Fall is in full-swing here at Techstars with the addition of 64 new companies! Techstars recently had seven Demo Days across the globe, including Berlin, Mobility in Detroit, Barclays New York, London, Techstars Retail in partnership with Target in Minneapolis, New York City and Chicago. Phew!
Here’s a quick round up of the highlights:
Berlin Class of 2016
Techstars Berlin’s second Demo Day, held at the iconic Kino International, showcased 10 companies from six different countries with products ranging from machine learning and AI, to SaaS and mobility.
Techstars Managing Director, Rob Johnson, opened the event and Executive Director, Greg Rogers, provided welcoming remarks. It was an exciting day to celebrate the 2016 class with investors, mentors and other founders from the Berlin startup community!
Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit Class of 2016
Techstars Mobility hosted its second annual demo day in downtown Detroit on September 8. It was a showcase of the growing collaboration between startups and the automotive industry.
Over 2500 attendees from 12 different countries watched as 12 startups pitched their businesses impacting the future of automotive and transportation. These startups were building businesses around autonomous, connected vehicle, shared services, mapping, and big data and analytic technologies. Three of the 12 companies announced partnerships with the program’s title sponsor, Ford Motor Company.
The entire demo day was live streamed and that video can be watched on YouTube here.
Managing Director, Ted Serbinski, announced that Techstars Mobility has brought two additional high-growth startups to Detroit: Mapbox and Polysync, the latter of which is a Techstars Ventures investment. These companies will be opening their Detroit offices out of the Techstars Mobility space, joining Oblong who opened their Detroit office last year.
Bob Caza, Director of Communications at the North American International Auto Show, expanded on Techstars Mobility mission to expose more startups to Detroit by announcing that we’re opening applications to bring 50+ mobility, automotive, and transportation startups to the 2017 Detroit Auto Show.
To capture this growth of the startup community, coupled with the entrepreneurial resurgence in Detroit, we debuted a trailer for Long Haul Films who is developing the documentary Restarting the Motor City. This is a feature-length documentary about the creators, innovators and entrepreneurs who are reimagining Detroit. They are breaking free from the shackles of 20th-century thinking to create a new model for cities across the globe.
Barclays Accelerator, Powered by Techstars in New York Class of 2016
Techstars Barclays NYC’s second Demo Day Event was held at the Edison Ballroom in the heart of the Theater District. Ten cutting-edge FinTech companies showcased products solving problems in real estate, capital markets, security, banking and the freelance economy.
Joe McGrath, the CEO of Barclays Americas, opened the evening with a warm welcome and recognition of the impact of Barclays’ programs around the world, which have seen collective valuations rise 190% from their pre-accelerator valuations.
Greg Rogers, Executive Director at Techstars, introduced the companies to the 600+ attendees including investors, mentors, Techstars alumni and community members. Jenny Fielding, the Managing Director, closed the event with a special thank you to mentors and Jon Zanoff, Entrepreneur in Residence, for their tireless devotion to this class and role in these companies’ success.
London Class of 2016
Led by Max Kelly, the Managing Director of Techstars London, the 2016 program kicked off with new offices, a new fund and a great new class. Within the class, one-third have PhDs and there are 19 separate nationalities! The variety of industries is astonishing – from grease to graph databases, from aid to artificial intelligence.
Each company presented their pitches to a packed venue during Demo Day, which took place on September 20 at the Royal Institution in London.
It is always exciting to be in the front seat of this kind of innovation.
Techstars Retail, in partnership with Target Class of 2016
Techstars Retail’s first Demo Day, held at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, showcased eleven companies with products ranging from voice search, machine forecasting, visual registries and retail experience bots. More importantly, all these teams were able to demonstrate their accomplishments they achieved over the summer.
Techstars Managing Director, Ryan Broshar, welcomed almost 1,000 attendees then opened the evening with an inspiring message and fun facts about this year’s class. Target’s Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer, Casey Carl, shared welcoming remarks and reflected on his experience as a mentor. It was an exciting day to celebrate the 2016 class and the broader Twin Cities startup community!
New York City Class of 2016
For the 2016 class, Techstars NYC experimented with a new take on Demo Day. Rather than live pitches Managing Director, Alex Iskold, introduced Exclusive Investor Preview and Investor Only Demo Day.
