Do More Faster Book Excerpt #10 of 10: The Plural of Anecdote is Not Data

We’ve been blown away by the success of our new book Do More Faster: Techstars Lessons To Accelerate Your Startup. It’s already massively exceeded our expectations for sales and the reactions have been very positive. Amazing mentors produce amazing results, and this book is no different. Dozens of our mentors and past founders contributed to the book, and we think that makes it a very special resource for entrepreneurs.

We thought we’d blog a few chapters from the book so that you can start to get a feel for it. We’re blogging a chapter a week for ten weeks. Be sure to subscribe to the blog if you haven’t already done so.

There are seven themes in the book (Idea/Vision, People, Execution, Product, Fundraising, Legal/Structure, and Work/Life Balance).

This chapter is from the Execution theme. I’ve highlighted a few sentences, so you can discuss them inline. Feel free to add your own highlights!


Read this chapter (and others in this series) in the original layout using the online reader at BooksInBrowsers.com.


The Plural of Anecdote is not Data
by Brad Feld

Brad is a managing director at Foundry Group and one of the co-founders of Techstars.

A phrase that is often heard around Techstars is “the plural of anecdote is not data.” While the original attribution of this quote is murky (see http://bit.ly/anecdt) the meaning is powerful and applies importantly to both mentors and entrepreneurs.

Many of the mentors in Techstars are experienced entrepreneurs. They often have started multiple companies—some successful, some not—and have a wide range of experiences. Through this experience, they’ve developed many stories and built anecdotes from them. These anecdotes are endearing, funny, clever, powerful, and repeated often, but they need to be put in their proper place in the information hierarchy.

While there is much for entrepreneurs to learn from storytelling and anecdotes, they run the risk of generalizing anecdotes into truths. During Techstars, entrepreneurs often get conflicting stories and advice from mentors. Mentor A believes that you should go after a specific vertical market as your market entry strategy and then explains how this worked for him in his first company. Mentor B, in a separate conversation, explains how a specific vertical market approach failed her in her first company and was a key contributor to its demise. Instead, she suggests starting out with a broadly horizontal platform approach, being careful to start picking off specific vertical markets as the customers start to emerge in bulk from them. In each case, they tell nice anecdotes that support their perspective.

What should the entrepreneur do? We start by saying, “It’s only data,” meaning that the entrepreneur needs to synthesize the data—especially different perspectives—and form his own opinion about the correct course of action. If you take an additional step back from the problem, however, you realize that a single anecdote isn’t enough to generate usable data from.

One of our goals at Techstars is to surround first-time entrepreneurs with mentors who can flood them with stories, anecdotes, advice, and data. We view it as a huge advantage when there are enough of these, and they conflict, because they then force the entrepreneur to go deeper, think harder about what is going on, and apply it to his specific situation. If he only relied on one anecdote to form a point of view, he’d miss the variety of different circumstances that could affect him and his company.

It’s often said that the information hierarchy starts with data, builds to information, and eventually peaks with knowledge. Yet, in the entrepreneurial world, I’ve found that anecdotes come even before data, and it’s important to have a broad number of them before you start abstracting up to the data layer. Hence the phrase “The plural of anecdote is not data.”


Here’s the entire excerpt series.

That’s all 10 – We hope you’ve enjoyed the series!

Like what you’ve read? Go order the book already!








Do More Faster Book Excerpt #9 of 10: Avoid Co-Founder Conflict

We’ve been blown away by the success of our new book Do More Faster: Techstars Lessons To Accelerate Your Startup. It’s already massively exceeded our expectations for sales and the reactions have been very positive. Amazing mentors produce amazing results, and this book is no different. Dozens of our mentors and past founders contributed to the book, and we think that makes it a very special resource for entrepreneurs.

We thought we’d blog a few chapters from the book so that you can start to get a feel for it. We’re blogging a chapter a week for ten weeks. Be sure to subscribe to the blog if you haven’t already done so.

There are seven themes in the book (Idea/Vision, People, Execution, Product, Fundraising, Legal/Structure, and Work/Life Balance).

This chapter is from the People theme. I’ve highlighted a few sentences, so you can discuss them inline. Feel free to add your own highlights!


Read this chapter (and others in this series) in the original layout using the online reader at BooksInBrowsers.com.


Avoid Co-Founder Conflict
by Dharmesh Shah

Dharmesh is the founder and CEO of HubSpot, a provider of inbound marketing software, and the curator of the popular OnStartups blog and community. He has been a Techstars mentor since 2009.

A common reason for startup fatalities, particularly in the early days, is some sort of conflict between co-founders. One of the main reasons for co-founder conflict is that many aspects of the relationships were either ill-defined or misunderstood. To minimize the chance of this, it’s critical that you and your co-founders come to agreement on some key issues. I’ve framed the most important of these as a set of questions that the co-founders should be asking each other as they enter into the business relationship.

Many of these questions are hard but they get only harder with time. The sooner you address them, the better off your startup will be.

How should we split the equity? While there can be different aspects to this, the basic question is really simple: Who gets what percentage of the company? There are different schools of thought on how to arrive at an equitable answer. A perennial favorite is to decide that each founder should own an equal share. Or, you could try to come up with some formula that uses a bunch of different factors such as experience, market value, contribution to date, and expected contributions in the future. However you do it, the important thing is to decide it up front and not put off the discussion.

