Thursday, June 9, 2016

Announcing Donation Matching for the Techstars Foundation

On the heels of announcing our first round of grantees, the Techstars Foundation is honored to announce that Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor will be matching donations for the next 90 days.

The Techstars Foundation is taking actionable steps to change the landscape of diversity in tech. We have set the lofty but attainable goal of 100 percent monetary participation from the Techstars community. We know we can reach our goal, but we need your help.

Brad and Amy will be matching $1 dollar for every $2 dollars contributed by members of the Techstars' community, up to $100,000.

If Techstars accelerators, staff, mentors or startup programs, such as Startup Weekend and Startup Digest, have helped you in some small way, please consider a donation of any amount to help improve diversity in tech entrepreneurship. Your donation is more powerful for the next 90 days thanks to Brad and Amy.

Techstars is committed to making a difference in diversity in tech entrepreneurship and we hope you will join us.

Thank you again to our generous donors who have made these grants possible. And, thank you Brad and Amy — without you, this initiative would not be possible!


from Techstars

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Hiring, Culture & Recruiting: Tips for Growing Your Startup

At Techstars, we often hear from startup founders that hiring is one of the most challenging things to do right. We recently held an AMA on this topic (Ask Techstars: Hiring & Culture – Scaling Your Startup) with Sabrina McGrail, VP of People at Techstars; Emma Straight, Sr. Recruiter at Techstars; and Natalie Baumgartner, Founder & Chief Psychologist of RoundPegg, a company culture and engagement tool.

This post is the first in a series of three with Q&A excerpts from this AMA. Check it out!


How can you keep a culture fun yet still ensure that teams get a lot of work done?

Natalie: I will say that the more you understand what is important to your people as an individual and as a collective, you can make sure you are giving them what they need to have fun and enjoy what they are doing. It makes them far more productive and engaged in their work. Food for thought around understanding what people value.

Sabrina: Fun is subjective. Understand what they want and the type of environment that is ideal for them. Do engagement surveys to see what people are looking for out of the next quarter and the next year, and take general surveys to find out what your employees think. Take the time to understand what the culture is and set expectations around that at the beginning of the hiring process.

Emma: There is this sense of comradery and doing fun things, happy hours, team building events and all that fun stuff and the line is crossed very easily to things that may be inappropriate. It is up to the executive staff to always set a really good example of what is appropriate and what is not, especially when you're not in the office setting. If something goes too far, deal with the situation quickly and directly so that it sets the tone and an example of what is okay. For example, "That was great and really fun, but maybe that behaviour was crossing the line." Handling this directly is key so that the behavior does not continue.

When is a CTO a must-have as a founding member of a startup?

Sabrina: This is a challenging question. I know that when we look at companies that we are selecting, having a CTO or a strong technical hire is obviously really important. I think it depends on what you're building a lot of the time. It is great to have the right person in early on, but you also want to take the time to find the right CTO. The person to fill this role is so important; if you are rushing to get someone in the door that is not strong enough, it does not benefit you. The CTO is critical to building the company, so I would say take your time to find the right person and supplement in whatever way that you can versus giving someone (who maybe should not be a CTO yet) a CTO title. Otherwise, you end up having a lot of really hard challenges and conversations down the line when you may need to hire over that person or find someone who is a stronger leader.

Emma: Yeah, and on that I would say also that it is a critical recruiting aspect to have a really strong CTO or leadership presence on the engineering team when you are hiring engineers. It is a great tool for us to be able to go to and say, "Hey, this person is really leading the charge and building a really great team around them." But you have to be really careful that it's the right person, otherwise it could really harm you much more so than not having anybody. It's really an individual thing and depends on the company, the size of the company and what the product or service is.

