Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Top 4 Secrets to Success for Early Stage Founders

The following post was originally posted on Brunchwork.

Seasoned entrepreneur and investor Alex Iskold recently spoke at brunchwork. If you are involved in the startup scene, especially in New York, you probably already know Alex from his position as a Managing Director of Techstars, the leading accelerator. Before Techstars, he founded and sold two startups: Information Laboratory, which was acquired by IBM in 2003, and GetGlue, which was acquired in 2013.

Now an investor in over 40 different companies, Alex shares his advice for early stage founders:

1. Know your market.

Entrepreneurs should be well equipped with expertise in their industry. In fact, founder/market fit is one of the main criteria that companies need to be selected by Techstars.

"Don't start companies in the spaces that you don't know anything about. Your parents are willing to pay for you to learn in college. Investors aren't willing to pay for you to learn something you don't know."

If you don't have the necessary expertise and are still itching to create your own business, attach yourself to other early stage companies, learn from them and gain the experience needed.

2. Think about revenue early on.

The mistake that many early startups make is that they are wrapped up in the problem and their solution. However, they don't have the numbers to support them as a viable, revenue-generating business. These numbers are paramount to investors.

"The definition of business is revenue that can support itself. The best dollars are not venture capital dollars. They are customer dollars."

3. Be strategic about what metrics and KPIs you track.

Big data allows businesses to keep track of practically everything, but that doesn't mean that they should. In fact, Alex said, "When you have too many metrics, it is as good as having zero metrics." Entrepreneurs need to focus on and understand "which numbers drive [their] business and why."

"There are no universal KPIs, but there is a universal system of applying KPIs to every single business."

At Techstars weekly KPI meetup, companies are organized into groups depending on their business model.

4. Start pitches with a hook.

A common mistake founders make when pitching is they begin by talking about the problem they are solving.

"People want numbers, data, some sort of facts to latch onto."

Entrepreneurs can grab investor attention by first highlighting their expertise in the space, their number of paying customers, or their existing investors. When companies lead with the problem, "people tune out and that is because, unless they know that you have some sort of traction or you are qualified, it's just abstract words," Alex said.

As the Managing Director of Techstars NYC, Alex Iskold has helped dozens of young entrepreneurs and businesses develop their strategy, build their brand, and receive the funding they need to realize their potential. He is also an avid blogger, so if you want to learn more valuable insights about starting a business, check out his blog here.

 




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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

3 Reasons Why I Chose Techstars

Anyone who knows me will tell you this past year has been nothing short of a whirlwind. To replay some of the highlights for you: I fulfilled every entrepreneur's dream by selling my company, traveled to Nepal and got stuck there during the earthquake (more on that later — I've got to keep you coming back for something, right?), began mentoring entrepreneurs at the Atlanta Tech Village and got my feet wet in some angel investing.

Now that you're all caught up, I'm thrilled to tell you about what's in store for me next: This summer, I'll be leading Techstars Atlanta, in partnership with Cox Enterprises, as Managing Director (aka my dream gig).

Why am I so excited about what's to come? Why now and, more importantly, why Techstars? There were three things in particular that really sealed the deal for me:

1) Coaching Entrepreneurs

Coaching entrepreneurs is intoxicating. There's nothing more satisfying than hearing from founders that a nugget of wisdom I shared with them actually impacted their business. Beyond that, I know the support I received when starting Cloud Sherpas proved invaluable to me, and I'd like to continue to pay it forward. So when it came time to think about what I wanted to do next, I knew that mentoring was at the top of my list.

Techstars will provide me with an amazing platform to share my experiences, including lessons learned from successes and failures alike, and I couldn't be more excited about that.

2) Connecting Atlanta with the Techstars Network

The Techstars program isn't just for entrepreneurs. In fact, it's a very mentor-driven program. As Managing Director for the Atlanta chapter, I'll be recruiting about 80 mentors, including entrepreneurs who have had exits, business leaders and functional experts, who will help guide the entrepreneurs participating in the program. This model makes for a very community-focused support environment.

While all of this activity will first happen in Atlanta, the beautiful thing about Techstars is that once you come in as either a founder or mentor, you gain access to the entire global ecosystem. My role as Managing Director will really be that of a connector — connecting the Atlanta mentor community and our startups with others coming through the broader Techstars ecosystem. I couldn't be more excited to make these connections with the diverse network of entrepreneurs, founders, mentors and experts who are part of Techstars and to help raise the profile of Atlanta in the global startup community along the way.

3) Learning How to Invest

Finally, I'm jazzed about the possibilities for broadening my horizons when it comes to investing. I've dabbled in angel investing a bit to date and have done some really good deals (and learned from others that haven't performed as well), but I'm still very much learning. I'm confident that Techstars will help here by giving me a platform to continue this growth and become a truly great tech investor. My goal is to build a portfolio of companies that come through this program over the next three to five years. And hopefully, when all is said and done, I'll be able to look back and see some real winners in the bunch.

