Week 1 - Techstars NYC

Blogging at Techstars

My plan was/is to write a post every week during my time here in Techstars NYC – we’re currently starting Week 6, but I plan to catch up.

I’ve held off to this point mostly because I was struggling with what form they should take.  Turns out (unsurprisingly) that going through the program as an Associate is much different than as a Founder.  While in Boston as an Associate, I generally gave an objective review of the week, and an overview of the talks, workshops and stories from the week.

As a Founder, everything I do and learn is filtered through the lens of the company I’m part of.  I generally don’t take notes during workshops except those relevant to our own business.  I don’t get updates from the other Associates on the progress of all teams, instead just once a week during our Big Rocks meeting.

Founder vs. Associate

And of course, being part of the program as a founder vastly changes the dynamic.  As an Associate, most of the pressure is self-imposed - a result of how much work you choose to do for companies, and the role within the Techstars group you assume (organizing Demo Day, etc.).  The role of founder is much more – not competitive, really, but – demanding perhaps.  Simply because the goal of the program is to make as much progress as possible, there’s an inherent pressure and pace.

So, for this post and those in future weeks, I’m still going to summarize what I learned during the week, and will try to generalize the lesson, but keep in mind the lens through which I’m learning. 

My goal is to give insight into the Techstars program and how you can apply some of the lessons to your own venture.

Techstars NYC Week 1 – Ground Yourself

When we were accepted into Techstars in November, I reviewed my posts from the Boston program, and reflected on what I believed made companies there successful.  During a trip to Boston in late November, I chatted with Semyon and Eveline (two of the directors at the Boston program) about the same topic.

In short form, I concluded the following:

  • The teams that made the most progress were often large, and their progress compared to their small peers was due to the time required of the cofounders; their teams could continue working while the CEO was busy with meetings, etc.
  • Teams from outside the Techstars city had the most success when they committed to that city.  Establishing an office, or permanent presence, made a big difference in being able to focus and take full advantage of the program.
  • Sorting out logistics prior to arriving makes your start much easier. We were changing Airbnbs for the first three weeks in Boston, and it was extremely distracting.
  • Singular focus on accomplishing your goals for Techstars was the most important factor in making the most of the program.

With those points in mind, I figured we had a good chance of being ahead of the game in the first week.  And we did accomplish some of those things – we sorted out our logistics ahead of time, and managed to find a place to stay that was a 10-minute walk from the office, which has been great.

We scheduled exercise time right away and made time for it, which has been a great time for us as cofounders to chat about the business and get away from the office.

Week 1 Struggles

What we didn’t manage to do during the first week, however, was maintain as much focus as we would have liked.  When I joined the company in September, we had charted out some rough goals in terms of revenue, sales process, market confidence, and some other factors, for when we wanted to fundraise. 

But, in the hype of Techstars, we set a fundraising goal for the end of the program.  And we quickly realized that maybe that wasn’t wise. 

One of the panels in the first week featured Alumni, where six different participants from previous cohorts chatted about their experience.  One of the most interesting pieces of feedback was “forget about fundraising”.  It wasn’t ubiquitous, but many of those who began Techstars in a comparable situation (small team, early-stage) realized they wouldn’t have time to both effectively fundraise and focus on growth with such limited resources.

During the discussion, we too realized that to reach our growth goals, we wouldn’t have time for fundraising, or alternatively, we would have a hard time fundraising if we couldn’t execute on our growth.

Goals for Techstars

The result was our decision to make Techstars about growth, and to generally stick to the original indicators we had set for fundraising.

Making this decision reduced stress, and made it much clearer where we needed to spend our time, and, now in Week 5, I absolutely think we made the right call.

Weekly Summary:

  • Preparation of logistics was extremely helpful in getting a quick start in the program.
  • Don’t let the Techstars (insert any accelerator) hype change your fundamental goals or milestones.  Fundraising for the sake of fundraising is a bad idea.
  • As a small team, you must pick your battles.  Each person in the team should be focused on one goal, maximum. 
  • Use the experience of others to your advantage.  We quizzed the Alumni about their specific experiences and decision-making, relating it to our own situation as much as possible, and it was a huge help.