Demo Day Round Up: Fall 2016

Fall is in full-swing here at Techstars with the addition of 64 new companies! Techstars recently had seven Demo Days across the globe, including Berlin, Mobility in Detroit, Barclays New York, London, Techstars Retail in partnership with Target in Minneapolis, New York City and Chicago. Phew!

Here’s a quick round up of the highlights:

Berlin Class of 2016

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Techstars Berlin’s second Demo Day, held at the iconic Kino International, showcased 10 companies from six different countries with products ranging from machine learning and AI, to SaaS and mobility.

Techstars Managing Director, Rob Johnson, opened the event and Executive Director, Greg Rogers, provided welcoming remarks. It was an exciting day to celebrate the 2016 class with investors, mentors and other founders from the Berlin startup community!

Congratulations to the Berlin Class of 2016!

 

Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit Class of 2016

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Techstars Mobility hosted its second annual demo day in downtown Detroit on September 8. It was a showcase of the growing collaboration between startups and the automotive industry.

Over 2500 attendees from 12 different countries watched as 12 startups pitched their businesses impacting the future of automotive and transportation. These startups were building businesses around autonomous, connected vehicle, shared services, mapping, and big data and analytic technologies. Three of the 12 companies announced partnerships with the program’s title sponsor, Ford Motor Company.

The entire demo day was live streamed and that video can be watched on YouTube here.

Managing Director, Ted Serbinski, announced that Techstars Mobility has brought two additional high-growth startups to Detroit: Mapbox and Polysync, the latter of which is a Techstars Ventures investment. These companies will be opening their Detroit offices out of the Techstars Mobility space, joining Oblong who opened their Detroit office last year.

Bob Caza, Director of Communications at the North American International Auto Show, expanded on Techstars Mobility mission to expose more startups to Detroit by announcing that  we’re opening applications to bring 50+ mobility, automotive, and transportation startups to the 2017 Detroit Auto Show.

To capture this growth of the startup community, coupled with the entrepreneurial resurgence in Detroit, we debuted a trailer for Long Haul Films who is developing the documentary Restarting the Motor City. This is a feature-length documentary about the creators, innovators and entrepreneurs who are reimagining Detroit. They are breaking free from the shackles of 20th-century thinking to create a new model for cities across the globe.

Congratulations to the Mobility Class of 2016!

 

Barclays Accelerator, Powered by Techstars in New York Class of 2016

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Techstars Barclays NYC’s second Demo Day Event was held at the Edison Ballroom in the heart of the Theater District. Ten cutting-edge FinTech companies showcased products solving problems in real estate, capital markets, security, banking and the freelance economy.

Joe McGrath, the CEO of Barclays Americas, opened the evening with a warm welcome and recognition of the impact of Barclays’ programs around the world, which have seen collective valuations rise 190% from their pre-accelerator valuations.

Greg Rogers, Executive Director at Techstars, introduced the companies to the 600+ attendees including investors, mentors, Techstars alumni and community members. Jenny Fielding, the Managing Director, closed the event with a special thank you to mentors and Jon Zanoff, Entrepreneur in Residence, for their tireless devotion to this class and role in these companies’ success.

Congratulations to the Barclays New York Class of 2016!

 

London Class of 2016

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Led by Max Kelly, the Managing Director of Techstars London, the 2016 program kicked off with new offices, a new fund and a great new class. Within the class, one-third have PhDs and there are 19 separate nationalities! The variety of industries is astonishing – from grease to graph databases, from aid to artificial intelligence.

Each company presented their pitches to a packed venue during Demo Day, which took place on September 20 at the Royal Institution in London.

It is always exciting to be in the front seat of this kind of innovation.

Congratulations to the London Class of 2016!

 

Techstars Retail, in partnership with Target Class of 2016

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Techstars Retail’s first Demo Day, held at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, showcased eleven companies with products ranging from voice search, machine forecasting, visual registries and retail experience bots. More importantly, all these teams were able to demonstrate their accomplishments they achieved over the summer.

Techstars Managing Director, Ryan Broshar, welcomed almost 1,000 attendees then opened the evening with an inspiring message and fun facts about this year’s class. Target’s Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer, Casey Carl, shared welcoming remarks and reflected on his experience as a mentor. It was an exciting day to celebrate the 2016 class and the broader Twin Cities startup community!

Congratulations to the inaugural Techstars Retail Class of 2016!

 

New York City Class of 2016

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For the 2016 class, Techstars NYC experimented with a new take on Demo Day. Rather than live pitches Managing Director, Alex Iskold, introduced Exclusive Investor Preview and Investor Only Demo Day.

As with our previous classes, this was a diverse group of founders solving a wide range of problems. In addition to six teams from NYC, we had teams from Rochester, Atlanta, San Francisco, two teams from Philadelphia, a team from the UK, a team from France and two teams from Canada. Of these 15 companies, five have women CEOs.

The new Demo Day format was a hit among founders and mentors, and aligns with the spirit of innovation at Techstars.

Congratulations to the New York City Class of 2016!

 

Chicago Class of 2016

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Techstars Chicago’s seventh Demo Day, held at House of Blues in Chicago, showcased the latest ten startups selected from a pool of thousands of applicants. Companies ranged from a wearable hardware device enabling parents to keep track of their kids to enterprise and B2B software solutions, and showed both the diversity and high potential of the midwest startup ecosystem.

