Posts tagged ‘techstars’


One of the things I have greatly benefited from is being surrounded by good mentors. I was once advised to surround myself with people who are smarter than me (it’s not a high bar, I know). Getting mentors involved in my life and company is one of the things I’ve done consistently over the last five years and I attribute much of the success I’ve had so far to the involvement of those mentors.

People sometimes ask me how they too can find great mentors. For me, it was at TechStars where I really learned how to find mentors and keep them engaged. If you’re an eager entrepreneur craving good mentorship, then TechStars is a great place to start.

I’m honored this year to be a mentor myself at two of the TechStars programs — TechStars Cloud in San Antonio, TX and The Next Big Thing in Greenville, SC (which is part of the TechStars network).

I’m excited to have the chance to give back and share some of the lessons I’ve learned with some other young entrepreneurs. If you’ve got an idea for a company and want to increase your odds of success, I encourage you to apply to one of the TechStars programs. There’s a good chance it will change your life, just as it did mine.


TechStars companies’ hosting decisions

The other day I stumbled across a post on Hacker News titled Chart of YC companies’ hosting decisions. The post caught my attention as it’s always interesting to see the decisions other smart founders are making. Being a TechStars alum, I immediately reached out to the creator, Joel Franusic and asked if we could make a similar chart for TechStars. He agreed and after finding a list of active TechStars companies the new charts are ready.

The charts were generated by an open-source tool built by Joel called domain-profiler. It’s a neat tool and surfaces publicly available information in a really interesting way. It’s also interesting to compare the TechStars graph with the Y-Combinator graph. For example, notice how MediaTemple has a deal with TechStars and gets a much larger slice of the pie for TechStars than YC. Some other things of note about the TechStars graphs:

  • Smaller percentage use Google Apps for email
  • Greater percentage use SSL certificates
  • Greater diversity in web hosts

Joel is a startup evangelist for Microsoft and I look forward to following his work with domain-profiler and other projects.


How to find angel investors

Recently I’ve been receiving a lot of emails from entrepreneurs asking for advice. I’ve learned a lot over the last few years and it’s always fun to try and apply the lessons I have learned to another situation. Although I feel unqualified to be giving out advice, I’m always willing to share and help where I can. One particular question that has come up a lot recently is how to find angel investors. I’m hoping to save some time and hopefully be helpful to more people by posting my thoughts here.

Let me start by acknowledging that I know we were really lucky.  TechStars helped us get connections and investors that would have been tough to get otherwise.  The short answer on how to find angel investors is apply for TechStars.  I’ve written before about how valuable TechStars was for both our company and for me personally.  Applications for the Boulder program are open until March 22.  If you have the chance and the desire to start a company, TechStars is the way to go.  I can’t recommend it enough.

If for some reason you can’t get into TechStars, don’t despair.  A little tenacity can get you a long way.

Start by identifying the best people you could possibly have as investors.  These people are easy to spot — they’re the guys with tons of industry experience, plenty of connections and mountains of cash.  Your first task is to find them, your second is to engage them.  The non-obvious part is that you should focus on finding good mentors first.  The money will come later.  As the saying goes, “if you want money, ask for advice.  If you want advice, ask for money”.  I’ve definitely found that to be true.  First, identify the people you want to engage and then see if you can get to them via your network using LinkedIn. It’s best if you can get an introduction, but even cold emails can work surprisingly well when they’re personal and well-crafted.

After you’ve found mentors and gotten them engaged in your idea, the best trick for converting them to investors is to implement as many of their suggestions as you can.  This is important because it helps them start to feel ownership in what you’re doing and they’ll want to give you money to see their ideas succeed.

Approach investors as you would a girl you want to date. Specifically, this is one of those situations where it’s wise to be indirect with your approach. Don’t go in for the kiss right away. Build the relationship first. When the time comes to bring up money, it will happen naturally.

Raising money is hard, but don’t get discouraged. Take every “no” you get as an opportunity to learn something and refine your idea. If you can’t get someone to say “yes”, figure out what you need to change or just go out and prove them wrong!

Hope that helps.  Good luck!


TechStars applications are now open!

For those of you that are considering starting your own company, TechStars is a great way for you to get connected, get funded and get your company off the napkin and onto the interwebs. If you are questioning whether or not the TechStars program is worth it, take a look at what TechStars did for me:

A year ago…

• When I had a technical question I went to Evan Tishuk or Daniel Von Fange. That was it. Those were the only two programmers I knew.

• I knew one person who worked at Google, and not very well at that. I didn’t know a single person who worked for Microsoft, Yahoo or Facebook. I might have had a lot of friends in college, but I didn’t know anyone in the tech scene.

• I knew the name of one venture capital firm: Sequoia Capital.

• I didn’t have any money, nor did I know anyone who wanted to share theirs’ with me.


• I’ve got a slew of people standing by to help. Tom used to work for Oracle. He gets to hear all my database questions. Jon is the master programmer behind Intense Debate (the awesome commenting system I use on this blog). I talk to him about PHP stuff. Herb is an experienced CTO — he’s also my mentor/coach. Those are just the people I see on a regular basis — there are dozens more that are a mere email away.

• Not only do I know people at the big tech companies, I’ve gotten to know the people that are important to us in the conference industry as well.

• Not only do I know the names of a lot more venture capital firms — I know actual venture capitalists too. When it comes time for EventVue to raise another round of funding, we’ll know where to start.

• I still don’t have any money, but at least our company got funded.

So, what are you waiting for?

Check out the list of mentors. Look at the past companies. And apply for TechStars today!

