Saturday, April 30, 2016

7 Lessons HBO’s Silicon Valley Taught Us About Startups

Susan Zheng is the co-founder and CEO of Planted (NYC '14), a platform that helps companies hire junior, non-technical talent.
Photo Source: jamesmcdohl.tumblr.com via giphy.com
 

Besides being one of the funniest shows on TV (or whatever HBO is now), Silicon Valley makes a lot of great points regarding what it's actually like to work at a startup. There aren't many people like Bachmann, Russ Hanneman, or Jared (Original Jared) in the world, but there are a ton of startups trying their hardest to navigate the startup maze.

What's great about Silicon Valley is that it draws its comedy from a lot of real life startup anecdotes. Things like what it's like to raise a round of funding, how to negotiate a salary, and the ways a company's board can have a huge impact on operations.

Fortunately, as we dive into the new season of Silicon Valley, the team at Planted has compiled the some of the best lessons Silicon Valley has taught us so far:

1. Choose your investors wisely

You don't have to be good at sports to swing for the fences, but you'll need good investors on your team if you really want to play ball. Some investors might offer you nice gifts or throw flashy parties, but it might be wise to pick them last. It's more important to have investors that care about your company and the overarching mission, even as cool as it might be to hang out with the Winklevoss twins.

Photo Source: HBO via gifyoutube.com

2. Always maintain professional relationships

All relationships are valuable and important. You don't want to tarnish any friendships when you might need those people in the future. Maybe Pied Piper wouldn't have had to raise funding from Russ Hanneman if Bachman hadn't dissed every VC firm in town (including making rude comments about their muffins).

Photo Source: HBO via giphy.com

3. Don't celebrate too soon

Not too fast! No deal is ever actually complete until you have it in writing. Paul Craig, from ArenaVC wrote last summer about how his investment in Airbnb fell through in the last minutes. Negotiations can always break down and you never know when Gavin Belson might try and sue you for everything you've got. Even the best of "bros" might have hidden motivations.

Photo Source: HBO via tumblr.com
Photo Source: HBO via regmedia.co.uk

4. Don't compare salaries

Silicon Valley showed us how important it is to keep your compensation details private. Just like your credit card number, your mother's maiden name, and the amount of times you've seen Pitch Perfect, that information is for you and you alone. At the same time, you shouldn't go around snooping for info about what your colleagues are making. Comparing salaries and equity can cause unneeded workplace stress and competition, two things that are toxic to any small company. Dinesh and Gilfoyle learned this the hard way when Carla tricked them into assuming she was getting paid a higher salary.

Photo Source: HBO via tumblr.com
Photo Source: HBO via gifsco.com

5. Quality first

Sucks to be Gavin Belson. Nucleus wasn't Windows Vista bad, it was Apple Maps bad. When Apple launched the (highly anticipated) Apple Maps back in 2012, you were more likely to be guided off the side of a bridge than to your destination. By the way, if you have a friend that still uses Apple Maps, please introduce them to a thing called Google Maps. Friends don't lets friends use Apple Maps. Make sure your product is ready and tested before you launch.

Photo Source: HBO via gifsco.com

6. SWOT it out

A SWOT (Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats) analysis is always helpful when making the hard choices. SWOT can be crucial when deciding how much equity to give out, how many engineers to hire, or whether an acquisition is truly worth it. But, it might cross the line when you're trying to determine whether or not its okay to let someone die.

Photo Source: HBOwatch.com

7. Read those contracts

Make sure to perform proper due diligence. Had it not been for Hooli's negligence when preparing their employee's contracts, they may have actually won the case against Pied Piper. Now, Richard gets to keep Pied Piper, even if he does refer to his computer as his girlfriend. If you don't read the fine writing, you may end up like this:

Photo Source: HBO
Photo Source: HBO via popkey
Originally posted on Planted.com. 



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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Top 5 Startup Weekend Themes During Editions Month 2016

This May we'll be celebrating our second Editions Month – an initiative created in response to the growing organic demand from the community to bring the magic of Startup Weekend to new industries and audiences. Startup Weekend Edition events run just like any other Startup Weekend – but are focused on a certain theme, industry or audience. These type of events increase the diversity of the community by pulling in new attendees, organizers, stakeholders, and sponsors with new areas of expertise.

