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
Welcome to Founder Fridays! Today our guest blogger is Chris Albon (Cloud ’16), Cofounder and Chief Science Officer at Popily.
In the fall of 2015, Popily, a data exploration company I cofounded with two friends was offered a slot in the 2016 class of Techstars Cloud. Like most people in tech, I had heard about Techstars, but in truth I barely knew anything specific, particularly about the day-to-day of the program. Was Techstars a permanent hackathon fueled by Soylent and Adderall? Was it three months of guest speakers and sponsored happy hours? I watched Techstars’s promotional videos, but the only impression I could glean was that all the founders worked 36 hours per day while having ample spare time to ride bikes around downtown Boulder. I also found some posts about people’s experiences, but overall I was in the dark. So, when we joined Techstars Cloud in November, I did what I was trained to do: gather data.
For three months, from November 2nd, 2015 to January 31st, 2016, I tracked how I spent every 15 minutes of every day and categorized each into one of seven activities:
- Non-Technical Work: Email, writing, diagramming, project management, PivotalTracker, etc.
- Technical Work: Coding, designing, data analysis, etc.
- Discussion: Team meetings, speaking events, meeting with mentors or investors, Techstars happy hours, etc.
- Travel: Driving or flying (when I couldn’t do any work)
- Exercise: Running (which basically never happened)
- Personal: Time with family, cooking, hobbies, reading, housework etc.
The full data is available on Github, however in this post I used Popily.com to explore the data and understand how I spent my time during Techstars and offer a few lessons learned along the way. I hope you find it useful.
Lesson 1: Techstars Is For Going All-In
If there was one description of my time at Techstars it was that I worked, a lot — during evenings, lunches, and holidays; in offices, cars, and AirBnBs; alone, with my team, and while holding my daughter. The combination of the environment and the looming Demo Day made the work all-consuming. I was responsible for the product, so it is unsurprising that the largest number of my hours was spent on technical tasks. In truth, even non-technical tasks were almost always related to product development: UX testing, QAing, or PivotalTracker. My laser focus on the product was sometimes at odds with the myriad of guest speakers and mentor meetings that, while interesting and useful, could suck me in and stall development. As a company we started using two strategies to keep the product moving forward. First, most of the meetings and events were handled by my cofounders, which left me time to focus to a greater degree on the product. Second, when we had a product update or launch goal, I spent weeks away from the Techstars offices so I could get the most work done on the product as possible.
On average, during Techstars I worked 91.6 hours per week. I worked the most hours during the first week of the program, where I averaged 17.4 hours of work per day. This number will be unsurprising to anyone who has going though Techstars. The first three weeks of Techstars are called Mentor Madness and can essentially be described as a full day of back to back 20 minute meetings with every fancy and impressive founder you can imagine. You walk into a room, give a five minute pitch to anyone from the CEO of a boutique ad agency to a founder of a technology giant and hear their take about you, your company, your product, your market, whatever. After 20 minutes you walk into the next room and repeat the entire process again.
Mentor Madness was a grueling experience for all of us, not only because it took up so much of our energy (it takes a lot of focus to be engaged after seven almost-back-to-back meetings), but more importantly it made us have to defend, explain, and face so many fundamental assumptions we implicitly and explicitly made about our company, product, and strategy. In one meeting a mentor would argue that the go-to-market strategy is flawed and 20 minutes later the next mentor is arguing that we need to change our company’s name.
Those weeks were brutal. However, it was also probably one of the most important few weeks of our company. Because at the end of all those meetings, our day would just begin; from the last meeting to late at night my cofounders and I would consider, discuss, and debate a hundred points that were brought in the day. Why did the mentor hate the pricing model? Was she right or just old-fashioned? Should we change our name? Who is our customer? All the meetings and all the challenging questions forced us to discuss things which might otherwise be assumed or left unsaid.
For those first few weeks I would get up early, spend an hour emailing, discuss some point or another about strategy or product, take meetings with mentors, discuss more over lunch, take more meetings, discuss over dinner and into the evening, shower, sleep, and start the whole thing over again. Two days during Mentor Madness contained a massive 13 and 14 hours of discussions. Those conversations alone made Techstars worthwhile.
Unsurprisingly, the week with the least work was Christmas when I was traveling with my family and would only be able to sneak in a few hours of work per day after everyone fell asleep.
