This week we are right in the middle of Techstars NYC Fall 2015 program. The founders are actively working with mentors on growing their businesses every single week. We asked the founders what they learned so far. The result is this chock-full of gems & insights from our talented Techstars entrepreneurs. Enjoy!
Susannah Vila is a co-founder of Flip – marketplace for buying and selling leases.
Choose weekly goals (big rocks) that tell a story! We chose to hit 20% week over week growth in leases added. Even if we don’t hit it every week, it pushes us in the right direction.
Paid marketing (especially Facebook ads) seems cheap and convenient but DONT WORK. Not unless they’re part of rounded campaign most early stage companies aren’t ready to deploy.
I’ve learned a lot about how to build a “growth machine:” a collection of channels that we can turn on and off. It’s invaluable because if we’re not growing we know why.
Roger Graham is a co-founder of Flip – marketplace for buying and selling leases.
Be systematic. Wiley Cerilli’s talk about sales was all about quantifying and measuring effectiveness of salespeople and pitches. The broader point is that everything you do that can be measured and improved should be.
Breathe. Every previous founder emphasized taking time out of the day for yourself just to stay sane. This is vital and very easy to mess up.
Think big. I was always taught to manage my expectations and work towards manageable goals growing up. While this is still important, it’s even more important to dream and think about what your company could be, because you might be capable of more than you think.
Romain Lapeyre is a co-founder of Gorgias – customer support software powered by machine intelligence to maximize productivity.
Building a startup is all about connecting with the right people who can help you. You should build and leverage networks.
Growth is the most important thing.
Build a product that people love using, not like, love. This way they’ll recommend your product to their friend, invest time in giving you feedback, that’s a virtuous cycle.
Kevin O’Brien is a co-founder of GreatHorn – cloud security platform that detects and prevents data breaches.
Fast growth cures many ills. In many disciplines — both business and otherwise — the bar is set at doing things the right way. The so-called iron triangle (cheap, fast, good — pick any two) tends to cleave to “good + 1”; one of the most important lessons I’ve learned at Techstars is that fast execution despite limited means is the pathway to success. (Good fundamentals matter, of course, but nobody cares about your perfect product that’s never been released, has no customers, and is awesome on paper alone.)
The Techstars network is transformative. We came into the program with some paying customers; through the power of the network, we tripled our customer list and increased our revenue by 326% in one month.
It wouldn’t have happened as fast (see point 1) without the power of the team at Techstars to introduce us to interested people, help us build out our model, and meet with mentors on a daily basis.
Business models don’t matter; everyone here is doing something amazing, and has a tremendous amount to offer. I’m humbled every week by how much sheer progress, insight, professionalism, and hustle that literally every founder and team shows.
Starting a new company can sometimes feel like a lonely road to walk; being surrounded by the energy of the program, getting to interact with this group, and learning from them is an incredibly rare and valuable opportunity!
Danielle Cohen-Shohet is a co-founder of Haubby – a SaaS platform for beauty freelancers, offering client engagement, business management and product sales tools.
Be a beast. Being successful at Techstars is about more than being smart. It’s about being willing to fight. Fight old perceptions in your market. Fight to test the limits on speed of product development. Fight to get another deal. Keep fighting for interesting ways to get the next user. You need to be a beast. You eat what you kill and Techstars shows you that numbers and traction taste the best.
To be a diamond, you need to be willing to get cut. Do more faster so you can see what’s working and what isn’t. But don’t be afraid of what isn’t working—it can actually be a boon. Use cuts to uncover more value.
A strong update email to mentors and potential investors writes itself when you can demonstrate progress. If you’re working on a startup, whatever you do, just don’t stop making progress. Progress can come in many forms but it’s easier to make progress when you identify 1-2 ambitious goals each week and stay completely focused on achieving them. Having 1-2 big goals is great because it not only puts pressure on you to make substantial progress but also paves way for little accomplishments to fill up around those goals, so at week’s end…you’ve made a ton of progress. It’s easy sharing progress to mentors and potential investors.
Nick Devane is a co-founder of Homemade – a marketplace for homemade food.
Everyone respects honesty and hard work.
The power of networks, both to create and use.
Good storytelling and numbers alleviate all problems.
Christine Carrillo is a co-founder of Impact Health – easy and transparent way for consumers to buy health insurance online.
Metrics, metrics, up and to the right.
I mean, this was no bullshit. The metrics we track daily & weekly have not only helped us learn from what we are doing, but have helped us figure out new ways to figure out a problem when we could clearly see where the problem was occurring.
Building & maintaining relationships with mentors. This has been key for us – our mentors have been instrumental in helping us navigate the fast paced growth and challenges that come with that. They have been our biggest rocks & supporters, helping in ways that have at many times left us speechless with their generosity, and also become good friends to us.
Learning about fundraising, how to have productive conversations with investors, and how to nurture those.
Brooke Moreland is a co-founder of Jewelbots – programmable friendship bracelets that teach girls how to code.
I think the first thing we learned is to ask for what we want. Techstars team, mentors, and even general contacts are usually more than helpful to help out if you give them a direct, specific ask.
