AMA: Techstars Retail Accelerator

AMA: Techstars Retail Accelerator

AMA: Techstars Retail Accelerator

Global Applications for the Techstars Worldwide Network are Now Open!

There’s an often-repeated stat that 90 percent of startups fail. Not sure the source is, but no doubt that it scares entrepreneurs. At Techstars, we see the reverse in our accelerator portfolio – 90 percent of our startups are active or have successfully exited. Which statistic reflects your business? If you’re ready to succeed, take the next step and apply now to the Techstars worldwide network with more than 10,000 mentors, partners, investors and founders.

At Techstars, we are on a mission to help entrepreneurs succeed. Our mentorship-driven accelerator programs invest in founders to help them do more faster. Over the past 10 years we have helped over 1,274 companies grow and raise over $4.4 billion in funding, with a market cap of $11.4 billion. Now, we are excited to start the search for the next wave of companies to join our worldwide network!

We are reaching new regions and verticals around the world with our newest mentorship-driven accelerator programs. Applications are opening for five new programs:

Take the next step in your journey and apply to join the Techstars worldwide network with more than 10,000 mentors, partners, investors and founders.

This is more than a three month program, the Techstars worldwide network is for life. Listen to stories about our founders from Techstars alumni companies like SendGrid, ClassPass, and DigitalOcean.

Application deadline is April 8, 2018 for most programs. We will be announcing details for information sessions and online events where you can connect with Techstars founders and team, as well as mentors who have the experience and proven track record to help you succeed. Be on the lookout for more details soon!

When you apply, you can choose from any of the following locations and verticals:

For tips and resources on the application process, check out our Application Toolkit.

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!

Startup Pilot Blind Spots: Lessons from Target

We recently held an AMA on corporate innovation with Cory Hooyman, lead innovation manager at Target.

We talked about corporate innovation and how to bring new practices and methods into your team and company.

From the Target perspective, what blind spots do startups have in pursuing a pilot, and how should they make a pilot successful and convert that to a larger rollout?

Corey: First and foremost, a blind spot is not understanding what their partners are thinking about and what they’re concerned about.

We have a lot of people that come into Target not truly knowing what the team they’re working with is trying to accomplish. I’m not just saying with the partnership, but as whole. What are their goals? What are their current resources? Do they even have money?

If you understand as a startup what the person across from you is concerned about, you can make your pilot work for you in showcasing the numbers or successes that matter to that person.

Another huge blind spot is usually based upon traction. So, those companies that are able to hand hold the corporation, if you will, and there’s a lot of work up front. It’s going to be a lot of work because you feel like you have to baby somebody. But these people – when I say these people I mean corporate teams – are used to working with people like Bain or McKinsey or, again, IBM or P&G.

They aren’t used to somebody who can pivot as quickly as a startup can. They aren’t used to somebody who’s as smart as people who are driving startups. You, as a startup, can utilize that to your advantage – showcase how you incorporated their feedback. “By the way, we pushed a product yesterday. Look at that. It’s good to go.” We can partner with you to collaborate and build together. That’s a good thing.

As I mentioned, the number one thing would be to understand what they care about, and then also the advantages that you bring to the table that others don’t.

Ryan: The other thing that startups have a problem with is going into these relationships with happy ears of saying, “I talked with the VP of my product category. He says that this is cool.”

Basically, what that person was saying is that they think it was great, or your idea is interesting. It has nothing to do with the fact that they actually want to partner with you, that they actually have the budget, or that this is actually aligned with something that they want.

You have to go to that next level. What are your priorities? What are your priorities this year and next year? What are your bonuses tied to? What are those things that are motivating you? Try to get your startup aligned with that. That might take some tweaking of the product. It might be finding the business unit that your product actually helps them with. The sooner you can find out what is motivating them and turn off your happy ears and actually get into the real commitments of timelines, piloting phases, and budgeting, then the more likely it is to happen. 

The last thing we want – many startups have been killed this way and it’s dual fault from corporations – the startups get happy ears. They go fundraise, build out a product for the next six months, and then go back to that same person who said that their product was cool and they are still saying that’s cool. That doesn’t actually go to that next level of a partnership or full scale blowout.

Do you have a question about interacting and working with large corporations? Let us know in the comments!

Applications are open for 12 global Techstars Mentorship-driven Accelerator programs. You can apply now or check to see if the Techstars Roadshow is stopping in a city near you!

Startups Interacting with Large Corporations: Lessons from Target

We recently held an AMA on corporate innovation with Cory Hooyman, lead innovation manager at Target.

We talked about corporate innovation and how to bring new practices and methods into your team and company.