How will decisions get made? This is often tied to the number of shares, but not necessarily. You can have voting and non-voting shares. You can set up a board. You’ll need to decide what kinds of decisions the board makes, and which ones it won’t. Common areas to address are decisions around capitalization, executive hiring and firing, share issuance (dilution), and acquisitions.

What happens if one of us leaves the company? Although it may seem like a bad idea to be talking about this when you’re starting the company–it’s not. In the evolution of any startup, there will be good times and bad times and there will likely be times when one or more co-founders are simply not happy and not committed. You should decide how to treat this situation early when it is easier and everyone is at least semi-rational and optimistic about their future involvement in the company. The last thing the company needs is a co-founder who is no longer engaged but is hanging around out of guilt or ambiguity. Or worse, one that claims equity that you don’t believe is due.

Can any of us be fired? By whom? For what reasons? Yes, that’s right–even co-founders can be terminated. Too many people mix the notion of being a shareholder in a startup and having an operating role. These two things should be thought of as separate and distinct. The company should have a mechanism for gracefully terminating the operating role of a co-founder if that’s the right thing to do. This is never fun but it should be discussed up front.

What are our personal goals for the startup? Although this can change over time, it’s helpful to at least get a sense of what each of the co-founders wants to get from the company. If you have one co-founder who wants to build a sustainable business that is spinning off cash and run it forever and another one who wants to shoot for high growth with some type of massive exit through a sale to a much larger company, it’s better to get that out in the open early and talk it through.

Will this be the primary activity for each of us? Co-founder conflict can stem from misunderstandings around how committed everyone is. Will one of the co-founders be keeping a day job until the company gets off the ground? Will one be working on another sideline business? Under what circumstances will someone decide that they just can’t commit to the business full time anymore; for example, if the founders have to go without a salary for six months.

What part of our plan are we each unwilling to change? Not all startups need to change their plans during the course of their evolution; just the ones that want to survive and succeed! However, there may be elements of the plan that you don’t want to change. This might relate to the product being built or the market being addressed. For example, if one of the founders is fanatically obsessed with wanting to create a consumer software company that lots of people know about, then friction may be created if the model needs to shift to more of an enterprise product.

What contractual terms will each of us sign with the company? One of the best examples of this is a noncompete agreement. Will each of the co-founders be signing some sort of contract with the company beyond the shareholder agreement? If so, what are the terms of this agreement? At a minimum, all founders should be willing to assign whatever they develop to the company.

Will any of us be investing cash in the company? If so, how is this to be treated? It is very likely that one or more co-founders will be putting in some cash in the early stages of the company. It is critical to decide up front how this cash will be treated. Is it debt? Is it convertible debt? Does it buy a different class of shares? What happens if the company raises follow-on funding?

What will we pay ourselves? Who gets to change this in the future? This can be a touchy issue. Risk tolerance varies by individual and it is a good idea to factor this into determining the compensation plan for the founders. The issue can be clouded sometimes when one of the founders is investing significant cash into the enterprise.

What are the financing plans for the company? Will the company be self-funded and bootstrapped? Raise angel funding? Raise venture capital funding? What happens if this doesn’t occur?

While I’m sure there are other issues that could generate cofounder conflict, you’ll decrease your chances of misunderstandings and implosion of the team if you visit each of the issues identified here early in the life of your startup.

During the first few days of every Techstars cycle, we tell the 10 bright-eyed new teams that one of them will not be together at the end of the program. Unfortunately, we have not been wrong yet.

Over and over again, we see team issues with startups, especially with those composed of first-time entrepreneurs. On Day One, everyone is excited, enthusiastic, and aligned about creating something new and amazing. Several months later, one or more of the founders leave because of irreconcilable differences.

One of the biggest reasons is not addressing the issues Dharmesh describes. It’s easy to talk about ideas, visions, and the product. It’s hard to talk about equity splits, how much money you need to make it through each month, and your personal pressures. It’s even harder to talk about the doubts you are having about your partner or the path the business is going down.

If you assume that you will have many ups and downs along the way, spending time addressing many of these issues in the first month sets the tone for the rest of the business. When something material arises, the co-founders should be willing and able to discuss the issues openly with a goal of quickly reaching consensus on how to resolve them.

-Brad and David


Here’s the entire excerpt series.

Like what you’re reading? Go order the book already!








Do More Faster Book Excerpt #8 of 10: If You Can Quit, You Should

We’ve been blown away by the success of our new book Do More Faster: Techstars Lessons To Accelerate Your Startup. It’s already massively exceeded our expectations for sales and the reactions have been very positive. Amazing mentors produce amazing results, and this book is no different. Dozens of our mentors and past founders contributed to the book, and we think that makes it a very special resource for entrepreneurs.

We thought we’d blog a few chapters from the book so that you can start to get a feel for it. We’re blogging a chapter a week for ten weeks. Be sure to subscribe to the blog if you haven’t already done so.

There are seven themes in the book (Idea/Vision, People, Execution, Product, Fundraising, Legal/Structure, and Work/Life Balance).

This chapter is from the People theme. I’ve highlighted a few sentences, so you can discuss them inline. Feel free to add your own highlights!


Read this chapter (and others in this series) in the original layout using the online reader at BooksInBrowsers.com.


