Friday, January 29, 2016

10 Powerful Habits of Startup Founders

Welcome to Founder Friday! Our guest blogger today is Sam Levan, Founder & CEO of MadKudu (Boulder '15).

"After you leave the program, don't revert back to your old broken habits, keep the new powerful ones."

– Natty Zola, MD, Techstars Boulder

I'd like to share the habits we built at my startup MadKudu during the Techstars program in Boulder last summer. This is a note-to-self for those Techstars habits that really had a big impact.

1 – GiveFirst

Make it a habit to proactively help people out, each week, even in a small way, without expecting anything in return.

#GiveFirst is the one, biggest, strongest value of Techstars, and it is awesome.

The cynics among/within us already know this is the best way to build a powerful network (or to buy karma points for a better afterlife!). But the main reason you do this is because it is the right thing to do and it is something you will never regret.

We realized in the program that making this goal explicit made us much better at it.

2 – Obsess about moving one meaningful metric every week

So simple, so limited, yet so powerful. The One Metric That Matters (OMTM) has been around for a while (eg. here or here).

The most interesting benefits for us were to:

  1. Agree as a team as to what the main milestone was for the company
  2. Display this metric on the wall so that every decision we make is evaluated with this in mind
  3. Keeping us honest about how much impact our hard work is doing, and rethink the plan if the impact/work ratio is not great.

3 – Daily, Weekly, Monthly OKRs

Objective-Key-Results is a well-known goal-setting tool made famous by Google.

The important thing was less the exact methodology but more the fact we had a rigorous process to maximize the impact of every effort we put in. Today, we have a daily standup, a weekly OKR meeting review, and a small offsite on the first Friday of every month.

Before joining Techstars, this sounded like a heavy process for such a small team but it was wrong to think this way. It is critical to set this up at the very first moment of the company and to be disciplined about it.

#4 – Deliberately identify and answer one business question, each week

This technique was new to me. Zach Nies opened my eyes there.

There is a bigger framework around it, but to keep it short, the idea is to remove risk in your business by pro-actively doing the two things below each week:

  1. Identify what is the big unknown that may hurt you if you don't make a decision or have an answer.
  2. Plan what needs to be done to get to a decision or an answer within a week, either through experimentation or through asking experts.

If you do this for just three months, you have answered 12 key questions on your business. This is huge!

5 – Keep yourself honest

We sent a weekly email to our mentors and friends during the three months of the program.

A huge and unexpected value from those updates is that it keeps you dead honest about the progress you are making. As a founder, your natural state is to be very excited by what you are doing. This this great, but it is also blinding.

It is extremely helpful to see if your progress are exciting to other people as well. If they are not, think about what needs to be done to make it happen.

6 – Celebrate with your team

During the program, a great moment of each week was the dinner were we get together with all the startups of the program. There, there would be a special time dedicated for people to thank other people who helped, or share a good piece of news, or acknowledge something they have put in the ditch.

Each team or company can create its own format. But make sure to have a place and structure to spend a few minutes each week on appreciating the journey, recognizing the people who have given you a push in the right direction, and accepting that not everything always happen the way you like.

7 – Look for feedback, especially the kind that makes you uncomfortable

"Ouch that hurts… let's get more of this!" was something we said often during the program.

We met 51 Techstars mentors in the first month and got questioned about every aspect of our business (Brad Feld wrote a great article about the benefit of mentor whiplash). This was often tough. And this was awesome.

The key learning for us was less about how to process lots of conflicting information and more about the importance of going naked in the outside world and let various people criticize our work. Extremely valuable, to keep doing!

8 – Cover every wall with stickies!

I am a productivity app addict. I've worked with Basecamp, Wunderlist, Producteev, Pivotal, Jira, Trello, you name it.

But when we got into the Techstars office, every company used a big old-school whiteboard. I had never seen so many stickies in so many places in my life.

There is a good reason for that. Having your scrum board, KPIs, company values, customer onboarding queue physically available around you, at all times, makes it much easier to identify issues, stuck items or things to prioritize on.

9 – Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse

That one sounds stupid. But before Techstars, we were little aware of the power of rehearsing.

The elevator pitch? Sure, I would improvise one (and often a weak one!) as I met new people. Sales call? Sure, I have done this many times before, I am smart, I will adapt with the flow.

No, no, no!

Techstars was relentless on making us rehearse stuff. Write down a version of the elevator pitch, try it, re-write it, re-try-it, and do that 20 times. Same for sales calls — write down every question asked, try an answer, and constantly improve. I realized the best performers are not just talented, they practice, practice and practice again. I know… thank you, Captain Obvious.

10 – Spend one hour on yourself every day

That one comes from Brad Feld. This is a hard thing to do when you are obsessed about your mission and feel like you need every second of the day to move the dream forward. But as Brad elegantly says, "Don't believe your own bullshit," and just do it.

At MadKudu, we use the end of our daily standup to tell whether or not we have been able to spend this one hour, and more importantly, how we have scheduled time today for that.

In conclusion…

Our brainy old friend Aristotle famously said:

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

I believe this also applies to teams and companies.

So… what are the habits you believe in? Let me know in the comments.

(This post originally appeared here.)

