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.
AccorHotels is a world-leading travel & lifestyle group and digital innovator offering unique experiences in more than 4,200 hotels, resorts and residences ,as well as in over 10,000 of the finest private homes around the globe. Through a heartfelt mission: to make every guest Feel Welcome.
Topics of interest 2018:
- AI for customer relationship – hyper personnalisation.
- Big data
- AR / VR
- Social network of services (daily services, management of employees and planning)
- Blockchain (validation of contract, crypto money)
- Prop tech – Data management (management and performance of buildings, privacy and storage)
Employees: 250,000 in 95 countries
The world leader in gases, technologies and services for Industry and Health, Air Liquide serves more than 3.5 million customers and patients. Oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen are essential small molecules for life, matter and energy. They embody Air Liquide’s scientific territory and have been at the core of the company’s activities since its creation in 1902. long term. I
Topics of interest 2018:
- Data analytics
- Administrative tasks
- Customer excellence
- Asset management.
Employees: 65,000 in 80 countries
FDJ is the French national Lottery and Sports Booking leader. 4th lottery group in the world, FDJ develops and operates 5 ranges of games : draw games, fast draw games, scratch cards, interactive digital games and sports betting. With €15,1 billion of stakes and 26 million players in 2017, FDJ guarantees the accessibility of its games with a distribution network of more than 31,000 points of sale, a website and applications for smartphones and tablets.
Topics of interest 2018:
- Customer experience
- AI for customer management
- Customer Interface
- Payment solutions
- Digital ID
- Data driven marketing
- AR / VR
GEFCO Group – Global player in industrial logistics and European leader in automotive logistics. GEFCO designs and implements flexible and smart supply chain solutions in more than 300 locations.
Topics of interest 2018:
- Flow optimisation analytics
- Applied Data
- Real-time external transport-related data
- Blockchain technology
- IoT – Intelligent trackers and connected sensors
Groupama – Insuring tomorrow with confidence. The group’s identity is built on Groupama’s agricultural origins and its territorial roots anchor it in the everyday reality of its members and customers. Global insurer with operations in France, Southern and Eastern Europe, and China. (€13.6B in combined premium income; 13M customers).
Topics of interest 2018:
- Operations Automation (RPA, AI …)
- Data-driven products
Next47 is a global venture firm created by Siemens that invests in, and partners with, entrepreneurs who think big and build industry-defining companies. With offices in Boston, Beijing, London, Munich, and Palo Alto, Next47 gives startups unparalleled access to one of the world’s largest portfolios of customers in the areas of industry, energy and infrastructure as well as domain expertise in the deep technologies that impact those customers.
Total is the world’s fourth-largest oil and gas company, as well as a major integrated player in low-carbon energies. Backed by nearly a century of history, Total discover, produce, transform, market and distribute energy in a variety of forms, to serve the end customer. Total is committed to energy that is affordable, reliable and clean, in compliance with the highest safety and environmental standards.
Topics of interest 2018:
- Customer Relationship
- Energy Services
Techstars’ managing directors devote their time to finding the best startups. Between office hours, roadshows and AMAs, they are available to answer your questions and tell you more about Techstars.
Can’t join them in person? Check out our FAQ and read on for insights from our managing directors on what they are looking for in applications from startups.
What to know before applying:
Our current application consists of three parts: basic information, team information, and program specific questions. You can only apply to one accelerator per term. In doing so, you will also be able to select a second choice. You may apply to another accelerator, and select another second choice, only if it’s in another term.
Do your research, learn more about each program and the team behind it, and check out who we’ve accepted in the past.
Don’t let your misperceptions stop you! Our managing directors set the record straight:
You are never too far along! Techstars can, and has, helped at all stages. It’s not just pre-product, pre-revenue companies.
“There isn’t a ‘minimum’ requirement. Each application is different. We look at a lot of things to make a decision. If you’re early or far along, if you’ve got customers or are pre-product, there are a lot of different kinds of companies that get into Techstars.”
About the team video:
“When we ask for your team video, we really want to know about your team. Who you are, how you met, how long you’ve worked together, why you’re awesome.”
We’re looking to hear your story. And don’t forget, show some personality and make it personal! This really is the most important element of the application. Keep it simple: be yourself, don’t read your pitch from a screen, and don’t work about a high quality production.
What about the demo video?
Like the team video, everyone agrees: this doesn’t need to be super polished. Instead: demo what you actually have, show us the product, give us a simple walkthrough!
As a guide: “a super crappy product demo with an ugly UI is 100x better than a marketing video.”
What else? Here is specific feedback, direct from our MDs.
About your team
We love the story of how you met, how long you’ve worked together, and how you work together. Show us your interpersonal relationships, why you want to solve this problem, and why you are uniquely qualified to do so!
On your location selection
Your first choice location will prioritize reading your application.
“The location you select will determine the network you’ll build. Make sure you pick a location that will give you the best opportunity to build the right network with the right mentors. There’s a decent chance you may wind up locating your company there for the long haul.” And, “If you’re planning to fundraise, choose a site that you think you’d have success fundraising in.
Company & Vision
“Make it brief, long rambling answers are never effective.” But think big, too: MD’s also want to see “A clear immediate goal and very big, encompassing long term goals of disrupting an industry.”
Team & Commitment
Make sure you really highlight what makes your team unique! As one MD says: “There are people who were born to do what they do. I really want to know that this is the thing you were put on earth to do and that with hard work and good luck, you can do it better than anyone else on the planet.”
