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.