Techstars’ Managing Directors, Troy Henikoff and Brian Luerssen, along with Excelerate Labs co-founder, Sam Yagan, welcomed a packed house filled with notable investors and entrepreneurs. Chris Gladwin opened the afternoon with a keynote on the need for grit in operating his business to the recent 1.3 billion dollar sale of Cleversafe to IBM. It was an exciting day to celebrate the 2016 class and the broader Chicago startup community!

Congratulations to the Chicago Class of 2016!

 

Get a head start on your own entrepreneurial journey. Apply to an accelerator program. Applications close on October 15th.








Meet 15 Startups from Techstars NYC Summer 2016 Program

This post was originally published on Thoughts on Tech Startups and Venture Capital

We are delighted to introduce 15 Startups that are finishing our Summer 2016 Program today. As with our previous classes, this was a diverse group of founders solving a wide range of problems.

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In addition to 6 teams from NYC, we had teams from Rochester, Atlanta, San Francisco, two teams from Philadelphia, a team from the UK, a team from France and two teams from Canada. Of these 15 companies, five have women CEOs.

The founders have made real progress, and grew their revenues and customers during the program. Here are Techstars NYC Summer 2016 Investor Pitches:

Electronic Gaming Federation (EGF)

Electronic Gaming Federation organizes and produces college sports.

Email Tyler Schrodt, CEO of EGF

Forestry 

Forestry offers developers a new way to build and manage websites.

Email Scott Gallant, CEO of Forestry

Grubbly Farms

Grubbly Farms is producing a sustainable, insect based, food source for pets, aquaculture, and livestock.

Email Sean Warner, CEO of Grubbly Farms

Healthie

Healthie is a web and mobile platform for dietitians and nutritionists to manage their practice.

Email Erica Jain, CEO of Healthie

IOPipe

IOPipe provides a toolbox for developing, monitoring, and operating serverless applications.

Email Adam Johnson, CEO of IOPipe

LeBlum

Leblum lets consumers buy top quality flowers directly from the growers.

Email Sarah Corrigan, CEO of LeBlum

MindMate

MindMate is a platform for Alzheimer’s patients, families and care centers.

Email Susanne Mitschke, CEO of MindMate

MyFin

MyFin is the easiest way to manage and save your money.

Email Nathaniel Harley, CEO of MyFin

OnFrontiers

OnFrontiers is a platform that helps businesses connect with experts around the world.

Email Brian Caouette, CEO of OnFrontiers

Patch Homes

Patch Homes provides home equity financing at 0% interest and no monthly payments.

Email Sahil Gupta, CEO of Patch Homes

Pollen

Pollen is a marketing automation platform that enables online retailers to acquire new users more simply and cost effectively than Facebook and Google.

Email Zack Werner, CEO of Pollen

ProcessOut

ProcessOut is the smart router for payments that saves money by optimizing each transaction.

Email Cyril Chemla, CEO of ProcessOut

Purple

Purple is the easiest way to stay on top of the news and be informed. Ever.

Email Rebecca Harris, CEO of Purple

Skopenow

Skopenow is a people search engine for discovering fraud and evaluating risk.

Email Rob Douglas, CEO of Skopenow

Skywatch

Skywatch provides API access to the world’s satellite data.

Email James Slifierz, CEO of Skywatch

Thank you Mentors and Speakers

As always, we’ve had an amazing support from our mentors. They spent the time with the founders, gave feedback and engaged during the program.

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Techstars NYC Summer 2016 Mentors

Here is the thank you video that founders made for mentors:

We also had an amazing group of mentors who held weekly office hours, and focused on covering specific verticals.

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Every week during the all hands companies did shout outs and thanked most helpful mentors. We are excited to present Most Helpful Mentor Awards for Summer 2016 Program:

Most Helpful Overall Mentors award for Techstars Summer 2016 goes to Kevin King, Dane Atkinson, Chris Fraser, Soraya Dorabi and Maya Baratz Jordan!

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We also had amazing speakers who came to share their stories, and give founders feedback on their companies. Fireside chats were fun, insightful and really engaging.

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What Founders Learned in the Program

Tyler Schrodt, CEO of EGF:

Take the advice of your mentors seriously, but your path is ultimately your choice.

Fundraising is a full time job.

Scott Gallant, CEO of Forestry:

The importance of building a personal network of mentors and peers

How to prepare for fundraising (the best coaching on the planet)

Sean Warner, CEO of Grubbly Farms:

Networking – you always here networking is important, but seeing the outreach that Techstars has taught us how to properly utilize our / Techstars network, mainly looking at mentor engagement.

Defining growth through KPIs – there are many ways to monitor growth and though qualitative measurements are important, quantitative measurements are easier to distinguish growth over time.

Erica Jain, CEO of Healthie:

How to focus on the important stuff: Techstars has a tradition of “big rocks” – the premise being that you can fill your days with lots of activities, but at the end of the day, if you don’t execute on certain things – whether it’s achieving a certain metric or reaching a milestone – the company isn’t actually moving forward, even if you’re “always busy”.

That relationships are everything: Whether it’s with employees, mentors, co-founders, customers, or investors, building strong and genuine connections is ridiculously important, and incredibly rewarding.

Adam Johnson, CEO of IOPipe:

The power of giving first. There’s so much energy and momentum within our class by helping each other out. No requests were unanswered during our time at Techstars. The give first mentality did not end with our class, many alumnus and friends of Techstars went out of their way to help out. It was simply amazing.

I was surprised by how much impact the high energy of all the startups going through the Techstars program had on IOpipe. It was a constant motivator to keep pushing for as much progress and growth as we could within a short amount of time. Our investors have been so impressed by how far we’ve come in a short three months. Techstars definitely played a huge part in that.