As with our previous classes, this was a diverse group of founders solving a wide range of problems. In addition to six teams from NYC, we had teams from Rochester, Atlanta, San Francisco, two teams from Philadelphia, a team from the UK, a team from France and two teams from Canada. Of these 15 companies, five have women CEOs.
The new Demo Day format was a hit among founders and mentors, and aligns with the spirit of innovation at Techstars.
Chicago Class of 2016
Techstars Chicago’s seventh Demo Day, held at House of Blues in Chicago, showcased the latest ten startups selected from a pool of thousands of applicants. Companies ranged from a wearable hardware device enabling parents to keep track of their kids to enterprise and B2B software solutions, and showed both the diversity and high potential of the midwest startup ecosystem.
Techstars’ Managing Directors, Troy Henikoff and Brian Luerssen, along with Excelerate Labs co-founder, Sam Yagan, welcomed a packed house filled with notable investors and entrepreneurs. Chris Gladwin opened the afternoon with a keynote on the need for grit in operating his business to the recent 1.3 billion dollar sale of Cleversafe to IBM. It was an exciting day to celebrate the 2016 class and the broader Chicago startup community!
Get a head start on your own entrepreneurial journey. Apply to an accelerator program. Applications close on October 15th.
Who: Startups interested in applying for the Austin, Barclays Cape Town, Barclays London, Barclays Tel Aviv, Berlin, Boston, Boulder, Cloud – San Antonio, Healthcare in Partnership with Cedars-Sinai (Los Angeles), New York City or Seattle Accelerator.
What: Info session
When: September 29
Where: Startup Hall – 1100 Northeast Campus Parkway #200, Seattle, WA 98105
Who: Startups interested in applying to the Barclays Accelerator
What: Office Hours
When: August 31 – September 1
Where: The Factory, Rheinsberger Str. 76/77, 10115 Berlin, Germany
Details: Click on any time to make a booking. Please ensure you have watched the webinar before this meeting to ensure that the most is made of the time. You can find it on the calendar invite.
About two months ago, we got into Techstars. This story isn’t about that, though. It’s about doing more faster.
The first thing I noticed during our Techstars introduction is that all startups are at very different stages. While some of them already have dozens of employees, other startups are in the process of pivoting and starting from scrach.
At Mimo, we are somewhere in between. Our two proof-of-market apps have been on the App Store for over a year now. Swifty just passed the 1M download mark but, although it generates a decent amount of revenue through its in-app purchases, its customer lifetime value is too low to be a sustainable revenue stream.
In the long term, we want Mimo to become the leading source for mobile education, a place where you can dive into almost anything, in a learning style that is a lot closer to a game than old-school textbooks or video lectures.
Before Techstars, we were chasing a lot of different paths. We liked what we’ve created with Swifty and Javvy but we’ve also felt like B2B was a thing. We wanted to release Mimo at the end of the summer but didn’t really know how to get there.
Here’s our Initial Plan:
- Build a course creator that allows everybody to create courses in an interactive format and submit them to us.
- Build a tool that allows us to review the courses of the instructors in a timely manner.
- Create a marketplace and allow customers a way to rate and review the courses.
- Split the revenue with the instructors in a fair and secure way.
- Launch on iOS and Android devices (yes, that’s phones and tablets).
The New Plan
Then we had our initial deep dive with Rob, our Techstars Managing Director, and that was when things changed quite a bit. His question was:
What would the app look like if we were to release it four weeks before Demo Day?
Having Mimo out before Demo Day would give us the chance to show some actual data to investors. “Doing more faster” is just one side of the coin, we also had to figure out what we wanted to do faster. So we started taking the initial plan apart and looked for things we could remove. After two intense hours with Rob, the updated plans for Mimo looked like this:
- Create all the content in-house and stop working on the course creator.
- Drop the revenue sharing system.
- Drop the rating system.
- Launch with ten courses on computer science and programming.
- Launch on iOS only and drop the Android version.
- Launch in seven weeks.
Phew! To some of us, this sounded like a very drastic change, maybe even a pivot. Still, it also meant that we finally had a clear plan that we could execute on. ?
Asking the People What they Want
We decided on having ten courses for the initial release, but we still had to figure out which computer science-related topics we would go with. We had different ideas of figuring this out but, in the end, we decided to include a simple survey in Swifty.
The survey was obviously somewhat biased by the fact that Swifty’s users are iOS-only and mostly new to programming, which resulted in more advanced topics getting less votes than I would have thought (yes, we want to release more advanced courses in the future).