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Shut up and listen when smart people are talking

When we first got accepted into TechStars, we planned on building an event registration system. Thankfully we had some awesome mentors who encouraged us to focus solely on social networking. They pointed out that there are plenty of other companies already in event registration and it would be really tough for us to compete with them. On the other hand, we had a decent chance of becoming the best in the world at providing online communities for conferences. We were a little hard-headed at first, but after Brad, David, Noah, Eric and Todd all gave us the same advice, we finally sat up and paid attention. We are really grateful to these guys because they saved us from wasting a lot of time this summer.

Later this summer, Eric Norlin began pushing us to start thinking more like conference organizers. He kept asking “How are you going to decrease my cost or increase my revenue?” This time we listened. In fact, we decided to address his question head on. Now our entire revenue model is an answer to that question: We only get paid when we are successful in driving more registrations to a conference.

I’m going to share a secret: Very little of EventVue was our idea. Instead we borrowed from the insight of dozens of conference organizers and mentors. That’s what entrepreneurship is all about. It’s learning to listen to the right people. One of the most important skills for any entrepreneur to learn to listen.


I’m a TechStars Graduate!!

In a few minutes I will place my keycard on David’s desk and walk out of the TechStars office for one last time.

This has been an incredible summer. I have learned more than I could have ever imagined. I know that the people I met here will be friends for life. We’re forever grateful to the TechStars mentors and the Boulder community for investing countless hours towards our success. The TechStars program exceeded my expectations in every way possible.

The cool thing is, we’re just getting started! We built our current product in three months. Just wait till you see what we have in a year!


A picture of life at TechStars

It’s 10:45 on a Wednesday night and the TechStars office is hopping! There are 13 guys working here at the office right now. That’s start-up life for you!

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I’ve not pulled this many all-nighters since sophomore year!

We had our one-month demos last night. It was a lot of fun seeing what the other teams have been working on this summer. I am blown away by the vision and talent of the other companies here at TechStars. It’s been cool to see the friendships developing between us.

I also love the way the various teams are helping each other out. Take the villijers for example:

  • Mike has been putting in as many late nights as we have. He’s been helping Rob get our server tricked out with cool stuff like mod-rewrite.
  • Anthony helped us design our business cards.
  • Theron drove us to Colorado Springs since we don’t have a car here. (To be fair, he did get to spend a day at the Broadmoor)
  • Aaron keeps us continually entertained with his card tricks and philosophical conversations.

It’s people like this that are making our summer so incredible.


Watching and learning

Last night I got to sit in and watch companies pitch to an angel network from CTEK. It was an amazing learning opportunity for us. Here are some of the things that really stood out:

Know your business

Last night one of the presenters made the following comment:

“We don’t track anything. I couldn’t tell you how many people use our product”.

What!?! Are you kidding me?

Contrast this to another presenter that stood up and demonstrated that they knew their business inside and out. They knew everything about their customers – where they live, where they shop, what they like. They knew the size of their market and had a reasonable strategy for increasing their share of it. They knew their business model. They measured and evaluated everything. They knew exactly how much it cost to move their product into a new region and they knew how much revenue that would bring in. They had a mathematical justification for how much of a return you should expect from your investment.

Which company would you trust with your money?

Know your pitch

Know your pitch! This seems like it would be intuitive, right? Last night I saw a CEO get up in front on everyone and just start rambling. Another one kept turning around and reading from his PowerPoint. By doing this he:

  • Showed that he didn’t know his numbers very well
  • Communicated that he didn’t take the time to prepare
  • Missed out on crucial eye contact that would have allowed him to connect to his audience and get instant feedback on what he was saying.

Your pitch should be clear and should answer the big questions right away. At the very least I should understand:

  • What you do
  • Who your customer is
  • How many customers you can realistically reach
  • How you plan to reach them

If you get done with your pitch and someone has to ask you what you do, I doubt they’re going to give you any money. And yes, this really happened.

Know your audience

I realized last night how important it is to pitch to people who know your industry and can understand your business.

One of the presenters did a great job outlining their strategy, their competitive advantage and their knowledge of their business. The problem was that no one else in the room knew anything about their industry. They could be sitting on an amazing opportunity, but it wouldn’t matter. No one is going to invest in something they don’t understand.

It pays to find people who get what you’re doing.

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The 4 coolest people I’ve met in the last 24 hours

One of the things that is really cool about TechStars is the number of amazing people we’re continually surrounded by. Here are a few people I’ve met within the past day that have really impressed me:

Todd and Eric from myBlogLog (now a part of Yahoo)

Todd and Eric win my “most-encouraging people of the week” award. From the moment we started talking about EventVue, they were excited about what we are doing. They dove right in – drawing on the white board, sharing ideas and asking deep questions that forced us to think about what we are doing. These guys are natural marketing masterminds. I look forward to learning more from them.

Casey Schorr from Printfection

I liked Casey from the minute I met him. Casey is only 23, but already he’s the president of his own profitable company in Denver. Printfection provides on-demand printing over the internet for a fraction of the cost of traditional screen printing. Their industry is changing rapidly, and Casey’s company is in the best position to take advantage of these new opportunities. Check them out for yourself. Get a custom designed t-shirt for only $2!

Noah Kagan from Facebook and now Mint

Noah is a genius with a hyperactive mind. He spent the morning talking to us about what he learned from his time at Facebook and how we can build better products. He gave us some great insight on how to get people on board with what we are doing. Apparantly, this comes under the new buzz word called “onboarding”. Yep, I learned something new today! Noah’s passion is contagious and I’m looking forward to getting to know him better.

Todd, Eric, Casey and Noah, you guys blow me away. Thanks for taking the time to hang out with us. I want to be as cool as you when I grow up.