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.
Just over six months ago, we launched equity crowdfunding on Indiegogo. Through our joint venture with MicroVentures, First Democracy VC, anyone can invest in startups and innovative companies for potential financial returns.
Since November 2016, we’ve launched 14 offerings, raising nearly $5M from more than 3,700 investors worldwide. All 11 of our completed deals reached their minimum goals, and we’re constantly adding new offerings ranging from tech companies to distilleries to films and more.
So, what exactly IS equity crowdfunding? This fairly new industry is growing quickly following the passing of Title III of the JOBS Act in May 2016. Whether you’re interested in investing in companies you care about or opening up your early-stage startup to investment crowdfunding, here’s what you need to know.
What is Equity Crowdfunding?
Equity crowdfunding, also commonly referred to as investment crowdfunding or crowdinvesting, is a concept that arose in 2009. Equity-based crowdfunding allows people to invest in an early-stage, private company (a company that is not listed on any stock exchange) in exchange for equity (shares, or a percentage of ownership) in that company.
This is different from rewards-based crowdfunding, where people can contribute money to campaigns in exchange for perks.
Title III and the JOBS Act
In April 2012, President Barack Obama signed the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, or JOBS Act. One of the goals of this act was to give more people to ability to participate in investment opportunities. Title III, passed on May 16, 2016, was a landmark piece of legislation for the investment crowdfunding space.
Title III gives every American the opportunity to invest money into the startup companies they care about, while enabling issuers to raise up to $1 million over a 12-month period online.
Who Can Invest in Equity Offerings?
Since the passing of Title III, any American 18 years or older is eligible to invest in an equity offering. International investors can invest as long as they follow their countries’ securities regulations, so we recommend checking local securities laws before investing.
What are the Benefits of Investing in Equity Offerings?
As with any investment, there are always risks. There is always the possibility of losing all or a portion of your investment. However, the unique nature of investment crowdfunding offers many benefits that investors won’t find anywhere else.
Because most offering companies are early-stage startups, you get a chance to be a part of the journey, with the potential to participate in the company’s upside. You’re showing your support early on, which gives you the chance to feel more engaged and as though you are actually a part of the business. Plus, you can diversify your portfolio, while supporting new ideas as they come to life.
If you have ever wanted to be a part of a company’s journey to success, equity crowdfunding could be for you. Investing in an innovative startup gives anyone the opportunity to own a piece of the company and be along for the ride, whether up or down. It’s also a great option for early-stage companies to bring together their communities and engage with their biggest supporters from the beginning.
Ready to learn more about equity crowdfunding? Join Indiegogo co-founder Slava Rubin and Techstars founder David Cohen for an AMA on Thursday, July 13, 2017 at 9am PT/10am MT. Register here!
This blog post was originally published on Indiegogo.
Join us Thursday, April 13th at 12pm PT to learn more about the new Alexa Accelerator, powered by Techstars. We’re looking for the world’s best startups working with voice-powered technology and will be live with the team to answer your questions about the program, application process, and more.
Joining to answer your questions:
Aviel Ginzburg, Managing Director, Alexa Accelerator powered by Techstars
Rodrigo Prudencio, Alexa Accelerator powered by Techstars
We recently held AMA sessions about applying to an accelerator program. To help answer questions, we had Jenny Fielding, managing director of Techstars IoT in New York City, and Ted Serbinski, managing director for Techstars Mobility in Detroit. We often get asked about how startups can talk about traction when applying for an accelerator program. We asked Jenny and Ted to weigh in with their advice.
How important is traction when selecting a startup?
Jenny: We want to see passionate founders that are working on a life mission, and probably that they haven’t founded the company two days ago. We really want to see some data points. There isn’t one metric in terms of traction, it’s just that you have been executing whatever you said you were going to be executing. If you were going to get a website up, you were going to get some utility or transaction in that, and you did all those things. Then you’ve moved onto the next stage, you’ve gained some early customers. All of these things are considered traction. There really isn’t one answer to the traction question. It’s really that you’re moving on in the journey, and that you’re not just talking about it. Watch the answer here.