Because Mimo’s lesson format didn’t support images at the time, writing a high-quality course on Xcode/iPhone development wasn’t possible. So, sadly, we had to move the two topics that got the most interest back on the priority list.
Here’s the list of courses we decided to go for:
10. Programming Basics
Building a Content Pipeline
Great. We had a list of courses we wanted to release along with the app but, now that we didn’t look for external instructors to write the content, we had to find a way to create the entire curriculum in-house.
Swifty alone has more than 300 interactive lessons. A single lesson takes Henry, who’s in charge of content, around 15–25 minutes to create, creating ten additional courses within eight weeks seemed almost impossible (especially because the quality of the content was something we didn’t want to compromise on). That meant that we had to look for outside help as soon as possible.
We set out to hire a bunch of freelance developers with a desire to teach people. Not the easiest position to hire for in general but, with the added time constraint of finding someone in 1–2 weeks, it became a real headache.
Thankfully, there are some advantages for Techstars startups and in the end, the Techstars network helped us find the right people.
In a matter of a week we hired four “curriculum engineers”, all from different countries and all worked remotely ?. Henry had to devote almost all of his time to managing the content team over Skype and Slack, a task that isn’t easy.
Coming Up with a Business Model
With the content team up and, well, writing, we also had to zero in on Mimo’s business model.
Here’s what the “business model” of Javvy and Swifty looked like:
- Download the app for free.
- Get the first two chapters for free.
- Get the third chapter for free if you share a branded message on social media.
- Unlock all other chapters for $2.99.
We had long discussions with Rob about the new business model and came to the conclusion that the old model worked fine for our stand-alone apps, but having to purchase every Mimo course on its own did not seem like a good way to go forward.
Our first intuition was to let the users decide between the one-off purchases to unlock a single course and a monthly subscription that would unlock the entire course library. But this approach has its flaws. Our courses differ in length, so we would have to price them all individually, which makes it more complicated for us to manage. The consumer on the other hand has to decide between the different purchasing options, which we deemed too confusing.
The other strategy that came to our minds was to offer a subscription that would unlock the whole content. We were hesitant to get rid of the “single-course purchases” because we were not convinced that users who wanted to learn, say, Swift would also want to learn other programming languages.
So we designed an experiment to test if users would be willing to go for a monthly subscription. We realized that, in order to get any real results, we had to actually charge the early-bird users.
Testing our Assumptions
We built a quick landing page that displayed the different courses and features that we wanted to launch Mimo with. Then we linked to a Plasso “space” that allowed the users to choose between a monthly and yearly subscription. Since Plasso took care of the recurring payment handling and the Stripe charges, setting the experiment up didn’t take more than a couple of hours.
While all this was going on, we were also looking at a way to grow our mailing list. We started rewarding Swifty users that signed up as beta testers for Mimo with a dark coding theme, which worked really well. All of a sudden, we were collecting 2,500+ email addresses per week.
This mailing list allowed us to send the subscription experiment to a large number of potential users. We started by offering a batch of 3,000 people a subscription for a price of $2.50/month ($25/year) and limited the offer to 72 hours, so that people had an incentive not to wait around.
Once we looked at the results, we were surprised to see that 5.5% of the users who opened the email really subscribed to Mimo, with 41% of them going for the yearly plan. (Keep in mind that these are subscriptions for an app that was more than a month away from being launched.)
After the first experiment, we were pretty confident that users would go for a subscription if the price was right, but what is the right price?
To answer that question, we built another two landing pages and sent them to different batches of 3,000 Swifty users. This time, however, we priced the subscriptions at $7/month ($70/year) and $5/month ($50/year). Once again, the results were surprising.
At $7/month, the conversion rate dropped to 1% and we did not sell a single yearly subscription. We attributed this partly to the fact that $7 per month puts us in a price range where we are being compared to products like Netflix and Spotify. At $5/month, however, things looked a lot better.
After seeing these results, we started to feel a lot more confident about this change in the business model.
Here’s what we landed on (for now):
- Download the app for free.
- The first chapter of every course is free, so you can get a glimpse of what’s to come.
- The second chapter of every course is free if you share Mimo on social media.
- Unlock all courses and chapters for $49.99/year.