Setting weekly big rock milestones to push us harder every week has been a great motivator for us to keep the eye on the ball, and re-think what’s most important for us. IOpipe will continue this exercise long after our time at Techstars.

Sarah Corrigan, CEO of LeBlum:

Don’t abuse the Pivot. Intuition and data combined are sufficient guides and indicators of whether or not your company has a reason to exist. Consider peoples’ doubts, but never cater to them.

Accept Criticism Gracefully. A start-up starts out scrappy but eventually has to evolve into a well organized operation of systems and standards. As a founder that means that you to have to be willing to accept faults, recognize what needs to improve and be willing to make changes – without delay. So, don’t be a sh!tty human, and if you are being one – stop being a sh!tty human, immediately.

Susanne Mitschke, CEO of MindMate:

Pick ONE KPI and execute ONLY on that

Say “NO” to stuff that doesn’t move the needle! Be hard on that!

Nathaniel Harley, CEO My Fin

Marketing automation – how to think about the different states – activation, magic moment, and retention. Being very early and in product building mode, we really honed in on the activation state…. need to still work on magic moment / retention. I obviously learned this before, but it’s much different for MyFin than it was for Spoon. App is very different than content site.

Prioritization – as a team, we’ve gotten much better at doing daily sprints, focusing on what’s most important, and constantly re-prioritizing based on where we’re at, feedback, etc.

Positioning – one of the hardest things to do is narrow down the focus of the company into a few sentences. It’s been extremely helpful to get down to the essence of what we’re building, and how to articulate to people.

Sahil Gupta, CEO of Patch Homes:

Be firm yet flexible in my approach. Whether is product, market strategy or fundraising – listen to what people are saying.

Become better at using data to validate hypothesis and drive decision making.

Zack Werner, CEO of Pollen:

I have been raising money for a long time, and TS helped me get a MUCH better understanding of how to talk to investors and create a funnel for investment.

It was great for my team to learn how to operate in the same space and with a structure for operation.

Rebecca Harris, CEO of Purple:

How to define KPIs, set goals for growing them, and develop a process for achieving those goals.

I learned so much about fundraising.

Rob Douglas, CEO of Skopenow:

Thinking like a CEO – Growth strategies (sales and business development), pricing, getting ready for scaling, and finding the right hires.

Understanding the VC world – the ins, outs, and in-betweens of VC communication from intros to closings…#ABC

Thank you Associates!

Huge thank you to our associates, they’ve done an amazing job! Sara, Alli, Susan, Jay, Kashif, Dan, Mike and Oliver – massive thank you for your hard work and dedication – you were SUPER HELPFUL to founders and Techstars.

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Techstars NYC 2016 Crew

Tweets from Investors and Founders

Good luck, Techstars NYC Summer 2016!

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Electronic Gaming Federation (Techstars ’16)

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Forestry (Techstars ’16)

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Grubbly Farms (Techstars ’16)

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Healthie (Techstars ’16)

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IOPipe (Techstars ’16)

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LeBlum (Techstars ’16)

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MindMate (Techstars ’16)

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MyFin (Techstars ’16)

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OnFrontiers (Techstars ’16)

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Patch Homes (Techstars ’16)

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ProcessOut (Techstars ’16)

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Purple (Techstars ’16)

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Skopenow (Techstars ’16)

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Skywatch (Techstars ’16)

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Techstars Demo Day Experiments

At Techstars, we have a culture of innovation and experimentation. Our strength stems from our diversity and distributed nature. Every Techstars location adds its own local flavor and experiments constantly. We tweak the program content, how we engage mentors and corporate partners, and also how we help our founders connect with investors. We then share what works and what doesn’t to make the network better over time.

No matter if you are going to a program in NY, Boston or Cape Town, you will get the very best Techstars Demo Day experience.

A New Take on an Old Idea

Since early 2007, our Demo Days have consistently attracted hundreds of investors and community members. Demo Days are powerful community celebrations and an effective way to connect the founders and investors. Techstars companies have now raised more than $2.5B and Demo Day has been a huge part of that success.

For the past couple of years, we’ve been experimenting with additional ways we can improve and optimize this connection in addition to Demo Days.

It started back in Boulder in 2014 when Nicole Glaros, then a Managing Director and now Chief Product Officer at Techstars, launched an investor-only Demo Day for active investors.

The idea and the formula was quite simple: investors were split into groups with about 20 investors per room. The CEOs walked from one room to another and gave their Demo Day Pitch. After the pitch, investors did a quick Q&A and the founder moved onto the next room. The investors had contact information for every founder and were able to reach out directly.

This was followed by the traditional Demo Day, which was more of a community celebration, and most of the investors who were at the private event also attended that Demo Day.

An Improved Experience for Everyone Involved

This new format was an instant success. Both investors and founders loved the intimacy of the setting and the ability to interact and ask questions. Over the next few years, other Techstars programs experimented with a version of this setup, including our Seattle and Chicago programs. Jenny Fielding just ran an invite-only investor Demo Day for our FinTech program in NYC.

Our Chicago program recently rented 10 suites in a hotel with eight active investors per room. The only folks who participated were people who wrote checks in a previous class. CEOs did the pitches followed by Q&A. In addition, Chicago added another tweak – investors had five minutes to discuss the company amongst themselves. Once again, investors and founders loved the format.

This year Techstars NYC is building on the experiments from other cities and rolling our own experiment. We are introducing Exclusive Investor Preview and Investor only Demo Day.