If You Can Quit, You Should
by Laura Fitton

Laura is the founder and CEO of oneforty, a Twitter apps marketplace, and the author of Twitter For Dummies. Oneforty raised $2.35 million from Flybridge Capital Partners, after completing Techstars in 2009.

I’ll admit it; I’m addicted to my company.

I started oneforty as a 38-year-old single mom with no technology management background. I had never built software before in my life. In fact, I felt so thoroughly unqualified to pursue the opportunity that I started making phone calls to people that I thought could build the company for me. I simply wanted to see it come to life and I thought the best way was to recruit someone else to carry out the vision so that I could be an advisor to the company.

I had two very young, cute, reasonable excuses (my kids) why it was a bad idea for me to do a startup. I had no co-founder and I knew better than to do it alone. I tried to give the idea away and to get another group to do it. And when that failed, I quit. Well, at least I tried to quit.

I spent another four months trying creative new ways to quit the idea. I kept trying to find someone else to do it because I didn’t want to do it myself. But no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t quit.

I like to tell other founders that you have to be so stuck on your idea that you literally can’t even quit. There are going to be a thousand times in the process that you’re going to want to quit, so if you’re going to quit it’s smarter to do it sooner rather than later. If you can quit, you certainly should.

Even if you’re really into your startup idea, try to quit now anyway. And if you are able to quit, do it. In my case, I was so obsessed with the idea for oneforty that I literally couldn’t quit. I had to see it come to light.

If you can’t quit no matter how hard you try, then you have a chance to succeed.

Amazing entrepreneurs are like forces of nature—they are unstoppable. Laura fits this description perfectly. The first time Brad met her was several years ago at the Defrag Conference. Everyone knew who @pistacio was and she couldn’t stop talking about all the incredible things you could do with Twitter. While this might not be a big deal today, at the time Twitter was only being used by a limited number of techies and the phrase “social media marketing” hadn’t yet been created.

Laura just stayed with it. When she applied to Techstars, she was a solo founder. We told her that her chance of success as a solo founder was low. She didn’t care—she said she’d figure it out. She didn’t have a technical co-founder. She told us that it was not an issue—she’d recruit someone quickly. By this point, we had no ability to quit Laura—she’d hooked us. Today, she has a great team, strong investors, and is off to a great start with oneforty. It’s a good thing she didn’t quit.

-David and Brad


Here’s the entire excerpt series.

Like what you’re reading? Go order the book already!








Do More Faster Book Excerpt #7 of 10: Do Or Do Not, There Is No Try

We’ve been blown away by the success of our new book Do More Faster: Techstars Lessons To Accelerate Your Startup. It’s already massively exceeded our expectations for sales and the reactions have been very positive. Amazing mentors produce amazing results, and this book is no different. Dozens of our mentors and past founders contributed to the book, and we think that makes it a very special resource for entrepreneurs.

We thought we’d blog a few chapters from the book so that you can start to get a feel for it. We’re blogging a chapter a week for ten weeks. Be sure to subscribe to the blog if you haven’t already done so.

There are seven themes in the book (Idea/Vision, People, Execution, Product, Fundraising, Legal/Structure, and Work/Life Balance).

This chapter is from the Execution theme. I’ve highlighted a few sentences, so you can discuss them inline. Feel free to add your own highlights!


Read this chapter (and others in this series) in the original layout using the online reader at BooksInBrowsers.com.


Do Or Do Not, There Is No Try
by Brad Feld

Brad is a managing director at Foundry Group and one of the co-founders of Techstars.

When I grow up I want to be like Yoda (except for the short green part). Until then, I’ll just do my best to incorporate his philosophy into my life.

$DO ∥ ! $DO; try Try: command not found

I’ve always found this Yoda quote to epitomize how I try to live my life. Ever since I was a little kid, I never really understood what try meant. There were lots of things I did and lots of things I failed at. However, even when I failed, I viewed myself as having “done it” even if I wasn’t successful. When I wanted to master something, I did it a lot. I didn’t try to do it—I did it, and accepted the failure along with the success.

Throughout the years I heard many people say, “You should try this” or “You should try that.” Sometimes it was trivial (for example, you should try foie gras); other times, it was complex (you should try to learn how to play the piano.) My parents taught me early on that “No” or “I’m not interested” was an acceptable answer, so I was rarely intimidated when faced with something new. I also started to understand the difference between preference (for example, try foie gras and see if you like it) and accomplishment (try to learn how to play the piano). I realized preference was unimportant in the context of accomplishment but the inverse mattered—namely that accomplishment was important in the context of preference. Specifically, you could accomplish a wide range of things whether you had a prefer- ence for them, but that when you tried to accomplish that thing, it mattered a lot whether you had a preference for it.

Now, ponder the phrase “You should try entrepreneurship.” What exactly does that really mean? How about “You should try to start a company.” Or “You should try to build a product.” Or even “You should try to sell something to someone.” Try? Really? If you have a preference for entrepreneurship, or think you have a preference for entrepreneurship, just go for it. You might fail—but that’s okay and is part of the process. If you start a company that ultimately fails, you are still an entrepreneur. And your next step should be to go start another company.

If you don’t have a preference for entrepreneurship (or—more specifically—entrepreneurship doesn’t interest you), you have no business creating a company in the first place. Starting a company is extremely hard and requires commitment on many levels. Ultimately, you don’t really “try to start a company”—you either do it or you don’t.

Do or do not—there is no try.


Here’s the entire excerpt series.