Is there one thing that startup founders need to know to best interact with large corporations?

Ryan: The nice thing about our program in particular – especially when we’re working with a large corporation or retailer – is that there’s a massive gap between the corporations and the startups. It’s on both sides of it.

The startups, in a lot of cases, do not interact with an enterprise level corporation because they don’t speak the language. The timelines are off. A lot of the time, the professionalism of the startup needs to improve in order for them to interact with these very large organizations.

On the flip side, the corporations – and Target has done an amazing job of this – admit where they need to improve in order to interact with the startups. Not everything is going to be at the level of a huge consulting firm or a massive software company when it’s just three or four people who are iterating an idea.

When we look through the companies during the application process, we always try to project the potential of that team in their ability to work with the enterprise level companies. Just because they don’t know how to speak that language right now doesn’t mean we can’t work with that and hopefully get them to a level where they’d be able to actually interact with a 10,000 person company or 300,000 person company. That’s a big thing for us.

When we talk about team, team, team for the participants in the program, clearly, it’s about the entrepreneurial skillsets and the stuff that we identify as Techstars as an organization. But for companies that are trying to work with massive corporations, we also have to think about the potential of that team, their ability to interact with those large corporations.

Techstars sits right in the middle, between the startups on the one side of it and the corporations on the other. We plant ourselves right down the middle and try to be the middle ground between the two of them so they can hopefully speak the same language.

Cory: There are certain things that founders should watch out for. If the time is not right, the corporate yuckery can take place. They can in some way, shape, or form drown your company by not being aware of some of the things that Ryan mentioned, like the gaps.

I’ve talked to people who have, not through this program, but I’ve talked to companies locally who are on their (and I am not exaggerating this number) 28th, 29th or 30th meeting with Target. They’re still hoping for a pilot. People get passed around to various people in the organization with the intent of maybe this person might be somebody good to talk to.

Really, the only reason they keep getting passed around is because nobody has any money to do what these people are trying to accomplish. If you knew that up front, you might be like, “I’ve had my fifth meeting. I get it. I’m out. I’m going to go focus on something else.”

But because people don’t want to tell you they don’t have access to these resources, they just pass you along with the hopes that somebody else can deal with it.

Do you have a question about interacting and working with large corporations? Let us know in the comments!

Applications are open for 11 global Techstars Mentorship-driven Accelerator programs. You can apply now or check to see if the Techstars Roadshow is stopping in a city near you!

5 Key Factors to a Successful Pilot

Last week, I wrote about the many things—testing a new product, exploring the potential for a working relationship, understanding your market better—that make corporations want to run pilots with startups.

This week, I want to go one step further and lay out some of the key factors to actually running a successful pilot with a corporation. I’ve watched a bunch of different portfolio companies run them, and the best pilots all have these factors in common.

Find Your Champion

Quickly identify your champion within the organization and make sure they are along for every step of this ride. You want someone who’s experienced, open-minded, and cool under pressure; you’ll need that when roadblocks come up. Believe me, they come up.

Your champ also needs to be someone with the power and influence to keep the project moving forward. Maybe they’re a skilled navigator of your corporate culture. Maybe they know the key allies in your industry who can help grease the wheels. Regardless, this person should have the power needed to move things along throughout the process. 

Start with the End in Mind

That doesn’t always mean cash immediately changing hands. A pilot can be free, but make sure you have a defined time frame for how long it will be free. More importantly, make sure you have discussed your exit criteria and agreed upon eventual pricing before starting the free phase of the pilot. Especially when it comes to budgeting, setting prices early on allows your corporate partner to plan accordingly.

And don’t forget to plan for success too. If you have winning results, will you phase in the pilot in stages, or will you go for 100 percent implementation right off the bat? Setting these parameters early prevents a snap judgement down the line.

Define Learning Objectives

Never set up a pilot with a binary mindset of, If this works then the corporation will buy it. If it doesn’t then they won’t. This is a recipe for disaster. Instead, set up learning objectives for the pilot, and make sure they’re flexible enough to adapt to the situation once things get going on the ground.

That way, if things don’t go as planned, you can learn, iterate, and, most importantly, continue piloting.

Track Every Metric Possible

Speaking of learning, measure as much as you can. If you don’t, you’re willingly ignoring the potential for new, maybe crucial insights about your business. In addition, share every valuable metric to enable your champions to sell internally.

You’ll be grateful you did later on when it comes time to prove your learnings. Feelings are great, but data is more persuasive and more translatable to new contexts—and hopefully deeper partnerships down the line.