The Investor Preview

The Investor Preview is invite-only and takes place before the Demo Day. To get invited, you need to have invested in at least one Techstars NYC company within the last four years. Each investor is pre-matched by us with six companies based on their investment focus. Before the preview, investors get elevator pitches from all companies in the class and can ask to swap out one or more companies. Similarly, founders can opt-out of the meetings with investors whom they don’t want to meet.

During the preview, each investor comes in for 2.5 hours and has six 25 minute meetings. During the first five minutes of the meeting, the investor watches the video of the company pitch and then spends 20 minutes doing Q&A with the CEO. After that, the investor moves onto the next company. When there is a mutual interest to continue, the founder and investor exchange contact information. So far we’ve gotten hugely positive feedback on this format from both investors and the founders.

For the Investor only Demo Day we are trying a new format as well.

The Investor Only Demo Day

Again, the Demo Day is invite-only for investors, but it is not required that you have previously invested in one of our companies. The Demo Day on 9/29 will take place in the Techstars NYC office, where 15 CEOs will have stations much like you would have at a conference. We issued 200 investor tickets for 10 a.m., 200 investor tickets for 11 a.m., 200 investor tickets for noon, etc.

When investors come in, they can quickly connect with each CEO or go to a theater space to watch video pitches. Techstars staff will walk around and help investors quickly send the contact information to all companies they want to follow up with.

We anticipate an amazing turn out this coming Thursday and look forward to everyone’s feedback.

The best companies constantly tweak and iterate. At Techstars, experimentation and improvement are part of our DNA. This is what we tell our founders and this is what we constantly do internally. Not only do we have cool new tweaks this year, we’ve already been thinking about new things that we will be doing in 2017.

Do you have ideas for how we can enhance Demo Days or do anything else better? Please leave a comment here or email me at alex.iskold@techstars.com.








Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars in NYC Demo Day








Action and Idea Lists for Lean Startups

Startups are easily overwhelmed with ideas. They have a ton of their own, and they hear a lot of advice from others. How do you actually take all of the ideas and prioritize, focus, execute and grow?

Here is a simple system inspired by Agile software development that can help you do that. It’s a spin on the traditional to-do lists that helps you keep it simple and actually execute.

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1. Iteration

The key to getting things done is to set goals and divide time into chunks to hit each goal. If you don’t have goals, then you are just doing stuff, but not clearly making progress. Let’s call a chunk of time to hit a set of goals an “iteration.” The duration of any given iteration can vary – it can be 1 day or 2 weeks, but not much longer than that. At Techstars, for example, we measure time in weeks, since we are trying to accomplish a lot in just 13 weeks. Every week has its own set of goals, so every week is its own iteration. The tasks you do during the iteration go onto the Action List.

2. Action List

The first rule is that the Action List can only have 10 items (or less!) at any given time. The #1 to-do is what you are working on now. To-dos 2, 3 and 4 are pretty solid – unless there is a drastic change in your world, they will make it to the #1 spot soon and you will work on them. To-dos 5-10 are a little less solid; you might not actually get to them, or you may tweak or even delete some of them. But as of now, you do intend to execute them during this iteration.

That’s really it in terms of Action List setup. You work through it one to-do at a time. Intensely focus on each task and crush it. Make sure you do it as thoroughly and as completely as possible.

Every time you check off an item, take a quick moment to celebrate. Every small win is the opportunity to smile and relieve stress.

3. Idea List

This is what every single person, from CEO to an engineer to a social media manager, gets wrong. They get excited about a new idea, drop what they are working on, and start working on the new thing. This is the worst possible way to get things done. The task at hand is left unfinished. Most likely you will have to go back to it, but you will by then lose the context and the flow. Most likely you will keep adding new tasks, and you will find yourself context switching all the time. As a result, no tasks will be done well. You are going to create half-baked things and nothing will really work.

Remember, you are not necessarily smarter right now than you were 10 minutes ago or a day ago or a week ago. If you made a decision in the past to schedule the task, respect yourself and finish it.

Of course there are sometimes exceptional cases when you can cancel the task at hand, but it should be very rare. In any case, the new task shouldn’t replace what you are working on now.

It doesn’t even make sense to stick new ideas into the Action List yet. That list has already been prioritized, and it’s not yet clear where the new idea would fit. For that purpose, you will have another list, called the Idea List. The new tasks ALWAYS go to the bottom of the Idea List. ALWAYS.

The Idea List can also only have at most 10 items. Why? Because you don’t need to add every single idea you have or you hear to any list at all. In fact, quite the opposite – the default should be to NOT add. Every idea first needs to prove itself to you.

Like things in the real world, the ideas need to compete for your attention and win before they make it to the Idea List.

You need to hear an idea over and over from your customers, co-workers, advisors and yourself. Once it becomes obvious, then the idea will get a spot on the Idea List.

4. Prioritize: Append, Trim and Delete

Regardless of the length of your Iteration – 1 day or 2 weeks or anything in between – in the end of the Iteration, you will re-prioritize. To do that, first append all items from the Idea List to the bottom of the Action List. It does not matter if the Action List is empty or the Idea List is full.

You then re-prioritize everything based on your current understanding of the world and trim the Action List to again be 10 items only. After that, place the 4 runner-up ideas on the Idea List and discard the rest. Don’t be afraid of this step. The ideas will come back if they are great ideas.

Give this a try and let me know how it works out for you. Using another system? I would love to hear about it in the comments.

 

This post was originally published on Alex’s blog








What is the API for Your Startup?

