Techstars Roadshow: Los Angeles

Please join local and visiting Techstars Managing Directors from Techstars LA, Techstars Retail, Techstars Impact, Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, Powered by Techstars, and founders on February 20th for an evening of networking and more. We’re inviting a group of successful Techstars alumni companies to share their stories and advice with fellow entrepreneurs and anyone considering an accelerator program. Drinks and light bites will be provided. NOTE: This event is likely to sell out. Please RSVP to reserve your spot.

Techstars Programs Participating:

Techstars LA
Techstars Retail 
Techstars Impact
Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, Powered by Techstars

Meet Techstars Alums from companies including:

Christine Carrillo, Joany

Sky Kelley, Avisare

Dan Altman, Naritiv

Rahul Sidhu, Spidrtech 

What you can expect:

6:30 – Doors Open
6:45 – Founder Panel 
7:15 – Hear from Techstars Managing Directors
7:20 – Networking, Drinks and Appetizers

More info on Techstars:

Are you ready to accelerate your company? We currently have applications open for Techstars Mentorship-Driven Accelerator programs around the world. At Techstars, we are on a mission to help entrepreneurs succeed. Over the past 10 years we have helped over 1,200 companies grow and raise over $4 billion in funding, with a market cap of $10 billion. Now we’re on a search for the next wave of companies to join our worldwide network!








The Magic of Techstars: Maslo’s Journey Through the LA Accelerator

I’m nervous. Public speaking is listed as a top fear among the vast majority of the world, right next to spiders and heights. Good thing there are no spiders around, right?

Standing on stage at the El Rey theater I look out across the venue to see Anna Barber, Managing Director for the Techstars LA program, along with the rest of the founders eagerly awaiting a turn to pitch their startup. We’re at dress rehearsal working out the final kinks before demo day, an event where top venture capitalists will come to see what the inaugural LA class has to offer. In typical Ross fashion, I keep my nerves at bay by being silly.

Hi, I’m Matt Damon… and I’m here to talk about cats.

People laugh, though I get an unamused stare back from Anna indicating that I should stay focused and get through my pitch. I start again, this time for real.

Our industry builds technology for humans, but maybe we forget what that means sometimes.

I forget my next line…


I’ve had my fare share of ups and downs since leaving Google. But Techstars is the best decision we made to give Maslo a proper start. The model for the accelerator is simple: in exchange for six percent of your company, they give you the best resources in the world to help your business start and succeed. Over the entrance, a big neon sign shines “Give First” — and we’d soon come to understand just how much Techstars lives by this principal.

The awesome Techstars LA staff: Jose, Robert, Anna, Ethan, and Olivia.

Give First is the belief that guides the Techstars community in an effort to give startups hands on mentorship from founders, partners, investors, and business leaders, with no specific expectations in return. And their numbers are compelling. In the 10 years Techstars has been around they’ve guided founders to raise more than four-billion-dollars in venture capital, helping entrepreneurs solve important problems.

I’m no stranger to Techstars. As a lead at Sphero, I had the opportunity to learn alongside cofounders Adam and Ian as they went through the Disney Accelerator. The partnership was a success. The Disney connection allowed Sphero to launch more than eight Disney robots, most notably the quirky BB-8 Droid from Star Wars. That opportunity let me see first hand how powerful the experience could be, so I was eager to repeat again, albeit in a much more central fashion as the cofounder of Maslo.

Sphero founders pitch at Techstars Boulder demo day in 2010. That’s me in the blue shirt with a photobomb.

Now, in the LA program, we have an endless amount of work to do and things to learn. Weekends are seen as optional work days where Cristina Poindexter and I dedicate most of our time building a business. We work late into the night as regulars of the ‘late night crew’ — a group of the founders whose interests in their companies cross that line between work and life.

It was in these hours when Cristina discovered my various voice accents, which were often fueled by the 5 hour energy drinks I’d consume. For the record, she charted 7 distinct voices. And I learned that Cristina needed to be outside in nature on a daily basis, even if it was short walks around the Techstars office where she’d return with flowers and leaves I’d never noticed before in Los Angeles.

Hey, can I tell you about my startup?