During the entire month, organizers all around the world will be holding over 100 events, highlighting over 50 different editions! We'll be highlighting trends, stories, and experiences from these events over the next few weeks. Let's take a look at the Top Editions featured at events during Editions Month.

#5. Healthcare

These events focus on the healthcare industry and the ways it can impact patients and doctors, from emergency services to insurance providers. Over the years, entrepreneurs have jumped into new industries to disrupt this industry even more with innovations such as healthcare tracking apps and wearables.

Health – Tours, France

MedTech – Lyon, France

#4. Environment

Entrepreneurs want to change the world and help solve environmental issues through this theme. Some startups can be focused on specific niches, such as clean fuels and efficient electronics manufacturing, while others could take a consumer-focused approach, providing easy-to-use tools to help everyone make environmentally friendly choices.

Sustainability / Environment – Melbourne, Australia

Environment – Beirut, Lebanon

Clean Tech – Bremmen, Germany

EcoTechnologies and e-Agriculture – Orleans, France

#3. Youth

Startup Weekend Youth Edition is specially designed for the next generation of entrepreneurs. The event format is similar to a normal Startup Weekend, but some things are changed up just for the kids. Organizers create an atmosphere of exercises and experiences that will inspire the young minds and help them learn how to move ideas forward towards action, and in the process, collaborate with their peers. 

Youth – Tirana, Albania

Youth – Mendoza, Argentina

Youth – Recife, Brazil

Kids – Warsaw, Poland

#2. Internet of Things and Smart Cities

This theme is meant for startups that are rewiring the infrastructure of the future with specific emphasis on focuses such as software and artificial intelligence, smart cities and energy, VR, AR, the connected home, and more! These events are all about getting connected.

Smart Cities – Asunción, Paraguay

Virtual Reality – Valencia, Spain

Smart City – Columbus, OH, USA

Smart Cities – Jaraguá do Sul, Brazil

IoT – Denver, CO, USA

IoT – Florianópolis – Brazil

#1. Education

If what you are seeking is to improve education, Startup Weekend EDU events are made just for that! These events are for teachers, designers, techies, parents, entrepreneurs, students, and anyone who wants to contribute their ideas and skills to improve education.

EDU – Montreal, Canada

EDU – New Orleans, LA, USA

EDU – Phnom Penh, Cambodia

EDU – Auckland, New Zealand

EDU – Chicago, IL, USA

EDU – Curitiba, Brazil

EDU – Juiz de Flora, Brazil

EDU – Miami, FL, USA

EDU – Orlando, FL, USA

EDU – Nairobi, Kenya

EDU – Toronto, ON, Canada

 

Editions Month kicks off this weekend, April 29th! Check out the Startup Weekends happening near you!




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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Why Founder Market Fit is So Important

Josh Kopelman, co-founder of First Round Capital, one of the most iconic and successful venture firms, just posted a must-read Tweetstorm.

Josh's insight is that founders need to be even better pickers than VCs.

Previously, when asked about First Round's investment strategy Josh shared these two insights:

1. We think that founder-market fit is very important. I've lost a ton of money investing in founders with years of enterprise experience who now wanted to pursue a consumer idea — and vice versa.

2. An initial, compelling and unique insight. We want to understand what about your thesis is contrarian (i.e, why do you think the existing players are wrong) — and why you think a startup (and yours specifically) will win.

So what exactly is Founder-Market Fit, and WHY is it so important?

Founder Market-Fit is literally an indicator of a match between the founder and the problem they are going after.

What compelled the founder to start the business?
What experiences this founder has in the space?
What unique insight does the founder have in order to win?

The reality is that most founders start businesses in the spaces they don't know much about.

For example, when you ask someone what business they'd start if they could? Most people say they would open a restaurant.

Opening a restaurant is a terrible business idea for 99% of people. Restaurants business has razor thin margins, and a high failure rate. Just because you eat food and love food, doesn't mean it makes sense to open a restaurant. Most people don't have founder-market fit to start a restaurant, they don't get how hard it is to win in this business.

Similarly, we meet a lot of young founders that are thinking about starting a business that helps young people discover nightlife in big cities. The logic is that they had trouble finding what to do, and so did their friends, and therefore it makes sense to start a business helping people discover what to do.