Techstars, Here I Come

I recently had the opportunity to meet several Techstars team members at SXSW, and this experience only furthered my excitement by reinforcing what I already knew — that these are some wicked smart people who I can't wait to exchange ideas with and work alongside. It also made even clearer how founder-friendly Techstars is, which continues to blow me away. The Techstars mantra is #givefirst, and this ethos really permeates every relationship I've made with people in the organization. The people I've met have been nothing short of generous with their time, and that's a fantastic way to build a culture, particularly as the organization scales its reach worldwide.

With all of that in mind, I'd like to extend a special thank you to Kyle Porter, the CEO of SalesLoft (one of Atlanta's most exciting companies) and a Techstars Boulder '12 alum, for bringing this opportunity to my attention.

I guess there's nothing left to say but Techstars, here I come. Continue to follow me here for updates about my journey with the Techstars community, my advice to entrepreneurs and mentors and, of course, the story of my time in Nepal.




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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Startups Will Save the Banks, Not Just Disrupt Them

Henry David Thoreau once said: "In entrepreneurship is the preservation of the world."

Ok, maybe he didn't say exactly that. But the spirit of distilling corporate structure into only what is essential to nurturing innovation is what has led me to Techstars. In 2014, when Greg Rogers kicked off the Barclays program in London, we discussed how the community can help tear down the barriers to entry in FinTech.  In 2015, Jenny Fielding asked me to join a star-studded cast of mentors as she launched the NYC program.  

And now in 2016, I'm thrilled to be joining the Techstars family as Entrepreneur-in-Residence for the Barclays Accelerator Powered by Techstars program in New York.  The perfect complement to the startup community-building we continue to do at Empire Startups.

Defending and distilling innovation is what first led Lockheed Martin to cordon off dev resources into skunkworks operations away from their primary roadmap.  Accelerators and incubators are the modern and scalable skunkworks, and these programs and their startups will save the banks and not just disrupt them.

Are you a bank in need of innovation, courting and keeping top talent, and diversifying your product roadmap?  The question to ask is: "How are you embracing the startup community?"

Innovation

Banks are wildly desperate for innovation, but moving fast is simply not their key focus or distinctive competency.  Firstly, the comp model of traditional financial services rewards technologists for stability and continuity, which can compete with, if not discourage, innovation.  

That's right, Wall Street technologists are essentially paid to shower customers in mediocrity.  

Secondly, traditional banks and asset managers with fiduciary responsibility simply can't afford to "fail fast."  They don't have the freedom to be cavalier and take chances by diverting their roadmaps away from longstanding competencies.  The net result is that banks must look to the ecosystem to play a major role in building out new businesses, products and features.  

Talent Acquisition

Startups are helping to keep top technical talent in FinTech.  Young developers demand more than just a strong base salary and the bragging rights of a bulge-bracket firm.  They want transparency into the company's overall strategy, the ability to influence the product roadmap, and a modern software framework to move quickly.  

It's more common in traditional banking to see the decision-making centralized to a few, little optionality in projects to work on, and a frustrating pace dictated by older tools and legacy code.  Startups keep employees happy by offering complete transparency, a seat at the table, and the ability to work with a modern stack.   (You mean it's not the hoodies and foosball?  Nope.)  

Banks who forge close ties with the startup ecosystem can ensure the top technologists are still addressing their greatest challenges.

Product Diversification

Banks don't always have the luxury of putting a minimally viable product in the wild and leveraging customers feedback to refine their offering.  The dynamic regulatory environment and deep subject matter expertise involved in FinTech often results in only mature products being introduced.  Startup companies are able to help banks diversify their product investments, offering the opportunity for the banks to explore and invest in a portfolio of new markets and nascent technologies such as blockchain, social sentiment, artificial intelligence, and gamification.

After 15 years building industry-leading FinTech products for some of the world's largest investment banks and asset managers, I couldn't be more excited for this latest challenge – to help entrepreneurs seek out and capitalize on subject matter experts to solve critical problems in finance.  Ensuring the curse of the incumbent technologists does not paralyze innovation.  

I swear to never rarely launch PowerPoint and pledge to save the banks, not break the banks.  

Apply to Barclays Techstars Accelerator in New York. Deadline April 20.

Jon Zanoff, Entrepreneur in Residence | @jonzanoff




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Monday, March 28, 2016

My First VC Meeting – A Tale of Brutal Rejection

I vividly remember my first VC meeting like it was yesterday, even though it happened over 10 years ago.

I was awed and intimidated to meet an industry insider, someone who with a single decision could transform my business prospects. I prepared for weeks, polishing my deck, practicing my talking points, and rehearsing answers. I couldn't sleep the night before I was so nervous, anxious, and excited.

For the past year, I had sacrificed an incredible amount to build my business. I had quit my consulting job, I had spent almost all of my savings, I was sleeping sporadically and not enough, and I had spurned social events and family obligations. In other words, I was living the startup dream and loving every second of it.