Starting a business is tough. You become painfully aware of everything you’re bad at. Which is why a cofounder is a must. We keep each other accountable and have a lot of fun in the process — growing and learning. Some of the most valuable lessons were the ones that come from time spent with patient mentors. Mentor feedback is always paradoxical, but memorable, like when Nicole Glaros said to get curious the first week of the program.

As the youngest company in the program, we had a lot of catching up to do. We came with a basic prototype and a big idea. Everything else was built from scratch. In the span of three months, the vision grew and so did our team. The team came from amazing professional backgrounds like Disney, Google, Apple, Sphero, and Vimeo, but more than the logos on our resume was the collective curiosity and love for the creative process. Great ideas are nothing unless you can bring a team together.

Even then, dreams don’t work unless you do.

The founders of Maslo at Techstars LA demo day rehearsal.

I’m on stage searching for my next line and glance over to Cristina who looks at me with a hint of encouragement. I shift my gaze back to the room full of founders and notice them looking on with reassurance. I remember my line.

What if technology could function as we do — with an understanding of emotions, social skills, and psychology?

As I finish the pitch and walk off stage, I feel an intense gratitude come over me. Tomorrow we’ll face an endless amount of struggles that will test us in ways we can never imagine. However, it’s important that we keep pushing. It’s been difficult, but being surrounded by amazing people — mentors, founders, and staff — made the long days feel short and turned three months into an experience I’ll never forget.

Growth comes to those who are willing to put in the time and effort.

So get curious.

This was originally published on Medium. 








Why I Didn’t Want to Join Techstars (and How I Changed My Mind)

As a co-founder of Heartbeat, I came into the office each day knowing exactly what to do. Or at least, that’s what I thought at the time. We were building the world’s biggest network of brand ambassadors – all millenial women – and I felt sure about what we needed to do in order to scale the company.  

We started Heartbeat with the idea that real women, not bloggers or celebrities, were incredibly powerful. We believed that the type of word-of-mouth marketing normal women engaged in could be game-changing in the marketing world, as long as we were able to scale.

When one of my co-founders suggested we apply to Techstars, I was skeptical. I had completed my MBA at UCLA Anderson a few years earlier, and I didn’t feel like I needed more education. I also had a huge network – if I already knew everyone in LA tech, how would Techstars help? I just wanted to put my head down and build Heartbeat, and I certainly didn’t need an accelerator program that would slow us down with busy work and trust falls.

Even though I was stressed non-stop, I thought our business was in a good place. We had real revenue, dedicated employees, and from the outside, everything seemed like we were headed in the right direction. In my opinion, we were too “far along” to apply to Techstars – our traction was undeniable.

With hesitation, I completed the application for our team. I actually didn’t mind it because I’m one of those people who oddly enjoy filling out forms. Despite my apprehension, we made it to the next round.

That’s when we met Anna and Ethan.

Have you ever had that feeling where you just know you’re in the right place with the right people? I remember feeling that way when I walked on campus when looking at potential colleges when I was 18, and knowing immediately which school felt like home.

Although my brain told me that we didn’t need Techstars, meeting Anna, the LA Managing Director, changed my mind. She and Ethan, the Program Director, were highly intelligent, and asked probing questions right away. Even during our interviews, they were able to tap into the underlying framework of our business, and clearly saw the bigger picture.

From the get-go, they identified issues we didn’t even know we were dealing with. By the time we completed numerous rounds of interviews, intense questioning from mentors, and a lot of team heart-to-hearts, we knew we wanted to be a part of the program. When we got the offer to join the first Techstars LA class, we accepted on the spot.

As it turns out, joining Techstars was transformative in ways I could never have imagined, and the decision to participate was one of the biggest surprises of my life.

During Techstars, we went through rapid growth and massive change. We were headed full speed ahead with our product, but in the wrong direction. The mentors helped us get back on track, and evolve our technology in a much stronger direction.

We hadn’t focused enough on our culture, and certain people had become toxic. We lost a member of our key founding team during the program, an event that might never had transpired had we not had such strong coaching and mentoring throughout the process.

We left with a thriving, exciting company culture and a newfound energy for what we were building. Most importantly, our business has really broken through, and we’ve seen our highest revenue numbers to date. We also raised another $1M a few months after Demo Day.

We also left with new friendships, new mentors, and an incredible network of investors and advisors. It turns out that I didn’t really know everyone in LA. Today, our business is in a phenomenal place.  