This post was originally published on Thoughts on Tech Startups and Venture Capital

I was recently chatting with one of the Techstars founders and found myself asking her – What is the API for your business?

This may sound like an odd question, but it actually is not.

Every single startup, every single business, has an interface that it offers to the world. Some of these interfaces are super simple, like Google – all you can do is search. Some are more sophisticated, like ordering things from Amazon – you can browse, search, add to cart, order, request a refund, etc.

Even if you aren’t an engineer or a product manager, it is really useful to think about the API that your business will offer to the world. Thinking about your business as an API allows you to get a lot of clarity of what your business actually does, and why.

API mentality forces you to be minimalistic and clear.

What is an API?

API stands for an application programming interface. You can think of API as an interface or a contract through which a software component, a web service, or in our case, a business, interacts with the world.

In other words, an API is a protocol for communicating, sending requests and receiving responses from a software component, a web service or a business.

For example, take a simple Check Box, a UI component that we see around the web. The interface for Check Box allows you to check or uncheck it.

/check -- causes checkbox to be checked 
/uncheck -- causes checkbox to be unchecked 

A different example of an API would be, for example, launching 10 servers on DigitalOcean web service cloud. That API may look like this:

/launchServers?numServers=10 -- starts running servers in the cloud.

In this last example, the launchServers command allows the user of the command to specify the number of servers to launch. Most services allow this kind of customization or parameterization for maximum flexibility and reusability. It wouldn’t make sense to have a different command to launch 10 or 20 servers, since it is essentially the same command.

What is the Business API?

When thinking about your business API, it is handy to think about the key concepts of your business and the commands associated with them. What can the users of your business do? Here are some simplified examples of the Business APIs that you will likely recognize:

google.com/search?term=techstars

amazon.com/browse?category=books
amazon.com/buy?bookId=b&customerId=c

uber.com/orderCar?location=loc&customerId=c

twitter.com/postTweet?text=t&userId=u

facebook.com/friend?userId=u&friendId=f

Modern businesses run in the cloud, and the way we interface with them is using HTTP protocol. This maybe counter intuitive since most of us, as end users, see pretty screens and friendly apps, but the nuts and bolts interface, the actual commands, are sent over HTTP.

The reason this is important is because HTTP reminds us of the actual bare bone APIs of these businesses. These are raw, direct interfaces that ultimately define EVERYTHING we can do with these services.

How To Design Your Business API

Now let’s focus on your business. When you are starting out, you are doing a whole bunch of things – understanding your founder market fit, talking to customers, thinking about your unique insights and advantages, your go to market strategy and a ton of other things.

Building the API for your business should be one of the early activities you do.

Use HTTP protocol (it is not that hard!) and map it out. Way before you build your MVP, design your API.

The exercise of designing your API will help you get a lot of clarity about your business. You will make decisions about what you will or won’t do in your MVP. You will prioritize some commands over others. You will realize, by writing on a piece of paper, whether you are doing too much or not enough.

Make your API as simple and as elegant as possible. Don’t think about what to add, think about what to remove.

Your basic API will be an amazing tool for helping you communicate with your customers and with your team. It will also be a stepping stone to building your MVP.

Once you design your API and you are happy with it, implement it. One by one, get the raw API working via HTTP. That’s right, you don’t need fancy UX and pretty apps to start. You can get a feel for your business by implementing your API.

Evolving Your API With Your Business

As your business evolves and grows, so will your API. Keep updating it and making it better. Keep adding to it, but be stingy. The best companies have simple APIs.

Think about Google – it has an amazingly simple interface, but it does something incredibly complex inside. Similarly, Steve Jobs always pushed Apple to make the interface as simple as possible, something that just works. Apple products hide incredible complexity and engineering ingenuity beneath a simple interface.

You want your business to be as simple as possible, and the services behind the interface as valuable as possible.

As your business grows, different parts of your business will evolve their own APIs. You will have a public interface and internal interfaces. It is incredibly helpful to keep all your interfaces simple and clear. Push yourself to always have clean interfaces and use them.

Your own business should always be the first and the biggest customer of your own API.

As your business grows, so will the ways it can be accessed.

You will have a desktop and mobile site, text messages, bots, iOS and Android apps and dozens of other ways your business can be accessed online. All these things can be thought of as clients of your API, clients of your business.

We now live in the world of cloud services and automation. Every major web company, whether it is Google, Amazon or Facebook has APIs for services they offer.

In the future, every single business will be accessed not just through a graphical user interface, but programmatically. As AI and automation enter our world, more and more transactions and access will happen through web services and APIs.

As a startup, you can prepare yourself for that exciting future by simply starting to think about and writing down your own API.

What commands your business offer to its customers? What is your API?

Originally posted on Alex’s blog.








What Are Startups Looking For?

Perhaps you’re interested in a working at a startup, but not quite sure you fit the docket.

Sure, the accomplishments listed on your resume are an important factor in your job search, but there are a lot of other things to be considered. It’s not enough that you went to a good college or have a high GPA. Startups aren’t necessarily looking for someone with a certain degree, but instead they’re more focused on finding people with specific traits.

Many of these traits are innate, meaning you’ve either got it or you don’t. Hopefully, you do. So, what exactly are these characteristics? Startups are looking for…

Self-Starters – You proactively move the ball forward, instead of standing around waiting for the coach—or in this case, the boss—to tell you what to do. You’re always looking ahead to what can be done next.

Comfortable with the Unknown – Startups are by nature ambiguous—and heavily resource-constrained—organizations. This means there won’t be any time for handholding. You might be given a project that you, nor anyone at the company, has experience with, but it’ll be your job to structure it and see it to fruition. You’re going to have to hit the ground running and wing it.

