TechStars is a national, mentor-driven accelerator program for early stage startups. The “Cloud” version, sponsored by Rackspace, focuses on companies building out the future plumbing of the cloud. Of all the TechStars programs, Cloud is probably the nerdiest, with many startups stacked with technical founders focusing on developer tools, APIs, and services.
TechStars programs follow a consistent format: the first month is all about meeting with mentors and finding a core set to meet with for the duration of the program. Month two is all about working with that core set of mentors and making progress, and month three is focusing on demo day and raising money for those who choose to (hint: it really is your choice).
We are in the first month, which is supposedly the most intense part of the program, and I have to agree: I have never been more mentally and physically exhausted or worked so hard in my entire life. We have met with so many mentors, and each has had something unique to add or challenge us to conquer. We work hard each week to try out their suggestions, gather data, and figure out where the truth lies.
You learn quickly that to get the most out of your mentor meetings you must effectively explain your company, vision, current progress, and challenges within the first few minutes, lest you dwell on the same questions from mentors and waste the precious 30 minutes.
The mentor meetings have been hugely important for us. We have gained perspective and clarity about where our company is at, and where we are going. I feel much more confident about our future and how we are going to tackle this huge opportunity in front of us. That includes working on our marketing, big vision, hiring strategy, capitalization, and product development, among many other things.
Now that we are reaching the end of the first month, I am happy to say that the group of 12 startups (50+ founders and employees) are becoming much closer. Through drunken nights of ping-pong to playing Werewolf, to critiquing each other’s pitch, we have formed relationships that feel more like real friendships than simple business acquaintances.
I’m starting to fully appreciate the importance of forming real friendships with others in the startup space. When you can’t bullshit each other and can trust telling each other your deepest darkest fears, you form truly strong bonds that help you conquer amazing challenges and grow in profound ways.
It’s one of the biggest lessons I want to take back to Madison with me. Our startup scene and city will grow best when we form more informal relationships with each other outside of work. When we feel more comfortable sharing the realities of running a startup, we can receive and give the best advice. But it’s a two-way street.
Now that month one is ending and month two is beginning, we are extremely anxious to hit the track and make more progress on the product and business. We are preparing for demo day, but we are leaning towards not raising money: we’d rather close some big deals we are working on and use that to fund our company.
More than anything, TechStars is like a 3rd co-founder, complete with all the closed-door discourse and honesty you’d expect from a founder. But at the end of the day “it’s your company” (commonly heard here) and you truly are in control.
We all feel like we are in college again, and this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s a blast!
Until next month,
Founder of Drifty Co.