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Every Damn Imaginable Startup Podcast Reviewed

As a long-distance commuter, I listen to a LOT of podcasts. And given the explosion in podcasts on tech startups, it's hard to keep track of them all. There really isn't a good discovery source, although Product Hunt and The Podcast Wire come closest.  So here's the survey we've been missing. I have left out general business podcasts and most of the podcasts for small business (although I kept those few specializing on women entrepreneurs, whose focus is mostly on small bootstrapped companies,) and focus on the ones relevant for the founders of VC-backed startups who are looking to go big.

Before we hit the ranked list of 75, yes, 75! podcasts below, a few thoughts.

A) The formats of almost all of the best podcasts are interviews or taped lectures. 16 of the 24 podcasts graded A- or better are one or the other.

B) Interview quality varies greatly, even with the same host. Jason Calacanis (This Week in Startups) and Andrew Warner (Mixergy) each have done many hundreds of podcasts. So not only can the quality of the guests vary, sometimes the hosts has a bad day. (A guest like Chris Sacca or Danielle Morrill brings out Jason's best, at which times there is no one better. But when he's not really into the guest, he reverts to constant name-dropping and "me-me-me" mode. That's why he has a massively polarized audience, with 90 5 star iTunes ratings…but 30 1 stars. He's someone I love and hate at the same time…so "A" Jason + "C" Jason resulted in a B rating from me.)

C) The podcasts available in both audio and video versions generally are better than audio-only podcasts. Better production value, better preparation, better guests. Similarly, the video content on Youtube for any one speaker is superior to the audio podcasts. Best example: Eric Ries videos (like this talk at Google) are preferable to his podcast. Why? I think people just work harder on videos. Another example, discussed below: Y Combinator's "How to Start a Startup" video podcast is great, but it's audio-only "StartupSchoolRadio" is lacking.

D) If the podcast comes from a blogger, the blog is better crafted and quicker to consume. One example is Steve Blank's podcast, which is delivered unconvincingly by a voice actor reading over the excellent blog. It's lost in translation. Similarly, John Gruber's Daring Fireball blog is incisive and readable, but his podcast meanders forever. One possible exception is the output of Ben Thompson: while his outstanding Stratechery column is superior to his podcast, the two ARE additive. If you don't subscribe to Stratechery, at least check out his Exponent podcast; it is free and features the most incisive thinking in tech.

E) VC and company-sponsored podcasts generally are solid, but accelerator-sponsored podcasts don't cut it. 3 out of the 6 A+ rated podcasts come from VCs.  The VC winners: "Ventured" from Kleiner Perkins, "A16Z" from Andreessen Horowitz, and "Traction" from NextView Ventures. They are putting their reputations on the line, and podcasting is one way they try to attract the best entrepreneurs. Similarly, the better corporate podcasters (e.g., Hubspot, InsightSquared, Intercom, 37 Signals) are trying to gain goodwill by being thought leaders more than just shilling their product. But the podcasts from the accelerators inexplicably are so-so to poor, with a B going out to Seedcamp, a B- to the (discontinued?) 500 Startups podcast, and a generous C+ to the tone-deaf StartupSchoolRadio from Y Combinator. To be fair, Sam Altman of YC organized a Stanford lecture series "How to Start a Startup" which featured great lectures from incredible speakers. However, the podcast shows the damage a mediocre host can do. The host, (who incidentally was only in one startup, which cratered quickly in spite of raising a bunch of money,) tries to parrot Paul Graham's more famous sayings onto any conceivable example, without nuance or in some cases understanding. Just go to the source and read Paul's brilliant essays instead. And going back to point C), check out 500 Startups terrific Youtube video channel for great lectures on growth-hacking.

F) Anything Stanford touches is gold. How to Start a Startup and especially Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders are awesome. It's not just the household name speakers. Wondering about what goes into acquisitions of startups by larger tech companies? Check out Jeff Seibert's wonderful lecture, dealing with the good and bad he learned from selling 2 companies (to Box and Twitter) and buying some for his new bosses. (BTW, if you want the best digital startup education out there, StartupSecrets films a great class by VC/HBS Prof Michael Skok and puts it on the web. Not a podcast, not on iTunes, so not included on list below, but otherwise A+! Curriculum/readings included.)

Explanation of the Table

The podcast name and its embedded link is followed by my personal, subjective grade, along with the number of podcasts in the series , the number of 5 star ratings/total ratings in the iTunes Store for consensus opinion, and date of the last podcast to show frequency.

At the bottom. I have more detailed notes. Let me know which ones I've missed or where you disagree in the comments.

