Tag: techstars

Feb 7 2019

Mentors 18/18: Have Empathy. Remember That Startups Are Hard

This is the final post (18) of the Techstars Mentor Manifesto. As with item 17, Jay Batson, a long-time Techstars Boston mentor, nudged me several times to finish this up and wrote a draft from his perspective. Following is item #18 of the Techstars Mentor Manifesto, in Jay’s words.

During one of the Techstars Boston cohorts where I’ve been Mentor-in-Residence, I worked with a 20-something CEO founder (code named Mary) who, shortly after raising a seed round of several million dollars, hired a high-powered exec, granting a significant equity option. This new hire was a commercial hustler (code named Scott), moving quickly and broadly to try to secure customers and partners, including some of the tech industry’s largest companies.

Mary had never managed somebody a decade senior to her and was struggling to manage Scott. Further, Scott tended to work autonomously, sometimes doing things outside his remit that was not well-communicated to Mary. As a result, Mary was worried about how this looked to her board. A massive sense of imposter syndrome started creeping in, especially since Mary felt investors had bet on her, yet Scott was having a notable impact, for better and worse, on the strategy and success of the business.

Mary was concerned that the investors thought she wasn’t being effective. A fear was brewing in the pit of her stomach and she worried that everything was going to come apart.

Pause for a moment. Recall the last time you had a consuming passion. Remember how it felt. Think about that incredibly exciting idea that grabbed you and took over your mind, time, priorities, and emotions. Remember how excited you were as you imagined all the threads of what could be, and how your heart beat faster and your adrenaline surged.

And then … you had an existential crisis. A moment when you feared that this awesome future might come crashing down because of a particular situation or the actions of one person. Your heart beat faster again, but this time out of worry, anxiety, and fear.

I want you to replay your joy and fears again for a moment. Having empathy requires you to feel what the other person is going through. To put yourselves in their shoes and feel their fear. And to not immediately try to fix it. Remembering your own hopes and fears will help you have empathy. And this is critical as a mentor because startups are extremely hard.

In the situation above, I could relate to Mary feeling imposter syndrome. My first venture-backed company was not a big exit, and neither I nor my investors fared well. So I felt some imposter syndrome when founding my second venture-backed company (which, happily, has done well.)

So what Mary needed from me as a mentor was to talk to a neutral third-party who understood how technology companies worked and who had felt the expectations placed on a founding CEO. She needed to talk openly about how she was feeling to someone not on her board or exec team, and to whom she could be fully and safely transparent.

Doing that first allowed us to get around to eventually discussing ways to handle the situation. I reminded Mary that first and foremost, Techstars mentors are here to coach her on how to manage athletes like Scott, so she should relax and look for help. She had time to handle the situation if Scott was indeed a problem, as his option grants had a one-year cliff and he was only a couple of months in. So, instead of feeling anxious and pressured into reacting, I encouraged Mary to focus on helping Scott be successful and assess things again in a quarter.

Several years later, after the company, led by Mary, was acquired and had a very successful outcome, she told me that the most memorable and important thing I did for her at that moment was to simply sit, listen, and relate to the feeling she was having. I hadn’t immediately replied with a solution to her problem. Instead, I started with empathy.

As a mentor, be aware when to suspend, or defer, your advice or judgment. The entrepreneur you are mentoring may not be in a head space to hear your solution. Mentoring is often an emotional rather than a functional or intellectual role. Take a breath and be empathetic, instead than jumping in to solve the problem. And never forget that startups are hard.

Jay Batson has been the founder of four companies, including two venture-backed startups, with some big success and disappointing failure. His biggest success is as founding CEO of Acquia, now an 800+ person company with offices around the globe. In 2012, Jay invented the “Mentor-in-Residence” role at Techstars. MIR’s spend near-full-time at Techstars during each cohort to help as extensively as possible with companies and help other Mentors be good at it. Jay has embraced this responsibility for every Boston cohort since then. He’s an LP in several Techstars funds and a direct investor in a selection of Techstars companies.

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Feb 6 2019

Mentors 17/18: Be Challenging/Robust, but Never Destructive

I wrote 16 posts detailing each item of the Techstars Mentor Manifesto. However, there were 18 items and, for some reason, I never got around to writing the final two.