But that didn't make the sacrifices any less real. I had put it all on the line and I was now about to meet with a VC who could make it all worthwhile. The magnitude of the meeting was huge for me.

I got to my meeting a full hour early and waited in my car. As I counted down the minutes I day dreamed about all of the incredible ways the meeting would go. I finally walked out and made my way up to the office. When I got there a very friendly person walked me over to a conference room where I set myself up. I expected the meeting to start on time, but the partner was 20 minutes late. He was cordial and nice, but clearly wasn't nearly as excited to see me as I was to see him.

The meeting started and I began my perfectly rehearsed presentation. I hadn't finished the first sentence when the VC interrupted me with an idea. I hadn't even said what I was working on, yet he already knew how to improve my business. He pontificated for a full five minutes and then let me continue with my presentation. Within one slide he was already tuned out.

At the end of the meeting, he told me all of the reasons why my business wouldn't work, why my concept was obviously terrible. He then highlighted all of the brilliant companies in his portfolio and why they were so much better than mine. We parted ways with him asking me to stay in touch.

I left feeling like I had been punched in the stomach repeatedly and then kicked for good measure. The entire weight of failure fell on my shoulders as I grappled with what had happened. I was prepared to be told no. I knew VC's say no to 100 businesses before they say yes to one. I knew it was my very first pitch and that I would get better. I understood the odds were widely not in my favor. And yet, I hadn't expected this.

The meeting felt the way I imagine an artist would feel if someone not only didn't appreciate his art, but went out of their way to criticize every last brush stroke without ever looking at one of his paintings. Why couldn't he have just said it wasn't for him? Why couldn't he have just listened and then given me feedback as to how I could improve my business or my pitch? Why did he have to make it so painfully obvious that he had no interest in my business and zero respect for me.

Ten years later the memory of that meeting is still vivid, but I think I have a much better perspective for why it was so painful and what I hope VCs consider as they reject entrepreneurs.

First and foremost there is a massively asymmetrical importance to the meeting. To the VC, the meeting is just another one of many in the day, to the young entrepreneur it is THE meeting. Every word you speak he or she will hold onto for years (and they may even write a blog post about it 10 years later). More importantly, entrepreneurs make massive sacrifices to build their business. It might not be a great business, they might not present it well, and they maybe have zero chance of actually succeeding, but as humans they have worked tirelessly, tried hard, and built something. If nothing else, I hope VCs can respect and empathize with the incredible work and dedication it takes to be an entrepreneur.

At the end of the day VC's have a hard job. They have to say no over and over and over again. That can easily desensitize someone and make it hard to have the level of empathy required for the job. Fortunately there are many VCs who are exceptional people who treat every entrepreneur well (I know firsthand because I get to work with incredible VC partners everyday at Sense360).

That said, I still come across VCs who lack basic empathy when they deal with unknown entrepreneurs. They are late, they check email constantly during the meeting, they pontificate, they interrupt constantly, they don't respond to emails, they don't follow-up after the meeting, they are unnecessarily harsh in their criticism, and many other bad behaviors. I really hope that the next time they reject an entrepreneur they consider the sacrifice and hard work the person across the table put in. They don't have to love them, their idea, or their business, but remember that the founder probably slept on a coach, spent their life savings, and risked a lot personally to try and make it happen.

Hopefully every VC can at least respect the commitment and love for entrepreneurship.

Eli Portnoy is the CEO of Sense360, a sensor data company funded by FirstMark, FounderCollective, and Qualcomm. He previously founded and sold Thinknear. Follow him on twitter here.

Read the original article on Medium. Copyright 2016.




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Friday, March 25, 2016

Building a Culture

Today's Founder Friday post comes from Deepak Sekar, Founder and CEO of Casabots (Austin '16).

Casabots is spending three months at the Techstars Accelerator in Austin. People often talk about how the Techstars network has benefited their fundraising and business development. In this post, I'll cover a facet of Techstars I find quite interesting: Culture and Processes. Startups coming into the accelerator often have small teams with little established culture and processes. The processes and culture at the accelerator can profoundly influence a company (both during the program and after). Since these are some of the key determinants of employee happiness and productivity, I'm trying to observe and learn.

Let me share some of my learnings with you in this post.

The Ego Basket

Let me start with my favorite part of Techstars Austin culture. You'll notice in the picture below – there's a little basket at the bottom right of the entrance. It says "Ego Basket." Every day, as someone enters the building, they are reminded to leave their ego at the door and not carry it into the workplace. I've worked in companies where one person with a big ego compromised the entire team's progress and happiness. Too bad I didn't know about this ego basket idea back then! I would have put an ego basket at the door.

"Happies and Crappies"

Every Wednesday, all ten startups that are in Techstars Austin have dinner together and a session of "happies and crappies." Everyone talks about their happiest moment of the week and also the crappiest moment. It's amazing how this practice builds close relationships between various people in the room.