Name Summary Itunes
Ventured A+ From Kleiner Perkins: Randy Komisar and friends. Check out Bill Campbell episode. 14 5/9
How to Start a Startup A+ The biggest names in Silicon Valley take on a topic in this Stanford lecture series 20 21/39
Startup Podcast A+ Following 1 startup a year, NPR-style storytelling 32 4004/4027
Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders A+ More talks at Stanford by Steve Blank, Elon Musk, Reid Hoffman, etc. 251 166/256
Traction A+ Getting growth between seed and A round 16 64/64
Dorm Room Tycoon A+ The biggest names, interviewed skillfully 131 24/24
Work in Progress A 37 Signals execs talk openly and honestly about running the company 59 6/6
Design Details Podcast A Designers at GoPro, Etsy, Pinterest talk shop 93 141/152
Product People A Emphasis on virality and engagement; Aimed at bootstrappers 75 44/47
UX and Growth Podcast A Hubspot Designers/Developers talk their subjects 15 n/a
A16Z A A16Z partners talk about current tech topics 187 18/28
Tech In Boston A- Interviews of players in the Boston tech ecosystem 57 18/18
Bothsides TV A- Mark Suster and guests. I'll consume anything Mark puts out. 19 3/6 Podcast A- Product management, design, and marketing 11 n/a
Exponent A- Tech and Society: Ben Thompson and James Allworth's weekly discussion 62 54/61
The Tim Ferriss Show A- Author/investor Tim Ferriss interviews world class performers 132 1855/2822
Foundation with Kevin Rose A- Terrific TV from the very connected investor Kevin Rose 43 12/14
Founder Calls with Aaron Levie A- Fun but still meaty. Aaron Levie of Box interviews his peers 6 n/a
Re/Code Decode A- More journalism than education:stars interviewed by Kara Swisher 33 32/50
The Rocketship Podcast A- Lots of accelerator grads and MDs; ability to search by topic 106 126/126
Venture Studio A- Dave Lerner's terrific interviews primarily with NY-based investors 16 14/14
Customer Success Radio A- Interviews about growth and metrics with solid guests 25 10/10
The Growth Show (Hubspot) A- Interviews from Warby Parker to Facebook to AirBnB to Heady Topper 59 111/125
The Startup Chat A- Two pros chat about SaaS, metrics, Growth 67 94/96
VentureBeat's What to Think A- Tech news 61
Full Ratchet A- Interviews with partners at Spark, Social Capital, other cutting edge VCs 88 41/41
This is Product Management B+ Everything through the eyes of Product. One guest per week
Hallway Chat B+ Fun. Two Spark Capital VCs discuss trends. (But most shows dated) 21 n/a
Million Dollar Insights B+ Top SaaS practitioners interviewed 24 70/72 B+ Discussion of European startup news 25
The Pitch B+ Like SharkTank, with guest VCs–easy, fun listening 14 75/83
Collective Wisdom for Tech Startups B+ VCs doing a deep dive with startup CEOs 8 13/16
From Scratch Podcast B+ Half startup gods, half inspirational people from the real world 85 20/22
Product Hunt Radio B+ Hippest podcast going, interviews by Ryan Hoover. 38 n/a
Reboot B+ CEOs baring their souls to Jerry Colonna, a top Executive Coach 30 13/13
The James Altucher Show B+ Quirky writer/entrepreneur interviews A-listers 149 321/381
HBR IdeaCast B+ HBR editors discuss their articles–can be dry 504 108/182
Venture Voice B+ Plenty of interesting guests–albeit from 7 years ago 60 19/22
Startup Grind B Live interviews from conferences of bigger names 100 16/16
Seedcamp Podcast B Good guest list, mostly Americans being interviewed by British accelerator 69 n/a
Startups for the Rest of Us B Small business approach rather than venture-backed startups 270 279/296
LeanStartupCo B Interviews with practitioners of Lean Startup techniques by Eric Ries & co 174 n/a
Acquired B Tech acquisitions that actually went well 5 n/a
Mixergy B From big names to unknowns–check transcripts first. More details below. 1249 226/264
The App Guy Podcast B Startup discussion revolving around mobile apps 401 39/39
TwentyMinuteVC B VCs fawned over by an overenthusiastic Brit. 20 19/21
Developer Tea B Quick topics for coders 178 135/140
This Week in Startups B The best guests ever. The polarizing Jason Calacanis as host. Highest highs, frequent lows 611 91/137
The O'Reilly Data Show Podcast B Data Scientists. Pretty dry. 20
500 Startups Podcast B- Not as good as their YouTube stuff. Discontinued? 53 18/18
The Talk Show with John Gruber B- Discussion with Guest Pundits. Too longwinded and rambling 141 717/1785
Hack the Entrepreneur B- mixed crowd 173 288/305
Hack to Start B- Plenty better than this 78 n/a
Seth Godin's Startup School B- Very basic. One topic per lecture. If you like Godin (I don't), it's an A- 15 94/122
NYRD Radio B- A discontinued but fun podcast with Alexis Ohanian of Reddit 9 14/15
Perpetual Traffic B- Panel discusses getting paid traffic to websites. 27 366/405
Startup Nation B- Israeli entrepreneurs 4 n/a
Women Who Startup Radio B- Panel style discussion of, by and for women entrepreneurs 10
Startup School Radio C+ Interviews mostly of YC alums and staff 30
Angel Insights C+ European/British Angels 29 n/a
The Competitive Edge C+ A few good names, but generally schlocky 61 n/a
SaaS Revolution Show C+ Probably the weakest of the SaaS specialty broadcasts, but not just SaaS 32 n/a
She Did It Her Way C+ Interviews with female entrepreneurs 53 21/22
The Gently Mad C+ "Inspirational" startup stories with soul-searching 60 108/126
The Slow Hustle Podcast C+ Founder lessons on "managing the pendulum swing" 62 31/33
Ask Gary Vee C Over-caffeinated celebrity-investor host offers good insights delivered like AM radio. Not my style, but plenty love him. 192 536/558
Angel Investing with Tatyana Gray C For beginning angels…by a relatively new investor. 15 40/41
Entrepreneur on Fire C Popular for reasons beyond me. Pass. 1175 2079/2169
Steve Blank Podcast C Voice-overs of Steve's blogposts by other people 68
Zen Founder C The soft stuff: how to survive as a founder, by a psychologist 50 28/28
The Struggling Entrepreneur C For solo, underfunded entrepreneurs 284
Go For Launch D Total "Get Rich Quick" crap. Avoid at all costs 45 43/44
Freelancers Show NR Had technical problems, didn't review 183 5/5
Venture Confidential NR Silicon Valley VCs, just started. First guest: Bessemer VC 1 n/a
The Changelog NR What's new in open source for hard core techies 189 13/15


Stray Reviews

The one that got away: Startup Secrets  Unfortunately, this is not included in the table above because it is only available for web viewing, but I have to highlight it. Startup Secrets goes right into serial entrepreneur/VC/HBS professor/Techstars mentor-instructor Michael Skok's class at Harvard, recording the lectures. Not just videos, but slideshares, course notes, reading. Simply the best resource I've ever seen from one person. Thanks @mjskok!