Jay Batson, a long-time Techstars Boston mentor, nudged me several times to finish this up. I kept saying “I’ll get to it” but never did. So, he did it for me, with the added motivation of getting it up prior to the kickoff to this year’s Boston program. Following is item #17 of the Techstars Mentor Manifesto, in Jay’s words.

This item on the list might sound very similar to #4, “Be Direct. Tell the Truth, However Hard.” But, it’s different. This item (#17) has to do with you, not the companies.

You have been asked to be a mentor at Techstars because you’ve been successful as an entrepreneur and/or a leader. The managing director for your cohort trusts that you’ll help the founders. And those founders are betting – with stock in their company – that you’ll be good for them.

Because of your expertise, you are likely to quickly spot areas in their businesses that need work urgently.

Because you’ve read all the posts here about the Techstars Mentor Manifesto, you dutifully start by being socratic and digging into the fundamental thing that is broken. You are direct, telling the hard truth that you are deeply concerned about some area.

But at some point, you sense the entrepreneur isn’t simply following your lead. They aren’t changing some element of their business to align with your direction. So, you are more direct. You push harder and more forcefully because you think it’s important. But the entrepreneur continues to “not get it”.

And, just like that, you’re irritated. You shut down, you quickly end the meeting, or you push even harder. After the meeting, you vent to the Techstars managing director that this company is in real trouble because the founders aren’t paying attention to this element you find important.

We’ve now reached the point of this post: Never Be Destructive.

The moment you go beyond trying to get your point across to the entrepreneur and do something outside that moment that is less-than-supportive, you’ve stopped being a mentor. You are now simply a judge. Or, worse, a detriment to the company.

You have let your desire to succeed as a mentor become paramount. Your actions can easily shift from being helpful as a mentor to being hurtful to the entrepreneur.

If you let this state persist, your frustration will leak outside the safe space of Techstars. It might be something you say to an investor; which means you’ve now affected the company’s ability to raise capital. If you vent to another founder, you either hurt your own reputation or the mentee’s reputation. At worst, you may end up affecting their relationships with potential partners or future hiring candidates.

Being a Techstars mentor does not mean being 100% dedicated to being a successful mentor. It means being 100% dedicated to helping founders build great companies.

So, be robust if you have to in making sure they hear what you’re trying to make them aware of.

But when you leave the room, make sure you flip the switch and remain 100% dedicated to making them successful, whether or not you think they heard what you had to say.

Jay Batson has been the founder of four companies, including two venture-backed startups, with some big success and disappointing failure. His biggest success is as founding CEO of Acquia, now an 800+ person company with offices around the globe. In 2012, Jay invented the “Mentor-in-Residence” role at Techstars. MIR’s spend near-full-time at Techstars during each cohort to help as extensively as possible with companies and help other Mentors be good at it. Jay has embraced this responsibility for every Boston cohort since then. He’s an LP in several Techstars funds and a direct investor in a selection of Techstars companies.

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Jan 23 2019

Techstars Sustainability Accelerator AMA

On 2/12/19, Brian McPeek (President, The Nature Conservancy) and I are doing an AMA about the Techstars Sustainability accelerator.

It’ll be at 1 pm MT and last for an hour. This will be the second year that Techstars is running an accelerator in partnership with The Nature Conservancy. I had high expectations when we announced the partnership in November 2017. The year one program far exceeded my expectations!

Brian and his team at TNC are a substantial force for good in our ever more complex world. Join us to hear more about how TNC and Techstars are working together to help companies get started to address some of the most challenging issues facing our planet.

And, if you are one of those companies, applications for the accelerator are now open. Please apply!

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Jan 16 2019

Techstars Studio and the Studio Model

Today, Techstars announced a new initiative called Techstars Studio which will allow Techstars to source new company concepts from Techstars alumni founders, community leaders, venture capitalists, mentors, and corporate partners. The Techstars Studio will then build prototypes, test market adoption, and select the most promising concepts for launch. Techstars Studio will then launch new startups and source talent and capital from the Techstars worldwide network to run the new companies.

The goal of each Techstars Studio is to launch four new companies annually. The first Techstars Studio will be in Boulder, just like the first Techstars accelerator was in 2007. As with the expansion of Techstars Accelerators around the world (Techstars will run 41 accelerator programs in 31 cities and 11 countries in 2019), expect Techstars Studios to follow a similar expansion path.

At Foundry, we have a lot of experience with the Studio model. We are investors in PSL (in Seattle) and High Alpha (in Indianapolis). We are also investors in the venture funds associated with the studios (PSL Ventures and High Alpha Capital) as well as Techstars Ventures.