Techstars truly surprised me, and it might surprise you, too. And the biggest secret of all? I actually loved the trust falls.








The Seven Qualities of a Great Founding Team

Running a “city program” accelerator at Techstars LA, we can invest in any vertical – and there are several I’m tracking – but the real draw is always the team. So what makes a “great team”? Below are seven characteristics of teams that I believe contribute to success.

Learning mindset

“That’s surprising. Tell me why you think that?”

A learning mindset, or as author Carol Dweck refers to it, a “growth mindset” is probably the single most important quality in an early stage founder. There is a close to zero percent chance that the plan you have today will be the best plan in six months. Therefore, only the people who are willing – eager – to learn and adapt will succeed.  

Two CEOs in the Techstars Los Angeles 2017 class had multiple prior successful exits and decades of experience, and still showed up ready to ask questions and listen to feedback, including ideas from others younger and less experienced.  That has allowed them access to great thinking from all around them and has strengthened their companies.  

Melanie Stricklan and Thomas Ashman of Slingshot Aerospace at Techstars LA

A learning mindset across a whole team is even more powerful.  When the team is more interested in the best ideas rather than their own ideas, people can safely challenge each other, ask great questions and develop better solutions than they can individually. The value of a learning mindset increases exponentially when applied across a whole team.

Vulnerability

“I really screwed up.”

In this context, vulnerability is the willingness to be wrong and the willingness to expose your flaws and fears to your team and to the world. I saw this all over Techstars LA and would hope it was in part because we kicked off the program with a brutally honest talk I gave, called, “the five dumbest things I did as a founder.”  There’s a shorter and somewhat sanitized version of this talk available here.  

As Brene Brown describes in her excellent TED Talk on vulnerability, there’s great strength to be found here.  And founders need the strength that comes from that vulnerability.  

Grit

“Our first product flopped, so we talked to all our users to find out why and went back to square one.”

The ability to press forward in the face of unexpected obstacles is essential for the marathon of building a company.   The innovative researcher Angela Duckworth termed this quality “grit” and founders must have this.  Your co-founder will quit.  Your MVP will fall flat. You will come close to running out of money, possibly many times.  And you will need to go on and to innovate around the impossible obstacle. Again and again.   

Grit sometimes looks annoyingly persistent. It looks aggressive. Sometimes it looks myopic and foolish.  When it works, in hindsight it just looks like patience.    

Obsession

“Everyone around us thinks we are crazy to still be doing this, but we can’t stop thinking about it.”

My mother was a literary agent and she used to advise people only to write professionally if they felt actually compelled to write – like there was no other choice.  I feel the same way about founding teams.  Is this team as a whole obsessed with the problem they are solving and the product they are building?  Are they waking up in the middle of the night thinking about it?  A shared obsession towards a purpose is the glue that binds together a group of different people and turns them into a team.  And it’s what keeps them going when things become challenging.  

Respect

“If we aren’t getting along and don’t feel like the rest of the team has our back, nothing else works.”

Respect for the people above all else is paramount.  Nothing else is more important than the relationships between the team members.  Last summer I watched a pair of co-founders diligently work through their personal relationship and invest a lot of time in listening to each other and talking about feelings. They negotiated their spheres of influence and worked through how to separate the personal relationship from the professional.  Every minute they spent on this painstaking work, there were “more urgent” tasks calling them.  This team came out of that process stronger and better able to address the big market opportunity in front of them. They were willing to “waste time” on things that didn’t feel urgent, for the long term health of their team.  

Great teams know that the team has to come first, before the work, before even the customers.  They respect the importance of the team and the value of each person.  

Humor

We laughed a lot at Techstars LA in 2017. We put on dumb costumes, we sang in public, and we made fun of ourselves. Many different people brought the funny and helped us laugh even when we were exhausted.  Humor, I think, breeds compassion and empathy and takes us out of our self-involvement.  Look for that person who is going to bring the levity to your team.  On my team, it’s Ethan Austin.  Thanks, Ethan!  

The Blue Fever team leads Techstars LA in “Mean Girls” style trust falls.

Empathy  

“I see that my communication style isn’t working for you.  Can you tell me more about that?”