Venture Studio  Dave Lerner, repeat entrepreneur, prolific angel, and currently Director of Entrepreneurship at Columbia University, assembles a list of sterling, but not necessarily well-known, names of investors who are at the top of their field (like Matt Harris of Bain Capital, considered the best fintech investor around), changing investing paradigms (like Dustin Dolginow of Maiden Lane Ventures and AngelList), or just spearheading NYC's charge to arguably the 2nd most important region in startups (Alex Iskold of Techstars and David Tisch of Box Group.) Dave is soft-spoken but just as insightful as his guests. My favorite shows: those with John Frankel of ff ventures.

Collective Wisdom Founders Collective's partners have done it all–success both as entrepreneurs and as VCs, with seed or A round investments in Uber, Buzzfeed, and Hotel Tonight. Eight hourlong fireside chats with founders (TripAdvisorZocDocBehance…), along with short clips of the highlights of the talks with investors, advisors, service providers. I should probably upgrade this–I hope they do more podcasts!

Mixergy. Andrew has amassed an enormous library of interviews. While many are with bootstrapped small business owners, he also has talked, all of them gets down to real details of strategies, and Andrew is fearless of asking any question and getting detailed examples. His two talks with Harley Finkelstein (here and here), head of business development for Shopify, are required listening for any biz dev producer or manager. Unfortunately, most of the archive are behind a paywall–you can try several for free, or subscribe and get current releases without paying. I recommend screening the transcripts before deciding which episodes you want to download.

Re/Code Decode.  Technews journalism from a masterful Kara Swisher. Timely interviews with both Dick Costolo and Ev Williams just after the latest regime change, digging for dirt. Other episodes in the same vein, like when she quizzes Brian Chesky about AirBnB's future plans. You get the picture. Skilled interviews, but more entertaining than educational by design, and I personally opt more for education.

Thanks to Techstars Boston Program Director, Ty Danco for this post. Originally posted here.

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Techstars London Applicants: What You Need to Know

Hello startup founders, CEOs, CTOs, employees and contractors in Europe and abroad!

Techstars London is currently organising its fifth program that will start on the 20th of June. Our aim is to spread the word among startups, share the #givefirst values, and tell you more about Techstars' approach to entrepreneurship.

In order to do that, we have organised the following webinars and Q&A sessions and are delighted to invite you to join us:

  • February 9th, 18:00 GMT – Webinar #1 – Sign up here
  • February 23rd, 18:00 GMT – Webinar #2 – Sign up here
  • March 8th, 18:00 GMT – Webinar #3 – Sign up here
  • March 15th, 18:00 GMT – Q&A

I will be hosting these 45 minute webinars and will cover what Techstars is, how the program works, what the value is for companies and founders, and present some of the Techstars London success stories. And, of course, some tips on how (not) to apply.

The summer program starts on the 20th of June with a Demo Day in September. The applications are open and you can apply online here.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The B2B Sale: Do the Math

I have some 20+ mentoring calls with founders each week. Many of them pitch me B2B ideas. Many of those ideas don't work for one simple reason.


I think there are three B2B products that make sense.

1. Single decision maker

A single individual makes the purchasing decision. For example to use Buffer to manage social media. Typically these purchase decision are made by swiping a card and expensing it later. The price point here is $10s -$100s per month

2. Department decision

You sell to a department. Say you are selling HR software. Or IT software. Or finance software. Several people can be involved a senior person / the department head will make the decision. You will send them an invoice and they will pay. The price point here is typically $100s — $1000s per month

3. Company wide decision

Multiple department heads are involved. The MD / CEO will make the purchasing decision. Long drawn out sales cycle and implementation processes are typical. Price point is typically $10,000s — $100,000s per month.

A good B2B business is typically priced in these bands, because the effort to market, sell and integrate the product with the customer means that unless products are priced at this level, they cannot be sold profitably.

So, when founder comes to me and pitches me a product that a CEO needs to approve that costs hundreds per month, then this leads to a short mentoring call where I would advise the founder to rethink what they do.

Do the math — your business is driven by it.

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Monday, January 25, 2016

The Forgotten Founder

This is the fourth post in a series of five.

The fourth source of cofounder conflict is the most heartbreaking because it only arises if everything is going really well and you are getting noticed by the press and outside world for your accomplishments. In this scenario, the cofounders have already successfully navigated through the first few common cofounder conflicts. Both are scaling, both are doing their jobs, and they are both making effective decisions. They have a healthy relationship and things are going really well.