A Can-Do Attitude – Startups look for problem solvers. They need people who approach challenges saying “How can we make this happen?” versus “There’s no way we can do this.”

Someone Resourceful -Being resourceful is a key trait of any successful startup team member. You may have to do a little background internet research on something new to you, reaching out to your friends for connections and feedback, or coming up with your own creative solutions.

“Whatever It Takes” Mindset – Are you a true team player? In a startup, there are a lot of things that need to get done that aren’t glamorous, or in your direct line of duty. You have to be willing to get your hands dirty, even if that means working on some lackluster tasks.

Resilience & Passion – There are always ups and downs to startups – they look for people who can push through setbacks and bounce back stronger because of their passion for the team, mission, and product. In sales, you might get 100 closed doors before you land your first client. Your ability to be persistent will make you stand out.

Hustlers – Basically it comes down to being a hustler. Will you do whatever it takes to make things happen?

RUm2OOw

If you have some, or all of these traits, a position at startup may be within reach. Use your intro email to show that you could be a great fit, giving examples of your resourcefulness, resilience, etc. Put yourself out there, because they could be looking for someone just like you! 

Want to work for Techstars? Check out our job openings here. 

Originally posted on Planted.








7 Calendar Tips for Startups

I once had the pleasure of hearing Lou Gerstner, former CEO of IBM, speak. Something he said stuck in my head: “Never let anyone own your schedule.” It’s simple, it’s obvious, yet it’s genius.

Over the years, whenever I didn’t follow this advice, I was stressed and unproductive. Gradually, I learned that planning and following a routine makes a huge difference in how I feel and what I get done. Here are some of the things that help me manage my schedule that you may find helpful:

1. Create a routine

No matter what you are working on, create a routine. Block times for specific activities and stick with the plan. Turn your calendar into a bunch of blocks, and put activities into those blocks. Whatever is not planned, you don’t do. If you want free time / exercise time / reading TechCrunch time, plan it all.

Your routine may change throughout the year, but at any given time it’s better to have a plan. For example, if you are working on launching a company, and need to do customer discovery, coding, and hiring, then prioritize and block specific times for each activity.

Here is a sample calendar I made that illustrates some of the concepts and ideas from this post.

Sample Calendar

2. Group meetings and calls into blocks

Group meetings and calls into time blocks. For example, if you need to have outside meetings, block two 1/2 days a week for those meetings, and go to the outside meetings only during those times. Do the same thing for in-office meetings. This way you are not only creating a chunk of time for meetings, you are also creating other blocks of time that you will be able to focus on important P1 work. Do the same thing with calls – book them all back-to-back.

3. Optimize time for different meeting types

Personally, I am now a big fan of 30-minute meetings and 10-minute calls. I think 10-minute calls are a great way to initially connect with someone or give someone quick advice. You can do a Google Hangout or Skype if you prefer to see the person instead of just hearing them. The reason 10-minute calls work is because people skip the B.S. and get to the point. Try it – 10 minutes is actually a lot of time, if you focus. I prefer to do these calls on Fridays, when I am usually working from home.

I am not a big fan of introductory coffee meetings, lunches and dinners. I am a huge fan of coffee and meals with people I already know. Those meetings are typically productive and fun, but the first time you are meeting someone, it’s more productive to do a call, or an actual 30-minute meeting in the office.

Here are the types of meetings you might want to book:

  • 30-min meeting in the office to get to know someone or catch up
  • 45-min meeting outside of the office, allow 15-min travel time
  • 10-min call to help someone who needs advice
  • 15-min daily standup – great for startups / engineering teams
  • 30-min weekly staff meeting

Whatever meetings you do, group them into blocks depending on your particular schedule. If you feel like a particular type of meeting needs more or less time, then adjust the block accordingly.

4. Use Appointment Slots

There is a great feature in Google Calendar called Appointment Slots. It allows you to book a chunk of time and then split it into pieces. For example, I can book 3 hours of outside meetings and then split it into 3 meetings – 1 hour each. Or I can book 1 hour of calls and split it into 6 calls, 10 minutes each. There is also a bunch of specific tools, like doodle, that do that too.

The next step is to create bit.ly links for different blocks of time. You can have a link for your outside meetings, another link for 30-minute inside meetings and yet another one for 10-minute calls. You then share these links with people and they can book the time with you. I’ve done this with Techstars candidate companies and it was amazingly effective. It minimized the back-and-forth on the email and saved a ton of time for me and the companies.

This won’t work with everyone, because some people may find this rude. I personally don’t find it rude at all when someone sends me their availability. In any case, if you are not comfortable sending the link to someone, then you can use your own Appointment Slots, suggest a few meeting times, and then book the specific slot yourself.

Btw, if you are asking someone to meet, always propose several specific alternative times such as Tuesday at 4:30 pm, or 5:00 pm, or Wednesday at 11:00 am, or Friday at 4:30 pm.
David Tisch gave a great talk that covers scheduling meetings and many more basics of communication.

5. Block time for email

This is the most important tip in the whole post. Email will own you unless you own it. To own your email you must avoid doing it all the time. To do that, you need to schedule the time to do your email. It is absolutely a must. In fact, it is so important that I wrote a whole entire blog post just about managing your email. Go read Inbox 0.