This is not a great business idea and there is no real founder-market fit here either. Yes, this is indeed a problem, but it is not a unique problem, and there is no specific insight that the founders have.

A bit more subtle problem is when you have experienced founders going after the spaces they don't know much about. As Josh Kopelman said, just because you were successful as a founder of b2b company doesn't mean you will be successful as a founder of a b2c company. This is exactly what happened to me – I sold my first b2b company to IBM and struggled with my second company, which was a consumer facing startup.

Domain experiences and insights really do matter.

If you are starting in a business in the space you don't already know, you are literally spending money and time to get educated. It is literally like going to school, except instead of your parents it is your investors who are paying for your education. And the investors typically don't like that.

Experience is particularly important in b2b space, where domain knowledge is critical. Without strong understanding of the space you can't identify real gaps and real opportunities.

Founders that start businesses in the spaces they don't know about typically struggle.

On the flip side, if you do know your space, you can identify real opportunities, go fast and build a great business. Here are some of the examples of Techstars founders who have a great Founder Market Fit:

DigitalOcean is now the second largest hosting provider in the world. The company was started by a team that worked in the hosting space for 10 years and knew it inside out.

GreatHorn is a security company focused on preventing spearfishing attacks. GreatHorn is founded by Kevin O'Brien who was previously part of five security startups.

The founders of ImpactHealth, a direct-to-consumer health insurance company, have over 10 years of experience in the healthcare and insurance space.

Rahul Sidhu, founder of SPIDR, a company that is focused on modernizing police intelligence, was previously a law enforcement officer in a Los Angeles area.

Bora Celik from Jukely, a Netflix for concerts, spent over a decade as a concert promoter.

These founders know their markets and because of that, they are able to identify real opportunities, go faster and build the business.

What about you? Do you have founder market fit? Why are you doing what you are doing? What unique insights do you have that will help you differentiate and win?

Originally posted on Alex's blog. 




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True Lies: Building a Reputation (Comic)

New entrepreneurs are overflowing with enthusiasm. They are creating their reputation, often from scratch. 

Sometimes a new entrepreneur will "massage" the truth when pitching new clients or sharing their new business with contacts:

  1. "We have tons of experience" can be interpreted as "I've read about it and think I can figure it out."
  2. "We have many employees" is actually "My sister helps me sometimes and I got an unpaid intern this summer."
  3. "We have many customers" stems from the fact you are talking to many potential leads and one of them should materialize soon before you get found out.

What are some other extensions of truths from entrepreneurs?

  1. "I'll have my admin reach out you…", even though you don't have an admin, it may make your company seem larger than it is.
  2. "We have offices in <big city>," even though you only have one distant uncle who lines in that <big city>.
  3. "We don't have availability until next week" makes it appear your company is busier than it is.

Beware though. Sometimes "fake it until you make it" doesn't work in your favor. Don't get caught being a Pinocchio. Emphasize the truth and the reality of your experiences and your situation.

Have you exaggerated about your company? Tell us more details in the comments.




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Startup PR: 4 Ways to Get Started

Some companies coming out of a startup accelerator program might have a few million in revenue, established brand recognition, and solid brand loyalty from customers. But when it comes to building their brand and customer base, many are just getting started. 

These companies are often faced with one of three PR challenges:

  1. Nobody knows about the company — you're starting from scratch.
  2. You've given PR a shot but were never able to build a drumbeat that truly raises awareness. (Perhaps you hired an agency and set $20k on fire before realizing it wasn't going to be the right solution.)
  3. You know you need PR because something big is coming up and you want to make a splash (funding, company launch, big partnership announcement, new product release, etc.)

No matter which of these buckets you fall into, there are a few different approaches you can take as you think through how to grow your brand – a critical component to customer acquisition, gaining investor attention, and growing market share.

PR is about third party validation. You can spend all the money in the world on advertising but — you're selling yourself. It's when you have someone else selling for you that people start to listen.

If you fall into one of these three buckets and you know that PR is something you need to "do," there are four main options available to you, each with their own benefits and drawbacks.