Here's the problem: The cofounder named CEO does all the interviews, gets all the articles written about them, speaks at conferences and is named to the latest 30 under 30, 40 under 40, etc. The non-CEO cofounder starts to wonder, "If we are equals, decisions are split equally, we are both scaling, and if I'm contributing just as much as the CEO, why are they getting all the interviews? Why doesn't anyone outside of the tech community know my name?" The non-CEO cofounder feels forgotten and alienated. In response they will often fight for more internal control (see "Who decides what?"), which leads to not scaling (see "The founder that doesn't scale.") because they are playing a popularity contest instead of continuing to focus on their roles which is what has already made them successful leaders.

I believe this conflict can sometimes be the worst because it is purely ego. Put simply it is the sentiment of: "You are getting the spotlight and I'm not." As a coach it's truly heart-breaking to watch because this conflict often pops up when there are really healthy operational cofounder relationships, and the company is doing really well, but for whatever reason they are just getting unbalanced coverage in the press.

Consider these examples: There are three cofounders of AirBnB, but most people outside of the tech community can only name Brian Chesky. There are two cofounders at Dropbox and most people outside the tech community can only name Drew Houston. This is just the way the media works; they like one hero. It's rare that there's more than one. So the hero gets invited to speak at conferences, and gets invited to the CEO summit, they're invited by the VC to the CEO dinner with the very influential tech visionary.  

The non-hero cofounder is working just as hard, and bringing a tremendous amount of value to their company but receives none of the cool benefits of being a founder.

The challenge is only exacerbated by the fact that the CEO is enjoying the notoriety, the special invitations, the award shows. Who wouldn't? It can be hard for a CEO to give that up.

Sharing Is Caring

To avoid falling into this ego trap, cofounders need to find a healthy split of these perks of success that works for them, just as they found a healthy split in who runs what in their company.

Press and publicity can be addressed by talking to the company's PR agency and creating guidelines that split one set of topics for one founder and anything on another set of topics go to the other founder. Cofounders can take turns speaking at conferences.

The "hero" can be mindful about sharing sharing acclaim with their cofounder in interviews and at events.

An excellent example of a successful shared leadership is Warby Parker. It is clear that Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa are purposefully sharing responsibilities and public recognition of leadership.

Another example of a company who navigates this well is Lyft. There is a clear distinction between who is CEO, Logan Green, and who is president, John Zimmer, but there is a lot of shared publicity and clearly split responsibility. In their recent billion dollar funding announcement, probably one of the most significant press announcements to-date for the company and when most CEOs would take the spotlight for themselves, it was John Zimmer, the president of Lyft, who did much of the press.

Above All Else: Clear Vision, Purpose and Commitment

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith have been married for more than 20 years. A few years ago I came across an interview where they were asked: "You two are one of the rare successful Hollywood couples; What's your secret?" Their answer? "Really at the end of the day, it's just not quitting."

In founding companies it's really the same. If you go in saying, "Separating is not an option. This needs to exist in the world," you have humility. You realize that your work is bigger than any individual egos. That if it's doing what it's really meant to be doing in the world, it could have a profound effect.

You have to care about the company existing in the world more than you care about the whose name is on the latest headline or your title on your LinkedIn page. You just have to say, "I don't care. This has to exist. We are going to build this."

This is why having clear understanding of vision and purpose when you start the business is so important. If you have both, humility shows up and you can get through almost anything. Don't let ego cloud that vision.  

Don't let ego cloud your vision.
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Apply to Techstars: Chicago, NYC and London Summer 2016 Programs Now Accepting Applications

Applications are now open for three Techstars programs: Techstars Chicago, Techstars NYC and Techstars London!

Apply now for your chance to be part of the "Techstars for Life" network with access to more than 3,000 mentors, founders and investors. The deadline to apply is March 20, 2016.

Watch this short video to see how Techstars is for startups of every stage. (And don't forget to check out our FAQs which will answer many questions about the application process.) Apply today!

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Introducing the 11 New Companies of London’s Barclays Accelerator Powered by Techstars

We are thrilled to announce and welcome the next eleven companies to the 2016 Barclays Accelerator in London. This will be the third class in London and the fourth of the global Barclays Accelerator program. Today is the first day of the session that will run until our demo day on April 18th.

The select group of companies come from a diverse pool of nearly 700 applicants, from 77 countries, and across a variety of verticals in the financial services space. The Barclays Accelerator continues to support incredible founders with teams that are focused on the next generation of technology for the financial services industry. Companies in this class are working on solutions in machine learning prediction, compliance-as-a-service, smart insurance, IoT, payments, social impact investing, underbanked savings, and cyber security.  

We'd like to thank our Techstars team supporting the program, the 32 Barclays Accelerator alumni companies, and the 300+ Techstars and Barclays mentors for their generous support. We look forward to a great session this winter.

Here are the companies:

  AgentCASH is a platform for merchants to manage their retail business with seamless payments, inventory, and accounting.
  Barclays' Smart Contract Templates is developing a technology for capital markets that enables financial products to be defined in a novel way, permitting both legal contracts and executable business logic to be generated.
  Cuvva lets you instantly insure your car by the hour.


  DigiSEq transforms any IoT or wearable into a contactless payments device.
  Forwardlane is bringing cognitive computing from IBM Watson to wealth managers everywhere.


  Helm is a compliance-as-a-service platform automating legal and regulatory processes for governments and the enterprise.
  MARK Labs allows wealth managers to optimize social impact investing for their clients.


  Seldon helps enterprises quickly deploy real-time machine learning recommendations and predictions.