6. Plan your exercise and family time

Unless you put it on the calendar, it won’t get done. Well, that applies to your exercise and time with your family as well. Whether you go in the morning, afternoon, or evening; whether you do it 3 times a week or every day, put the exercise time on the calendar. My friend and mentor Nicole Glaros, makes it very clear that her mornings, until 10 am, belong to her. She hits the pavement or the gym, depending on the weather, and rarely deviates from her routine.

I have been guilty of not having regular exercise routine because I am adjusting to my new in-program schedule, but I am jamming exercise in whenever I can, 4 times a week, and actively working on locking in my specific exercise schedule. Without regular exercise, I can’t be productive at running the fast-paced 13-week marathon called the Techstars NYC program.

Same thing goes about planning time with your family and significant others. If you are a workaholic like me, you will end up stealing time from your family, unless you book it in advance and train yourself to promptly unplug. Many people in the industry have talked about planning family time. My favorite is Brad Feldwho talks about it a lot.

7. Actually manage your time

I think about my time a lot. I think about where it goes. I think about where I can get more of it and how to optimize it. When I was running GetGlue, I had an assistant who was managing my time. She was awesome, she really was. But when I joined Techstars, I decided that I will manage my calendar myself. I have to confess that I am super happy about this decision.

I find myself thinking about what I am doing, who am I meeting with and why a lot more. I meet with a HUGE amount of people every week. My schedule is particularly insane during the selection process. Yet, because I manage my calendar, follow a routine, plan meetings in blocks and use Appointment slots, I find myself less overwhelmed and less stressed.

Taking ownership of my calendar and planning my days and weeks made me a happier and more productive human. I hope this post helps you get there too.

And of course, I would love to hear your productivity tips. How do you manage your time? How do you handle your calendar? What tools do you use? Please share in the comments below.

Originally posted on Alex’s blog.








7 Lessons HBO’s Silicon Valley Taught Us About Startups

Susan Zheng is the co-founder and CEO of Planted (NYC ’14), a platform that helps companies hire junior, non-technical talent.
Cover

Photo Source: jamesmcdohl.tumblr.com via giphy.com
 

Besides being one of the funniest shows on TV (or whatever HBO is now), Silicon Valley makes a lot of great points regarding what it’s actually like to work at a startup. There aren’t many people like Bachmann, Russ Hanneman, or Jared (Original Jared) in the world, but there are a ton of startups trying their hardest to navigate the startup maze.

What’s great about Silicon Valley is that it draws its comedy from a lot of real life startup anecdotes. Things like what it’s like to raise a round of funding, how to negotiate a salary, and the ways a company’s board can have a huge impact on operations.

Fortunately, as we dive into the new season of Silicon Valley, the team at Planted has compiled some of the best lessons Silicon Valley has taught us so far:

1. Choose your investors wisely

You don’t have to be good at sports to swing for the fences, but you’ll need good investors on your team if you really want to play ball. Some investors might offer you nice gifts or throw flashy parties, but it might be wise to pick them last. It’s more important to have investors that care about your company and the overarching mission, even as cool as it might be to hang out with the Winklevoss twins.

Winklevoss
Photo Source: HBO via gifyoutube.com

2. Always maintain professional relationships

All relationships are valuable and important. You don’t want to tarnish any friendships when you might need those people in the future. Maybe Pied Piper wouldn’t have had to raise funding from Russ Hanneman if Bachman hadn’t dissed every VC firm in town (including making rude comments about their muffins).

Muffins
Photo Source: HBO via giphy.com

3. Don’t celebrate too soon

Not too fast! No deal is ever actually complete until you have it in writing. Paige Craig, from ArenaVC wrote last summer about how his investment in Airbnb fell through in the last minutes. Negotiations can always break down and you never know when Gavin Belson might try and sue you for everything you’ve got. Even the best of “bros” might have hidden motivations.

bros
Photo Source: HBO via tumblr.com

Photo Source: HBO via regmedia.co.uk

4. Don’t compare salaries

Silicon Valley showed us how important it is to keep your compensation details private. Just like your credit card number, your mother’s maiden name, and the amount of times you’ve seen Pitch Perfect, that information is for you and you alone. At the same time, you shouldn’t go around snooping for info about what your colleagues are making. Comparing salaries and equity can cause unneeded workplace stress and competition, two things that are toxic to any small company. Dinesh and Gilfoyle learned this the hard way when Carla tricked them into assuming she was getting paid a higher salary.

Carla
Photo Source: HBO via tumblr.com

Photo Source: HBO via gifsco.com

5. Quality first

Sucks to be Gavin Belson. Nucleus wasn’t Windows Vista bad, it was Apple Maps bad. When Apple launched the (highly anticipated) Apple Maps back in 2012, you were more likely to be guided off the side of a bridge than to your destination. By the way, if you have a friend that still uses Apple Maps, please introduce them to a thing called Google Maps. Friends don’t lets friends use Apple Maps. Make sure your product is ready and tested before you launch.

Gavin
Photo Source: HBO via gifsco.com

6. SWOT it out

A SWOT (Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats) analysis is always helpful when making the hard choices. SWOT can be crucial when deciding how much equity to give out, how many engineers to hire, or whether an acquisition is truly worth it. But, it might cross the line when you’re trying to determine whether or not its okay to let someone die.

SWOT
Photo Source: HBOwatch.com

7. Read those contracts

Make sure to perform proper due diligence. Had it not been for Hooli’s negligence when preparing their employee’s contracts, they may have actually won the case against Pied Piper. Now, Richard gets to keep Pied Piper, even if he does refer to his computer as his girlfriend. If you don’t read the fine writing, you may end up like this:

Contracts
Photo Source: HBO

Photo Source: HBO via popkey
 Originally posted on Planted.com. 