Lesson 2: The Start of Techstars is About Strategy, the End is About Execution
Our company was not alone is spending the first weeks of the program focusing on planning and strategy. I think most of the companies in our class spent the first few weeks either going back to the drawing board or mapping out a plan ahead. However, in December, the mid-point of the program there was a general shift from planning to execution.
Looking at hours spent on between technical and non-technical tasks, Techstars could be divided into two periods, before Christmas and after Christmas. In the first half of the program it felt like I spent every moment I wasn’t in meetings writing, updating, or managing user stories. We had a few contract developers and I agonized over the ordering of user stories in PivotalTracker as to maximize the value we would get from every hour of their time. However, during the second half of the problem the planning took a back seat to building.
Between Christmas and our launch on January 19th was probably my happiest in the program, because it was a wonderful coding crunchtime. I would get up, select the next user story in the queue, complete it, QA, and repeat. It was — frankly — just fun. All the discussions around marketing, fundraising, or ten thousand other things were put aside (i.e. handled by my cofounders), leaving me free to build.
This switch from planning to building is beautifully seen in the data: in the first half of the program I spent almost all my time on planning and strategy and in the second half I spent almost all my time building.
While non-technical and technical work peaked around the beginning and the end of the program, meetings, networking, and discussions continued throughout. As I said previously, the Mentor Madness of the first three weeks took up a massive amount of time at the start of the program, but after those weeks my cofounders and I actively tried to give each other the space to get stuff done. Our primary tactic was to have regular short(ish) “State Of The Union calls almost every day, leaving the major discussions to multi-day planning sessions every few weeks. These discussion can be easily seen as peaks in the chart below. This system might not work well for everyone, but it gave us the right balance of time to work out problems and time to get shit done.
Did all those hours matter? Completely and absolutely. Over the course of the program the product went from a tricycle to a Harley Davidson. There is more to do, but the leaps and bounds made during Techstars has been incredible.
Lesson 3: Sleep Is Important! Kinda.
As soon as I started tracking my time, I knew the first question everyone was going to ask: “how much did you sleep?” and because of the power of data I can give you a real answer: 5.5 hours of sleep per night. I will admit I was pretty pleased when I saw that number because while everyone at Techstars works their asses off 4.5 to 6.5 hours of sleep was my normal amount prior to Techstars. That said, on those few nights I received far less sleep than I needed my productivity suffered the next day.
Looking at the data below, it is also notable to see that the amount of sleep I got every night remained relatively stable throughout the program. The only two deviations are the two times I made the twelve hour drive from my house to the Techstars offices overnight and the moderate dip in sleep I got in early January when I was enjoying my late night coding sessions.
Lesson 4: There Is No Work-Life Balance
I would love to say there was great work-life balance, but in reality was not any sort of work-life balance. There was regular fun events (e.g. happy hours, runs, etc.) during the program, but that isn’t work-life balance, that is fun work events.
The truth is that all the benefits of Techstars, the rapid advance of our product, the boost in users, the improved strategy, and everything else came at a price — that for three months you lived your work and everything else from family to kids to friends took a backseat. During Techstars my average daily “free time” (i.e. not working or sleeping) was 2.7 hours. That is 2.7 hours per day for everything, from Christmas mornings to birthday parties to doctors appointments to cooking dinner.
I am not complaining. I like working, and I am in a place in my life that I can let work take over for a while, but make no mistake: it did take over. I’d argue that to really get value from Techstars, it probably has to take over.
As a more concrete example to the point above, of the three major holidays that took place during Techstars Cloud two of them were just a regular work day for me.
Final Thoughts On Techstars
It has been incredibly valuable to every aspect of Popily, from product to strategy. The advice has been useful, the connections have been valuable, and Demo Day (February 11th) will be awesome. However, at the end of the day none of that was why I enjoyed Techstars.
The real reason is that for three months I worked with people I enjoy for long hours on hard problems — and everything else took a back seat. That might not appeal to many people, but it appeals to me. In truth, not once during Techstars did I feel like I was “working”. Rather, I was with my friends, trying to do something genuinely hard — and I can’t ask for more than that.
