My first advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is simply, apply to TechStars. It’s a great opportunity if you are looking for help with your start-up idea. Applying to TechStars was one of the best things that we ever did at Filtrbox.
Your idea is important but the team is even more important. Putting together a team that can effectively execute on the idea is of paramount importance. The reason for the team being more important than the idea is that during the course of the summer, your idea may change a number of times, so it is important that you have a solid team that can deal with the changes and effectively execute on the changes. While it is important to put together a team with complementary skills, in my opinion, I think that it is far much more important to have a team that is execution oriented and that has great chemistry. Keep in mind that TechStars is making a investment in you in the form of $15,000.00, they are not going to make that investment in a bunch of buddies with a great idea but who cannot deliver.
Have a body of work to show to TechStars to complement your application. I am making the assumption that your odds of being accepted to TechStars are far much better if you have a working prototype or a full blown working application altogether because I believe all the teams that were chosen to be part of TechStars last year had some body of work to show. For some of the teams, the body of work was a prototype manifestation of their idea and for some, it was work that they had done in the past. If you do not have a prototype, I would suggest, you get busy and start working on one right now.
No part timers
TechStars is a full time gig. If you currently have a job, be ready to quit your job. I did. TechStars is a grueling summer, it will be dificult to do it part time. The only thing that you can afford to do part time during TechStars is sleep; be prepared for only a couple of hours of sleep a night and all nighters especially as you get closer to Investor Day.
On a serious note, I think that it is important for you to realize this now so that you can prepare your loved ones for the fact that you may have to leave your current job or school if you get accepted into Techstars. It’s not easy leaving your high paying job or your degree program, both for you and for those around you, so you might as well let those around you know today that in the event that you get accepted into TechStars, you may have to quit. Most importantly, I would suggest that you plan your finances now.
Some of you might be saying to yourselves “Why do all that? What if I don’t get accepted”? If you are asking yourself this question, in my opinion, you are not a TechStar. Pessimism is definitely NOT a characteristic that they look for at TechStars.
Be prepared to relocate to beautiful Boulder , Colorado or surrounding areas. Like I said in 3., TechStars is a full time job, it is important that you are willing to relocate to Boulder. My primary reason for this suggestion is that it makes for a much more cohesive team. Once you get accepted, the team is no longer limited to the list of people that you submitted in your application. The “team” increases when you get into TechStars because it includes all your advisors and all the people who are not necessarily your advisors but are simply rooting for you to succeed; your cheerleaders. You need to be able to schedule coffee, lunch, dinner or whatever with your “team” and interact with them. The great thing about Boulder is that the tech community is pretty much concentrated around Pearl Street so you have easy access to everyone.
Last year, we had teams that had team members relocating from as far as Sweden. For those of you who are used to working in geographically dispersed areas, this is an opportunity to meet for the first time (the team with a team member from Sweden literally had their first face to face in-person meeting at TechStars). I cannot understate the valuable team building benefits of a team working in one place. A better team is more likely to build a better product.
On a more important note, you need to realize this so that you can let your loved ones know that relocation to Boulder may be the one of the consequences of being accepted to TechStars. You also need to start preparing yourself financially for the relocation.
If you are not a person who takes advice well, I would suggest that you do not apply. While TechStars does not force you to take the advice of the array of advisors that they have lined up, attending TechStars and being unwilling to take advice defeats the whole purpose. At TechStars, they like to say that it’s a “hatchery” where individuals with great ideas can get advice to help them turn the ideas into meaningful products and the individuals into viable companies. So TechStars is all about being able to listen to other people’s opinions and taking some advice from seasoned entrepreneurs.
Practice your presentation skills. This might not seem to be all that important but if you think about it, as an entrepreneur you are going to HAVE to make pitches, a lot of pitches, so you might as well hone your skills now. With respect to TechStars, at one point you are going to have to pitch to TechStars before you get accepted, so improving you presentation skills can only help your case. If you have a great idea, spend the time to make sure that you can communicate the idea effectively in order to make sure that everyone else realizes how great your idea is.
Note that not everyone on your team has to be a great presenter, however, you need at least one person who can effectively communicate your idea.
Don’t be married to your idea. Be prepared for the fact that your idea MAY change significantly during the course of the summer. Not all ideas will change, ours did not change significantly. However, some did change significantly and for the better. For those who are married to their idea, keep in mind that the opportunities in the tech industry are very fluid and as an entrepreneur sometimes you have to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves. Take for example, during TechStars 2007, the Facebook Platform was released which opened up a lot of unanticipated opportunities. The Techstars team that abandoned their original idea in order to take advantage of the new Facebook Platform was ringing in some revenue by the end of TechStars and are now the proud owners of one of the premier Facebook applications.
Be prepared to eat lot of burritos. Lots and lots of burritos.
I hope that these tips help aspiring applicants. I am in no way part of the TechStars organization so please take the above as my opinion, and, my opinion only. Good luck and I hope to see you in Boulder this summer.