Swift is a mobile personal savings tool for unbanked consumers in emerging markets.


  Tallysticks is a blockchain-based invoice automation and financing platform.


  Zighra is a cyber-security company that prevents account takeover and automated attacks by using cognitive analytics to monitor user interaction with smart devices.  


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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Cofounder Conflict: Who Decides What?

This is the third post in our series on cofounder conflict by guest blogger, Khalid Halim. 

Leadership is about making decisions. Oddly enough, many founders never take the time to discuss who will decide what. This lack of clarity upfront and strategy to decision-making quickly leads cofounders in one of two undesirable directions.

In the first scenario, all decisions are made by all founders. This results in a slow or gridlocked decision-making process. When decisions are finally made, they are often then changed because there is no one clear decision maker — any founder can reopen any decision. Employees and investors quickly get frustrated with the slow decision-making process or the constant changing of decisions.

If there are more than two founders, the situation is only exacerbated by the orders of complexity between the number of founders who have to be aligned for a decision to be made.

The problem is the idea that we have to decide everything together despite the fact that everyone is going to have a different viewpoint.

Consider the differences between a visionary founder and a technical founder. Visionary founders look to the future and imagine how great it's going to be out there. Technical founders look at today and say, "This whole system is going to crash tomorrow. We have bad code, bugs, and technical debt. We need to fix this now." One founder is looking at the ground in front of their feet while the the other is looking out at the horizon. When they have a conversation they are looking at two different landscapes. They can't figure out why they can't agree on what they're looking at because both think they are looking at the same thing. That is the paralysis and conflict that happens when we each inherently have different viewpoints but insist that everyone has to agree on everything.

As challenging as different viewpoints can be, these differences in viewpoints are the reason why cofounders often work out better than solo founders.  

A diversity of viewpoints is an asset to the company but needs to be accompanied with a framework for who decides what.

In the second scenario, the CEO makes all decisions. This leaves the non-CEO founder feeling disempowered. They will often resort to having hallway conversations undermining the CEO, reversing decisions, or slipping into the background and not scaling.  It won't take long before the CEO says to the cofounder, "Hey, when I look at what the company has accomplished this last year, I don't see what your contribution has been. I'm wondering if you should keep your title or if we should just have you on the board and hire somebody else in your role."

Both scenarios are are not desireable.

Decide How We Will Decide

The healthiest companies decide who is best at deciding what. Each cofounder has their own ball to run with. If a decision is made that is totally egregious, there is veto power. Cofounders agree that each cofounder will have 100% of the decisions all of the time in their respective area, but the other cofounder(s) reserve the right to veto if they feel it goes against a core value of the company or steers the company too far from the mission. The veto is to be used very rarely; you should trust your cofounder to make the decision in the domain in which they are an expert.


If cofounders are not able to operate with this level of trust to let the person hold all the decisions for the domain for which they are responsible for dysfunction usually follows.

The healthiest way to approach decision-making is to split the domains. The most popular split is internal-external. One person in charge of people operations, finance, legal and anything that is internal to the company. The other person is external — fundraising, engineering and product, anything customer-facing. There are other functional models that work as well.

The important thing is to decide who is responsible for which functional areas and to stick to that decision and respect each other's domain of responsibility.

Like each of the conflicts we will discuss in this series healthy conflict fundamentally comes down to two things, trust and respect. Trust that your cofounder can make decisions and be honest with you when things are not going well. Respect your cofounder enough give them honest and open feedback as things start to not feel right. Trust and respect has to start at the very beginning with the very first conversations about starting the company including who will be CEO, who decides what, and other key conversations that we will cover in future posts.

The key to having and being fully present in these conversations is not being afraid of who you are today and who you are in the process of becoming through the struggle and joy of startup life.

"The key to warriorship and the ultimate definition of bravery is not being afraid of who you are. Examine your experience to see what it contains that is of value in helping yourself and others. Warriorship is the opposite of selfishness. We become selfish when we are afraid of ourselves and afraid of the seeming threats the world presents. We want to build a little nest, a cocoon, to protect ourselves. But we can be much more brave than that. Even in the face of great problems, we can be heroic and kind at the same time." -Trungpa Rinpoche


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Friday, January 22, 2016

4 Ways to Ensure a Smooth Transition When Acquired

Erik Severinghaus is the Founder and CEO of SimpleRelevance, an alumni of the Chicago 2013 class. 

Owning your own company is an unpredictable experience. As strong as your vision is, you can't foresee the ultimate outcome of the company. It's never clear that you're taking the right actions toward success. You can read all the books you want about starting a company but the outside factors affecting your company will take hold in unexpected ways.

As both a tech enthusiast and an entrepreneur in the year 2011, I had a clear vision of how a new form of machine learning could improve digital marketers' reach to consumers. My experience creating cloud systems at IBM lent me a significant tech foundation to build that vision. The company I came to establish, SimpleRelevance, was well-received by tech enthusiasts and investors in Chicago.

During the next two years, we gained valuable connections in 1871, Chicago's startup hub, then joined the Techstars accelerator in Chicago. As is the case with most entrepreneurs starting their own companies, my ultimate goal was not to become acquired, but to change the future of digital marketing. However, to achieve the scale and results we wanted in a crowded space, we either needed to raise a ton of money or join forces with another organization, both of which create opportunities and tradeoffs. As we got to know the good folks at Rise Interactive, it became clear that combining our platform with their organization would create that rarest of corporate events, true synergy.