 

#GiveFirst

Techstars encourages mentors and team members to help each other without any expectation of return – with its "give first" tagline. If you hear this phrase twice a day, it becomes ingrained into your psyche and you follow it. It's quite satisfying to help others and you know they are trying their very best to help you too. It creates a great culture.

No cubicle walls

Most people at Casabots came from a cubicle culture. At Techstars, we sit on tables with no walls between team members. This is what many startups do nowadays – it makes the company feel less like an old fashioned 80s style company and encourages more collaboration. I was worried about my productivity going down due to lack of cubicle walls initially… but that hasn't happened.

KPIs

All companies go through a process of determining Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and measuring themselves every week on it. The KPI is typically a single metric that drives your business and revenue. For example, Facebook found out many years back that once someone added 7 friends, they were spending a lot of time on the platform. They optimized their marketing, development and sales efforts to encourage people to get 7 friends within 10 days of signing up (this was their KPI metric). And they grew their business significantly as a result of that. I'm willing to bet most Techstars companies retain the KPI process after they leave the program – it allows you to focus on important things.

Leveraging software tools for various processes

Once you reach Techstars, you notice processes of companies around you and discuss what processes work best. Casabots has been exposed to new tools for CRM (customer relationship management), web signing of documents, telecons, email marketing and a whole lot more. Techstars companies get deals on many of these software tools too, which is cool.

These are just a small subset of the things I've observed. Every week, I write up a summary of my learning for some of our team members who are still in California. We've spent just a few weeks at Techstars so far – its amazing how much we've learned and grown and how many smart and uber-connected people we've met.

Thanks to Amos Schwartzfarb, Jason Seats, Sarah Spear, Andrea Aguiluz and other Techstars people for introducing us to all these ideas.




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Thursday, March 24, 2016

The 10 Warning Signs That You May Need to Pivot

Selling a software product? Selling more than one? You may need to pivot entirely, or kill one of those products. Sometimes the signs are easy to see, but sometimes not; here are some I've encountered in companies I've built or worked with:

1. The engineers supporting the product are showing signs of low self-esteem, poor health, unhappiness and/or above-average grumpiness.

2. Salespeople really don't like to sell it (hate it, even), or have stopped trying to sell it, or the sales team has stopped asking for new features for the product.

3. The team is afraid to criticize the product because they think the CEO loves it.

4. You haven't shipped a new feature in the last three months.

5. A major bug in the product takes three months to fix.

6. A major bug in the product wasn't noticed for three months (worse).

7. Your product's new features are not driven by internal innovation, but by feature requests from a small number of big customers, thus making the product less and less generally useful.

8. Your biggest customers refuse to upgrade to the newest version.

9. The biggest competitor for this product just went out of business.

10. The biggest competitor for this product just got acquired, and the acquirer shut the product down (though by itself this might be a good thing because as we know, many acquirers are crazy!).

If you're a one-product business, pivot. Or if you have multiple products, kill this one and write off the revenue. Fire a few customers if you have to. Sleep better at night.




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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Our 5 Favorite Startup Digest Reading List Articles From Last Week

5 hand-picked articles from across the Startup Digest Reading Lists. Sign up to receive great weekly content on various topics from expert curators.

 

1. With 'Smog Jog' Through Beijing, Zuckerberg Stirs Debate on Air Pollution

By Paul Mozur

Digest: China Tech
Curators: Xu Tao & Edith Yeung

Facebook's co-founder and chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, announced his arrival in Beijing with a blithe message about what must have been a dizzying jog through the center of China's capital, which has been suffering from a weeklong bout of hazardous air pollution. During the past two years, Mr. Zuckerberg has made several high-profile trips to China and has done little to stifle conjecture about his ambitions to bring Facebook to the country. Read More

More from this reading list: http://ift.tt/1pIMiTJ

 

2. You're A Computer. Can You Pass The Turing Test?

By ClickHole

Digest: Artificial Intelligence
Curators: Bjorn Larsen & Nitzan Hermon

Another hilariously deranged AI-themed ClickHole "ClickVenture" putting you in the first-person POV of the machine itself, this time as a computer battling to convince the judge of the "Turing Tournament" that you're "the human." Read More

More from this reading list: http://ift.tt/1o7dXfg

 

3. The Making of Playstation VR

By Matt Leone

Digest: Virtual & Augmented Reality
Curator: Martin Ahe

The inside story about how Playstation's VR device came together. Great read about how a large company can find a way to be entrepreneurial and work together to just get it done. Little known fact: Sony has been working on their VR device in parallel to Oculus since 2010, so chances are good that we would have seen a consumer-ready VR device around this time, even without Oculus. Read More

More from this reading list: http://ift.tt/1o7dXfi

 

4. Can You Name Any Women Inventors?

By Microsoft

Digest: Women Entrepreneurship
Curators: Babs Lee & Lilibeth Gangas

This is a fun video celebrating women inventors on International Women's Day. But more importantly, this is a reminder to us all – we, too, can inspire the next generation of ladies. It's time for us to shine. Read More

More from this reading list: http://ift.tt/1pIMja6

 

5. This Is What I Do Before 8 AM.

By Jon Westenberg

Digest: Leadership & Resiliency
Curator: Sarah Jane Coffey

It's a great day to practice not taking yourself so seriously. Read More

More from this reading list: http://ift.tt/1o7dXfk

 

Sign up for these or other Startup Digest reading lists, here.




