As we all know, Techstars is the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed—so it’s not exactly surprising that members of the network show up on various lists, like the 2019 Forbes 30 Under 30. As Forbes puts it, this list includes “the brashest entrepreneurs across the United States and Canada…. A collection of bold risk-takers putting a new twist on the old tools of the trade.”
We’re proud to see 12 Techstars mentorship-driven accelerator alumni (from eight awesome startups) on this year’s list. Huge congrats to these amazing founders!
Did we miss anyone? Let us know!
2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 for Marketing and Advertising
2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 for Consumer Technology
2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 for Consumer Technology
2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 for Retail & Ecommerce
2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 for Law & Policy
2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia for Media, Marketing & Advertising
2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 for Enterprise Technology
2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 for Manufacturing & Industry
Ready for your startup to #domorefaster? Apply to a Techstars mentorship-driven accelerator.
Ever been in an awkward situation? Ever kicked yourself for saying something foolish? Ever been a room where you are the least knowledgeable? Ever been yelled at by a customer?
If these sound terrible, you may not be ready to be an entrepreneur. As a new founder you will be constantly faced with situations that are unfair, confusing, overwhelming, and plain stressful. Successful entrepreneurs embrace these uncomfortable situations and accept them as a facet of starting a company. In fact, these moments of discomfort may actually motivate you to learn more, try harder and take more risks.
Some ways to mitigate that sinking sensation in your stomach:
- Expect the worst – you may be pleasantly surprised.
- Put it all in perspective – a little discomfort won’t ruin your business and every entrepreneur has felt it and dealt with it so you are not alone.
- Know it’s not personal – business discomfort has nothing to do with you as a person.
- Create a contingency plan – as they say, if plan A or plan B doesn’t work, there are many other letters in the alphabet!
- The sooner you anticipate and enjoy the discomfort, the sooner you can keep focused on growing your business.
Do you deal with difficult situations? Let us know how you deal with the uncomfortable in the comments below.
There’s nothing as savory and satisfying as a perfectly grilled startup.
What are the ingredients that make a startup? The chef aka entrepreneur has to create the tasty meal. Try these ingredients:
- 1 Pint of Passion
- 2 Cups of Confidence
- 4 Lumps of Luck
- Half Kilo of Hustle
- 1 Sizzling Solution
Some entrepreneurs customize the dish by throwing in some other spices:
And the cooking instructions require the following steps:
- Roast with rejection
- Mash in the motivation
- Whisk with work
- Garnish with glory
- Season with secret sauce
The thing to remember with startup recipes, don’t try a diet, lite, or gluten-free recipe, as all the ingredients are necessary to make the wholesome, sustainable dish.
Let us know the ingredients that make your startup unique in the comments below.
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.
“We are ready to take off. Fasten your safety belt.”
That is of course, until the plane comes to a screeching halt. New startups have to build their business before they are airborne. However, the startups need to do this before their funding runs out. This funding is the runway and it is always shorter than the founder thinks. It is calculated by dividing the current cash position by the current monthly burn rate.
Extend the runway as much as possible by leveraging the following:
- Create a budget and double it.
- Launch profitable products and sell them to profitable customers.
- Build a service to hone your product.
- Hire judiciously.
- Initially, use subscription services instead of making capital expenditures (e.g. subscribe to software instead of buying it outright).
- Keep on the watch out for the end of the runway.
- Think lean.
Our Mentor Monday post today comes from Kwindla Kramer, a mentor with the Cedars-Sinai Accelerator, Powered by Techstars.
Every startup company (and every startup founder) is unique and each startup journey follows its own path. It turns out, though, that many of the basic challenges we face, as founders, are pretty similar.
Over the past couple of years I have started to notice that every first-time founder I’m close to learns the same small handful of lessons early on. Thinking back, I realized that I climbed up that exact same learning curve, too. (And sometimes I learned way too slowly!)
Here are five “counterintuitive founder lessons” that seem to come up for everyone, regardless of company focus, type of product, or business model.
1. Nobody makes real progress on a startup until the startup is a full-time job.
It’s pretty common for me to get a phone call from a friend-of-a-friend, a founder with a “new” startup, and to hear that the founder has a full-time job at a big company, and that the startup isn’t really making any progress. Often, the startup actually isn’t all that new; the founder has been working on it, nights and weekends, for a year or more.
I always give the same advice: if you really want to do a startup, you’re going to need to quit your “day job” sooner rather than later.
This is scary, and hard advice to follow. It’s not necessarily easy to say why it’s true that you can’t make progress part-time. Empirically, though, the evidence is clear: I’ve never seen anyone I know make significant progress on their startup while they also still have a “real” job.
2. Don’t worry (early on) about competition.
Founding a company is pretty much the same thing as being obsessed with a product and a market. It’s natural to know a lot, and to obsess about, what other people are doing that’s similar. First-time founders usually worry a lot about competition. They don’t want to talk to other people about what their startup is doing, because they think competitive companies might learn something useful. They spend a lot of time thinking about complicated partnerships or specific product development plans that are motivated by a desire to outmaneuver competitors.
It turns out that it’s almost always a huge mistake to spend precious time and brain cycles thinking about how to “beat the competition.”