Like what you’re reading? Go order the book already!








Do More Faster Book Except #6 of 10: "Quality Over Quantity"

We’ve been blown away by the success of our new book Do More Faster: Techstars Lessons To Accelerate Your Startup. It’s already massively exceeded our expectations for sales and the reactions have been very positive. Amazing mentors produce amazing results, and this book is no different. Dozens of our mentors and past founders contributed to the book, and we think that makes it a very special resource for entrepreneurs.

We thought we’d blog a few chapters from the book so that you can start to get a feel for it. We’re blogging a chapter a week for ten weeks. Be sure to subscribe to the blog if you haven’t already done so.

There are seven themes in the book (Idea/Vision, People, Execution, Product, Fundraising, Legal/Structure, and Work/Life Balance).

This chapter is from the Execution theme. I’ve highlighted a few sentences, so you can discuss them inline. Feel free to add your own highlights!


Read this chapter (and others in this series) in the original layout using the online reader at BooksInBrowsers.com.


Quality over Quantity
by Andy Smith

Andy is the co-founder and CEO of DailyBurn, the premier fitness social network for detailed tracking, online account- ability, and motivation. DailyBurn raised $500,000 from angel investors after com- pleting Techstars in 2008. They were acquired by IAC in 2010.

Feature creep. The sound of those words should scare you to death. If you are a technical founder, please listen carefully: You don’t need to build a bunch of new features to make your startup successful.

Trust me, I know. Both of the founders of DailyBurn (we were called Gyminee while we were at Techstars) are technology geeks. Naturally, our instinct is to always look at our product, see what is missing, and then try to quickly build the next killer feature that will magically get all of our users to convert to paying users. It’s a problem facing all startups, but especially startups that are filled with developers.

Most technical founders have the skills to quickly build a ton of features. It isn’t hard for us to bang out some code and get the thing up and running on the web site within hours. But many of these features don’t matter and often detract from the product.

So what is the secret behind building useful, meaningful features?

First, focus on ease of use. Your site and your new features have to be very easy to use and graphically appealing. If you try to rush out a ton of features, it will not look good and will result in an unpolished, and hard to use product. One of the things we are most proud of about DailyBurn is that we’ve made the product look good while being very easy to use. We realize that a site to track your workouts and food intake isn’t an earth-shattering idea and that there are a lot of sites out there trying to do the same thing we do. The reason we have been able to grow is because we make it as easy as possible for users to track their fitness on our site.

Next, build one thing well. If you try to build every feature that comes to mind, the result will be an unfocused product with no chance of success. When we started DailyBurn we focused on one thing and one thing only—a social workout tracking tool that lets you track actual results. We did that one thing well, got an audi- ence, and then listened to our users. User after user screamed for food and nutrition tracking, so we took our time and built high quality nutrition tracking. Now our food-tracking tool is even more popular than our workout tracking tools because we focused on quality.

Finally, listen to some, but not all, of your users. User feedback is good, but don’t listen to all of it. We had so many early requests for features (and we still get hundreds a day) that we would have drowned if we tried to implement a fraction of them. You have to be willing to say no to your users.

Want to know a secret? The next new big feature you are working on will only convert a marginal number of new users to paying users and not be your big ticket to acquisition next week. In fact, that big feature you are working on right now might be a com- plete bust and you could lose users. Measure the impact of every new feature so you’ll know for sure what kind of effect each of them has.

Focus on quality—not just quantity. And make something that makes you proud (not just your mom).

The quality over quantity approach has governed Techstars’ expansion to other cities. When Techstars started in Boulder, we didn’t know if it would work. After the first year, we had lots of inquiries from other entrepreneurs and angel investors about starting up a Techstars program in other cities in the United States. We considered this, decided we had a lot to get right about the program before we were ready to expand, and decided only to do a Boulder program in Year Two.

While the first year of Techstars was great, the second year was phenomenal. Once again, we received many inbound inquiries about starting Techstars in other cities. We en- couraged other folks to do this themselves, open sourced the Techstars program by sharing our ideas, documents, and approach, but decided to stay focused on Boulder.

Along the way, we were approached by Bill Warner about doing a Techstars program in Boston. Given Brad’s long history in Boston, this was a lot more comfortable than trying to start up a program in a city we didn’t know. And Bill was the definition of quality—we knew that if he were involved, our effort would be serious and well executed. So we decided to branch out and opened the second Techstars program in Boston in our third year.

After the third Boulder program and the first Boston program, we were inundated with requests for programs in additional cities. We thought hard about this, realizing that if we wanted to expand faster, it was conceivable that there was the demand for at least 50 Techstars programs in just the United States. While we saw many other programs getting started, we were really concerned about quality. As a result, we decided that it was always going to be more important to us to do a high quality job and help create a high percentage of great startups than it would be to go after quantity. At that point we made a decision that the core Techstars program could be at most four cities.

This focus on quality has generated other interesting opportunities for Techstars, some of which—such as the Techstars Global Affiliate program—are starting to roll out. By continuing to focus on quality, we say no to a lot of opportunities but when we decide to go after something, we are confident we can do it well. We think all startups should think this way.

-David and Brad


Here’s the entire excerpt series.

Like what you’re reading? Go order the book already!