Over the past five years, we’ve looked at potentially investing in numerous studios. We think the studio model, while very attractive with the right team, resources, and network, is very difficult to execute well. We’ve been deliberate in our choices and the leaders of both PSL and High Alpha have been helpful with Techstars as they’ve gone through their thought process on how to build out a studio.

We are especially excited about the founding team of Techstars Studios. Along with the leadership of David Cohen (the co-CEO of Techstars) will be Isaac Saldana, founder of SendGrid and Mike Rowan, former VP of SendGrid Labs. We’ve worked closely with Isaac and Mike over the years and are psyched to have another chance to create something with them from the ground floor.

A number of the most successful Techstars accelerator alumni are participating as founders in residence and advisors to Techstars Studio. In addition, more than 25 corporate partners of Techstars are involved in the initiative at launch.

If you are interested in the Techstars Studio, drop me an email and I’ll route you to the right folks.

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Dec 7 2018

Colorado Magic on a Friday

I’ve been in San Diego with Amy for a while but we are returning to Boulder in a week. San Diego has been great, but I miss my dogs, my friends, and the Colorado vibe.

When people ask me about the Colorado vibe, I often talk about GiveFirst. Soon there will be a book (by me) on this, but for now there’s an increasing amount of content on the web building up to explain it. This article in the Colorado Sun – How Techstars’ “GiveFirst” mantra became a road map for the startup community in Colorado and beyond – was excellent and had numerous short examples of how GiveFirst works and influences a startup community.

Next up is a fun article by my co-author of Startup Communities Way (my new Startup Communities book – coming up mid-year 2019) Ian Hathaway. A few days ago he cranked out a post titled Colorado is for Founders. I love that phrase and he led off the post with this great tweet from Phil Weiser.

He goes on to explain Jared and Phil’s huge accomplishments and impacts around startups and the startup community. The punch line in the post is:

“By many measures, Colorado is the most entrepreneurial state in the country, a fact that I discovered in 2013 when studying high-technology business formation around the United States. I was struck by just how many places across the state had a high proportion of startup activity occurring—a finding that has been extended to looking across other types of high-growth entrepreneurship as well. Something special is happening there, and it has been for many years.”

I’ll end with the Holiday Gift Guide from Techstars. If you want to give someone you know the gift of something from a Techstars company this holiday season, here are the choices all in one place.

Happy Friday Colorado. See you in a week.

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Oct 31 2018

Innovation and Venture Capital in New Jersey

If you are a fan of Startup Communities, there’s a lot going on around new initiatives on this front.

Ian Hathaway and I are hard at work on a book called The Startup Community Way, which is modeled after Eric Ries’ evolution of The Lean Startup to his recent book The Startup Way. I’m a big fan and long-time friend of Eric’s so I hope he’s ok with our using the same conceptual labeling approach from the evolution of the Startup Communities concept to a much broader audience than just startup communities (Eric – if you aren’t, tell me and I’ll adjust …)

One of my approaches to writing a book is to blog a lot of early content and get reactions to it. It helps me frame my thinking, connects me with people who are interested in what I’m writing, and forces me to put out content in public that I have to work hard at, but in bite-sized chunks. Ian has bought into this idea so he and I have a steady stream of content for The Startup Community Way coming on the StartupRev website.

An example is a post we put up today titled Thoughts on the New Jersey Innovation Evergreen Fund. If you have feedback for us (stuff you think we got wrong, or stuff you think we should reinforce, or any examples you’ve experienced directly) we’d love to hear from you either in the comments or by email.

Techstars is also hard at work on a bunch of stuff around ecosystem development (where communities and ecosystems are different things – Ian and I will have a post up on that soon.)

If this topic is interesting or important to you, either as a leader or a feeder in a startup community, or someone in government, academic, or a large company who is exploring or participating in innovation in a geographic ecosystem, give me a shout anytime!

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May 9 2018

Alex Iskold Startup Hacks

I’ve been friends with Alex Iskold for over a dozen years (I was an angel investor in GetGlue, which USV funded.)

Alex has been the Managing Director of Techstars NY for a number of years and I think he’s now run seven programs and built an impressive portfolio of around 80 companies.