Empathy is grounded in seeing and feeling things from the point of view of the other.  “Become the other person and go from there,” the saying goes.  I like to think about empathy as perspective, rather than feeling, although feelings are involved.  It’s about working to turn the lens around so you see things differently, as someone else does.

Empathy allows us to learn from each other’s perspective and inspire one another to be better.  When we are driven by empathy, our interactions become transformative, rather than transactional.  The great thing about empathy is that it tends to spread and yes, you can get better at it.  Empathy can be worked like a muscle.  One simple exercise is active listening, but there are many others.  

Michel Bayan of Directech Labs at Techstars LA

As we kick off the application period for Techstars LA 2018, the first hurdle is the what and the where: we’re looking for transformative ideas addressing large markets, built by teams with hard skills. But it’s the who and the why that really matter; teams with these seven qualities are where we’d like to invest.  

Applications for Techstars LA are now open! If you are working on an exciting idea with a team that has these qualities, we’d love to hear from you!  








Techstars LA 2017 Recap

Last week marked the end of the first Techstars LA program, which wrapped up with Demo Day at the El Rey Theatre in mid-Wilshire. The first class of Techstars LA was built on a #LongLA thesis, with 9 of the 10 companies headquartered in the area. We also looked for founders with a combination of courage and coachability, addressing large markets with a big vision.

Last week the teams presented to a capacity crowd of investors in invite-only morning sessions and to a mix of investors and community members at the Demo Day event at the El Rey. I’m thrilled to present the ten companies from Techstars LA 2017.

Please get in touch if you’d like to connect with any of the companies or feel free to reach out directly.

Avisare

founders@avisare.com

Avisare is a marketplace simplifying the multi-trillion dollar B2B contracting industry through process improvement and automated regulation compliance. Our mission is to foster an inclusive ecosystem to level the playing field for all small businesses to compete for contacts.

Founder and CEO: Sky Kelley & Head of Customer Success: Anthony Vu

Blue Fever

founders@bluefevr.com

Hollywood is ignoring badass millennial women. Blue Fever is a video discovery service where young women watch movies and series made and curated by people just like them. Blue Fever talks to young women like a best friend and reaches them where they already are: messenger.

Founders: Lauren Tracy, CEO and Greta McAnany, COO

DirecTech Labs

founders@directechlabs.com

DirecTech Labs uses AI to power its “behavior engine” for the $183B direct selling industry.  Our system is currently helping customers ($500M and $1B companies) engage and retain direct sellers around the world as we work to turn this unsung industry into an even more powerful complement to e-commerce and retail.

Founders: Michel Bayan, CEO and Jordan Zommick, CTO

Heartbeat

founders@getheartbeat.co

Heartbeat is a marketing automation platform backed by 125,000+ female consumer brand ambassadors. We have created a turn-key affordable solution for small & medium sized businesses that allow them to engage consumers to create user-generated content on their personal social channels at scale that accomplishes key marketing objectives.

LIV

founders@liv.tv

LIV is powering spectator experiences for VR that allow the audience to better relate with the action. Our proprietary technology puts real people inside digital worlds and broadcasts that experience to the world.

Founders: Cix Liv, CEO and AJ Shewki, President

Maslo

founders@maslo.ai

Maslo builds digital companions to enhance your wellbeing. By building technology to function as we do – with an understanding of emotions, social skills, and psychology – we can all become better people, together with technology.

Founders: Ross Ingram, CEO and Cristina Poindexter, COO

Playfull  

founders@beplayfull.com

PlayFull has a mobile game and CRM that helps the largest restaurant brands in the world engage customers and increase sales. Partners include Subway, Chick-fil-A, Denny’s, Coffee Bean and more.

Founders: Patrick Lu, CEO, Zhuping Hu, COO and Alex Hesselgrave, CTO

Slingshot Aerospace

founders@slingshotaerospace.com

Slingshot is building the next generation of signal processing AI.  Slingshot customers worldwide make high-value decisions utilizing insights based on earth observation data, the world’s largest untapped data source.  This allows customers to reduce cost, improve competitiveness, and operate more efficiently – leading to better business results.

Founders: David Godwin, CEO, Melanie Stricklan, CSO and Thomas Ashman, VP Product

Solutions Vending International (SVI)

Solutions Vending International (SVI) is an automated retailing technology company that makes vending machines intelligent through consumers data and analytics. We help retail brands, vending machine manufacturers, and operators learn more about their customers by offering them customers to create accounts and engage with their machines like never before.