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Ask An Entrepreneur: Building a Startup In a New Industry

Daniela Tudor has been involved in the Seattle and Los Angeles tech scene since 2007. Currently, she is a Partner of The Beats Running Group and Co-Founder / CEO of Pala-linq, a mobile application helping those in recovery from addictions. Outside of work, she has a diverse range of passions including music, travel, and giving back to the community. @danielaluzit

Daniela was recently interviewed by Nishika de Rosario for our Ask an Entrepreneur series…

How Do I Build A Startup In An Industry That I Have Never Worked In Before?

Before you make a decision to do so, make sure you have ONE thing aligned with this new industry you are about to break into: PASSION.

If you are not passionate about the industry you are looking to build a startup in where you have zero knowledge, I highly suggest you look for something else. The reason is, that there's going to be difficulties and if you lack passion and knowledge in the area, the motivation for making money will not be enough to enable you to make it through tough times until you reach success. PERIOD.

Now, that we have that sorted, here's a couple simple guidelines to build a startup in an area you have never worked before.

1. Be humble
You may be an expert in another field but all of that goes out the door when you enter a new field. You will not know their own unique industry lingo and you won't know the main players. Don't let that discourage you, just be humble and be open acknowledging the fact that you are there to learn and help the industry.

2. Question everything, while listening / reading up on everything
Being new to the industry puts you in a unique position to bring new perspectives that those on the inside may be missing out on; this is a HUGE value add that you will bring as you enter the new industry. Do not be afraid to question everything, but do it respectfully; this will also strengthen your relationship with those you are speaking with. At the same time, while you are questioning everything get INFORMED. This means reading up on everything you can and actively listening to people in the industry regardless of their position. You should be hungry to learn every aspect of the new industry you are looking to break into, and can include reading blogs, going to conferences, reading books and other publications that people in that industry recommend.

3. Network, network, network!
Google who the industry leaders are, do your research and go meet them! This means messaging them on LinkedIN, going to conferences, reading their literature and networking your way to meet the gatekeepers / leaders in the industry. Get these people to co-sign and support what you are working on. On the other hand, also build strong relationships with your local / small scale businesses in the industry. Having both sides of the coin in your corner will sky rocket you to success in the industry!

I started Pala-linq, a mobile application that integrates with activity trackers to provide accountability and connection for those in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction to ultimately prevent relapse, due to my own journey into recovery. I had zero experience professionally in the addiction or medical space, but I did come from the tech industry and had built out a startup prior.

I implemented the steps above, and 12 months later we are funded and on schedule to release the product to the community and treatment centers in May! It's been a journey full of ups and downs and really it's just the beginning – every day there isn't anything else I'd rather be working on.




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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

How To Attract Millions of Developers to Your Product

According to Evans Data, there will be over 25 million software developers by 2020. It's become one of the hottest markets in tech as well as the fastest growing professional segment in the world. Leading B2D companies such as GitHub, Stripe, Twilio and DigitalOcean have been able to attract millions of developers to their platforms through organic efforts.

Why organic? Developers are savvy consumers and they're typically turned off by traditional online advertising efforts. As an example, we ran a test in Google Analytics and discovered that over 30% of our website visitors had ad-blockers turned on. This piece of data tells us that a large percentage of our audience blocks display and retargeting ads when they browse the internet. Holistically, the world of modern marketing has evolved and relationship marketing has become the best way to drive long-term sustainable growth. Instead of focusing on short-term metrics and targets, build long-term relationship marketing programs that enhance the entire customer lifecycle experience and provide value to the end user at the top, middle, and bottom of the funnel. Here are a few key strategies to attract developers to your product:

Be honest, clear and concise with your messaging. Honesty and authenticity go a long way with the developer community. Keep your website informative and truthful and the developers who read them will have a far better impression of your business. Simplify overly-technical descriptions into clear and absorbable messaging, that becomes the winning formula to drive engagement.

When writing copy and messaging, try to stick to these guidelines:

– Be clear, concise, and direct

– Do not try to oversell developers

– Avoid hyperbole to describe your business

– Avoid boasting (e.g. we're #1 or we're better than XYZ company)

– Speak the same language, developers want to talk to developers

– Don't over-message and bombard customers with emails

Give it away for free. This is a great strategy to feed your top of the funnel. Developers aren't willing to pay up front because migrating, integrating, or customizing a product to fit their code is a time commitment. You have to show it's worth their time. Incentivizing them with promotional credits via meetups, events, social, paid channels, or email can be effective way to get them to try your product.