As a founder and CEO of a tech startup that recently went through my first acquisition, I found four key actions to ensure a smooth transition.


  1. Know the acquiring company's values

Our situation was unique in that I had met the CEO through Techstars and known him for years prior to agreeing on an acquisition. I was aware that his personal and company values aligned with mine. To build a company, a foundation of moral standards is essential to drive the success of a company in the right direction.


  1. Keep your employees informed

There will be a lot of initial questions about each person's future with the company. It's an unsettling time for most employees: change mixed with the uncertainty of whether their careers will continue with the acquiring company. The best way to put everyone at ease is to remain as transparent about the process as possible. Set up regular meetings and over communicate.


  1. Have a backup plan

I consider us to be extremely lucky that all seven people of the SimpleRelevance team were offered fitting roles within the acquiring company. I see this as a runoff of their company values being aligned with our own, but this won't always be the case. Even if you think your views align, not every member may have a place in the acquiring company. In this instance, setting up a game plan for so everyone understands how they will be taken care should they not transition over is essential.


  1. Keep checking in

Even after the deal is signed and the job offers are dispersed people will have questions. It's not always obvious how much involvement to maintain with the original startup versus the new acquiring company so it's important to make expectations clear by meeting regularly with the original team.


Overall SimpleRelevance's experience during the acquisition process was as seamless as I hoped it would be. Incorporating the technology into the acquiring company is often the easiest fit, but the most important part of the company – your team – may not always be prioritized. These four actions should be the outline of your acquisition process for a clear, easy transition.
How was your acquisition experience? Let me know in the comments!

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Minimum Viable Investor Update

I have several dozen portfolio companies. Most of them send me monthly or quarterly updates. There are three items in the updates that I personally find more useful than anything else. They are:

  1. Cash flow / P&L top line summary
  2. Major changes / developments
  3. Problems the CEO is struggling with and wants help on

A hypothetical example is below. I wish all my update emails were like it. Call it the minimum viable update email.


Hi Investors,

Last month we burned through $45k. We are on track to turn cash flow positive before year end. We will decide in about three months whether we need a little bit of extra cash for working capital purposes or not.

There were no key changes last month. We have got two good candidates for CMO and will decide this month.

Key problems:

  1. We have some problems in our tech team. Our CTO isn't experienced enough to manage through this. Can you recommend a mentor / experienced CTO to come in and help (this can be a paid coaching position)?
  2. I have been approached by a VC who wants to potentially pre-empt a Series A. How do I best deal with this?
  3. We have lost two important pitches against a competitor in December. Can any of you spare some time to talk through our positioning statements and sales process?
  4. I am worried that key competitor X has just closed a $8m Series A round (see here for more info), how shall we best deal with this (if at all)?

Many thanks,

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Common Co-Founder Conflict: The Founder Who Doesn’t Scale

Khalid Halim is a certified professional coach and founder of He works with founders and leadership teams looking to move through change and growth purposefully. Khalid has over ten years of experience working in startups, both as a founder and turnaround CEO.

This is the second post in a series of five. View the first post here.

The most common manifestation of co-founder conflict is what happens when one co-founder doesn't scale. This conflict is often recognizable by one founder's comments to the other that "I work harder than you," or "I don't know what you do anymore."

Let's start at the beginning. When two co-founders come together and decide to found a company the first question is always: Who's going to be CEO?" Eventually someone has to be CEO. Depending on how the company grows from there, you have differences in scaling.

By definition, the goal of most venture backed startups is to scale. Scaling well is not easy. When you have rapid growth, it's really hard to grow your skill set at the same pace.

I often find the CEO will scale faster than the non-CEO; the built-in requirements of the CEO position forces a growth that may not come otherwise: she has to pitch, do board meetings, etc. There are these things she must learn. It's really trial by fire. Scaling is not optional.

The non-CEO founder (who may or may not go on the pitch meetings for raises, may be there for board meetings but not put the deck together) is responsible for certain things but not the company as a whole in the same way the CEO is. This co-founder usually goes on to lead a specific team or business function. While there are pre-built-in mechanisms that force the CEO to scale, it is not inherent that the non-CEO will scale or manage a group of people effectively.

If the non-CEO co-founder is not scaling and founders have done their job well and hired talented and driven people, the CEO will start to hear from team members who are upset with the leadership. These team members will come to the CEO saying things like, "This person doesn't know what they're doing," or "I don't think I can work here if they keep interfering/micromanaging/second guessing." If nothing changes these key hires will start resigning–a huge red flag to the CEO and the board. While it is natural for the first generation of leaders to eventually move on, what Fred Wilson calls "Turning the Team," The resignation of later stage and often more experienced hires is frequently one of the first sign of failing.

The CEO who is scaling will try to save employees from leaving or repair the team(s) that are dysfunctional under the leadership of the other co-founder. This just snowballs the conflict because now it looks like the scaling CEO-founder is undermining the non-scaling founder. It won't be long before the non-scaling founder comes out swinging, saying "Hey, you are telling my direct reports what to do and now they don't respect me anymore." It just crumbles into all kinds of other dysfunction. The scaling CEO has come from an earnest desire to help but has now created more conflict.

What's a Co-Founder to do?


"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." – Einstein

Level Up

I like the word "level" because one of the ways to deal with conflict is to move up one level above the current conflict to an outcome you both care about. At some moment both you and your co-founder cared deeply about the success of the business, what was best for the business and how to get it off the ground.