Ted: There’s definitely no one size fits all to traction. One of my best performing companies came into the program with very little traction, but it was clear that they could build something, and they demonstrated that. I’ve also seen companies with lots of traction and real revenue struggle, too. So the traction doesn’t mean good or bad, but at this point it’s a data point to give more understanding around that company.
We’re looking for companies that can execute and really build something that can create value. In the 90-day period of Techstars, you don’t create diamonds without a lot of pressure.
If you put a lot of pressure on these companies and they can’t execute or build anything, and they can’t get traction, they’re going to have a hard time outside of the program. If this is pre-program with a lot less pressure and they still can’t execute, there’s going to be a lot more pressure in the program. One size does not fit all, but traction does help us understand if the team can execute at large. Watch the answer here.
Join us for a live, interactive Ask Me Anything session to get all your questions answered about applying to an accelerator program! We’ll go over tips for your application, how to best show your product and team, and anything else you’ve been wanting to know!
Answering your questions:
- Cody Simms, Executive Director, Techstars
- Jenny Fielding, Managing Director of Techstars IoT and Barclays NYC Accelerator
Techstars currently has applications open for 9 programs around the world. Join us in this AMA to learn more and get your application ready by Oct 15th.
At Techstars, we often hear from startup founders that hiring is one of the most challenging things to do right. We recently held an AMA on this topic (Ask Techstars: Hiring & Culture – Scaling Your Startup) with Sabrina McGrail, VP of People at Techstars; Emma Straight, Sr. Recruiter at Techstars; and Natalie Baumgartner, Founder & Chief Psychologist of RoundPegg, a company culture and engagement tool.
How can you keep a culture fun yet still ensure that teams get a lot of work done?
Natalie: I will say that the more you understand what is important to your people as an individual and as a collective, you can make sure you are giving them what they need to have fun and enjoy what they are doing. It makes them far more productive and engaged in their work. Food for thought around understanding what people value.
Sabrina: Fun is subjective. Understand what they want and the type of environment that is ideal for them. Do engagement surveys to see what people are looking for out of the next quarter and the next year, and take general surveys to find out what your employees think. Take the time to understand what the culture is and set expectations around that at the beginning of the hiring process.
Emma: There is this sense of camaraderie and doing fun things, happy hours, team building events and all that fun stuff and the line is crossed very easily to things that may be inappropriate. It is up to the executive staff to always set a really good example of what is appropriate and what is not, especially when you’re not in the office setting. If something goes too far, deal with the situation quickly and directly so that it sets the tone and an example of what is okay. For example, “That was great and really fun, but maybe that behavior was crossing the line.” Handling this directly is key so that the behavior does not continue.
When is a CTO a must-have as a founding member of a startup?
Sabrina: This is a challenging question. I know that when we look at companies that we are selecting, having a CTO or a strong technical hire is obviously really important. I think it depends on what you’re building a lot of the time. It is great to have the right person in early on, but you also want to take the time to find the right CTO. The person to fill this role is so important; if you are rushing to get someone in the door that is not strong enough, it does not benefit you. The CTO is critical to building the company, so I would say take your time to find the right person and supplement in whatever way that you can versus giving someone (who maybe should not be a CTO yet) a CTO title. Otherwise, you end up having a lot of really hard challenges and conversations down the line when you may need to hire over that person or find someone who is a stronger leader.
Emma: Yeah, and on that I would say also that it is a critical recruiting aspect to have a really strong CTO or leadership presence on the engineering team when you are hiring engineers. It is a great tool for us to be able to go to and say, “Hey, this person is really leading the charge and building a really great team around them.” But you have to be really careful that it’s the right person, otherwise it could really harm you much more so than not having anybody. It’s really an individual thing and depends on the company, the size of the company and what the product or service is.