We are very pleased to announce the new class of companies participating in the Techstars Cloud program here in San Antonio. We have a group of amazing founders from all over the world, including entrepreneurs from the United States, Ireland, Spain and Taiwan. The class is very well rounded and includes eleven companies working on a variety of technical and innovative businesses in the cloud space.
This is the fourth Techstars Cloud class, and my second as the Managing Director. The program started this week, and will end with the Demo Day on February 11th. The alumni companies from the first three Cloud programs have been making amazing progress (i.e. Distill and Cloudability) and I am excited to see this new group of companies join their ranks.
We had an overwhelming amount of high quality applicants and I want to personally say thank you to everyone who applied. I also want to thank all of the Techstars Cloud alumni companies as well as our 100+ mentors for their generous support of the program and the companies participating. You are a big part of the magic that makes Techstars special.
Without further ado, here are this year’s companies:
|Clyp (Austin, TX) – Clyp is a platform providing users a simple way to capture and share raw audio.|
|HelpSocial (San Antonio, TX) – HelpSocial allows large brands to efficiently perform customer service via social media.|
|HuBoard (Austin, TX) – HuBoard is a project management solution for users of GitHub and GitHub Enterprise.|
|ilos (St. Paul, MN) – ilos allows users to instantly record, share, and organize their videos online.|
|Imagenii (Malaga, Spain) – Imagenii helps developers make faster and smarter image centric apps.|
|Joicaster (Orlando, FL) – Joicaster is a distribution and promotional platform for live streaming.|
|Jumble (Dublin, Ireland) – Jumble provides business customers simple end-to-end email encryption.|
|Popily (Austin, TX) – Popily lets non-data scientists tell stories with data quickly and easily.|
|Slash Sensei (San Antonio, TX) – Slash Sensei is an online training platform that provides realtime guidance for students.|
|Thalonet (Atlanta, GA) – Thalonet is a private network which provides users better performance from the Internet.|
|UXTesting (Taipei City, Taiwan) – UXTesting is a toolkit to improve mobile user experiences using data visualization.|
Today we are very excited to announce that applications are open for the 2016 Techstars Cloud program. The upcoming program will be run in San Antonio, Texas from November 2nd, 2015 through our Demo Day on February 11th, 2016. The program runs over the holidays, so there will be a brief two week break to give everyone a chance to spend time with family and friends.
This program will be the fourth Techstars Cloud program, and my second as Managing Director. Alumni companies from the first three programs have gone on to raise close to $100MM in combined funding from investors such as the Foundry Group, NEA and Sequoia. If you are developing a cloud-based technology or developer platform, a product that is complementary to the cloud, or any highly technical product — you are probably a great fit for the program. If you are building a startup that fits this description I would encourage you to apply today.
Companies accepted into the Techstars Cloud program receive $118,000 in investment capital along with mentorship, perks worth tens of thousands of dollars, and access to Techstars’ powerful network of entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors, who are all there to help you achieve your goals. Mentorship is at the core of all Techstars programs, and we have a great group of cloud mentors ready to spend tons of time with you during three months of intense focus on your business.
We accept applications from companies at all stages – some are further along and already have funding and/or revenue, while others are just getting started and don’t have customers or even a final product. Wherever you are in your journey, if your startup focuses on cloud technology, and you are ready to explore the idea of accelerating your company, apply to our next program.
If you have questions about the Cloud program or Techstars, you can always email me: blake.yeager at techstars dot com, or find me on Twitter (@blake_yeager).
After three months of hard work, the Techstars Cloud 2015 companies are ready to take the stage and pitch their businesses to a theater full of investors, mentors and supporters. This year’s companies represent four different countries and numerous cities throughout the US. Each of the teams participating has spent the last three months in San Antonio, Texas intensely focused on building their companies with support from mentors, investors, and the greater Techstars network.
This is my first Demo Day as Managing Director and I couldn’t be more excited about the program and the teams that participated. It is great to see these companies join the ranks of Techstars Cloud alumni who have already raised a combined $95MM. I am personally looking forward to seeing what the future holds for these newly minted Techstars alumni.
Here are the Techstars Cloud 2015 companies:
I am pleased to announce the new class of companies participating in the Techstars Cloud 2015 program in San Antonio, Texas. We have a group of amazing founders from all over the world, including entrepreneurs from the United States, Mexico, India, Israel, and Poland. The class is very well rounded and includes ten companies working on a variety of very technical and innovative businesses.