  1. Hire an agency.
    Benefits are that you get a whole team working on our account, ranging from entry level "pitch pushers" to senior-level strategic counsel. PR agencies work with multiple clients at once so they are generally more aware of industry events and trends that they can help you to piggyback on. They have media databases for press research/targeting and established press contacts to tap into. On the downside, they're expensive. And unless you work with a boutique firm that can get up and running on your business and technology quickly, you're going to be paying a lot of money for results that may not meet your expectations. Startups fall victim to the lure of a big name agency time and again and are rarely ever satisfied.
  2. Hire a freelancer.
    Freelancers are typically less expensive than an agency (~$2k–$5k). If they're local they can come into the office, join company meetings, and are generally accessible. Instead of a whole team you get one individual working on your account, but freelancers typically have multiple clients so you may find yourself fighting for attention. It's one person, and they have to manage their time accordingly.
  3. Hire in-house PR.
    With in-house PR you have one person that is fully immersed in your brand. Going this route is generally less expensive than an agency, but more expensive than hiring a freelancer because you have the added cost of bringing on a FTE. With In-house PR, you typically have one person running your whole PR initiative, so they usually wear multiple hats. They can do your PR, run your social media efforts, develop internal comms, customer comms, etc. They can support the organization more widely and can play a key role as you scale your business.
  4. Go it alone.
    Early stage companies may not have budget to go with options #1-3. Founders are entrepreneurs. They know PR is something they "need" and they're willing to put some skin in the game to see if they can make some progress on their own. It's affordable. But PR is extremely time-consuming to do well, and most founders want and need to focus on building their business. They probably don't have pre-established relationships with the press and it takes a lot of time and effort to build them.

No matter which route you choose, PR is an important initiative to help grow your business.

Finding the right solution will depend on your stage of growth, budget, and how much time/effort you're willing to invest.




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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

How to Navigate the Minefield of Motherhood and Career

Are you a female founder juggling a startup and kids or thinking of having a baby soon?

Allyson Downey, co-founder of weeSpring (NYC '13), knows how tough it is to navigate pregnancy and parenthood. She took her own experience, plus the wisdom she gathered interviewing 75 women who have "successfully traversed the minefield that is having a baby while having a career," and put it all together in a hands-on guide called, Here's the Plan: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy and Parenthood.

"For many women in their 20's and 30's, the greatest professional hurdle they'll need to overcome has little to do with their work life. The most focused, confident, and ambitious women can find themselves derailed by a tiny little thing: a new baby. Here's the Plan offers an inspiring roadmap for working mothers steering their careers through the parenting years."

Learn more about Allyson in the Founder Spotlight below and check out the book!

 




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Monday, April 25, 2016

The Search is On: Casting a Wide Net for Techstars Atlanta

Lately, I've felt a bit like a kid in a toy store.

Let me explain… We've reached one of the most exciting phases to date in building out Techstars Atlanta: searching for the first group of companies to come through the program.

In general, Techstars places a high emphasis on team, market, progress and idea when it comes to selecting startups, but beyond that it's up to each program to decide which companies fit the bill.

In a horizontal program such as ours, we're casting a wide net. We're looking for companies in some of the most exciting emerging fields of technology, as well as playing to our strengths in Atlanta and remaining mindful of business development opportunities with our corporate sponsor, Cox Enterprises.

1) Emerging Tech

We're at the point today where capabilities previously thought of as science fiction are being developed and brought to market. When it comes to emerging technologies, we'd like to see companies in the following areas:

  • Narrow AI: Look no further than Facebook's F8 for proof that intelligent bots are all the rage right now. Sure, bots have been around for awhile (IBM Sametime, anyone?), but we've reached a new phase in their usefulness where they can interface with humans and understand the nuances of language. As Fred Wilson pointed out, Google is now thinking about AI-first world. Instead of sending commands to bots, we can now converse with them like we would with one another, and that advancement opens up so many possibilities. In particular, we're interested in narrow applications of artificial intelligence, be it commerce bot platforms, like ReplyYes, smart agents, like Amy@x.ai, smart customer service agents (we've already received an application from one company that allows you to re-book missed flights via text message), content bots, like StatMuse (Techstars Disney '15), or anything other narrow AI implementation. 
  • Blockchain 2.0: Tyler and I first met after we individually invested in an Atlanta startup, and that happened to be a blockchain-based distributed storage company called Storj.io. It's fascinating to see how applications for the underlying bitcoin technology have expanded beyond cryptocurrency. Whether it's file storage, identity management or perpetual data like public contracts and records, the use cases for blockchain are expanding and it's poised to have a significant impact on how we live and work. These businesses are interesting to us. 
  • Sharing economy: In startup pitch circles, business models predicated on the sharing economy often present themselves as the next "Uber for X." Despite this threadbare phrase, I still believe there are opportunities in the sharing economy that have not yet been exploited. Like ridesharing, room and equipment rentals, crowdfunding and other examples, new opportunities will continue to be created by taking advantage of excess capacity in networks. We're looking for companies tapping into the sharing economy in new and clever ways. 
  • Automation and drones: We're on the precipice of living in a fully autonomous world. I believe this because I see it in action every morning. After the Cloud Sherpas exit, I got a Tesla Model S (a bit cliché for a startup founder exit, I know). For those that haven't experienced Tesla's autopilot, in a nutshell, the car drives itself. For real. From the moment I enter the highway and engage autopilot until I'm ready to exit back onto a surface street, the car magically stays in its lane, speeds up, slows down, and even avoids accidents. It's just incredible and it's here today. While I don't necessarily expect to see the next Cruise in our first Atlanta batch, I do believe that Tyler and I, along with the Techstars ecosystem and Cox, have the capability to nurture and accelerate businesses related to automation and drones, whether it be farming, industrial applications, delivery companies, you name it. 
  • VR/AR software applications: As Techstars Executive Director Cody Simms shared, we're finally looking up from our phones. But where are we looking? Perhaps to a virtual or augmented reality, and this future looks bright. Companies like AppliedVR (Techstars Healthcare '16), that have developed a VR application as a drug-free, user-friendly alternative for acute pain and anxiety management, are an excellent example. Startups that are developing unique, purpose-built software applications using VR/AR technologies are especially interesting to Tyler and me.

2) Atlanta's Bread and Butter

The Atlanta tech community is known for its past and present success stories in enterprise security (Internet Security Systems, AirWatch, Ionic, Pindrop) and marketing technology (Mailchimp, Pardot, SalesLoft, Terminus). Certainly startups in these fields will have a deep pool of mentors and local experienced entrepreneurs to draw upon.

We're also home to some of the largest players in the payments space (FirstData, NCR, Global Payments) and e-commerce startups (Cardlytics, supply.com, ScoutMob). Given our ties to the Atlanta tech community and our own experience, we know we can help accelerate companies that fall into these categories even faster.

3) Cox Industries and Causes

Finally, any businesses directly related to industries in which Cox plays (automotive, communications and media) and causes to which it contributes (environmental and healthcare) are definitely of interest to us, too. Much like those that fall into the previous category, we can help accelerate startups in these industries even faster by potentially making business development connections within the Cox family of companies.

The Ideal Corporate Partner

There you have it, folks. The first Techstars Atlanta class will be diverse by design. And this wouldn't be possible without the support of Cox Enterprises, an ideal corporate partner with a 118 year history of looking outside the boundaries of its own businesses to disrupt itself.

For example, in recent history Cox anticipated the decline in newspaper classifieds and created Autotrader, the world's largest online and mobile selection of new, certified and user cars. Cox wasn't afraid to disrupt its newspaper business, their original business where the classified section was once dominated by automotive ads. Autotrader is now part of Cox Automotive, the company's fastest growing unit with $5.9 billion in revenue and a physical presence in 24 countries around the world.

Beyond its investment activity, Cox also has a legacy of giving back to the community. Most recently, Cox has acted on that mission by helping the Atlanta startup community secure its place on the map, which is exactly why it chose to partner with Techstars. Notably, Cox has taken this on in an effort to help Atlanta get the recognition it deserves.

Based on this background, it's not surprising that Cox has supported a wide scope to the Techstars Atlanta program. It's now our job to cast a wide net and attract the most promising startups from around the world, and we fully intend to do just that.

Here's to the Future, Atlanta

Does your company fit the bill? If you fit into one of these groups, we want to hear about it!

Applications are due May 8 — start your application today.

If you're a NYC-based startup, come join us for a beer on Monday evening, April 25, at 6:30pm at the Techstars New York location on Broadway and 39th. We'll be co-hosting a jam session with Jenny Fielding from Techstars IoT to share information about our programs and answer any questions.

And don't fret, Atlanta. We're coming home later this week!

We'll be at the Atlanta Tech Village on Thursday evening, April 28, at 5pm.