Sprint to Launch
We figured out content creation and the business side of things, but we still had to build the app itself. Unfortunately, because of the different lesson format that we created to improve the learning experience, we could only reuse small parts of Swifty’s code base.
We hired two freelance iOS developers in order to launch on time, one of them is still working with us today (hey Frank ?). Together, we spent many late nights in the office, trying to get the interactive lessons just right.
Although we didn’t quite manage to launch on time (Aug. 9th was the goal), we are still incredibly content with the things we achieved over the last two months. There are still a few bugs but, from a user experience point of view and the amount of content, Mimo is far beyond anything Swifty ever was.
This post was originally published on Medium.
Register for the event here.
We’re thrilled to welcome Techstars founder & managing partner David Cohen at Factory Berlin on August 10th! We open up the discussion to the whole Berlin tech scene and host a fireside chat to learn first-hand about the most exciting stories revolving around the Techstars ecosystem. After a 60-minute moderated interview, you’ll have the chance to ask David the questions you’ve always wanted to ask.
6.30 pm: Doors open
7:00 – 8:00 pm: Moderated talk
8:00 – 8:30 pm: Open Q&A
8:30 – 10:00 pm: Networking
About David Cohen
David Cohen is the founder & managing partner of Techstars. After starting several software and web technology companies, David founded Techstars in 2006. He is an active startup advocate, advisor, author, board member, and technology advisor who comments on these topics on his blog at DavidGCohen.com. He is also very active at the University of Colorado, serving as a member of the Board of Advisors of the Computer Science Department, the Entrepreneurial Advisory Board at Silicon Flatirons, and the Board of Advisors of the Deming CenterVenture Fund. David is also a member of the selection committee for Venture Capital in the Rockies, and runs the Colorado chapter of the Open Angel Forum.
- Factory Berlin – Rheinsberger Straße 76/77, 10115 Berlin, Germany – View Map
Are you a startup looking to change the way the world moves? Here’s your big opportunity to show your idea on a global stage. We are partnering with Ford’s “Make it Driveable” AppLink Mobility challenge in Berlin in September.
Five winners of the challenge will be awarded a spot to participate in the Startup Next AppLink Mobility Edition, presented by Ford. Startup Next is a pre-acceleration program for a small group of idea stage startups. By pairing founders with mentors, the program provides valuable connections to get teams prepared to join an accelerator, raise a seed round or just continue their entrepreneurial journey.
Startup Next is a 6-week non-resident program where startups meet once a week for three hour sessions with workshop, pitch practice and mentor breakouts. The program is free of charge and no equity is taken.
Startup Next AppLink Mobility Edition kicks off this fall in Berlin. The six-week program consists of weekly 2-3 hour sessions with mentors designed to accelerate founders’ entrepreneurial journeys.
This is our second partnership with Ford, building on the success of Techstars Mobility, driven by Ford, our accelerator in Detroit.
Learn more about the challenge here.
The battle of the startup cities is on! Berlin vs. London – both belong to Europe’s most economically vibrant cities, but which one is Europe’s real #1 hub for digital startups? 99designs compared a couple of significant numbers to help you decide where it’s best to locate your new unicorn startup. While the focus is on what the cities may offer you in terms of founding, it also takes a look on the life outside the office. So, who takes the crown home?
Startup City Battle – London vs. Berlin
It is pretty obvious. London is one of the most expensive cities in the world. While both cities have their advantages and both are right at the heart of the digital startup revolution, we believe it is Berlin on top of the podium!
I’m proud to announce the ten companies that will be attending this summer’s version of Techstars Berlin. These ten companies make up the second Techstars Berlin program and the third Techstars program in Berlin (including the METRO Accelerator, powered by Techstars). Today marks the beginning of the 2016 Techstars Berlin program and will culminate on September 6th during Demo Day.
These ten companies represent six different countries and a variety of business models and verticals. We’re fortunate to have many alumni companies from past Techstars Berlin programs in addition to over 100 incredible mentors from the Berlin startup ecosystem.
We love Berlin and 2016 is going to be an amazing year for these ten companies, as well as for Techstars and the Berlin startup ecosystem.
Without further ado, here are the 2016 Techstars Berlin companies:
Contellio – Contellio turns blog posts into visuals 10x faster.
lengoo – lengoo connects businesses to the world’s best translators through an intelligent work marketplace.