The companies from the first two Techstars Cloud programs have been making amazing progress and I am excited to see this new group of companies join the ranks of Techstars Cloud alumni. I look forward to working with the founders as we embark on this amazing journey together.
|Appbase is building a real time events based database with full-text search and collaborative features via an easy to use API. With Appbase, building a real time production app takes only a few hours.|
|Bitfusion accelerates research and applications for scientists through optimized hardware acceleration.|
|Card Isle distributes greeting cards through touch screen printer-based kiosks, utilizing local and independent artists as well as personalized text.|
|Callinize integrates your existing phone system and your CRM. It’s a hosted solution which takes just minutes to setup and works with the systems you already use.|
|Elasticode provides an online platform that enables real time deployment and unique personalization, optimizing end user mobile experiences.|
|Fantasmo Studios is creating the Disney of the 21st century by developing family-friendly, IP driven entertainment properties with a focus on mobile phones and new technologies such as virtual and augmented reality.|
|Knowtify is Mailchimp for the personalized emails you send from your app. It saves app builders from having to code and maintain their own email systems allowing them to drive better user engagement, retention and growth.|
|Nebulab’s web app centralizes data storage, organization, and collaboration for researchers in manageable steps. Researchers can easily import data from multiple sources, drag and drop data into a project-based organization system, then share their data with peers.|
|Stabilitas addresses the safety and security concerns of international travelers with location-specific safety information, and a lifeline to help, all through a traveler’s smartphone.|
|VirtKick is a free and open source platform that easily hosts virtual servers to improve VPS business with one click installation. The functional, streamlined interface provides users with a feature packed marketplace and freedom from cloud providers.|
I am very excited to announce that this week we opened up applications for our third Techstars Cloud program which will be kicking off in San Antonio, TX this coming January. Our mission for this thematic accelerator is to help build companies that focus on cloud. What does that mean? If you are developing a cloud based technology or platform, a product that is complementary to the cloud, or really any technical product you are probably a fit. If you have an early-stage startup that meets this description, we would love for you to apply to the Techstars Cloud 2015 program. Our first two cloud programs have been a huge success, with graduates including DataRobot, Keen IO, Distil Networks, Cloudability, Conspire and many more. Alumni companies from the first two programs have gone on to raise more than $80M in combined funding from investors such as Foundry Group, NEA and Sequoia.
Why would you want to join the Techstars network and participate in our cloud accelerator? Techstars is building the world’s most powerful network of entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors, who are all there to help you achieve your goals. We want to help your company refine its strategy and accelerate your progress towards becoming the kind of company that can change the world. We are here to help you and your startup grow to realize the vision that inspired you to create a company in the first place.
Mentorship is at the core of all Techstars programs, and we have a huge mentor base ready to spend tons of time with you during three months of intense focus on moving your business forward. The program culminates with Demo Day in April, where the founders will pitch their companies to a room full of investors, mentors, and members of the San Antonio and Techstars community. And your Techstars experience does not end on Demo Day – you get to be part of this amazing network for life.
We accept applications from companies at all stages – some are further along and already have funding, while others are just forming their ideas and do not yet have customers or even a final product. Wherever you are in your startup journey, if you focus on cloud tech and are ready to explore the idea of accelerating your company, please apply for our next program. If you have questions about the program you can always email me at blake dot yeager at techstars dot com or find me on Twitter (@blake_yeager).
Apply for the Techstars Cloud 2015 program and let’s do more, faster.
Its Saturday morning. You are sipping on your coffee/tea while eating your bagel and wondering, “OMG WHAT DO I DO NOW?!?!?!”. Don’t worry! Here are some suggestions on where to go from here.
Business Model Canvas
The Business Model Canvas allows the startup to document the 9 key areas of a business model. Rather than writing long paragraphs, each of the boxes is filled in with short notes to document the hypotheses associated with the specific sections of the business model. This approach allows the initial business plan to be documented in a couple of hours rather than months. Here is a great breakdown and explanation of the canvas along with some examples: http://www.slideshare.net/esaife/business-model-canvas-101
You should have your first version completed by lunch time so you can move onto customer validation.