Natalie: For me, my co-founder was a CTO previously so it was not something that we had to go out and look for, but I want to take this opportunity to have a public service address moment to piggyback on what Sabrina and Emma were saying in terms of fit. You can not underestimate the importance of culture fit in making a decision around filling a very fundamental position in an organization. In the early days of Roundpegg, we had someone who was functioning as our CTO, but we needed a lead engineer. During this time, we were actually in Techstars, so this is back in 2010 when we made our first hire. We hired a guy who was a wonderful engineer, a great developer and a great human being, but we used our own tool (Roundpegg) and he was a terrible culture fit. So, great person, great technical expertise, but not a good culture fit and we hired him anyway. Our rationale was that we were still in research and development and not sure if our product worked yet, but all of the culture fit pieces really ended up playing out and it was a challenge for all of us. It was not a great decision for him, not a great situation for us and it took us awhile to part ways because we really liked each other. Fit is important for any position and certainly for a position with that level of impact.

What are some ways you've seen companies making office/culture more welcoming to parents and families?

Emma: I will jump in since I'm a new mother. I have two young kids and it has been a transition in my personal life to wrap my head around what this looks like as a working parent. Where is the balance? How do I give my all to both work and personal life? It's a daily struggle of mine, so I'm still learning as I'm going and I still would love any advice and suggestions from any parents. I think I got really lucky; Techstars hired me when I was 9 months pregnant, I worked one month and then I took off three months. I feel very fortunate and very lucky that I got that opportunity. I think giving leave and making sure people feel supported when they are not only out of the office but the transition to come back is really important, not only to feel welcomed but also to understand that it is something that they are probably trying to navigate around as well. They may not have all the answers, so just being supportive in the flexibility of hours or having a pumping room helps. There are a number of different things, and it has been more of a focus of conversations lately in the tech world, which I am really excited about. I'm a parent that does not want to be a stay at home parent, so it's really nice to see that people are embracing the challenges that may be involved. We are very hardworking and time management is a necessity for parents, so we are able to work much more efficiently and produce better results than I think sometimes people who don't have kids.

Natalie: It's definitely a topic that I love and a topic that has been front and center for me as a co-founder. I have three children who are 7, 5 and 2 years old, and they were all born during the life of RoundPegg. We have photos of all of them sleeping under my desk or in boardroom meetings. When I think about the question, the first thing I'd say is that as founders or leaders of an organization, you have to understand what your values are and what the aspirational values are that you have for your company and how you want to drive your organization. For me, it would be critical to work for an organization that really values flexibility and incorporates the balance that is necessary for parents. That is not always going to be the case for every company and for every leadership team, so first you need to get clear on where your values sit on that kind of flexibility. I know plenty of organizations where that's just not part of the core values and as long as you're clear about that as an organization, people can then self select in or out. I wrote an article two years ago about being a founder and being a mom. I was encouraged by our PR firm to write this when we were in a PR meeting and I was nursing my baby. My main position is that to be welcoming, you have to be flexible and you have to be willing to get creative and get messy about how you structure your work day. My co-founders were incredibly supportive and I was really fortunate, even though they had to work with all the nuances of working around my schedule as a parent – they are wonderful and make that possible for me. But, it does require me to be creative. I have been at meetings where I have a newborn downstairs in the lobby with a nanny and I'm trying to run a meeting and then go down to feed her and go back up – my colleagues have helped with that too. My efficiency has really increased with being a mom.

Sabrina: Make it okay to be human at work – it is something that Techstars talks about a lot. Create a space as you're building a company. Make sure, whether for you or your managers, that you're having one on ones and you can really genuinely ask, how are you? Not just how are you doing at work, but how are you doing in life? We have some tools that we use at Techstars to make sure that we are having both sides of that conversation. Creating that space is really important because then you know where someone is coming from, we don't leave ourselves when we walk through the office door, we are carrying everything that is going on outside of work with us. Create an environment that comes from having a discussion about your values and what kind of company that you want to build. Being able to say that you are having a really crazy day at home and I really need to work from home for the next two hours, is totally okay.   

Click here to listen a replay of this AMA.

