“You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default.”—JK Rowling in Harvard Commencement Speech
“Similarly, Mr. Obama’s message has become much less inspirational and much more confrontational since his loss in the Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania primaries. The candidate who once talked about the need for a new kind of politics is becoming increasingly comfortable practicing the old as tensions heightened along the campaign trail.”—Dan Schnur in the New York Times
How to be a TechStar, Part 1: What I wish I had known at the beginning
The new class of TechStars has arrived today. Of course this brings me a good bit of nostalgia and reflection back on what it was like for Josh and me to start at TechStars one year ago. So in the time-honored blogosphere tradition, I’m going to offer some unsolicited advice to all my new TechStars friends. I am starting what I intend to be a multi-part series on How to Be A TechStar. Here is Part 1 on what I wish I had known one year ago when I arrived at TechStars:
1. This isn’t a competition and there’s no need to try to “beat” any of the other TechStars teams. I know you’re probably wondering about the other teams and how you “stack up”. Well, let’s be clear here - there will be no TechCrunch post about who “wins” TechStars. The other companies are not your competitors; in fact, just the opposite is true: the other TechStars companies and startups in the Boulder community will become your biggest advocates and supporters. So relax, open up a little, build friendships, and stop compiling a scouting report.
2. Demo Days Matter. The number one best thing you can do for your company right now is build your product for a killer demo on the first demo night. Do not underestimate the importance of these milestones. David will usually bring in a high-profile mentor (read: angel investor) to watch your demos and give you feedback on your product, company, and presentation. Prepare for this. Put together a compelling demo and presentation. Blow people away (see forthcoming post about how to be a rockstar on Investor day). Above all, make sure whatever you show works (ie – LOCK YOUR CODE).
Now some of you may be thinking that your product development schedule that you have meticulously planned out for the summer doesn’t include anything “demo’able” by the first demo day. You think that you have to build a lot of behind the scenes code before you can build the cool UI parts to show off. You’re wrong. Don’t do this. If you don’t demo something for your company at each demo day, you are risking the continued support of David and the mentors for your company.
3. TechStars is basically an extended interview. David often speaks about how he considers TechStars to be his attempts at the “professionalization of angel investing”. David, Brad, and many of the other TechStars mentors are more than just mentors – they are precisely the people you want investing in your company at the end of the summer. You should know (in the back of your mind at least) that every interaction with them is either a step towards an investment in your company or a step away from it. This is especially true of demo nights (see above). So make sure that you interact with them, keep them involved, consider their advice, and try what they suggest.
This does not mean that you need to be asking them to invest anytime soon. There will come a time for “the big Ask” (maybe I’ll write a post about how to get to this too) but I promise you it is not now, nor anytime in the near future.
4. You don’t need to go to all the sessions. Choose which sessions to attend wisely. Not many of us understood this at the beginning, but you do not need to be at every single session that TechStars hosts. If you’re the developer, you might not need to come to the choosing the right business structure session. Likewise, if you’re the “business guy/gal” then your time might be better spent doing something other than listening to the session about agile programming. Choose which sessions to attend based on their relevance to you and the particular mentors/speakers who will be presenting.
Note: This does not mean you shouldn’t eat the free meal provided with each session. Life in boulder isn’t cheap – accept free food any time it is offered.
5. There are a lot of mentors and involving all of them is a bad idea. Choose the mentors you engage wisely. Your relationships with the various mentors that are a part of TechStars will be the most valuable asset your company has after completing TechStars. Correspondingly, it is very important that you invest deeply in these relationships. Here’s the kicker – you can only deeply connect and invest in a limited number of mentor relationships. Networking is vital, but you have a company to build, remember? So pick two or three mentors that you’d really like to have involved in your company and diligently give your time there. Ask David who this should be. If you’d like my thoughts on who has been incredibly helpful, email me.
Maybe some of the other TechStars from last year will weigh in on the things they wish they had known when they started. I’m talking to you Josh, Matt, Ari, Tom, Brian, and Jon. TechStars is an incredible opportunity and we wish you the best.
Interesting to see that “new” is one of my most tweeted words. It seems that I use twitter to share discoveries a lot. Which of course makes sense and reminds me of Micah’s thoughts much earlier on discovery.
A remarkable thing happened at the SXSW conference last week. An audience loudly revolted against an interview of a CEO of a multi-billion dollar company. Were they right?
SXSW is the largest conference (and party) in our industry and it was supposed to peak fittingly with the keynote interview by Sarah Lacy of Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook. Zuckerberg, Facebook, and their social graph movement have been a part of almost every interesting tech conversation amongst geeks in the past year. This keynote interview had such promise and yet it failed spectacularly.
Many attacks and defenses of Sarah have been tossed around, but most have noted that Sarah didn’t know her audience and what they wanted to hear. The audience had been left out of the direction, content, and tone of the interview. It was here that we saw a crucial law of conferences broken:
Amazing conferences are made by conversations
Sarah failed to recognize that today’s conference attendees demand to be a part of the conversation. Sarah’s audience was expected to just listen and consume. However, in a industry breakout moment, they didn’t. Twitter streams exploded with bombshell critique after critique from people live in the audience. Even people absent from the conference couldn’t ignore the uproar that was generated. The audience had re-inserted itself back to the forefront of the conversation to such a degree that afterwards the conversation is more about the faliure to relate than about Zuckerberg and the content of the interview.
So what is the Fallout?
You have to believe that the best conference organizers are watching this. Not a single one of them wants a repeat of the frustrated attendees and the controversy created by the SXSW keynote. Even the SXSW organizers saw their mistake and had Mark Zuckerberg come back the next day for an open Q&A session. It was a crucial step in repairing the break with SXSW attendees.