Do More Faster Book Except #6 of 10: “Quality Over Quantity”

We’ve been blown away by the success of our new book Do More Faster: Techstars Lessons To Accelerate Your Startup. It’s already massively exceeded our expectations for sales and the reactions have been very positive. Amazing mentors produce amazing results, and this book is no different. Dozens of our mentors and past founders contributed to the book, and we think that makes it a very special resource for entrepreneurs.

We thought we’d blog a few chapters from the book so that you can start to get a feel for it. We’re blogging a chapter a week for ten weeks. Be sure to subscribe to the blog if you haven’t already done so.

There are seven themes in the book (Idea/Vision, People, Execution, Product, Fundraising, Legal/Structure, and Work/Life Balance).

This chapter is from the Execution theme. I’ve highlighted a few sentences, so you can discuss them inline. Feel free to add your own highlights!


Read this chapter (and others in this series) in the original layout using the online reader at BooksInBrowsers.com.


Quality over Quantity
by Andy Smith

Andy is the co-founder and CEO of DailyBurn, the premier fitness social network for detailed tracking, online account- ability, and motivation. DailyBurn raised $500,000 from angel investors after com- pleting Techstars in 2008. They were acquired by IAC in 2010.

Feature creep. The sound of those words should scare you to death. If you are a technical founder, please listen carefully: You don’t need to build a bunch of new features to make your startup successful.

Trust me, I know. Both of the founders of DailyBurn (we were called Gyminee while we were at Techstars) are technology geeks. Naturally, our instinct is to always look at our product, see what is missing, and then try to quickly build the next killer feature that will magically get all of our users to convert to paying users. It’s a problem facing all startups, but especially startups that are filled with developers.

Most technical founders have the skills to quickly build a ton of features. It isn’t hard for us to bang out some code and get the thing up and running on the web site within hours. But many of these features don’t matter and often detract from the product.

So what is the secret behind building useful, meaningful features?

First, focus on ease of use. Your site and your new features have to be very easy to use and graphically appealing. If you try to rush out a ton of features, it will not look good and will result in an unpolished, and hard to use product. One of the things we are most proud of about DailyBurn is that we’ve made the product look good while being very easy to use. We realize that a site to track your workouts and food intake isn’t an earth-shattering idea and that there are a lot of sites out there trying to do the same thing we do. The reason we have been able to grow is because we make it as easy as possible for users to track their fitness on our site.

Next, build one thing well. If you try to build every feature that comes to mind, the result will be an unfocused product with no chance of success. When we started DailyBurn we focused on one thing and one thing only—a social workout tracking tool that lets you track actual results. We did that one thing well, got an audi- ence, and then listened to our users. User after user screamed for food and nutrition tracking, so we took our time and built high quality nutrition tracking. Now our food-tracking tool is even more popular than our workout tracking tools because we focused on quality.

Finally, listen to some, but not all, of your users. User feedback is good, but don’t listen to all of it. We had so many early requests for features (and we still get hundreds a day) that we would have drowned if we tried to implement a fraction of them. You have to be willing to say no to your users.

Want to know a secret? The next new big feature you are working on will only convert a marginal number of new users to paying users and not be your big ticket to acquisition next week. In fact, that big feature you are working on right now might be a com- plete bust and you could lose users. Measure the impact of every new feature so you’ll know for sure what kind of effect each of them has.

Focus on quality—not just quantity. And make something that makes you proud (not just your mom).

The quality over quantity approach has governed Techstars’ expansion to other cities. When Techstars started in Boulder, we didn’t know if it would work. After the first year, we had lots of inquiries from other entrepreneurs and angel investors about starting up a Techstars program in other cities in the United States. We considered this, decided we had a lot to get right about the program before we were ready to expand, and decided only to do a Boulder program in Year Two.

While the first year of Techstars was great, the second year was phenomenal. Once again, we received many inbound inquiries about starting Techstars in other cities. We en- couraged other folks to do this themselves, open sourced the Techstars program by sharing our ideas, documents, and approach, but decided to stay focused on Boulder.

Along the way, we were approached by Bill Warner about doing a Techstars program in Boston. Given Brad’s long history in Boston, this was a lot more comfortable than trying to start up a program in a city we didn’t know. And Bill was the definition of quality—we knew that if he were involved, our effort would be serious and well executed. So we decided to branch out and opened the second Techstars program in Boston in our third year.

After the third Boulder program and the first Boston program, we were inundated with requests for programs in additional cities. We thought hard about this, realizing that if we wanted to expand faster, it was conceivable that there was the demand for at least 50 Techstars programs in just the United States. While we saw many other programs getting started, we were really concerned about quality. As a result, we decided that it was always going to be more important to us to do a high quality job and help create a high percentage of great startups than it would be to go after quantity. At that point we made a decision that the core Techstars program could be at most four cities.

This focus on quality has generated other interesting opportunities for Techstars, some of which—such as the Techstars Global Affiliate program—are starting to roll out. By continuing to focus on quality, we say no to a lot of opportunities but when we decide to go after something, we are confident we can do it well. We think all startups should think this way.

-David and Brad


Here’s the entire excerpt series.

Like what you’re reading? Go order the book already!








Do More Faster Book Excerpt #5 of 10: Be Tiny Until You Shouldn't Be

We’ve been blown away by the success of our new book Do More Faster: Techstars Lessons To Accelerate Your Startup. It’s already massively exceeded our expectations for sales and the reactions have been very positive. Amazing mentors produce amazing results, and this book is no different. Dozens of our mentors and past founders contributed to the book, and we think that makes it a very special resource for entrepreneurs.