Join us for our next Ask Me Anything session with David Cohen, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Techstars – June 23rd at 10am PT! Ask anything about startups, fundraising, accelerators, and more! REGISTER. 


from Techstars

Introducing the Techstars Mobility Class of 2016

Today, I'm excited to introduce the 12 companies that are part of the Techstars Mobility Class of 2016. These startup companies are building automotive mobility technologies and services that enable people and goods to move around more freely. On September 8, 2016, we will be hosting our second annual demo day, where we expect over 1,000 people to come see and meet these 12 startups.

The quality of teams and companies applying this year has been incredible. We saw a world-wide response with applications from 52 countries across 6 continents. There was a 44 percent increase in mobility-focused companies. Most impressive, 50 percent of the 2016 companies include founders with diverse backgrounds.

Trends: Ride Sharing, Car Ownership, Safety/ Autonomous Driving

Techstars Mobility operates at the intersection of two of Detroit's greatest strengths: its automotive dominance and entrepreneurial resurgence. We are on a mission to connect the startup and automotive worlds, by breaking down silos and working across the industry to build partnerships.

To do this, we've partnered with eight global corporations leading the automotive and transportation industries. These partners include Ford Motor Company, Magna International, Verizon, Dana Holding Corporation, Honda R&D Americas, McDonald's, Munich Re, and Michelin. Additionally, over 150 mentors across 38 different automotive and transportation companies are active mentors in the program. And just recently, we partnered with the Detroit Auto Show to bring another 50+ mobility startups to Detroit in January 2017.

The 2016 class comes from all around the world, including Chile and Canada, building solutions in the autonomous, connected and shared vehicle mobility spaces. Here is the 2016 class:

Acerta: Machine-assisted anomaly detection & root cause analysis.

Algocian: State-of-the-art video analytics for security and autonomous vehicles.

Braiq: Personalizing the self-driving car.

Cargo: Data-driven general store for the ride-sharing economy.

Donut Media: Automotive enthusiast video content for Millennials and Gen Zs.

Drive Spotter: Real-time video search for fleet management.

GoKid: A complete carpool solution for busy families.

HAAS Alert: Connected car and autonomous driving notification platform that warns when emergency vehicles are approaching.

HERO App: Rewarding safe behavior and helping impaired drivers get home safely.

RallyCommunity mobility platform that powers pop-up mass transit with high occupancy vehicles.

Spatial: Dynamic, human-driven layer of social intelligence for maps and navigation.

Voyhoy/Resertrip: Multi-modal transportation booking platform for two continents: Voyhoy in Latin America and Resertrip in Europe.  

This blog post originally appeared on To keep updated on Techstars Mobility and the growing intersection of Detroit's automotive dominance and its entrepreneurial resurgence follow Ted on Twitter: @tedserbinski

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from Techstars

METRO Accelerator, Three Months In

Over the last three months with the METRO Accelerator, I have talked to 100+ founding CEOs and hundreds have already applied for the program.

What I am looking for is simple: Great founders who have tangible insight into their market.

I am becoming really excited because this is what I am finding:

  • Online restaurants focused in specific foods and highly scalable cooking and delivery options
  • Very low cost and marketable SAAS solutions
  • Staffing solutions for hospitality businesses,
  • Startups simplifying the supply chain for restaurants
  • In restaurant / venue ordering solutions
  • Mobile apps where restaurants can pull in physical customers
  • New types of customer care software, e.g. Bots for hospitality
  • Entirely new types of food

These are companies with experienced serial entrepreneurs, founders who have experience with high-growth startups, as well as complete first timers. In most cases, these teams have worked together for more than one year, all with real insights into their customers, products in the market and working on growing their businesses.

When I started three months ago, I didn't know what to expect. Last year, we found a large number of startups at the idea stage. Now, we are seeing far more startups that have initially validated their market and are working on building a scalable marketing and sales machinery. That is actually a great match with what METRO is looking for.

If what I have already seen is an indicator of what else I will find, then I am super stoked.

Don't be shy reaching out, you don't need to get a warm intro to talk to us.