From our MDs, “the more detail on this, the better,” but detail doesn’t have to mean metrics and raw numbers. We want to see the momentum you’ve gained, and what you’ve learned from your customers.
One guiding principle: Be honest!
Help us see where your money is going. And know that “You’ll need to have enough runway that with the money from Techstars, you can last until your next likely round of financing.”
Plain and simple: “We want to understand your cap table so we can help you.”
Help us see the full picture: Give any notes about team members that are no longer with the company but own > 5%.
And remember, like funding: Be honest!
Never say you don’t have any competition! As one MD says: “It’s either another company, and if it’s not, it’s email or a spreadsheet, or voicemail, or something else that people hack now to solve the problem they have that you’re solving.” And when you list it out, make sure to be specific.
Above all: “Having competitors is good. It gives you someone to go up against. You should know who they are and most importantly, how you are different and better than they are.”
We hope these tips from our MDs helped! If you have any further questions, reach out to our team at email@example.com.
We recently held an AMA session to answer questions on applying to an accelerator program. To help answer questions, we had Lesa Mitchell, the managing director for Techstars Kansas City, and Ted Serbinski, managing director for Techstars Mobility in Detroit.
What is the one thing you can do to stand out during the application process, outside of user and revenue growth?
Ted: The biggest things I look for in applications are the team video and the product video. We limit those videos to just a minute because one, it’s impossible to look at all the applications if we have to watch more than a minute.
But, two, more importantly, it focuses the team on highlighting the most important things about that team or about that product that they’re working on. If you can’t crisply explain what you’re working on or why you’re working on it in a minute, it’s going to be really hard to do that during Techstars.
Focus on that one minute to say “this is the best thing about our team,” and highlight “this is one thing about our product.” That concise factor really makes it interesting to see what it is about that team, how do they think about themselves in a minute, and how do they think about their product in a minute. It doesn’t need to be high production value. If anything, how you produce the video can say a lot about what you’re like as a team.
One of the best videos from one of my previous companies was actually filmed in a coffee shop. The reason it was so good was because they waited until the last minute to film it, so that it gave us a sense of their deadline and their ability to get things done. But it also gave us a sense of their personality, where they even admitted “hey, we’re doing this in a coffee shop, and we don’t have money to put it into production, but we’re really passionate about what we’re doing.” Using whatever means to get those videos done says a lot about you and your company.
Lesa: Having an insight and understanding about the founders and the problems that they have is most important. I really want to know that founders are scrappy. Taking an easy way in is never going to work as an entrepreneur. Scrappiness could include finding other people that have been through Techstars and finding an opportunity to talk with them. Get them to make a comment about you, or even mention that you’ve talked to them.
Techstars is going to be what you make of it, and how hard you work when you’re in the program. We only get you for a short period of time, so a piece of what you have to figure out through the process is whether or not a founder and their team are all in. That’s pretty hard to discern, so anything that you can help us to understand your “all in-ness” is super helpful.
Ted: One thing to add that is important – complete your entire profile. You don’t need pages and pages per question. A sentence or two, or a tweet-like response, can be sufficient. But I’m always surprised at the companies that take the time to do a video or a team video but don’t take the 30 seconds it takes to fill out the rest of it. Just taking the time to fill it out completely can say a lot about your own personality as a founder.
We recently celebrated World Entrepreneurs’ Day, a time to showcase innovation, leadership and the entrepreneurs behind it all.
Techstars is the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, and it all wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for our amazing alumni, mentors, partners, community leaders and team. There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to entrepreneurship, but we all are aiming for a common goal.
During the few weeks leading up to World Entrepreneurs’ Day, we asked our network what entrepreneurship means to them and advice they have for future entrepreneurs. In true #givefirst fashion, we were overwhelmed with responses – here’s a handful we wanted to share and hope they help you or a future entrepreneur on the startup journey:
“Entrepreneurship means forging your own life instead of following someone else’s.” – Nicole Glaros, CIO at Techstars
“I failed twice. Accept it, embrace it, funnel it to your next venture.” – Elad Shmilovich, CMO at Joonko
“Know what you’re good at and hire for everything else. Entrepreneurs, especially in the early days, get pulled in so many different directions because there is so much to do. Know what your strengths are, intensely focus on them, and bring on other, smarter people in the areas you aren’t so great at.” – Ben Mackinnon, Founder & CEO at Kard
“Start now, be firm in your vision but flexible in your execution.” – Seyi Fabode, CEO at Asha Labs
“Get out of your own head and talk to people. Talk to potential customers, talk to strangers, share your idea with mentors, angel investors, meetup groups. Attend a Startup Weekend. You aren’t an entrepreneur until you have the courage to pursue your idea and the conviction that will help you speak about it to everyone, anyone, all the time.” – Jordan Rothenberg, Startup Programs Regional Manager, Techstars
“It’s a journey, not a sprint. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, the community is your strongest asset.” – Steven A. Rodriguez, Startup Community Manager at Global Entrepreneurship Network
“Put your nose to the grindstone and work. One day, you’ll look up, and be surprised at how far you’ve come.” – Liang Deng, Business Development Analyst at backstitch
“Don’t let anything stop you from achieving your goal, not even yourself.” – Sky Kelley, Founder & CEO at Avisare
“Entrepreneurship is the ability to see opportunity where others cannot.” – Jenny Fielding, Managing Director for Techstars IoT