We thought we’d blog a few chapters from the book so that you can start to get a feel for it. We’re blogging a chapter a week for ten weeks. Be sure to subscribe to the blog if you haven’t already done so.

There are seven themes in the book (Idea/Vision, People, Execution, Product, Fundraising, Legal/Structure, and Work/Life Balance).

This chapter is from the Execution theme. I’ve highlighted a few sentences, so you can discuss them inline. Feel free to add your own highlights!


Read this chapter (and others in this series) in the original layout using the online reader at BooksInBrowsers.com.


Be Tiny Until You Shouldn’t Be
by Jeffrey Powers

Jeffrey is a co-founder of Occipital, which uses state of the art computer vision in mobile applications for faster information capture and retrieval. On June 23, 2010, Occipital sold its RedLaser product line to eBay. Occipital remains an independent company.

In December 2008, the situation for Occipital was dire. We had a $10,000 deferred legal bill, dried up personal bank accounts, and no revenue. Seven months earlier we had flown out to Boulder to join Techstars with little more than a prototype piece of software that could recognize the logos on paper receipts. In the first week, we realized that everybody thought the technology was cool, but otherwise hated the idea.

Then we found a sexier idea that everyone loved. We were going to build a huge, multiplatform consumer application that used artificial intelligence to solve the world’s photo organization problems. There was a lot of buzz in our favor after we demonstrated an early prototype in September, but we failed to close funding for a number of reasons.

This failure gave us one major asset: a big chip on our shoulder. We didn’t need anyone else’s money. We already had what we needed, which was a core competency in computer vision, a technology area that we believed had incredible intrinsic value. In fact, we were borderline arrogant about it—we hypothesized that we could just hack off a tiny chunk of this technology and turn it into revenue. We tested this, stayed small, and launched ClearCam on February 3, 2009. ClearCam is a $10 iPhone application that captures high-resolution photos with the aid of computer vision. ClearCam was popular and we immediately were cash-flow positive. Near-death averted and hypothesis reinforced.

We got excited about going big again. But this time we wanted to become even bigger, which translated into technology that was an order of magnitude harder. That led to a near-merger with a group of seasoned entrepreneurs and another failed attempt at getting investors excited. The chip on our shoulder got bigger and led us to hack off a slightly larger chunk of technology than ClearCam. This turned into RedLaser, the first iPhone barcode scanner that really worked because it used computer vision to compensate for blur.

The response to our new product blew us away and RedLaser claimed a position in the top five paid applications on the iPhone App Store for many months. Today, we’re more confident than ever about the technology area we have focused on, we have a growing reputation with consumers, and we have the money to stop worrying about the premature death of the company.

By staying tiny and taking incrementally harder technology steps, we saw Occipital’s value increase dramatically. Now that we’ve found a formula that works, we are finally about to start growing our team from a stronger position than at any point in our history.

Jeff and his Occipital co-founder, Vikas Reddy, are the epitome of bootstrap entrepreneurs. Every Techstars class seems to have one and Occipital wins the bootstrapper of Techstars Boulder 2008 award. As you just read, they hunkered down and with no financing reinvented themselves several times until they launched RedLaser, which became a runaway hit. As RedLaser took off, they had a set of interesting investment offers but no longer needed outside capital and chose not to take any of the offers.

While Jeff and Vikas were on their way to creating an interesting mobile e-commerce company, they wanted to work on a much bigger set of technical challenges than RedLaser in computer vision and augmented reality, their areas of passion and technical expertise. In their travels, they had a few inquiries for an acquisition of the company, but really only wanted to sell the RedLaser product, not the entire company. Fortunately, they found a buyer in eBay, which was very interested in the RedLaser product without requiring Jeff and Vikas to stay involved long term. Financial terms were quickly reached and eBay acquired RedLaser.

Given this sale, Occipital is now a long way from ever raising outside capital. Jeff and Vikas are now extremely well funded, are scaling up a very interesting team, and going after a huge vision. They stayed tiny and made sure they were “too small to fail” until they shouldn’t be and it’s paying off big for them.

-David and Brad


Here’s the entire excerpt series.

Like what you’re reading? Go order the book already!








Do More Faster Book Excerpt #5 of 10: Be Tiny Until You Shouldn’t Be

We’ve been blown away by the success of our new book Do More Faster: Techstars Lessons To Accelerate Your Startup. It’s already massively exceeded our expectations for sales and the reactions have been very positive. Amazing mentors produce amazing results, and this book is no different. Dozens of our mentors and past founders contributed to the book, and we think that makes it a very special resource for entrepreneurs.

We thought we’d blog a few chapters from the book so that you can start to get a feel for it. We’re blogging a chapter a week for ten weeks. Be sure to subscribe to the blog if you haven’t already done so.

There are seven themes in the book (Idea/Vision, People, Execution, Product, Fundraising, Legal/Structure, and Work/Life Balance).

This chapter is from the Execution theme. I’ve highlighted a few sentences, so you can discuss them inline. Feel free to add your own highlights!


Read this chapter (and others in this series) in the original layout using the online reader at BooksInBrowsers.com.