Start an application here and you will hear from us pretty swiftly.


from Techstars

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Why Your Startup Should Eat A Debt Sandwich

I've given this talk at various Techstars programs quite a few times now, and most recently gave it in L.A. at our awesome Healthcare Accelerator in partnership with Cedars-Sinai. I always do this talk off-the-cuff (no slides) to keep it interactive. You won't find my talk online anywhere, so I'm excited to share some of the key points for the first time here.

Founders are often given valid but over-simplified advice when it comes to debt financing. Some of the "mostly true" points include; debt rounds cost less from a legal standpoint, that you can negotiate a high conversion cap (implicit next round valuation target) than are priced equity rounds, and you can raise money progressively (one investor at a time).

All of this is often true. Debt rounds can be easier and can also keep costs down for all parties involved. That's why I've often heard it said: "If you don't know what to do just raise debt", or "if you don't want to price your company, just raise debt." Venture Deals does a great job of discussing these dynamics in more detail.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not here to say debt rounds are bad news. At all. All I'm saying is avoid raising two (or more!) debt rounds in a row.

Instead, sandwich debt between equity so the debt won't come back to haunt your company later.

Why Sandwich Your Debt?

Your cap table can end up like a sandwich with too many condiments stacked on top of each other. We all know what happens, and only about ½ the sandwich ends up in your mouth!

Debt rounds become problematic because each round of debt comes with its own discount, it's own conversion cap, and other rights/terms. It becomes particularly complex if one of the rounds has a low conversion cap and the next has a higher one. The cap table math gets complicated, the founder/common dilution gets significant, and the new money investors end up with less ownership than they are looking for.

All of this has to be sorted out by legal or the VCs, messaged to the existing investors, and managed by the lawyers in papering the round. This causes problems for everyone, and some investors will just walk because the deal becomes complicated.

The early investor sometimes get asked move the cap up, and no one feels good about that move. I often remind founders that $1.00 isn't actually $1.00 with debt, it's either a $1.25 (remember the 20% discount & interest) or more like $1.50+ if your next round is well above the cap.

It's good to go in eyes open and to realize that stacking debt means the discounts, the interest, and the cap all end up driving up the actual dollar leverage to the investor and the company sells more equity in the round but gets no additional net-new capital to spend from it.

When you sandwich your debt between equity rounds you are mitigating the risk of the next equity round toppling over due to complexity or having to do a massive amount of negotiating with both old and new investors and having the dilution get out of control.

Real World Example

One company I worked with had 3 different note rounds with escalating caps and discounts (1M/50%, 2M/20%, 3M/20%). The 1M cap round was the 1st money in and what a deal that was (for the investor)!

The timeframe across all of the 3 notes was 'too short'; The 1M note was only 6 months from 3M — new investors felt the cap/discounts on the early notes were a 'deal that never should have been done' and there was friction from the get-go. Naturally the founders didn't want to sell any more debt at that 1M/50% level.

Without a restructure of the early debt, it would have amounted to an approximate 5% additional dilution to founders when the priced round closed.

The early note holders were friends and family, but despite that, getting them to agree to changing the debt terms was very challenging. Who wants to give up the better deal they got for taking the early risk?

New investors have a range (ownership model) that keeps founder/early investor/new investor ratios balanced — the successive debt rounds painted the company into a corner where it was almost an impossible equation to solve for. It became messy — and almost killed the deal.

The Solution

The company ended up renegotiating the 1M cap notes to 2M. This cost the CEO 80 hours of time, the co-founder another 60 hours, and a substantial legal bill. Let that sink in for a moment. The founders lost a good month of productivity on this.

Had they raised the 2nd/3rd round of notes as a priced round, the first round of notes would have been converted in early. The 1M note investors would have gotten a quick 2x on their investment and then owned equity. None of this process and extra dilution would have taken place. The company would have raised that seed round with a pre-money around the same valuation as the later note caps, so they would have also saved the 20% discount.

Avoid this kind of headache, and just eat a debt sandwich instead.


from Techstars