Tourwithme – Tourwithme is a community marketplace that helps people host, discover and book unique experiences from all over the world.
goedle.io – Every user is different – AI driven marketing automation for increased engagement.
Palleter – Palleter fills trucks with nearby cargo.
Mobiag – Connects car fleets to end-users through a global partner network.
TapDeck – Mobile notifications through wallpapers.
Raklet – CRM and money collection tool for nonprofits and associations.
Mimo – Interactive micro-courses to blend education and entertainment.
Kisura – Online personal shopping service for women.
If you’d like to follow along with the Techstars Berlin program from the perspective of one of the companies, check out Contellio’s video blog. Episode one can be found here.
Over the last three months with the METRO Accelerator, I have talked to 100+ founding CEOs and hundreds have already applied for the program.
What I am looking for is simple: Great founders who have tangible insight into their market.
I am becoming really excited because this is what I am finding:
- Online restaurants focused in specific foods and highly scalable cooking and delivery options
- Very low cost and marketable SAAS solutions
- Staffing solutions for hospitality businesses,
- Startups simplifying the supply chain for restaurants
- In restaurant / venue ordering solutions
- Mobile apps where restaurants can pull in physical customers
- New types of customer care software, e.g. Bots for hospitality
- Entirely new types of food
These are companies with experienced serial entrepreneurs, founders who have experience with high-growth startups, as well as complete first timers. In most cases, these teams have worked together for more than one year, all with real insights into their customers, products in the market and working on growing their businesses.
When I started three months ago, I didn’t know what to expect. Last year, we found a large number of startups at the idea stage. Now, we are seeing far more startups that have initially validated their market and are working on building a scalable marketing and sales machinery. That is actually a great match with what METRO is looking for.
If what I have already seen is an indicator of what else I will find, then I am super stoked.
Don’t be shy reaching out, you don’t need to get a warm intro to talk to us.
Last week I talked to a young, first time founder. Before we even talked about Techstars, he said, “You know what, we have raised a little bit of cash, we have a good advisor, we are probably okay, we don’t need an accelerator.”
You cannot imagine how much I cringe when I hear that kind of statement.
It is very difficult for me to convey to first time founders what lies ahead of them. Indeed, if they knew, they wouldn’t do it. “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
Building a successful startup is incredibly difficult. The reason is this: In order to build a great startup, EVERYTHING has to work out for you. EVERYTHING.
The CEO, the team, the market, the business model, the pricing, the marketing, the sales, the customer success, the design, the engineering, finance, HR, recruitment, culture, your investors, your board, your advisors, your competitors must screw up, the world changes in ways favorable to you, the tech stacks shift in your favor. And more. EVERYTHING.
If only ONE of those things goes really wrong, you will likely shut down. ONE key aspect wrong, company likely dead. You need to master ALL of them. And if you want to build a world class company, all of these better be world class.
That is very, very hard.
The question every founder needs to ask themselves is whether they think they are world class at those things. Do you know what it takes to be world class? Do you know how to recognize it? Where would you find those kind of people? How would you hire people who are? Which ones do you hire first? How much do you spend? Could you even afford any of them? What would you do with them once you hired them?
I am now 40 years old. I have been involved with startups for the last dozen years or so. I can tell you one thing with total conviction:
If I were doing another startup, I would try to get the best possible people around me. There are so many things that I don’t know and so many things I am not good at, and definitely not world class in many of them. The only way to overcome this is having incredible people around me. As many and as early as possible.
In this context, think again about a world class accelerator. In that accelerator, you of course get some cash, but here is what you really get:
An advisory team of 100+ mentors, access to a global network of thousands of founders who are on your side, the accelerator staff, the LPs in their funds, the corporate partners, the sponsors, the companies who provide perks and everybody else who is involved. They all work for the startups, because they want to, not because they get paid to do it.
I wish accelerators had existed 10 years ago. It is the primary reason I do what I do right now. It is the reason why the Managing Directors at Techstars do what they do. We do this, because we wish somebody had done it for us.
I personally think that getting everything I describe above for 6% founder equity is most likely the best way to spend less than 1/3 of a 20% option pool one could ever imagine. Maybe I am wrong. But then the startups I have been involved with had up to $300m annual revenue and 500+ staff. The best CEOs of these startups had the best advisors and mentors very early on.
Something to think about.
Applications are now open for the METRO Accelerator, powered by Techstars. Apply here!