Three Take-a-Aways from a TechStars Alumnus

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Brent Speaking at TechStars Demo Day 2013

At a packed House of Blues near Fenway Park this morning, investors, mentors and entrepreneurs gathered to hear the pitches of the 6th graduating class of TechStars Boston. The TechStars team asked if I would say a few words reflecting on our experience in the TechStars alumni network. To this year’s class – welcome to our alumni community!

For those of you familiar with our business, when Reed and Katie asked if I’d be willing to say a few words about life as part of the TechStars alumni network, I really had no choice but to say yes.

It’s been almost two years since my peers from the Class of 2011 and I were on stage presenting our companies.  I think for many of us, our assumption was that we would “finish” TechStars, go our separate ways and continue building our companies.  But that isn’t what happened. What happened is that we finished TechStars, went off together, and have continued to build our companies alongside one another and alongside many of you.

TechStars is very transparent about quantifying results around funding and job creation.  If you Google the phrase “TechStars results”, you’ll learn that 5 classes of TechStars Boston alumni have raised over $80 million and have hired over 350 people. 85% of our alumni companies are still in business and several have already been acquired.

But what the stats can’t illustrate is how the TechStars network continues to influence our companies and contributes to these results after the program ends. I wanted to share three specific ways TechStars has helped our business and our peer companies since Demo Day.

      • Teambuilding – at every stage of a company’s life, recruiting talent is the most important and most challenging task. The TechStars network has had a tremendous impact on early stage recruiting.  We met our second engineering team member through TechStars mentor Ty Danco.  We met our first marketing team member at Demo Day. Fellow alum Ryan Light of CoachUp introduced me to our lead designer after a 3am conversation at SXSW last year.  And my fellow founders each have their own examples.  Our market size is far less important than the quality of the people we have pursuing it, and TechStars has without question given us an advantage in this regard.  
      • Follow-on Funding – I know the market has been strong the last couple of years, but raising a seed round is really hard.  Raising a Series A is even harder.  If you’re a venture firm, you’ve gone through the Series A process many times. If you’re a first-time entrepreneur like many of us, you’ve done it zero times. Having a trusted community of TechStars founders who’ve gone through the process was hugely helpful to me in understanding the nuances of deal terms and avoiding potential pitfalls.  
      • Ongoing Mentorship – TechStars prides itself on being a mentorship driven accelerator.  But the mentorship doesn’t stop when the program ends.  When we have a question about scaling our sales & marketing efforts, I know that I can call TechStars Mentor Eric Groves who lead Sales & Marketing at Constant Contact for 14 years.  If we want to talk about building our technical team, Brightcove founding CTO Bob Mason or Hubspot’s David Cancel are both accessible. And while the official mentors continue to be supportive, my fellow TechStars founders are emerging as an important source of mentorship as well.  If I need advice about building my senior management team, I know that I can talk to Sravish Sridhar of Kinvey.  If I want to talk about achieving gender balance, I can turn to Ben and Sonciary at Promoboxx.  For product or design feedback, no one is better than the team at HelpScout.  And if I need advice on contemporary European fashion, I can reach out to Hardi from GrabCad. In a certain sense, we’re all competing with one another, but we’re doing so in a collaborative way that helps all of our companies and strengthens the startup community more broadly.  

Ultimately TechStars and each of us will be measured based on the success or failure of our ventures.  But over the longer team, TechStars is building a deeply connected network of founders and mentors who collectively will play a large role in shaping the Boston ecosystem for years to come.  The impact of the network and the relationships that are being formed will last much longer than the 18 months of runway we get from our seed rounds.

In closing, most of you will not invest in most of the companies that present today. But each of you can help in some way.  I’d like to challenge you to not only evaluate these companies through the lens of an investor, but also through the lens of a member of this community. See if you can think of one introduction, one sales lead, or one potential candidate who could be a fit for each company. It is the cumulative effect of those very little things that contribute to the success of our companies and to the strength of our startup community. Thank you all for your continued support of TechStars!

Ever True!

Brent

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