Reserve your spot to come hang out with me and Tyler in the ATV Speakeasy Board Room where we'll be on-site to answer your questions about the program.




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Making the Leap: From Corporate Employee to Entrepreneur

Today's post comes from Nishika de Rosario, CEO, Creative Director, and founder of de ROSARIO. Before becoming an entrepreneur, Nishika built a corporate career with Deloitte, Cisco, and Salesforce. In addition to leading her business, Nishika serves on several boards including Startup Women, Upward, and the Center for International Business Education and Research.

"Aren't you scared?"
"What will you do if you fail?"
"You have no experience in the industry, how will you succeed?"
"Don't worry, you can always go back to Corporate America"

… and so the questions and comments flooded in…

What surprised me the most was that these questions and comments were being dished out from a combination of people who knew me very well, and also from those who didn't know me at all.

I soon started to realize that non-entrepreneurs were projecting their own anxieties of starting a business onto me.

So the real question became:

How do you listen to the parts that matter, and turn off the parts that don't?

An Entrepreneur is Born

For me, entrepreneurship has always felt very real. I was still a teenager when I came to the realization that life would be boring if everyone succumbed to practices and principles denoting linear patterns of thinking and execution, simply because they made life easy to explain and easy to understand.

My version of happiness started to emerge around that same time when I turned to mentors such as Sir Richard Branson and Anthony Robbins. They taught me that happiness was a state of mind, achieved through a non-linear journey of strategy, discovery, and perspective: the perfect mindset for an entrepreneur.

I grew up with an adventurous spirit, and by the time I reached my 30s, I was living on my fourth continent, had traveled to over 40 countries, and my career in the corporate world was ripe and flourishing. Over my 10 years in Corporate America, I had the incredible opportunity of learning a repertoire of deep knowledge and expertise from the best of the best: Deloitte Consulting, Salesforce, Apple, Levi, Cisco, Chevron, and many others.

 

Even still, I wanted more.

I decided it was time to turn in the stability of a steady paycheck for something that was much more adventurous and impactful.

I wanted to change the world, one design at a time.

 

Building a Business

Finally, my business – dE ROSAIRO (pronounced 'day ro-zai-ro') — was born: it was a childhood dream coupled with a deep desire to influence the world through the inherent psychology behind the clothes we wear.

I spent 10 months writing my business plan and building the business on nights and weekends, all while still employed full time at Salesforce. At the end of that time, I had my first collection of sketches sitting on hangers in a sales showroom in Los Angeles. I built dE ROSAIRO on the founding principle of 'Look Feel Lead', which translates into — how you Look, is how you Feel, is how you Lead. The idea being that how we dress influences how we feel, and on the flipside, how we feel influences how we dress.

No matter how many people have shared their years of wisdom with me, not one person, or any one experience, could have truly prepared me for the broad depth and range of mental and physical strength it takes to be an entrepreneur.

Doubt is Part of the Journey

There are days I have wanted to pull my hair out, and then there are days that I know I am doing exactly what I should be. I would be lying if I didn't admit the rough days.  

But the truth is: doubt is a part of the journey, as it continues to provide me with an opportunity to question even my most basic set of assumptions. Healthy businesses cannot be built on complacency and self-assurance.

Mistakes will be made, money will be lost, and through it all, the question that we will need to keep answering is – am I still aligned with my vision?

Why does alignment matter? It matters for two key reasons:

  1. When we launch a business, we should aim to build a foundation that aligns with our personal set of values. We need to ask ourselves: what matters to me? How do I want to affect the lives of others? What do I want my legacy to be? 
  2. Doing 'good business' is no longer the icing on the cake; in today's world it is a basic expectation. This means we each have a role to play.

Through this journey, what I've come to discover is: there is no greater measure of self-fulfillment than when profit, individual values, and 'good business' intersect.

So when you're on the brink of YOUR entrepreneurial journey, and when people ask you:

"Aren't you scared?"
"What will you do if you fail?"
"You have no experience in the industry, how will you succeed?"

Tell them that you would rather give it your best shot than regret not trying.

Tell them that you desire transformative growth in your life that a steady paycheck cannot provide you with.

Tell them that changing the world is worth a calculated gamble.