When you are in a place of conflict, it's probably a place of personal conflict. All sorts of voices in your head start telling you things: "You are not scaling. You are not leading. People are leaving your organization. You are not delivering."

To heal, you need to bump out of the "You" and into the "We."

"What do we want for the people that work for us? What do we want for our investors? What do we want for the company?" From there you can work your way into asking, "Is this working?," "Is this the best thing?" It is hard for anyone's ego to to say, "I am building something great and I no longer can be a part of it in a leadership function."

The inverse of the non-CEO not scaling is the CEO who does not scale. While not as common it is not infrequent either. It is just far less likely that they will be fired or removed from the company. You may be asking, "Why don't founding CEOs get fired? The truth is that the thing all founders have that no outside hire will ever have in the same way is the vision for the company, and the passion and drive to make that vision a reality. The founder is the one who saw something in the world and said, "I need to create this." They have been thinking about it deeper and longer than anyone else. You just can't get that from an outside hire. That's why when CEOs struggle to scale, they'll sometimes hire a great executive in a senior role, or a seasoned coach, to guide them for a time. That's one of the reasons why the Google guys hired Eric Schmidt, and Zuckerberg hired Sheryl Sandberg. This happens all the time, but the vision is always the vision of the founder.

Healthy co-founders ask what's best for the business, what kind of company are we trying to build, what kind of experience do we want to have. What kind of company would we want to work for?

Ask for Help

It's a willingness to ask for help and it's a willingness to allow somebody else to lead in a little while, while you catch up.

It's here I love to bring to mind Larry and Sergei at Google. When Google was scaling rapidly  they recognized they had a lot to learn and brought Eric Schmidt. They allowed an experienced CEO to come in for a little while, used that time to scale themselves and then took the reins back. It's okay to take a pause and let somebody show you how to scale.

A lot of people will say, no, we only believe in founding CEOs –and yes, there is a lot of data that supports that. Absolutely.–there is also a moment where you have to ask yourself, what do I want for my company and how will I best grow? I don't believe that one size fits all, but there is the right choice for you and your company and it is worth taking the time to figure that out.

Let Go of Your Ego

These situations always stem from ego. As I stated before, this rapid scaling is hard, if not next to impossible to match with your skill set. Where founders get into trouble is when they put their ego and their desire to have a certain title, or be perceived in a certain way by the world, ahead of what the investors are backing and what the employees signed up for. You need to be willing to put the business first and be open to the fact that mean asking for help, or acknowledging that maybe you can best serve the business in a different role.

What is most important is you allow yourself the space to reflect on what you really want, what your motivations are, why you decided that this company had to exist and you had to be the one to build it. Make your unconscious motivations conscious and then decide what is right.

"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." -Carl Jung

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Funding and M&A Activity Across the Techstars Ecosystem

The shift into 2016 has already seen some notable funding news for Techstars grads.

Congratulations to Techstars companies that were recently acquired:

SimpleRelevance (Chicago '13) acquired by Rise Interactive

Also, a big high five to the Techstars alumni companies below that have recently received investments!  

This brings us to a total of 90% of Techstars companies active or acquired and over $2B raised by our accelerator companies. Congrats to all!

  Placester (Boston '11), is a real estate advertising service that helps real estate agents and brokers market themselves better. Placester recently raised $27M in a Series C round.
  Bluecore (NYC '13), is a marketing automation solution for ecommerce brands. Bluecore received $21M in a Series B round led by Georgian Partners in December.
  Degreed (Kaplan '13), the company that scores and organizes users formal and informal education to unlock employment and learning opportunities, recently raised $21M in Series B.
  Nestio (NYC '11), announced an $8M Series A round in December. Nestio is a leasing and marketing platform for residential landlords.  
  Bevi (Boston '14), the Boston-based company that provides smart beverage machines, recently announced a $6.5M Series A round.
  Revolar (Boulder '15), is a company that developed a wearable with the sole purpose to help keep you safe. Revolar announced a $3M seed financing round in late 2015.
  Streamroot (Boston '14) is a video streaming startup that raised $2.5M in a recent funding round. Streamroot cuts bandwidth costs for online broadcasters through its peer-to-peer video delivery solution.
  Codeship (Boston '13) has raised another $1.5M in funding. Codeship automates the process of testing and releasing updates to software apps.
AdHawk (Boulder '15), the company that aggregates digital marketing campaigns across platforms and makes optimization recommendations, recently raised $1.4M.
  MetricStory (Austin '15), is a company that automates the entire process of setting up high value web analytics. The company raised $1.4M in funding this past December.
  Slash (NYC '15), the New York based company that developed a keyboard app that lets users share rich media in mobile messaging without opening a separate app, has recently raised $1.3M in funding.  
  Sundar (Boston '14), a company that aims to redefine the apparel and design industries through a curated digital platform for materials discovery and supplier sourcing, recently raised $1.3M in funding.
  Innervate (Seattle '15) raised $1.3M to help developers and gamers build a better relationship. Innervate builds community and marketing tools for games.
  Matcherino (Seattle '15), a company that developed an eSports engagement platform for spectators and gamers, recently announced that it has raised a $1.2M seed round.
  Cashforce (Barclays NYC '15), a company that brings banks and businesses closer together through an automated cash management platform, has announced a €1M Series A funding round ($1.08M).


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