Techstars Boston Week 1 - The Beginning

Working in Techstars

I jumped at the opportunity to become an Associate with Techstars because it seemed like a few assumptions would hold true:

  • Generalists welcome: the job essentially involves helping however you can, which lets you develop whatever skills you like, and makes you useful if you know a little bit of everything.
  • Quick learning: I expected the three months to be intense on the work front, which translates quickly to extremely fast learning when you’re working with awesome founders and even better mentors.
  • Network: there are few names in the tech accelerator world bigger than Techstars, and like many networks, they make sure to keep theirs tight – as an Associate I get access to this network for life.

After the first week, I’ve confirmed all the assumptions above.

Given how quickly I’m learning, I’m planning to post once weekly on the main points I took away from the week.  I’ll try and keep them general but actionable, as all great advice should be.

Lesson 1: Mentors provide disproportionate value and an unfair advantage. 

Really, this shouldn’t be a lesson for anyone in the startup world, but I was reminded of it again this week.  Particularly those with vast startup experience can make a huge difference in your business with an outside perspective and tried and true methods and systems.  Just consider their years of experience as testing time that you won’t have to burn.

Valuing yourself is also hugely important when it comes to mentors.  The best mentors will be willing to help you without first receiving any compensation.  A warm introduction always helps, but be wary of mentors who demand up-front compensation (whether equity or otherwise), and if you want to be sure about their commitment, ask them to put in a small investment.

Lesson 2: Names matter.

Don’t think that Y Combinator (YC) and Techstars and 500 Startups and other big names in tech matter?  All I needed to convince me was the attitude of the mentors during the first Mentor Dinner for Techstars.  Being through the selection process for an exclusive or high-profile accelerator gives you a big, reputable stamp of approval – whenever you mention the experience, you will automatically get a second, interested look from experienced investors and mentors.  Anyone who thinks differently is probably naïve.

Lesson 3: Names aren’t the only thing that matters.

Okay, this isn’t directly related, but names only get you so far.  One of the ways to convince your potential investors and stakeholders of your value is to provide the investor update.  The update provides (like mentors) disproportionate value compared to the effort required to put it together.  In fact, it should be less than half a page (ish), and should be easily readable in an email browser without scrolling.

The format? Special Thanks, Good, Bad, Ask, KPI graph of the OMTM (one metric that matters), and honesty is key.  As 50 Cent so wisely said, “Joy wouldn’t feel so good, if it wasn’t for pain”; showing your downs gives stakeholders context for the ups, and in the end, all that matters is the graph of the OMTM trending upwards.  Take care of that, and honesty will actually help prove you can overcome adversity.

Lesson 4: Workplace makes a huge difference in overall quality of life.

When I say workplace, I mean the space itself, the general work policies, and the coworkers you’re with.

The current Techstars Boston space is managed by CIC (the whole building is), and so far, I can’t say enough good things about them.  Management is always available, friendly, accommodating, and generally makes life easy.

Access passes give you freedom to roam to all the common kitchens (on 7ish floors), where the cupboards, fridges and freezers are filled with healthy (and some unhealthy, but always delicious) snack food.

There’s a gym on our floor which costs virtually nothing per month, with shower rooms and towel service, and many of the toiletries included.

The work policy is flexible – try not to miss the daily standup meeting, but otherwise do what you like.

Obviously the people are great – everyone is highly motivated, very friendly, and generally willing to do whatever they can to help each other.

The result?  We go for team runs a few times a week, I don’t pay for lunch but still eat healthy, most people work 12 hour days (at least), I get to the gym every day, and I can even have a free standing desk if I want!

The difference in lifestyle is huge – everyone is happier, healthier and generally more productive.

In summary:

  1. Work hard to get great mentors in place for your startup, and keep your standards high.
  2. If it’s the right time, make a concerted effort to get into a prestigious accelerator – it will make a big difference long term, and at the very least the process will yield connections and feedback.
  3. Make sure your stakeholders are updated on the exact same day, every quarter or month, with the same newsletter. It will work wonders.
  4. Whenever possible, work in an awesome space. WeWork and others are offering awesome coworking spaces around the world for cheap, and the dividends in satisfaction and quality of life will boost your startup and morale greatly.

Read about Techstars Week 2 here.

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