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Friday, April 22, 2016

Book Profits to be Donated to the Techstars Foundation

Today we'd like to announce that all royalties from the sale of the books Do More Faster and No Vision All Drive will now go directly to the Techstars Foundation.

The Techstars Foundation is a non-profit created to improve diversity in technology entrepreneurship by providing opportunities for underrepresented entrepreneurs through grants, scholarships, and sponsorships.

You can buy Do More Faster on Amazon here and No Vision All Drive here. Thank you in advance for your support!

About the Books

Do More Faster: Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup

Do More Faster is a collection of advice that comes from individuals who have passed through, or are part of, Techstars' accelerator programs. Each vignette is an exploration of information often heard during the Techstars program and provides practical insights into early stage entrepreneurship. While you'll ultimately have to make your own decisions about what's right for your business, Do More Faster can get your entrepreneurial endeavor headed in the right direction.

Buy Now.

 

No Vision All Drive: Memoirs of an Entrepreneur
In 1993, David Cohen and David Brown founded their first company, Pinpoint Technologies, which grew from a basement startup to a successful multinational company with $50 million in annual sales and over 250 employees. Chronicling the story of that company from its beginnings up to 2003, when it was sold to ZOLL, and beyond, No Vision All Drive is the story of that company and the people who worked there. This book is not about business; it is about people.


Buy Now.




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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Bot Trends: Whats Next?

Thoughts on bots.
Hot hot hot.
Bots have thoughts on lots and lots.
No dots. Just bots.
Hot / not? Great Scott!

If you talk like Dr Seuss to a bot, can it learn to respond in rhyme? We shall see. Yippee!

Image via Giphy: http://ift.tt/1mLOWWH

 

The internet is abuzz recently on the bot ecosystem that Facebook is seeking to create around Messenger, and of course Slack has been investing here for some time as well. Personally I found the bot announcements at Facebook's F8 way less profound than Zuckerberg's approach to a 10-year roadmap, his images of airplanes that can fly at 60K feet for months at a time and beam internet around the world, and his vision that in an AR-enabled future everything that projects an image today (such as a television) will be just a $1 app in an AR app store.

(If you have not watched his F8 keynote, take the 30 minutes to do so. I'm convinced that he's the living embodiment of Steve Jobs, as no one else comes close to having his scale of impact on culture from a technology-led perspective.)

But…let's talk about bots today. What should we expect from the coming bot-pocalypse?

Consumer Product Development Paradigm Shift

In the consumer software world, we are seeing a shift in behavior. After 9 years of staring at our phones for hours a day, and a product development world that's been deeply focused on apps apps apps (Uber, Instagram, and Snapchat have been some of the most successful by-products of this era), we're finally seeing a shift in product development trends.

Much like US politics, consumer product development seems to be shifting toward the extremes. And the two extremes of the shifting consumer product landscape are No UI and Immersive UI.

The Immersive UI trend is a subject for a long future post and I won't dwell on it here. It includes VR, AR, and real-time video (interactive and consumptive).

The No UI trend includes voice (see my thoughts on voice as UI) and bots. The No UI trend begins to represent software in its purest form. One could say that it's about humans talking directly to machines in command line form. But I like to think about it the opposite way. It's about machines being able to talk to humans directly, and to compute the vagaries and nuances of human expression into command line themselves. To me, this distinction is the biggest difference between the app paradigm where most inputs are relatively structured via forms to fill out and things to swipe left or right on, and a No UI paradigm where the computer has to actually accept input, comprehend and process it, and generate its own output on the fly in a way that feels natural and normal to a human.

So what should we expect this product landscape to look like? I think we'll see a lot of the same organizing principles that we've seen in the last two major computing eras, the dotcom boom (aka Web 1.0) and the mobile explosion of the last ten years, as follows…

Content Platforms

The birth of the Internet, aka the dotcom boom, was roughly twenty-two years ago (for more from me on this see here). People for the first time had access to a global audience for their information or product. And after a swath of hand-built HTML sites begat GeoCities as well as the rise of the "webmaster", we saw a number of verticalized publishing platforms emerge, which became how people put their stuff on the Internet. Content sites use content management platforms (WordPress, etc), Commerce sites use commerce platforms (Stripe, Magento, etc), and Community sites use community platforms (Drupal, MediaWiki, etc).

