TechStars is without question one of the premiere accelerators in the country, and with outposts all over the world, they are training up some of the brightest entrepreneurs every year.
Any accelerator is grinding, but if you maximize the opportunity, you’ll truly accelerate your business and increase your chances of success. But, what does it take to get the most out of an accelerator?
We asked 15 TechStars founders to share their secrets to accelerator survival (and success!)
They hail from all over the country. They’ve started a food delivery company, a desk sharing startup, and private coaching platform (and more). Between them, they’ve raised $51.1 million in funding, and they’re all still going strong.
And, here are their secrets:
Nick Taranto @nicktaranto, Plated
My number one tip: Develop crazy, unattainable week-to-week goals, and then use the mentors and the Techstars energy to crush them!
Elliot Hirsch @ellitohirsch, Adyapper
One of the big things that helped us stay focused and grounded in such a high-pressure environment, was trying to give more than we received. When you are in TechStars, you are surrounded not only by the best mentors in the world, and the amazing TechStars organization itself, but the other founders around you are equally amazing. We focused on getting to know them as much as we did the mentors, and especially trying to help others whenever we could. I don’t think we realized it at the time, but this “giving back” mentality had far reaching effects, and not only did it build strong relationships, but it led to great things for our business, and perhaps equally as important – it helped us get out of ourselves, out of a “me, me, me” attitude, providing much needed stress relief and great perspective on the entire experience! We have strived to carry this “give back” mentality forward after Techstars and engrain it in all that we do as a company – making it a part of how we think about and treat our clients when fighting to recoup their wasted ad spend, to giving back to the startup community, as well as organizations in Chicago. Nothing but good has come of it!
Listen lots to the smart people around you. But recognize that everyone has an opinion — and your gut is the most important one to listen to when making decisions.
Ryan Frankel @rvfrankel, VerbalizeIt
Be open to critique, feedback and change. It’s important to have a vision for your company, but being closed-minded and unwilling to entertain critique can leave you exposed to missed opportunities or worse, lead you down a path towards failure. Learning from the mistakes of others is the cheapest and most efficient way to accelerate one’s success. We came into the TechStars program fully receptive to a variety of feedback – both good and bad – and we benefited tremendously from the great advice of the Program’s mentors and coordinators. Importantly, not every suggestion is going to be helpful, thus it’s important to maintain a filter to discern good suggestions from the bad. Be passionate and follow your conviction, but also be coachable and willing to adapt, iterate and move quickly.
Rami Essaid @ramiessaid, Distil
Red Bull. Techstars was a high energy fast paced environment that had no time to wait for anyone that couldn’t keep up. To run our company, continue development, and get the most out of the program, red bull was a must and sleep was a luxury!
Mat Ellis @matellis, Cloudability
1) Go all in. Cancel all personal time. Tell your partner you’re climbing Mount Everest and you’ll be back in 3 months time. Live near the Techstars office. Plan to go total immersion.
2) Be ready to spend a lot more time on your business instead of your product. 99% of the people I’ve met at Techstars are awesome creators and builders. They *love* building product (me too!). One of the key strengths of the Techstars program is that they make you focus on stuff other than building product. Little details like your business plan, financial planning, strategy, etc. For about half the program time you’ll find yourself *not* working on your product. This will depress you but it’s very good for you in the long term.
Aaron Bird @birdstweets, Bizible
You can do business development, customer development or fundraising while in TechStars. You only have 3 months, so focus on one and nail it.
Techstars exposes you to some incredible mentors. Mentors are the main value of the Techstars approach. So, do what you can to increase the odds of developing an authentic relationship: develop an efficient system to building mentor dossiers, ask mentors about their passions and why they are volunteering their time, be honest and ask about real problems (not fluffy ones).
By building a strong and frank relationship with mentors, you will open the door to honest (and sometimes harsh) feedback. Welcome the harsh feedback. Learn how to field criticism and grow from it. Your modus operandi will never improve unless you are ok questioning your own status quo.
I’ll give you three tips: talk to customers, talk to customers, talk to customers.
Focus on what you want to get out of it. Is it advice? fundraising? team-building? Awareness? Go into it with clear expectations of what you want from the program, and make sure you stay focused on getting that out of it! A program is only as good as what you and your team make of it
David Mandell @dgmandell, Pivotdesk
If you’ve been lucky enough to have been accepted to a top level accelerator, the question you should be asking yourself is, “How do I get the most I possibly can from this experience.” Having worked as a mentor as well as a founder for Techstars, the biggest key I’ve found to maximizing the experience is to think of the accelerator as another founder. If you had the chance to hire a killer, ‘jack-of-all-trades co-founder, what are the three biggest tasks you’d give them for you business? Do you need to figure out market pain/fit? Do you need help with product dev? How to market and distribute your product/service? Do you know how to structure your business for success? Pricing? What are your biggest weaknesses or needs and use the Accelerator to overcome those challenges or blind spots.
An top level accelerator, aside form pushing you like crazy to move faster, should provide a resource rich environment from which you can pick and choose based on what you need to figure out most for your business. From mentors, to founders of other companies and the people at the Accelerator, they are all there to help you succeed so if you don’t know what you need to succeed, you can waste a lot of precious time.
Know your weaknesses. Leverage the Accelerator resources like another co-founder. Iterate like crazy. And hopefully get more done in three months than you could have in a year or so on your own. Make it work for you.
Work hard, iterate on your product and test things, reach out to as many people as you can: users, press, partners
Robi Ganguly @rganguly, Apptentive
Use the mentorship and communications opportunities to really build your business. This means sitting down with mentors, telling them about what you’re building and asking for their input and help. Consistently communicate with the group of mentors who want to hear more and stay in touch by sharing your accomplishments and what you need to grow. The 3 months you have during TechStars gives you permission to constantly involve some of the smartest, most helpful people in your community and you should use it.
Dan Herman @dan_herman, ChatID
Kash Razzaghi @hrazzaghi, Fancred
The #1 piece of advice I would give any founder joining an accelerator is to identify what you want to get out of it before Day 1. Find and make use of mentors that have experience in the areas you want to improve in and ignore everything else. Companies that enter accelerators with this level of focuse end up making the largest improvements and raising the most money.