For more information click here.

Founder & CEO: Dawn Dickson

Stackin’

founders@startstackin.com

Stackin’ is a millennial finance company that helps over 3 million monthly users improve their financial fitness through digital video programming and intuitive tools.

Founders: Scott Grimes, CEO & Kyle Arbaugh, President








Introducing the Inaugural Class of Techstars LA

We are excited to announce the ten companies that will be joining the Techstars Los Angeles Accelerator for the 2017 program, which kicks off today and concludes with Demo Day on October 10.  

We had a simple thesis for Techstars LA this year: going long on LA and southern California. Our hunt for great companies was focused on the rapidly expanding local startup ecosystem. Outreach activities took our team from Pasadena to El Segundo, from Santa Barbara to San Diego and everywhere in between.

One-third of the eventual applicants were based in SoCal.  Throughout the selection process, we have been impressed with both the breadth and depth of talent in the LA area. Of the companies we ultimately selected, nine are local to southern California.

Our class also reflects the diversity of Los Angeles. Half of the class includes a female co-founder, including three female CEOs, as well as diversity across a number of other dimensions. These teams are building great companies in e-commerce, media, retail, enterprise data, aerospace, AI, marketing and esports.  

Techstars is the Worldwide Network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. It’s worldwide, but also local, and we called on our local network for great referrals. We would like to thank LA investors Taylor Adams, Jesse Draper, Arlan Hamilton, Mark Mullen and Robyn Ward for referring companies that will be joining Techstars. Many others supported our search and we are very grateful; we can’t be successful without your support.  

Techstars LA joins two other programs here in Los Angeles: the Techstars Music Accelerator and the Cedars-Sinai Accelerator, Powered by Techstars. We are excited about Los Angeles’ vibrant tech scene and, most of all, thrilled to announce the ten companies joining Techstars LA:

Avisare

Avisare is the centralized network for all businesses to discover new contract opportunities, post their own, and bid on all opportunities using one universal profile.

Blue Fever

BLUE FEVER is a futuristic Netflix for millennial women focused on mood curation and community. The platform connects millions of fans with the best entertainment they haven’t seen yet – and the creators who make it.

DirecTech Labs

DirectTech labs uses machine learning and chatbots to help engage and retain millions of (75% female) direct selling micro-entrepreneurs around the world.

Heartbeat

Heartbeat is a marketing automation platform backed by 100,000+ female brand ambassadors.

LIV

Liv is a full-stack hardware + software solution that powers 6 degrees of freedom Mixed Reality (MR).

 

Maslo

Maslo builds technology companions to make better humans.  

Playfull

PlayFull is a marketing platform that helps the largest restaurant brands in the world engage their next generation of customers with games.

Slingshot Aerospace

Slingshot provides extensible access to geo-enriched insights through our sensor-to-decision software platform. Fueled by advanced machine learning and computer vision algorithms, our technology optimizes and automates the complexities of object classification, event discovery, change detection, and risk scoring for Insurance and Defense.

Solutions Vending International

SVI is an automated retail technology company providing software solutions for intelligent vending. We make vending machines smart.

Stackin’

Stackin’ champions financial fitness for all millennials by educating, informing and entertaining across relevant social platforms.

 








Demo Day: Techstars Music (Los Angeles)








Office Hours: Techstars LA (Santa Monica)

Who: Startups looking to apply to Techstars LA

What: Office hours

When: March 16

Where: Santa Monica, California

Details: Click here to register for office hours!








Info Session: Techstars LA (Santa Monica)

Who: Startups looking to apply to Techstars LA

What: Info session

When: March 16

Where: Santa Monica, California

Details: Click here to register for the event!

 

Join Techstars Los Angeles for an Alumni Panel and Q+A Session. This is a great opportunity to learn more about Techstars mentorship-driven accelerator programs, meet the teams, and hear from our alumni companies.








Info Session: Techstars IoT & Techstars LA (San Diego)

Who: Startups looking to apply to Techstars IoT and Techstars LA

What: Info Session

When: March 9

Where: San Diego

Details: Click here to register for the event!