed my life, and was nothing like I had expected.” Till this day, this was one of the most rewarding moments of my life.
Q: Do you have any advice for those Organisers who are hesitant to take the plunge and apply to become a Facilitator?
Filippos: Don’t hesitate! Facilitating is one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever have. You are already halfway there by being an active organizer, and that takes tremendous effort and skill. Facilitation is going to be that next step that will let you connect with even more communities and truly embrace the global aspect of Techstars Startup Weekend.
Techstars Global Startup Weekend is coming on November 2–4, 9–11, and 16–18, 2018! 15,000 entrepreneurs at 200+ locations around the globe believe they can build a startup in a weekend. Challenge yourself. Join us.
Techstars is excited to be working closely with Startup Boost (who you may remember we partnered with in March this year) for their 3rd cohort starting late September. Applications for the Fall program are open until September 17th here.
Between six and eight pre-seed/seed stage tech teams will be selected to take part in the pre-accelerator program. Prerequisites include a comprehensive business model, a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), and market validation or traction. Working in tandem with keynote speakers, the Startup Boost City Directors offer industry insights alongside hands-on mentorship, guidance, validation and the necessary resources for building traction.
Concluding with a global demo day, this year’s Autumn 2018 startups’ will gain exposure to potential new sales leads, and the opportunity to pitch and connect directly with investors and accelerator directors.
“Startup Boost was an invaluable experience for our business it really helped us to validate our business idea and focus on our target market. The connections and ongoing support from the startup boost team has been invaluable” – Ronan Kelly Founder of Bespoke Choice from the 2017 Autumn Startup Boost Dublin Cohort.
One of the founding members of Startup Boost and EIR at Bank of Ireland Gene Murphy said ‘The benefit of Startup Boost is that it brings a program to help pre seed investment teams make the next big step in an under supported stage to prepare them for Accelerators, Investment and most importantly Revenue generation’.
Applications are now open to all pre-seed/seed stage startups for Startup Boost Dublin’s Autumn program at startupboost.org/apply with entries to the program closing on September.
Rover.com has raised more than $300M and registered more than 100,000 pet sitters.
“Without Techstars Startup Weekend, there would be no Rover.com,” says founder Greg Gottesman.
Back in 2011, the Seattle-based venture capitalist had a terrible experience boarding his dog at a local kennel. He was determined to create a better way for pet parents to find quality care for their animals, and Techstars Startup Weekend Seattle gave him the perfect opportunity to test his idea and meet team members who shared his passion.
Being authentic and personal when you’re pitching someone a problem and a solution is far more compelling than when you pitch an idea that isn’t authentic to you.
Though Greg didn’t know it at the time, that one weekend would serve as the launchpad for what is now a doggy-daycare juggernaut, which has raised over $300M and registered more than 100,000 pet sitters.
From Day One Dream to Petcare Platform
On day one of Techstars Startup Weekend Seattle 2011, Greg gave a one-minute pitch, explaining his idea — to create a customer-centric company that serves as matchmaker between pet parents and dog sitters, walkers and caregivers. His relatable, authentic pitch scored him a diverse, super-smart 10-person team.
That team got to work, striving to build a company in just 54 hours. Over three days, they experienced the highs, lows, fun, and pressure that make up life at a startup: learning from local mentors, finding customers, building the product, and finally presenting the brand new company to a panel of local startup leaders — who awarded Rover first place!
Since then, Rover.com has raised more than $300M and registered more than 100,000 pet sitters. In March 2017, Rover acquired DogVacay, joining forces to create dominance in the online dog care market. Earlier this year, Rover.com announced a round of $125M in equity funding, and an additional $30M in debt to continue their aggressive growth trajectory.
Greg has made a career out of starting up. He currently serves as managing director for a startup studio called Pioneer Square Labs in Seattle, where he and his team create companies from scratch. For 20 years he served as managing director at Madrona Venture Group, the largest venture capital firm in the Pacific Northwest. For the past 15 years, he has taught entrepreneurship and computer science at the University of Washington.
How to Standout at Startup Weekend
We recently caught up with Greg to get the back story on Rover.com. We asked him to share his top tips for anyone considering attending a Techstars Startup Weekend in their area.
“During the one-minute pitch, I told a personal story about my own dog and that was compelling to people. Being authentic and personal when you’re pitching someone a problem and a solution is far more compelling than when you pitch an idea — even if it’s a great idea — that isn’t authentic to you.
And second, choose a problem that you can see yourself spending more than a weekend working on, something you are passionate about. The reason we were able to recruit so many people to the team is that they were excited about solving a real problem that was relatable.”
“When you’re choosing a team to join at Startup Weekend, base your choice on the people more than their ideas. Make note when you hear someone pitching and you think they would be an incredible person to work with. Too many people listen to the idea rather than focus on how much fun they are going to have working with someone.”
One team member who signed on to Rover.com for Techstars Startup Weekend was Phil Kimmey, a developer and (at the time) rising senior at Washington University.
Over the weekend, Greg realized that Phil was an exceptionally talented young engineer, who also didn’t have a summer job lined up. Today, Greg says, “Had Phil Kimmey had a summer job, had someone realized how talented he was, there would be no Rover.com.” Phil became a co-founder, and is still a member of the leadership team.
The roots of Rover’s culture are entrepreneurial and customer focused, which is a culture that is grounded in Techstars Startup Weekend. At Techstars Startup Weekend, finding and focusing on the customer, not just the product, is an important part of the weekend and learnings.
“The team has executed very well on the product, but at the end of the day, it’s the customer experience that we focused on at Startup Weekend and that kind of thinking has been really helpful to people as they come out into the real world.”
“I think a lot of times what happens is that people get very sensitive about equity splits and those kinds of things. When in reality, as you think of the many thousands of businesses that have been started at Startup Weekend, I bet there would be a larger number of companies that were successful if people weren’t as sensitive about the equity splits.
If someone really wants to run with a company, being open to giving up most, but not all of your equity is the right way to do it. I think holding on too tight ends up killing a lot of the projects that have promise.”
“I wrote the Rover deck that first night of Startup Weekend, so by early Saturday morning I knew very clearly the brand story I wanted to tell. If we could tell the story and demo part of the product reasonably well, that’s a nice formula because it’s not possible to build out all aspects of the product during the weekend.”
Greg knows to avoid the trap of an overly high level, general pitch. He advises: “Share a personal story about someone you know well and take me through why it’s an important problem worth solving, and how you would solve it. It sounds so simple, but it’s amazing how hard it is to do that.”
Build a Company in 54 Hours
Techstars Startup Weekend has hosted over 5,800 events in more than 150 countries, with over 330,000 alumni. At these events you’ll be immersed in the ideal environment to learn, build, and meet your next team.
In Greg’s words:
Startup Weekend is an incredible, intense, addicting experience. For those who haven’t tried one yet, you should sign up for the next one.
Find a Techstars Startup Weekend near you.