As Steve Blanks says all the time, “GET OUT OF THE BUILDING”. Steve has a set of videos that really cover this topic well: http://vimeo.com/user2776234. It’s really important to talk to your potential customers. They may be in the same room/building, they may be across the street. They may be on Twitter/Facebook. Go find them and ask them the right questions so you can get the feedback that you need. Some sample questions are:
- Do you suffer from this problem? What apps/services do you use now?
- Would you use this idea/product? No? Why not?
- Would you pay $X.XX per month/year/one-time to use? No? What is an acceptable price?
- What features would be most important for you?
- Can get your email so we can keep you up to date with our product?
If you are collecting information via the Internet, you should create a form to collect your feedback. Google Docs allows you to create surveys on the fly: http://www.google.com/google-d-s/createforms.html
Take as much time as you need to work on your validation. You can’t accomplish everything you need in an afternoon.
Based on the feedback that you get, your assumptions will either be proven to be true or false and you will discover things you didn’t think about. Make sure to update your Business Model Canvas to reflect your new findings. (eg: “We discovered through our customer validation that our target audience is not really women, but men!” OR “Monthly subscription was too much. People preferred a pay-as-you-go model. )
The coaches and mentors will start to arrive at around 2PM. They will walk around the building and interact with all the teams. Feel free to chat with them see how they can help you. They were here to help you so make sure you take the time and chat with them. The mentors range from developers, designers, product, marketers, PR, founders and much more. There is bound to be someone that can help you with what you are trying to do.
For a full list of mentors/coaches: http://www.up.co/communities/usa/new-york-city/startup-weekend/4419
Startup working on your MVP (Minimal Viable Product)
Based on the feedback that you have gotten from customers, you should have an idea on what to build and what not to build. Here is a great article talking about different types of MVPs: http://scalemybusiness.com/the-ultimate-guide-to-minimum-viable-products/
If you have people on your team that can help start building it, then great! By all means, start laying your code. But if you don’t have the developers or designers that you need, don’t worry, you can still use plenty of tools out there to help you prototype your app/idea without laying out code.
WARNING: If you decide to go and only make wireframes/mockups, they had better be the best mockups/wireframes that you can produce in a weekend. Don’t draw a box on a piece of paper and say its your mobile wireframe. Bring your “A” game this weekend.
You only have 54 hours. We don’t expect your app to be scaleable to 1MM users. It doesn’t need to hook into every social network platform out there. Your MVP needs to show us (the judges) that you put some thought and effort into app. They know you only had 54 hours to work on it, do the best that you possibly can.
My journey to join the Techstars team started in late 2011, when Techstars was ramping up to launch the first Cloud program in San Antonio. I was working for HP Cloud Services at the time, helping to build HP’s public cloud. After meeting with Jason Seats, the original Managing Director for the program, I volunteered to serve as a mentor for the program. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I hoped that I would be able to provide some value to the companies that had been selected.
Since that day, I have been continuously impressed by the quality of the people involved with Techstars. The passion of the founders, the generosity of the mentors, and the power of the network have been awesome to experience first hand. A year and half after I started mentoring, I found myself leaving HP to join ZeroVM, a 2013 Techstars Cloud alumni company and today, I am extremely excited to be taking over as the Managing Director for the Cloud program.
The roster of alumni from the first two Techstars Cloud programs includes some great companies and even better founders. I don’t want to name names, because I know I will leave someone out, but these companies have raised serious money and are doing amazing things. I am excited by the opportunity to continue to build on the legacy that Jason and these first two classes have pioneered.
Let me share a little bit about myself. Prior to my current role with Techstars, I was leading the team building ZeroVM after Rackspace acquired the company behind the technology. I have spent most of the last five years building public clouds for both Rackspace and HP, working primarily in Product Management. I was also lucky enough to be a part of the team that launched OpenStack, the open source cloud management platform.
Before my adventures in the clouds, I spent seven years building grand format digital ink-jet printers for a startup called Gandi Innovations. I have a degree in Computer Engineering, and I volunteer on the board of the Brighton Center. I live in San Antonio with my wife and our son, and we are anxiously awaiting the arrival of his little brother.
The next Techstars Cloud program will be kicking off in San Antonio in early 2015 with applications opening up this Fall. Stay tuned for more details and the exact timing for the upcoming program.