Accelerate word of mouth growth through an internal referral program. Focus on the customers that love your brand and give them tools and rewards for spreading that love. You can identify customer advocates by tracking your Net Promoter Score (NPS) across all cohorts. Based on our above-average NPS rating (69) and understanding that the large majority of new signups were coming through direct and word of mouth channels, we knew that there was a tremendous opportunity to harness and complement our organic momentum with an internal referral program. When we were creating the program, we'd jumped on the phone with the growth teams from the best of breed companies, Dropbox and Airbnb, to ask what worked best for their referral programs. Our teams spent a lot of time on iterating to create a desirable incentive for our customers and we landed on a double-sided program that grants account credits to both the referrer ($25) and the referral ($10). So for us, it's been very successful and it has become one of our largest channels for driving growth.

Earned media can spark viral awareness. We leveraged relationship marketing tactics early on to acquire our first 2,000 customers. But it wasn't until January 15th, 2013, when we released our all-SSD cloud server plans that catapulted our business. Fortunately, on launch day we were able to secure our first TechCrunch exclusive that catapulted our daily signups overnight (see graph below). Within a month we went viral again on Hacker News when one of our customers benchmarked our performance and wrote about it on his blog. Each earned media event created a new level of sustainable growth for our business and "The Hacker News Effect" was by far the most impactful.

Create authentic conversations on Twitter, Q&A sites, forums, and blogs. We used the search.twitter.com tool to find and join conversations to help developers with their server problems and/or give credits to try our product. This was an effective relationship building strategy that built brand trust and credibility which sparked early momentum from a small group of users. Additionally, we were able to successfully build new relationships and partnerships with a few key influencers early on and through their personal brand and communities, they were able to recommend us and drive several hundred users to our platform.

Invest in creating content that solves a problem. Developers at various skill levels defer to Google to help solve their problems when they're building their stack. A key component to building an effective inbound growth engine to develop high-quality content that educates your target audience. We have an amazing team of technical writers and editors that have published over 1,300 server config tutorials to date. These tutorials drive over 3.7M unique monthly visitors to our website and we're able to leverage this awareness to drive engagement to our product.

Get to know your early adopters on a personal level. Go above and beyond for your customers, grant them large credits, surprise them with swag/personal thank you letters, talk to them on the phone, take them out for coffee or lunch. Ask them about their challenges, why they signed up for your product, what events do they attend and which websites do they visits. This will help craft your go to market strategy to attract your next thousand users or customers. Your early adopters will become your brand's voice. Without our loyal early adopters, DigitalOcean wouldn't have a brand voice when our product went viral in the Hacker News community. There would have been no one to vet and represent us in those conversations and we wouldn't be where we are today without the voice of our early adopters.

But before you ask the question, "How do I acquire more developers as customers?," you need to understand if developers love using your product. Because once they do, your product can go viral almost instantaneously through the socially active online developer communities (e.g. Hacker News, Reddit, Stackoverflow, etc). Bottom line: marketing is the fuel to the product's fire and is very rarely the fire. Once you've built a product that developers love, you can harness that momentum to drive growth by building an organic flywheel effect using these strategies.




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Monday, March 21, 2016

New test post for Kansas?

Blog Post ContentGoes here




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CleanTech a term often used but rarely defined…

You probably have heard the name CleanTech a couple times before, but do you really know what it means? Unfortunately there is no single definition for CleanTech but rather a variety of slightly different ones. The good thing is they are all relatively similar and most key statements are the same. At the core of the CleanTech concept is the idea to conserve resources while increasing productivity and profitabillity at the same time. To achieve this goal new technologies, products and services are to be used. This concept is of increasing relevance in a world where an economy, which relies on endless growth clashes with the reality of finite natural resources. Fortunately the awareness of this fact is slowly increasing resulting in more and more companies try to embed this concept into their business model.

One of many forms of CleanTech

CleanTech is not industry specific allowing pretty much every company to incorporate at least some of the ideas into their operations. Some examples where it is already used include recycling, mobility, renewable energy sources as well as agriculture and waste management among others.

Besides the aforementioned factors CleanTech is sometimes also used to describe ethical investments which is a form of social sustainability.

To enable a stronger push towards CleanTech a change of government policies would be desirable creating more incentives for companies to change their business models gradually towards a more sustainable one.

If you want to read what it takes to advance a sustainable economy klick here.

I hope you enjoyed this first post!

Cheers Luis




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How to Absolutely, Positively Get Seed Funding Every Single Time

Only serial founders with strong domain knowledge, track record and traction get funded quickly. For most founders, raising a seed round is a lot more work, but there is a method to the madness.

We often write here about raising capital. Capital allows startups to go faster and generate growth. However, raising capital is not simple, at least for most founders.

Let's start with what is probably the worst case scenario – you are a single founder, right out of college, with an idea in a space where you have no domain expertise. That is, you have no team, no product, no traction, no experience in general, and no experience in the space specifically.