Over-Communicate with Everyone

Even amongst all the data, don’t forget about the humans in your pilot. Weekly check-ins with your employees and partners let you do all kinds of things: get up-to-date info on how things are going; build trust and morale; and keep you nimble in the face of new challenges and opportunities. If possible, make as many of these check-ins in person. Jump on a plane, if needed, and make it happen!

Don’t forget to communicate back to your employees, mentors, and investors. That said, don’t oversell your pilot to investors. Corporations have all sorts of motivations for piloting, and until you have a signed, paid contract, a pilot doesn’t mean a lot.

In the end, be responsive to everything the customer asks for in real time. Remember that it is equally, if not more, important to sell your team’s ability to execute than your technology.  Showing your attentiveness and expertise is oftentimes the deciding factor.


Big thanks to Chris Smith, CEO of Kipsu, for helping contribute to this post. He definitely knows a thing or two about piloting and continues to impress with the successful pilots he’s pulled off at Kipsu. He can be reached at for further comment.

Techstars Retail Founder Spotlight: Clarence Bethea

We’ve all been there before: we walk into a big box store, we’re preparing to check out, and then we’re strapped with a confusing and unwanted warranty. This week, we talked with Upsie founder Clarence Bethea about how his team wants to flip the script on warranties.

The Team:

Clarence Bethea, founder/CEO (pictured above), and Katie Long, project manager

The Problem:

We’ve all been there before: we walk into a big box store, we’re preparing to check out, and the guy at the register offers us an extended warranty. We think that’s a moment that everyone hates.

There’s 3 major problems that happen at the register:

  1. Price: You’re paying anywhere between 200-900% more than you should.
  2. Transparency: You never get to ask, you know, what’s covered and what’s not covered? What do I do if I need to make a claim? Who do I talk to? Do I bring it back to the store?
  3. Service: Service starts for us with having your receipt, understanding who you’re supposed to talk to, when you’re supposed to talk to ‘em, and who you’re supposed to call.

The Solution

Upsie solves all three of those problems by saving you 50-90% versus the big box stores and having complete transparency, so you actually know what’s covered. We even tell you who is the carrier behind that plan. And then service for us starts with having your receipt. So we store your receipt and warranty. You know down to the day how much time you have left.

The Challenge:

We think we have a product that people really understand. The biggest challenge for Upsie is, how do we get this in front of people?

We’re going to conquer that challenge by partnerships with a number of different folks, whether that be with a retailer or an insurance company or a credit card company.

What Actually Motivates a Corporation to Pilot with a Startup?

Working with a corporation can offer all kinds of opportunities to a startup. It lets you test new functions of your app, figure out implementation techniques and, most importantly, learn from and build a lasting relationship with a potential partner.

I’ve watched this process first-hand at the Techstars Retail Accelerator, in Partnership with Target, where many of our startups have run successful pilots with major retailers. We kicked off our second class on July 17, and I’m watching our latest class set themselves up for potential pilot opportunities in the near future.

Sadly, many pilots end up failing, and I think one of the main reasons is startups do not clearly understand the motivations of their pilot partners.  

So, why would a corporation run a pilot with a startup?


None of us knows everything, even in our own field of expertise. Pilots let corporations explore areas of strategic interest without betting the whole house on something new or unfamiliar.


A pilot lets a corporation test your startup’s idea, and whether a potential partnership is actually feasible and worthwhile for it.

Assessing Workflow

Few things derail a partnership faster than two systems that just don’t work well together. You want to be peanut butter and jelly, not peanut butter and…sushi.

A pilot gives you a way to better understand the contours of a potential relationship without risking too much.

Employee Motivations 

While the corporation’s strategic motivations get you in the door, the motivations of the employees you’ll be working with are what ultimately get you the deal. Always ask yourself, “Does the success of this pilot somehow influence your internal champions’ bonus?”

If the answer is “yes,” you will have much higher engagement. If the answer is “no,” you may not ultimately have a path forward with this company.

Find Budget 

Running a free or discounted pilot allows the testing to move forward while a corporation actually finds budget for a larger roll out. Sometimes this is just a matter of budget cycles, but it could also be budget reprioritization, which takes longer.


In a B2B pilot, it’s ultimately your customer’s customers who will vicariously sustain your business—i.e., if your customers die, you die. A good pilot can teach corporations more about their customers, and whether your product helps serve them better. That’s the ultimate return on their investment in you.


In addition to thinking big picture, pilots also teach you what granular tweaks separate good ideas from great ones. In a pilot, you can experiment with what changes to a product bring the best results, and what trainings for employees supercharge adoption and boost impact.

Now that you (hopefully) understand the motivations behind piloting, how do you actually pull off a successful pilot? Check back soon as we lay out the key steps to actually implementing a successful pilot.

This was originally published here