What’s Your Next Goal, Milestone, Task?

We spend a lot of time talking to Techstars founders about focus. We talk a lot about saying ‘no’ to things that don’t matter. We talk a lot about not chasing too many things at once. We try to give founders tools for deciding what’s important. We try to give them a framework for how to get things done.

For me personally, it boils down to three things – my next daily task, my next milestone and my big goal. Let’s call them GMT. Here is what they look like right now:

1. My next task is to send semi-weekly update emails to Techstars mentors. This is something that I do every other weekend during the Techstars program to keep the mentors posted on what’s going on in the program at large.

2. My next milestone is to have a great Demo Day. Not only are Demo Days the culmination of the Techstars program, but they are also significant milestones for me as a Managing Director at Techstars. Demo Days are the stepping stones to my bigger goal.

3. My next big goal is to become great at my job, to become a great investor in New York City. My vision is to help founders create great, transformational, lasting businesses in NYC, have fun along the way, and make a lot of money.

Being really clear about your next big goal, next milestone, and next daily task helps you keep your head straight.

If someone asks you what they are for you, and you don’t know, that’s not great. It likely means you don’t have clarity, and may not be working on things that are important.

Pick your goal first, and then work backwards from the goal while measuring progress along the way.

Work Backwards from the Goal

In my case, the goal is to become a great investor. To do that, I need to keep finding and investing in great startups. The way I do it is to fund them in batches and run them through Techstars program. To have Demo Days as milestones is natural, because the Demo Days are the culmination of the program and the start of the fundraising for most companies.

What makes for a great Demo Day? A bunch of things, but first and foremost, great companies (check out Techstars NYC Winter 2015 class).

Techstars is a mentorship-driven accelerator. We connect each company with a group of great mentors who work with them during the program to help accelerate the business.

The semi-weekly mentor email is just one small task on my list to make sure mentors and the companies are connected. It is a small but important task that is a step towards a great Demo Day.

The daily tasks add up to a milestone, and the milestones add up to the goal.

GMT: One Goal, One Milestone, One Task

If you can stick with the system, it works.

First, you set your goal, and figure out the milestones. Then you are down to the tasks, and it actually gets harder, because there are a bunch of tasks you need to do over time to get to a milestone.

On any given day, I try to be very clear about the single most important task I need to get done. If it’s not in my head, I don’t think I am focused enough. I then go to my to-do list and look through it to get back into the groove.

If you always have your top task in your head, you know exactly where you are going and why.

It’s okay for some days to be muddy and disorganized, but most days need to be pretty clear.

What works for me is a weekly routine. I know what I need to do on Monday, on Tuesday, and all other days of the week. For example, I know that every other Sunday, I send mentor updates. Having a routine really helps me stay organized and keep executing.

The routines can change from month to month, but I use the calendar to chunk my times during the week and that helps me set a rhythm. And that, in turn, helps me focus, prioritize, and know what my next task is.

Don’t Do Stuff that Doesn’t Matter

When you have clarity about your goal and milestones, you also have clarity about what doesn’t matter.

Prioritizing and deciding becomes a lot easier. That’s why for me, if something doesn’t contribute directly to having a great Demo Day, I won’t prioritize it. For example, a lot people want to meet with me, but I can’t take a ton of these meetings before the Demo Day. I am busy helping the companies. So, I explain it to people and ask them to follow up with me after Demo Day.

Also, I have a bunch of tasks and projects related to broader Techstars ecosystem that I will get to after the Demo Day. I simply don’t have the time to do them, and they are not included in my next milestone. This system of Action and Idea lists is helpful for staying organized.

Use KPIs to Measure Progress to the Milestone

I use KPIs and data to measure progress towards the milestone. Using numbers to measure progress is important, because otherwise you can’t tell if you are getting closer to the milestone.

One of the ways that investors, myself included, measure progress is by looking at the value of their portfolio. It is difficult to do for early-stage companies, and by no means is this an exact science.

Still, as long as you have some sort of consistent measurement, it works. For example, I know that the 2014 batch of Techstars NYC companies have raised over 20MM in funding, and I know that this stacks up pretty well historically against other NYC and Techstars classes. While this does not mean that I am becoming great at being an investor, a lack of financing of the companies would imply that I am not doing well.

I also use other KPIs to help me check that I am heading in the right direction. For example, we ask the founders during the program and afterwards to rate my performance. High ratings mean that founders are happy with our help. When they graduate, this would lead to a positive word of mouth, and they will recommend the program to other founders, and that would help me invest in more great companies.

Apply This to You and Your Startup

How can you apply this to you and your startup? Actually, this system works equally well for individuals and startups.

For a startup, you need to start with your Vision. What does the world look like according to you? What does the world look like when you are a successful business?

The Vision leads to the Milestones. What do you need to achieve the Vision? How do you get there? For most startups, the first few milestones are about traction and funding. Typically, the first milestone is to prove that your product is needed, to prove that there is a demand, and to get early customers.

The second milestone is typically funding. Once you’ve proven that your idea has potential, it is easier to raise funding.

You set KPIs and drive to the milestone. Build the product customers want. Do things fast, have hypotheses, test stuff, iterate, be organized and chaotic all at the same time. But at any moment, be clear about your next task – what are you working on and why? What milestone are you trying to hit? What is your big goal?

So let’s try this out.

Do you know what your goal, milestone and next task are? Please share it with us.

This was originally posted on Alex’s blog