Another thing we’ve learned is to lead the conversation. Without a clear agenda conversations can go in many different ways, we now focus on our own objectives and how to accomplish them efficiently.
The third thing is confidence. We are very confidant in what we are building, but being at Techstars has really showed us the importance of making sure that confidence shows, 100% to everyone we talk to.
Andre Lorenceau is a co-founder of LiveLike – live sports viewing platform that combines the immersiveness of Virtual Reality with the power of social.
Product Process: Prior to Techstars, our prototype development was largely determined by the needs and asks of early partners and clients. We always had a long-term vision but the way we went about with weekly product goals was honestly quite hap-hazard. Mentors like Aly Valli have really helped us on several aspects of the process. The advice has been invaluable in helping us think about and communicate the product vision. Consequently, we’ve begun to form a streamlined product development process that will help us dig towards that vision.
A much better idea of what VCs want to see from a startup in their ask. For this mentors were again really helpful in helping figure it out.
Branding – As a B2B company currently operating as a white label we didn’t have a good idea of how to leverage our brand. Now we do. We are attempting through very targeted PR and marketing actionables to be seen as thought leaders in VR sports space. We are early in our plan but it has become an important part of our strategy and we feel much stronger for it!
Chinedu Azodoh is a co-founder of MAX – hyper local on demand delivery for Urban Africa.
Without metrics you can’t really tell how your business is doing.
Write down your goals. They serve as your guide as you make decisions.
Always put advise in context. People will mostly want the best for you, but you have to be willing to decide what is for you and what’s not.
Orkun Atik is a co-founder of Mona – AI-based retail shopping assistant.
Tightly knit networks and communities are really powerful. Having access to mentorship improves and accelerates your decision making in a significant way.
Focusing on one or two things at a time helps you do more faster. Less is more.
Jason Baptiste is a co-founder of Morsel – monthly lunch subscription service delivering healthy meals to your desk.
The narrower the better: It’s easy on day 1 to act like it’s day 1,000. Focus on where you can win and grow. Narrower is better.
The power of the network: Techstars helped us grow revenue to over 100k in a few weeks just through the power of the network. It also connects us to the expertise that we don’t have.
Focus on the big rocks: Get your team rallied around the big goals and then go hit them. For the intense 3 months period here, the big rocks matter the most – the smaller rocks will fit in around them.
Delphine Braas is a co-founder of Sailo – online boat rental marketplace.
Focus, focus, focus. Choose 1-2 target customers, and 1-2 channels and put all your resources and energy into them. Testing is key to understanding what to focus on.
You can always do more than you think you can.
The importance of knowing everything about your business, who your customers are, why they behave certain ways.
Cem Kozinoglu is a co-founder of Slash – smart mobile keyboard making it easy to share anything, without switching apps.
Value of Network / Mentors — It is great to have investor mentors who are on your side OR CEO mentors who have done it before. Almost a sanity check when you feel things are going great or terrible.
Due to Network, we raised money much faster, we connected with Foursquare, Disney, MongoDB, Twitter and more with just an email. Warm intro’s is the name of the game.
Importance of clear goals / KPI’s — We are struggling with structuring things, and having TS program driven and focused on KPI’s are helping a lot. Also there is whole macro level clarity on structuring / goals / vision and it is great to see how all these things are connected and affect each other drastically.
Health of your organization depends on these metrics and the structure you put in place.
Nick Barr is a co-founder of Slash – smart mobile keyboard making it easy to share anything, without switching apps.
Measure velocity. Hit ambitious mid-term goals by setting very achievable short-term goals.
Stay grateful and give freely. Karma is real.
Time goes faster for you than for people outside the program. Go fast and be patient.
Rahul Sidhu is a co-founder of SPIDR – next generation communication and intelligence platform for law enforcement.
As the CEO, one of your primary jobs is to make fans and friends. I’ve met several amazing people a day during the Techstars program. My focus was always to make them a fan of what we’re doing within the first few minutes of meeting them. If they are on board with our mission, they will be intrinsically motivated to help beyond whatever they feel “obligated” to do. They will think about us, our company and anything they can do to help. The ones that I’ve connected with personally have become friends, and it’s great to have friends in this business.
It’s easy to get pulled in several directions, but don’t lose sight of your target.
I’ve had a lot of mentors, investors, partners, competitors and customers tell me what they think we should be doing. Of course, all of this is valuable insight, but it’s exactly that… insight. I’ve had to constantly remind myself to separate insight from foresight. We came into the program with a mission and a clear understanding of what success looks like and how we want to achieve that success. Insight helps us navigate obstacles, but obsessing over other people’s opinions can throw us in circles.
Don’t ignore the people around you. As a CEO, I have more on my plate than I can handle (and that’s a pretty universal truth for early-stage CEOs). Sometimes, I find myself getting so “in-the-zone” that I get tunnel vision and I forget that I’m surrounded by allies. My co-founder, our team members, other CEOs, mentors, investors… these are all people that need attention constantly. Your company is a garden and your people are your plants, you need to spend time watering them every day.