Natalie: For me, my co-founder was a CTO previously so it was not something that we had to go out and look for, but I want to take this opportunity to have a public service address moment to piggyback on what Sabrina and Emma were saying in terms of fit. You can not underestimate the importance of culture fit in making a decision around filling a very fundamental position in an organization. In the early days of Roundpegg, we had someone who was functioning as our CTO, but we needed a lead engineer. During this time, we were actually in Techstars, so this is back in 2010 when we made our first hire. We hired a guy who was a wonderful engineer, a great developer and a great human being, but we used our own tool (Roundpegg) and he was a terrible culture fit. So, great person, great technical expertise, but not a good culture fit and we hired him anyway. Our rationale was that we were still in research and development and not sure if our product worked yet, but all of the culture fit pieces really ended up playing out and it was a challenge for all of us. It was not a great decision for him, not a great situation for us and it took us awhile to part ways because we really liked each other. Fit is important for any position and certainly for a position with that level of impact.
What are some ways you’ve seen companies making office/culture more welcoming to parents and families?
Emma: I will jump in since I’m a new mother. I have two young kids and it has been a transition in my personal life to wrap my head around what this looks like as a working parent. Where is the balance? How do I give my all to both work and personal life? It’s a daily struggle of mine, so I’m still learning as I’m going and I still would love any advice and suggestions from any parents. I think I got really lucky; Techstars hired me when I was 9 months pregnant, I worked one month and then I took off three months. I feel very fortunate and very lucky that I got that opportunity. I think giving leave and making sure people feel supported when they are not only out of the office but the transition to come back is really important, not only to feel welcomed but also to understand that it is something that they are probably trying to navigate around as well. They may not have all the answers, so just being supportive in the flexibility of hours or having a pumping room helps. There are a number of different things, and it has been more of a focus of conversations lately in the tech world, which I am really excited about. I’m a parent that does not want to be a stay at home parent, so it’s really nice to see that people are embracing the challenges that may be involved. We are very hardworking and time management is a necessity for parents, so we are able to work much more efficiently and produce better results than I think sometimes people who don’t have kids.
Natalie: It’s definitely a topic that I love and a topic that has been front and center for me as a co-founder. I have three children who are 7, 5 and 2 years old, and they were all born during the life of RoundPegg. We have photos of all of them sleeping under my desk or in boardroom meetings. When I think about the question, the first thing I’d say is that as founders or leaders of an organization, you have to understand what your values are and what the aspirational values are that you have for your company and how you want to drive your organization. For me, it would be critical to work for an organization that really values flexibility and incorporates the balance that is necessary for parents. That is not always going to be the case for every company and for every leadership team, so first you need to get clear on where your values sit on that kind of flexibility. I know plenty of organizations where that’s just not part of the core values and as long as you’re clear about that as an organization, people can then self select in or out. I wrote an article two years ago about being a founder and being a mom. I was encouraged by our PR firm to write this when we were in a PR meeting and I was nursing my baby. My main position is that to be welcoming, you have to be flexible and you have to be willing to get creative and get messy about how you structure your work day. My co-founders were incredibly supportive and I was really fortunate, even though they had to work with all the nuances of working around my schedule as a parent – they are wonderful and make that possible for me. But, it does require me to be creative. I have been at meetings where I have a newborn downstairs in the lobby with a nanny and I’m trying to run a meeting and then go down to feed her and go back up – my colleagues have helped with that too. My efficiency has really increased with being a mom.
Sabrina: Make it okay to be human at work – it is something that Techstars talks about a lot. Create a space as you’re building a company. Make sure, whether for you or your managers, that you’re having one on ones and you can really genuinely ask, how are you? Not just how are you doing at work, but how are you doing in life? We have some tools that we use at Techstars to make sure that we are having both sides of that conversation. Creating that space is really important because then you know where someone is coming from, we don’t leave ourselves when we walk through the office door, we are carrying everything that is going on outside of work with us. Create an environment that comes from having a discussion about your values and what kind of company that you want to build. Being able to say that you are having a really crazy day at home and I really need to work from home for the next two hours, is totally okay.
Join us for our next Ask Me Anything session with David Cohen, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Techstars – June 23rd at 10am PT! Ask anything about startups, fundraising, accelerators, and more! REGISTER.