Be Tiny Until You Shouldn’t Be
by Jeffrey Powers

Jeffrey is a co-founder of Occipital, which uses state of the art computer vision in mobile applications for faster information capture and retrieval. On June 23, 2010, Occipital sold its RedLaser product line to eBay. Occipital remains an independent company.

In December 2008, the situation for Occipital was dire. We had a $10,000 deferred legal bill, dried up personal bank accounts, and no revenue. Seven months earlier we had flown out to Boulder to join Techstars with little more than a prototype piece of software that could recognize the logos on paper receipts. In the first week, we realized that everybody thought the technology was cool, but otherwise hated the idea.

Then we found a sexier idea that everyone loved. We were going to build a huge, multiplatform consumer application that used artificial intelligence to solve the world’s photo organization problems. There was a lot of buzz in our favor after we demonstrated an early prototype in September, but we failed to close funding for a number of reasons.

This failure gave us one major asset: a big chip on our shoulder. We didn’t need anyone else’s money. We already had what we needed, which was a core competency in computer vision, a technology area that we believed had incredible intrinsic value. In fact, we were borderline arrogant about it—we hypothesized that we could just hack off a tiny chunk of this technology and turn it into revenue. We tested this, stayed small, and launched ClearCam on February 3, 2009. ClearCam is a $10 iPhone application that captures high-resolution photos with the aid of computer vision. ClearCam was popular and we immediately were cash-flow positive. Near-death averted and hypothesis reinforced.

We got excited about going big again. But this time we wanted to become even bigger, which translated into technology that was an order of magnitude harder. That led to a near-merger with a group of seasoned entrepreneurs and another failed attempt at getting investors excited. The chip on our shoulder got bigger and led us to hack off a slightly larger chunk of technology than ClearCam. This turned into RedLaser, the first iPhone barcode scanner that really worked because it used computer vision to compensate for blur.

The response to our new product blew us away and RedLaser claimed a position in the top five paid applications on the iPhone App Store for many months. Today, we’re more confident than ever about the technology area we have focused on, we have a growing reputation with consumers, and we have the money to stop worrying about the premature death of the company.

By staying tiny and taking incrementally harder technology steps, we saw Occipital’s value increase dramatically. Now that we’ve found a formula that works, we are finally about to start growing our team from a stronger position than at any point in our history.

Jeff and his Occipital co-founder, Vikas Reddy, are the epitome of bootstrap entrepreneurs. Every Techstars class seems to have one and Occipital wins the bootstrapper of Techstars Boulder 2008 award. As you just read, they hunkered down and with no financing reinvented themselves several times until they launched RedLaser, which became a runaway hit. As RedLaser took off, they had a set of interesting investment offers but no longer needed outside capital and chose not to take any of the offers.

While Jeff and Vikas were on their way to creating an interesting mobile e-commerce company, they wanted to work on a much bigger set of technical challenges than RedLaser in computer vision and augmented reality, their areas of passion and technical expertise. In their travels, they had a few inquiries for an acquisition of the company, but really only wanted to sell the RedLaser product, not the entire company. Fortunately, they found a buyer in eBay, which was very interested in the RedLaser product without requiring Jeff and Vikas to stay involved long term. Financial terms were quickly reached and eBay acquired RedLaser.

Given this sale, Occipital is now a long way from ever raising outside capital. Jeff and Vikas are now extremely well funded, are scaling up a very interesting team, and going after a huge vision. They stayed tiny and made sure they were “too small to fail” until they shouldn’t be and it’s paying off big for them.

-David and Brad


Here’s the entire excerpt series.

Like what you’re reading? Go order the book already!








Do More Faster Book Excerpt #4 of 10: Have A Bias Towards Action

We’ve been blown away by the success of our new book Do More Faster: Techstars Lessons To Accelerate Your Startup. It’s already massively exceeded our expectations for sales and the reactions have been very positive. Amazing mentors produce amazing results, and this book is no different. Dozens of our mentors and past founders contributed to the book, and we think that makes it a very special resource for entrepreneurs.

We thought we’d blog a few chapters from the book so that you can start to get a feel for it. We’re blogging a chapter a week for ten weeks. Be sure to subscribe to the blog if you haven’t already done so.

There are seven themes in the book (Idea/Vision, People, Execution, Product, Fundraising, Legal/Structure, and Work/Life Balance).

This chapter is from the Execution theme. I’ve highlighted a few sentences, so you can discuss them inline. Feel free to add your own highlights!


Read this chapter (and others in this series) in the original layout using the online reader at BooksInBrowsers.com.


Have a Bias Towards Action
by Ben Casnocha

Ben is an entrepreneur and author of the book My Startup Life: What a (Very) Young CEO Learned on His Journey Through Silicon Valley. He has been a Techstars mentor since 2007

Learning experts agree that learning by doing is the best way to learn something. When you do something—when you pick up the phone and talk to a potential customer, launch a prototype, send out the first brochure—you learn infinitely more than if you think about doing it in the abstract. The best way to test the validity of a business idea, for example, is to start the business and quickly gauge market feedback.

The best entrepreneurs have internalized learn-by-doing to the bone. As my friend Josh Newman says, there are only two steps to entrepreneurship: start, and keep going—and you lose most people at the first step. That’s because talk is easy. Writing business plans is easy. Chatting about your business idea with friends at a party is easy. Taking an action—starting, doing—is hard.