This extreme case illustrates the reasons why investors are skeptical – this is a very risky investment situation. That is, you may be brilliant, and you may pull it off and build a massively awesome business, BUT this is clearly a very risky bet.

Investors, particularly angel investors, look for ways to reduce the risk when they are funding a company. That's why the founders who get funded the fastest are the ones that REDUCE INVESTMENT RISK.

Below we discuss the profiles of founders that investors gravitate to and tend to invest in.

1. Serial founders

You already know this, but I will say it anyway. The world is not fair.

Serial founders who've been successful are MUCH MORE LIKELY to get funding.

I've met many investors who simply would not fund first-time founders. They are not bad people. It is just not part of their fund strategy.

When these investors raise money from their LPs (limited partners, i.e. investors who give money to investors), they promise them in their decks to only focus on serial entrepreneurs. This is no different from an investor saying they will only focus on healthcare or they will only invest in NYC companies. It is fund strategy, and while I personally do not believe in investing that way, I recognize that it is a perfectly legitimate strategy.

Investing in serial founders with domain expertise makes sense.

First, serial founders avoid making silly mistakes in just about every single aspect of the business that first-time founders make. Serial founders intuitively know what NOT to do.

They know what WON'T work. Because of that, they tend to execute better, grow companies smarter, and get to revenue faster. Not always, but that's the perception of the investors.

2. Founders with domain knowledge

When you are starting a business in a space you don't know much about, you are at a MASSIVE disadvantage.

Think about it, when you don't know something, you have to study it. For things like physics or international affairs, you go to college. You spend years learning, and you have to pay for your learning.

When you start a business in a space you aren't familiar with, investors feel that they are paying for you to learn the business. That is, you aren't executing right away—first, you are learning.

Investors aren't your mom and dad; they don't want to pay for your education.

Investors are attracted to founders with domain knowledge. Investors talk about so-called founder-market fit.

Why are these founders doing this business? The answer investors are looking for is—the founders know a ton about the space and have identified an opportunity. The founders know that there is an opportunity based on their strong domain knowledge and years of experience in the space.

3. Founders with Traction

While your business is just an idea, investors will come up with 1 million reasons why it won't work. But if you keep growing week-over-week, month-over-month, and grow your revenues and customers, eventually all objections go away.

Investors can't resist funding growth. Investors can't resist funding traction.

Growth and traction are indicators of a product market fit.

They are indicators that the business is really working. Whether you've done a startup before or whether you know the space or not no longer matters. Growth and traction mean that you have figured it out and it is working, so the investors want to jump on board.

4. Founders with Experience and Network

If you aren't a serial founder and don't have a ton of domain expertise or traction, you can still get funding, but it is A LOT HARDER.

There is a pattern in the industry where founders coming out of top tech companies like Google and Facebook get funded. If you spent years and proved yourself in a product or engineering role at one of those top tech companies, potential investors tend to take you more seriously.

This is because you are likely to come recommended from a strong network of alumni from those places who can vouch for you and introduce you to the investors. For example, you worked with a founder whose company got acquired. When this person is introducing you to their investors, the investors will be paying attention.

In a way, this dynamic is not very different from graduating from a top-tier school. You lean on a strong network and leverage your connections to get an introduction to investors.

5. Mission Driven, Intellectually Honest Founders

Some founders clearly stand out from the rest. You can tell how obsessed they are. These founders won't go away and won't give up no matter what. Investors often refer to these founders as mission-driven.

In addition to being mission driven, these founders are deeply self-aware and intellectually honest. They are socratic and introspective.

Mission-driven founders are on a journey of discovery. They have a true north, but are flexible about the specific path that gets them there.

They radiate power and awesomeness, and although they may be young and inexperienced and early, they manage to convince investors with their mix of enthusiasm and knowledge. Mission-driven founders have infectious energy that attracts investors. Investors decide to roll the dice alongside these founders.

When raising capital, think about the types of founders that tend to get funding. Which one of these founders are you?




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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Five Teams at Startup Weekend Athens Research and Plan Their Products and Businesses

In a very long day on Saturday, the five Startup Weekend teams gathered data about their enterprises by talking to people in town, making online inquiries and surveys, and watching children play with their prototype. Based on the data, they refined their concepts or pivoted — changed their product or company ideas — to align better with perceived markets. #SWAthensOH

At Startup Weekend Athens (Ohio) Ariel Taylor (left) Amber Duff, and James Graham tell about Enchanted Home for Lost Books, a retail store that would sell gently used children's books. It would also make donations to local charities supporting children and donate books to children in need in other countries. The team, which also includes Lisa Heinz and Laughter Wang, visited the Athens Farmers Market and the Athens Public Library on Saturday to talk with potential customers.
Michelle Wilson (left), Harrison Mbemba, and Gil Moore discuss Team SRI, a socially responsible investing venture.
Ryan Stillion and Kayleigh Marks also are on Team SRI.
At the Athens Public Library, Ethan Schultz (top right), Brett Woodard, and Alex Kremer watch children playing with the magnetic shapes. Their venture? Opa: Hands-on Cognitive Toys for the Modern Child. The team also includes Andrew Roffe and Rachel Lau.
One creation made by children at the library.
EMG Max, a personal fitness app, is the innovation proposed by Zach Phillips-Gary (right), Andrew Greene, and Karsten Cao. Here they confer on Saturday night with Startup Weekend facilitator Daniel Johnsen (left).