I’m a huge Alex fan and love his writing. Recently, he put together a bunch of great blog posts on his site under a heading Startup Hacks. He has divided them into the following topics: Fundraising, Managing Investors, VC and Business Intros, Metrics and KPIs, Product and Marketing, Productivity, Founding Team, and Accelerator.

I’ve read them all. Some of my favorites include:

Alex – thanks for taking the time to write all of these! And, if you are a regular reader of this blog, I encourage you to go read all of Alex’s posts.

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Apr 24 2018

Venture Deals Online Course Starts Again On May 6th

Kauffman Fellows and Techstars are once again running the Venture Deals online course.

This time it runs from May 6th to June 26th. We’ve now had over 10,000 people take the online course and have been delighted to meet or email with a bunch of them over the past few years.

If you want to learn how to be smarter than your lawyer and your venture capitalist, sign up for Venture Deals now. Yup – it’s free!

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Mar 14 2018

AMA for the Techstars Sustainability Accelerator

“Technologies that have revolutionized so many sectors of the economy have the potential to transform the way we do conservation. We’re at the front end of a new ‘nature-tech’ revolution and nature stands to win big from it.”

  • Brian McPeek, Chief Conservation Officer of The Nature Conservancy

As many of you know, Techstars and The Nature Conservancy have teamed up to build a tech accelerator for the planet – Techstars Sustainability. The accelerator kicks off this July in Denver and companies from across the globe are applying now through April 8th. Considering how much Amy and I love both of these organizations, we’re excited to be supporting this effort to build stronger startup ecosystem at the intersection of sustainability, nature and technology.

From the state of coral reefs to deforestation, I’ll admit that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and the work ahead is certainly not something to take lightly. But, I’m also choosing to pursue a personal path that is rooted in urgency and action. I’m inspired by entrepreneurs like Grant Canary and his team at DroneSeed (a Techstars Seattle 2016 alumni). Grant is working to innovate the future of forestry through planting trees with swarms of drones. And then there is Liané Thompson, CEO of Aquaii, who is also utilizing drone technology to build robotic fish that gather underwater data in a way that was previously unachievable.

And that’s just drones and big data. Imagine all of the enabling technologies that can be applied to build powerful solutions in soil health, aquaculture, fisheries, water markets, climate resilience, and more. I think my friend Brian is right, we are on the forefront of a nature-tech revolution – and I want to be a part of it.

If you are interested in continuing this conversation with Brian and I, join us for a live online discussion and AMA on Monday, March 26th at 4:30pm MST. We’ll be talking about the origins of this partnership, the intersection of nature and technology and the upcoming accelerator. You can grab your seat by signing up here.

For more on how The Nature Conservancy is thinking about this, enjoy this short video.

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Jan 22 2018

Techstars Mentor Manifesto In Detail

I’ve been working on my next book, #GiveFirst, again. There’s a lot in it about the Techstars Mentor Manifesto and how to be an effective mentor.

Yesterday, I got a note from Jay Batson, longtime Techstars Boston mentor and now the Mentor-in-Residence for the program, asking if I had ever compiled the lists I posts I wrote about the Techstars Mentor Manifesto.

I hadn’t. He had conveniently done it in a Google doc so it was easy for me to list out the posts with links. They follow.

1/18: Be Socratic

2/18: Expect nothing in return

3/18: Be Authentic – Practice What You Preach

4/18: Be Direct. Tell the Truth, However Hard.

5/18: Listen, too

6/18: The Best Mentor Relationships Eventually Become Two Way

7/18: Be Responsive

8/18: Adopt At Least One Company Every Single Year. Experience Counts.

9/18: Clearly Separate Opinion From Fact

10/18: Hold Information In Confidence

11/18: Clearly Commit to Mentor, or Do Not. Either Is Fine

12/18: Know What You Don’t Know. Say “I Don’t Know” when you don’t know.

13/18: Guide, Don’t Control

14/18: Accept and Communicate With Other Mentors That Get Involved

15/18: Be Optimistic

16/18: Provide Specific Actionable Advice

17/18: Be Challenging/Robust but Never Destructive

18/18: Have Empathy. Remember That Startups Are Hard

Jay also reminded me that I hadn’t written posts on #17 and #18. They are now on my list to do. Thanks, Jay!

2/6/18: Jay wrote 17/18: Be Challenging/Robust but Never Destructive which is now posted.

2/7/18: Jay wrote 18/18: Have Empathy. Remember That Startups Are Hard which is now posted.

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