It’s hard because when you take an action, it may turn out to have been the wrong action. Fine. When you have a bias toward action, it means you are constantly making decisions, and some of those decisions will surely have bad outcomes. But good decisions can have bad outcomes. Intel founder Andy Grove says the key to business success is to make lots of decisions and correct course very quickly when you realize you’re wrong. Always be acting, and with confidence, but always be ready to iterate and evolve your thinking if you discover you made the wrong move.

It’s hard because you’ll play games with yourself. Sometimes you might think, “If I wait just a little bit longer, I’ll get more information that will allow me to make a better decision.” No! General Colin Powell told his commanders in the Army that he expected them to make decisions on 40 percent of available information. Consider this when you next think you need more time to figure out whether you should start your business, launch the new product, or pick up the phone and call that CEO you respect.

It’s hard because self-discipline is hard. To take an action requires the self-discipline to actually sit down and do a thing. So let others discipline you. Tell friends and family what you plan to do, and ask them to hold your feet to the fire. External accountability works wonders.

But don’t take it from me.

Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest Airlines, says, “We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.” As an entrepreneur, you should substitute “business plan” in place of “strategic plan” and then sit and deeply ponder.

Bill Parcells, the NFL football coach, posts a sign in the locker room before every game: “Blame Nobody. Expect Nothing. Do Something.” Even the most elite athletes in the world need to be reminded to do stuff!

Mark Twain said, “We regret the things we don’t do more than the things we do.” The question “I wonder what would have happened if . . .” hurts more than a bad outcome.

So what are you waiting for?


Here’s the entire excerpt series.

Like what you’re reading? Go order the book already!








Do More Faster Book Excerpt: #3 of 10: It's Just Data

We’ve been blown away by the success of our new book Do More Faster: Techstars Lessons To Accelerate Your Startup. It’s already massively exceeded our expectations for sales and the reactions have been very positive. Amazing mentors produce amazing results, and this book is no different. Dozens of our mentors and past founders contributed to the book, and we think that makes it a very special resource for entrepreneurs.

We thought we’d blog a few chapters from the book so that you can start to get a feel for it. We’re blogging a chapter a week for ten weeks. Be sure to subscribe to the blog if you haven’t already done so.

There are seven themes in the book (Idea/Vision, People, Execution, Product, Fundraising, Legal/Structure, and Work/Life Balance).

This chapter is from the Execution theme. I’ve highlighted a few sentences, so you can discuss them inline. Feel free to add your own highlights!


Read this chapter (and others in this series) in the original layout using the online reader at BooksInBrowsers.com.


It’s Just Data
by Bill Warner

Bill is the founder of Avid Technology (the pioneer in video editing software) and Wildfire Communications. He is also a co-founder of Techstars in Boston.

Good advice is a good thing, right? Therefore, lots of good advice should be an even better thing.

Well, not really. But we do it anyway at Techstars as the companies get flooded with good advice and some bad advice, too. I know, since I have provided both kinds to them.

In the Techstars Boston 2009 program, two brothers Monaghan, Mike and Tom, started a company called TempMine. The initial idea was simple: build a marketplace for temporary workers through which they can market themselves, let them sell themselves directly to hiring companies, and cut out the middleman. Tom and Mike’s premise was that eliminating the agencies would be a good thing.

The summer began with advice from many fronts, including negative ones suggesting TempMine would be breaking the law, labor rules are strict and impossible to work around, and there’s no way someone can work directly for companies on a 1099 wage-reporting tax form. So Mike and Tom started reworking the plan.

At the same time, I spent time talking with Tom about what really drove him to start the company in the first place. He realized that he was motivated to help people find the right job direction and he thought temping was one way to do that. This was useful, but then I started to push him on why he was focused only on temping. Why not help people find the right direction in their career, however it takes shape? Tom got excited about this and began exploring changing the name of the company to GlideHire to expand its perspective beyond temping.

At first this seemed exciting, but after a while, Tom came back and said, “Hey, it really is about temps—this is the thing I think will help the people I want as customers to find the right direction. I’m going back to the TempMine name and the earlier plan.” For a little while, I felt bad that I had helped clarify things on the one hand while helping fuel a tangent on the other. While it was only a detour of a week, that’s a lot in Techstars time.

But then I realized that this is part of how Techstars works. The companies get connected with mentors who care and who provide input. The input is diverse and it will be conflicting. Even input from a trusted advisor will have elements that are just not right. The founders are quickly forced to realize that they cannot create a solution that incorporates all of the inputs they are getting. Their only hope instead is to listen to their head and their heart and follow a path that they believe in, keeping some of the feedback and discarding other thoughts and ideas.

So, is too much conflicting advice a bad thing? Nope. Having too much advice can teach you how to make better decisions, as long as you accept that conflicting information is a part of life. Remember that it’s just data.

Saying “It’s just data” is one of the most common ways to end a mentor meeting at Techstars. We try hard to help mentors be as effective as possible, and one of the things that strong mentors, especially ones who are entrepreneurs, have to be careful of is not being too forceful with their advice. Experienced entrepreneurs usually believe they know the right answer and, while they often do, part of the magic of Techstars is to help the Techstars founders discover the right answer. And, as any successful entrepreneur knows, there are often multiple correct answers. So, as a mentor, being clear that you are only providing data and that it is ultimately up to the entrepreneur to make the decision is an important way to approach giving advice. -Brad and David


Here’s the entire excerpt series.

Like what you’re reading? Go order the book already!