A friend of mine asked me recently if I thought spending a summer as an intern for TechStars was a good idea. Here was my response -
Best idea ever.
Depending on the level of your involvement, you could potentially walk away from this internship with experience in starting 11 companies, going through dozens of pivots, chasing the minimum viable product multiple times in multiple industries, developing pricing models for 11 companies products, the hiring and firing and team building as well as all other nuances related to human resource drama that come in the startup world, drilling through messaging problems multiple times with each company, mastering pitch strategies, walk through financing these companies with VCs and Angels, the multiple stock scenarios that all have to be worked through, and on and on and on.
Seeing that many ideas walk the maze of failure to reach that eventual success has given me more confidence and skill than I could ever have curated on my own one or two projects, assuming I could have made meaningful progress on those one or two projects, working alone in the allotted 90 day time frame. The way to approach it is to think down the road three months and ask yourself if you’d regret spending a measly three months gaining that much experience? I promise you there is no better way to spend that time.
Not to mention the immense network of mentors, friends, and new best friends that all come from the program which I will lean heavily on for the rest of my career.
Breaking it down it looks like this
Rent — $1800
Chewy chips ahoy — $80
Chocolate milk — $150
Broken arm with no insurance — $3000
The ability to reach into the upper echelons of the technology industry with a network of mentors, supporters, and 40 brilliant new friends who have seen your work ethic and would go to bat for you without reservation — Priceless
Stick that in your Discover commercial.
Such a great summer.
So while I’m here, I am going to try and keep a daily log of what I’m able to glean from my experience here at TechStars (hereafter referred to as TS) in a series of posts I’ll call What I Learned at TechStars Day X (hereafter referred to as WILTS), despite what my intentional grammar play may indicate, I am getting wiser all the time … I promise
In day 1 David Cohen gave a presentation that lasted for hours… and hours on top of hours… then we had dinner, and he gave another presentation… (I wonder how he feels about the no more than 10 slides rule?) But a couple of gems came out of the discussions, pitch practices, and visiting Tom Keller. I will now list them in chronological order.
We talked about sending out a weekly “Friends of the company” email to investors, interested parties, etc. If you don’t you’re missing out on your earliest audience communication opportunity. Sending out an email weekly forces you to account for your weeks time (what progress have we made) and offers you the chance to ask some direct help / questions (recommended to be done in red, in clear sentences where one can quickly assess if they can help). There’s 13 weeks in our summer, we can handle 13 emails.
If you’re not an emailer, there are other options, but the point is that you get in a rhythm of talking about what you’re doing. Blog or tweet daily, email weekly, conference call, whatever, just something to account for your time.
So if you’re starting a business, or going after a Hard Knock MBA, get used to accounting for your time and work.
Be Concise and Clear
While practicing the 20 second pitches, some teams got up and had a very vague beginning. 5 Why’s (David held up 5 fingers and asked why after each explanation till he was out of fingers) later, we had a very clear, concise pitch that communicated the opportunity, solution, and key differentiator in about a sentence and a half. The way you can test if you need to use the 5 why-er is by paying attention to people’s first questions. This is another one of the gems for me, I’m used to listening to people, paying attention, etc, but keep track of people’s first response. If it’s “Why?” you need to answer that in your pitch the next time and you keep working on it. If it’s “How are you different from…” or “Have you thought of…” those are good questions, it shows they get it and they are connecting dots in their mind. So listen and keep track of the first responses, it’s your best indicator of how clear your message is.
Tom Keller gave this thought – “If you ever make a decision based on your data, and it turns out to be the wrong move, did you make the wrong decision? No. You won’t ever have the full data, make good decisions based on your current data and move on.” Often we’ll beat ourselves up over a missed deal, or something not going our way, or making a decision that ultimately turns out to be wrong, big deal. I will always take someone who can analyze the data and make a decision over a ‘flip flopper’ type who can’t / won’t make up their mind because of all the outstanding variables. Make the decision and move on.
Then as we were going around giving pitches again, one founder was not the ordained speaker for his company, but the turn came to him and he wasn’t sure what to do, he looked around a bit, explained that it was his partners role to talk, yada yada yada, then Tom gave this commentary “Listen, you don’t have the spotlight on you very often in life, so when you do – don’t make excuses, don’t look at your partner, don’t shy away from it. You face it and go after it full on.” I liked this thought mainly because I agree with the fact that you don’t get that many moments in life to shine. No one like to strike out standing, if you’re going to get the opportunity to step in the batter box, you swing at that ball man, even if you don’t have what it takes to hit, you go down swinging (also true in love Look that VC/Customer/Antagonist/Whoever right in the eye and go for it, whatever it is.
Not a bad 1st day.