My startup, BumblePost, applied several months ago to the TechStars program in Boulder, CO. In a nutshell, TechStars is Harvard for tech startups. It’s a 3 month accelerator program that pairs companies with some of the best mentors in the world who help shape their business. Couple that with a constant state of building of your product day and night for 3 months straight. Top it off with the opportunity to pitch your business to hundreds of venture capitalists from around the world at the end of the program. It’s about as perfect of a formula as you can get for a startup. We were a finalist for this year’s class (top 30 out of 700 companies that applied), but ultimately did not make the final 10. In their words, they loved our company and our team, but we are more of an e-commerce brand than a tech startup. Fair enough.
Getting rejected from TechStars, or any other startup incubator for that matter, should never be the end of the road for a company. If it is for you, reevalutate why you want to be an entrepreneur in the first place. However, we can learn a lot from programs like these and try to replicate that same experience as best we can. Being a finalist, we learned a boat-load about the process, opportunities, and program. Below is a way to build your own version of TechStars, thus giving your company the best chance to succeed.
- Find mentors. This is hands down the best thing you can do for your company. Find people in your community that are familiar with your industry, have been there and done that, and reach out to them. You will find that most people in their shoes love giving back to young startups in their own community. One of our mentors is actually a mentor for the TechStars program, which is how we met him. He has been invaluable in helping us shape our vision. Try to meet with them at a minimum once/month. Preferably much more.
- Create an Advisory Board. Find people that can help you with specific areas of your business. Mentors are great for overall leadership and guidance. When it comes to your advisory board find people that have technical expertise in things you are doing. For instance, one of our advisory board members is a programmer who owns 2 CRM software companies. One of the things we want to do with BumblePost is implement card sending into existing CRM softwares such as SalesForce. Who better to have on your team than a programmer who builds these CRM softwares?…
- Get constant feedback. Reach out to local consumers and businesses in your area asking for feedback on your company. This serves 2 purposes. Number 1, as I’ve mentioned before, is that getting constant feedback is the only way you will truly see what is going to work and what won’t. Number 2 is that you are building a community of people that are supporting your company. These are your future customers. Getting them on board early and often will give you a great base of business when things are in full swing. A lot (and I mean A LOT) of the TechStars companies build their businesses off of other Boulder companies being their first customers.
- If you want funding, position yourself for funding. I am more of the bootstrap mentality, but if your goal (or need) is to get venture capital/angel funding, then position yourself to do that – they aren’t gonna come to you. There are investor networking groups in your local area. Seek those out and start attending their events. Shake hands, network, send emails, introduce you and your brand. You will meet people with money. They might not be interested in your business, but they could know someone who would be. Make sure your company is setup well to acquire funding. This includes structuring as a C-Corp., getting on a vesting schedule, and making sure you don’t have any skeletons in your closet – including lawsuits, former partners that may have claim to your business, extreme debt, etc. VCs don’t want to partner with that crap any more than they want to marry a 5-time divorcee.
- Know your pitch and know it well. Know your 2 sentence pitch, know your 2 minute pitch, know your pitch pitch. If you can’t articulate your company in a manner that gets others excited, how do you expect to get customers excited? Practice it all the time. Know it like the back of your hand. Have positive rebuttles to the negative inquiries you will undoubtedly receive.
If you are lucky enough to align yourself with programs like TechStars, great work and make the most of it. For the other 99% of us, it’s not an outside looking in type of deal. These programs are successful for a reason – learn what you can from them and go out and kick ass. Have the attitude that TechStars would be just as lucky to have YOU in their program as you would be to have them. Because it’s the truth – and if you believe that whole-heartedly success will come regardless.