Going forward, we as conference attendees are demanding less consumption and more participation. We are tired of a selected few pontificating on a panel while we sit silent, as if not capable or worthy of contributing to the discussion. Eric Norlin, organizer of Defrag conference, has it right when he addresses the critics who accused the SXSW keynote audience of overtaking the conference:
“Do I want my attendees to take over the conference? You’re damn right I do. WE SHOULD ONLY BE SO LUCKY.”
The best thing about great conferences are the conversations and the connections made by the attendees. SXSW is a prime example that when the attendees are left out, revolt will ensue. And this is a good thing.
Note: This is more businessy than usual and will eventually be republished on EventVue’s blog.
Just got pointed to this song by my beautiful and talented friend Haley Shaw who has better tastes in music than I could ever hope for. I’m beginning to like Colorado more and more. Perhaps soon I’ll be at the line from the song:
"Oh, why here it’s so-so but it is no, no Colorado”
You really should come visit me and see for yourself (this means you, Haley).
“You wake up one morning and you feel great about the day, and you think, “We’re kicking ass.” And then you wake up the next morning, and you think “We’re dead.” And literally nothing’s changed…It’s completely irrational, but it’s exactly what you go through.”—Joe Kraus, cofounder, Excite via 16th letter
Starting a startup is hard. People tell you this when first sit down for the “so I have this idea…” coffee. The dismal success rate of startups is pretty blunt about it. But if you’re an entrepreneur, you don’t believe it. I never did. I decided to do a startup because I wanted to be in charge of my future. I wanted to use my skills for a real impact, good or bad, in the company I was working for. I wanted to be able to make decisions and see stuff happen.
Recently, we signed a big customer for EventVue. It was bigger than our system could handle at the time and we promised 100% satisfaction. As a result, we went through a sprint to get ready — application code had to be changed, new servers had to be provisioned, caching systems needed to be implemented. Josh and our dev team spent many late nights pounding away to make our application scale. During this time, we relied heavily on the expertise of one of my friends who we hired to do contract sysadmin work for us. Amazingly, he hung with us — working at a full-time load in the evenings to help make sure that when we reached our deadline, the servers would be ready.
It was way above what was expected of him and we were very appreciative. So Josh and I both decided that we wanted to thank him with a bonus. We rewarded him with an official “awesomeness” bonus. I loved it.
I loved it because I started a startup to work hard with great people and then celebrate their “awesomeness” in our accomplishments.
This newfangled "social media" stuff has come of age.
I experienced the power of social media today to really change the world. I woke up this morning to a tweet by my friend Stan James who twittered to let us know that he was at a huge peace protest in Bogota, Colombia. According to Stan there were over one hundred thousand protesters.
Stan linked to a video he uploaded to YouTube that shows him at the protest and I got to see for myself the huge crowd of people gathering in the streets. It was an incredible image, and I immediately felt guilty that I know nothing about the cause that would motivate this horde of people to protest.
After looking into it a little more, I found a BBC article that revealed, to my shock, that this whole protest was organized via a Facebook group. Wow. I went back and watched Stan’s video again. All those people connected and mobilized using a website.
Social media is real and powerful.
I now know about a peace protest by hundreds of thousands of people in a city in a separate continent. I saw it for myself within hours of the event actually occurring. This kind of stuff can change the world.
“When the inevitable saleswoman comes to tell me that I cannot be up-to-date, or intelligent, or creative, or handsome, or young, or eligible for the sexual favors of so fair a creature as herself unless I buy these products, dear reader, I am not going to do it.”—Wendell Berry - Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community
I spend a lot of time thinking about seeing other places. Maybe it’s just part of being young and American, but I want to travel. A lot. I’ve visited just enough places to know that I’ve got to see more.
Each place I visit I always wonder: would I want to live here? Thankfully, through a recent discovery, the interwebs have solved this for me. The internet has told me where my spot should be.
Of course, it’s all wrong. It is software after all, and well I know how hard software can be. But for the sake of the blogosphere, here’s where my “spot” should be.
1. Jacksonville, FL 2. Charleston, SC 3. Norfolk, VA 4. Knoxville, TN 5. Chesapeake-Virginia Beach, VA 6. Orlando, FL 7. Chattanooga, TN 8. Hattiesburg, MS 9. Augusta, GA 10. Greenville, SC 11. Seattle, WA 12. Kent, WA
Let me just say that these results (with one exception) overall suck. I don’t want to live anywhere in the state of Florida and they’re all mid-size cities. Anyone who knows me would know that I want to live in a major city.
Of course anyone who knows me would also know that I love Charleston. I’m pretty much resolved to the fact that Charleston and I share a mutual destiny. But where on this list is San Fran? New York? Boston? Portland? And why is Seattle, one my top US cities, number 12?
This is for you, my South Carolina friends. I know that some of you are all into the new fangled web thing. You’re trying the new things, wondering what the interwebs will offer you.
I just wanted to let you know that I know what you’re up to. I see you over there talking to Google like they’ll listen. I saw those cat pictures over there (where is the LOL writing?). I even watched you type on that oh-so-uncool dell laptop.
Well friends, it’s now time for me to take my destiny-appointed role and beckon you to the new internet frontier. And that new, stir-your-hopeful-american soul frontier is Twitter.
How do I know that it’s the latest great American frontier? Well, because I’ve heed the call to every red-blooded, dog-owning, cracker-jack loving boy to “Go West, Young Man”. And when I got here out in the rugged mountains of Colorado, I found Twitter.
"This is actually a subset of my very favorite things windows can’t do.. Ever try to shutdown your computer but failed because outlook or something else was running and Windows comes back with the message that it was unable to quit the application? I just can’t respect an OS that can’t kill its own processes.. For god sake, Windows is asking permission to kill an application. Come on Windows be a man – wack that email program and move on." — Todd Vernon