Startups fail for lots of small reasons, but mostly for two big reasons: they don’t make something that people are willing to pay for, or they don’t have a cost-effective way to tell people they exist.
So spend all your time thinking about those two things: product, and customer acquisition.
3. Tech startup success depends surprising little on technology.
I’m a founder with an engineering background, and I was slow to learn this lesson. For a long time I thought of a “technology startup” as a company that was particularly good at and focused on engineering. But it turns out that engineering is the fourth or fifth most important competency of a tech startup.
Startups first have to make something people are willing to pay money or attention for. Then they have to let people know about the thing they make. Then they have to get very good at “scaling” — growing and accelerating everything the company does. Technology helps with all of these activities. But, by the same token, all of them are fundamentally about something other than engineering itself.
If you love writing code or designing circuit boards, it’s worth knowing that starting a company is a very bad way to keep doing those things. Founders usually have to step out of engineering roles as soon as a company gets a little bit of traction so they can focus on helping the company sell stuff, and then scale.
4. Fire faster.
This is the hardest of these lessons to learn, for almost everyone. But it’s really important. Not everyone you hire will work out. And if you take too long to fire people who aren’t doing their jobs (and everyone takes too long to fire people, when climbing up the founder learning curve), you do real damage to your team and your company.
Firing people goes against almost all the (very good) instincts and values that founders have. Founders are optimists. Founders think problems are solvable. Founders believe that working hard and caring about what you do means that anyone can do pretty much anything. Founders tend to take responsibility for fixing things.
But it turns out that unproductive employees are amazingly, unbelievably toxic to the culture and happiness of a small team. As a founder, the most important resource you have is cash to make payroll. But the second most important resource is the happiness and alignment of the people who come to work with you every day.
You owe your team the best possible work environment you can figure out how to provide. That means you either have to fire people, when they aren’t working out, or you have to fire yourself so that someone else can make those decisions for your company.
5. At the beginning, almost all that matters is shipping quickly, then iterating.
Most founders, early on, take way, way too long to ship their product — to put what they are building in front of actual (and ideally, paying) users. When you’re obsessed with your product and have poured hours and hours into it, it’s hard to let go. You want it to be perfect. You know how much better it will be with just a little more work.
But this is exactly backwards. Products get better when people use them and tell you what you got right and got wrong. Nobody builds successful products in a vacuum.
This is such an important lesson that there are a lot of great founder quotes about it. Reid Hoffman: “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” Steve Jobs, even more succinctly: “Real artists ship.”
I’ve been part of the founding team at three companies and two non-profits. It’s addictive, and fun, and fulfilling. It’s also draining, and difficult, and frustrating. Having investors and board members who are experienced, accessible, and kind helps enormously. So does spending time with other founders and building relationships that allow you to talk honestly about what’s hard, and what you’ve learned. Being part of a startup is accelerator is great, because it gives you a network of both mentors and peers.
My third company just launched. We make video conferencing hardware designed for startups, and other small companies that do creative, fast-paced work. Check out what we’re doing and tell us what you think. Pluot — big-screen video conferencing for small teams — https://pluot.co
And let me know what you think about this post in the comments below. Or, I’m @kwindla on twitter, and firstname.lastname@example.org, the old-fashioned way.
“We can’t launch! There are still a million things to do!”
Every entrepreneur at some time reaches a crossroad: he or she will have to choose perfection or choose progress. The best products and services are never done. Entrepreneurs always have to make that last optimization, that final color change, or the ending code edit. At some point though, the entrepreneur needs to say “enough is enough” and ship the product or service to customers.
The best entrepreneurs realize this, and always choose progress over perfection. A caveat for new entrepreneurs though – do not sacrifice the quality of your product or service. Quality matters to a customer. Perfection only matters to an entrepreneur.
Trying is scary.
When I first thought of a business idea many years ago, I brushed it aside. I can’t afford to think about it, I thought. If it didn’t succeed, I would have lost time, money, resources, dignity, promotion potential, and who knew what else. What I didn’t realize is that not trying actually was digging the hole much deeper.
If you are worried about the cost of failure, you’re solving the wrong accounting problem. Even though many flirt with the idea of starting a business, it is often too intimidating.
As Seth Godin said, “The tiny cost of failure …is dwarfed by the huge cost of not trying. This is news, a state of affairs due to the significant value of connection, to the power of ideas that spread and to the low cost of production. Delighting a few with an idea worth spreading is more valuable than ever before.”
So start trying. It’s the penny-wise thing to do.
This was originally created by Kriti Vichare for #entrepreneurfail: Startup Success.
The road to success and the road to failure are almost exactly the same.
— Colin R. Davis
This quote surprises many new entrepreneurs who assume that the only two options are success or failure. They don’t realize “success and failure” are actually one and the same path. The only distinction is the road to success is much longer.
A friend recently shared a story of building a product for the wrong customer. Eventually his team did pivot, and find a successful, sustainable business model, but it would not have been possible without first finding the wrong customer. “It would have been easy to give up and assume we would never be on the right path”.
The added benefit is that new entrepreneurs can learn from the failures from other entrepreneurs, and the cycle continues. This article helps us get an insight into famous entrepreneurs and their failures.
Let us know what road you took in the comments below, and if you experienced failure and success.
This was originally created by Kriti Vichare #entrepreneurfail: Startup Success.