The Note Boost team, Even Simmons, Paul Holliday, and Trevor Wall was not available for photos. See them on Sunday.




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Stories From Last Year: Ropert Curry

Rupert Curry attended his first Startup Weekend in 2015. Since then he has continued to work on several different entrepreneurial ventures, with Noble and Savage being his main focus. Noble and Savage is a tea merchant company which makes premium loose leaf tea and is available in cafes and restaurants throughout New Zealand and Australia.
The main thing Rupert learnt from Startup Weekend was around, "never being too afraid or too proud to admit when something isn't working." Startup Weekend focuses on validating ideas quickly and changing what doesn't work. Rupert also felt that Startup Weekend emphasised the importance of team and demonstrated the value of having a wide range of skills.
During Startup Weekend, mentors and business leaders are available to provide feedback on your idea. The challenge is that conflicting advice is often given by various people. Rupert recommends "filtering advice and making your own judgement call."
The favourite part of Startup Weekend for Rupert was the general buzz and meeting so many clever people. The core group of people from his 2015 Startup Weekend venture have all become really good friends and still hang out every few weeks. Rupert has only attended the one Startup Weekend but plans to do another when he isn't as busy as he currently is.
Tickets for startup weekend are available here. 



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Friday, March 18, 2016

Startup Weekend Athens (Ohio): 24 Intrepid Entrepreneurs

The spring Startup Weekend at the Ohio University Innovation Center kicked off with better-than-100% participation – each of the 24 registered participant made a pitch AND five of the volunteers or advisors also pitched ideas, 29 pitches in all.
After two rounds of voting, five startup teams formed who will spend the weekend developing products, doing market research and figuring out a workable business plans. The teams are:
• Hands on Cognitive Toys for the Modern Child
• Socially Responsible Investing (shareholder activism)
• Smart Workout Journal
• Enchanted Home of Lost Books
• Note Boost
Watch for details about these projects tomorrow.
#SWAthensOH

Facilitator Daniel Johnsen asks for a show of hands. Who's a student?
The participants voted for the pitches with Post-It notes.
Teams formed up.



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Startup Weekend Volos: Loukas Pilitsis as a Speaker

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Loukas is a longtime experienced Venture Capital and Private Equity investor, both internationally and in Greece. Before the creation of Anchorstone Partners, where he is a founding Partner and its CEO, in 2009 when he returned to Greece after 21 years of international career in Japan, USA and London, he founded and headed the Venture Capital and Private Equity Group of Piraeus Bank Group, the largest Banking Group in Greece, which has extended presence in the South Eastern European region.  Previously, he was with State Street, a major US financial services corporation, since 1995. He held senior positions in investment banking, corporate venture capital and private equity, strategy development and risk management in Boston, US and London, 

His most recent role with State Street was the Pan European Chief Administrative Officer, European Executive Board. In that role, he was responsible for PanEuropean strategy 

development, M&A and Private Equity supervision, and co-management of the European 

corporate functions. Before he joined State Street, Loukas gained extensive operational experience through his 15-year tenure in various industry sectors.  His international investment track record extends from incubation stage deals in the US and Greece, to large international equity transactions of USD 5 billion.  Through both his 15-year operational and 20-year investment professional tenures, he has a longtime senior management experience and has invested, or participated through originating, structuring and syndicating, in over 80 deals internationally.  Loukas holds a Law degree from Athens University Law School, an LLM in international 

financial services law from Boston University Law School and an MSF from Boston College.

He is also a graduate of the Executive Development program from the Wharton School of

University of Pennsylvania, USA and a frequent speaker in investment related events. Loukas is also a member of the BoD of SEN-Junior Achievement Greece organization 

and member of the Committee of Innovation, Education and Entrepreneurship at the 

Greek-American Chamber of Commerce, both promoting the new entrepreneurship and innovation in Greece.




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Founder Spotlight on Jacqueline Ros on Revolar

Founder Spotlights are 60 second profiles about Techstars founders. There are so many inspiring entrepreneurs around us — we want to highlight them!

Click here to view the embedded video.

Jacqueline Ros is the CEO and founder of Revolar, a Techstars Boulder 2015 company. Revolar is a wearable technology that empowers you through unique safety intervention solutions. You can order your Revolar today, shipping on April 1st!

Jacqueline and her team ran a successful Kickstarter campaign, made the Top 25 for Sir Richard Branson's Extreme Tech Challenge, and most recently closed a $3 million financing round with The Foundry Group.




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