We will soon see a significant number of roll-your-own-bot publishing platforms — from bot content management to bot ecommerce to bot customer service and more.Init.ai (Techstars '16) is an example here. All you need is a designated phone number from Twilio or Burner or the like and you can hang your bot shingle. The most verticalized of these roll-your-own-bot platforms will likely win rather than the ones that try to support too many different use cases. As an example, see Well (Techstars '16) which is focused 100% on solving interactions around Healthcare. Or CarServ (Techstars '16), helping you communicate with your mechanic while your car is in the shop. OrSubcurrent (Techstars '16) which is focused on on polls, surveys, and employee engagement. Verticalization wins in the bot platform space.

Agency Bots

When websites first became a thing, every company needed a website. And in the mobile era, as apps became all the rage, everyone needed an app. But for a long time, very few companies had great app developers. To fill this void, we saw an explosion of mobile app development service businesses and agencies emerge. I suspect that in the bot paradigm, we will similarly see a number of bot companies supporting the big brand move to a messaging and chat interface via bots.

These companies will look innovative at first blush as they will be technology startups and will be facilitating big brands as they move to new interaction paradigms. But a large majority of them will end up as tech-enabled agency businesses not as venture-scale platforms. If you are building a bot-based business today in service of brands or clients as your customer, ask yourself how the business you are building can scale via software and self-service client onboarding rather than scaling via sales and account management.

Killer Bots

I'm not talking about Skynet here. Rather, what will good bots actually be good at? Where will they make life better? Let's look to past paradigms for a clue. If you look at the iTunes top 20 free mobile apps on any given day, usually around half of them are simply mobile extensions of multi-platform services (Spotify, Google Maps, Facebook, YouTube, etc). For these apps, mobile is a delivery channel rather than the defining characteristic of the business. And of the remaining other half of apps in the top 20, a good chunk of them are games. Indeed, games are the killer app on mobile.

So what will be the killer app for the bot paradigm? The killer bot? My bet is on the emergence of two large categories, (1) conversational commerce, and (2) habit behaviors.

Commerce Bots

Bots will win in commerce if the interaction is faster than it is in a mobile app. When you just want to order a sandwich from Uber Eats, it's a pain to have to unlock your phone, find the app, open it, wait for it to load, search for what you want, and hit order. And it's amazing that we've gotten to the point where we are this lazy, but it's true. But if you could just send a quick message to Uber via Slack or FB Messenger asking for a sandwich, you could have it ordered in less than three quick typed responses.

Commerce bots will be a bit hit for transactional interactions where you already generally know what you want to order (e..g, Amazon, Uber, Instacart). We'll also see an explosion of new bot-based stores that push product to you via messaging and engage with you like a person. Curation is looking like a key feature for this category of conversational commerce bots. We're already seeing cool stuff here like The Edit and Stefan's Head (Techstars '15).

Habit Bots

Habit bots will solve the need to give you an info hit for that thing that is your daily (or hourly, or minutely!) obsession, whatever it is. "What's the score of the Jayhawks game?" "How's Facebook stock doing?" "Do I have any Twitter mentions?" "What's my checking account balance?" A bot can answer questions like these for your much faster than a mobile app can. And it can allow you to take action, e.g., "buy 5 more shares of Facebook stock please".

Content Bots

As a wildcard, I'm personally fascinated to see what happens in the content space with bots. Is the No UI world a good place to publish and consume content in an interactive, messaging-based fashion? Innovative companies like Purple and imperson (Techstars '15) are pushing the envelope here and beginning to make a believer out of me.

Summary

In summary, I was disappointed that the theme emerging from F8 was "bots" rather than some of the grander vision that Facebook shared, but I understand the reason for it. There is an explosion of new innovation coming in this space, and the No UI trend is a real one. App fatigue is real. Zuckerberg is right that we don't want or need to have an app installed for every interaction with every service. Snapchat has helped us value impermanence, and we're about to enter a world where it is not just the content that we each create that can be ephemeral but instead the very nature of our interactions with the internet.

This has profound implications for customer acquisition and retention for businesses, but for consumers it should hopefully be a great thing. So here's to ephemerality, here's to No UI, and here's to seeing what the entrepreneurial world can do with it. Go bots!

Image from http://ift.tt/1qF3olk

 

Originally posted on Medium.




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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

3 Ways to Realize Your Dream KPIs

KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are the backbone of Techstars, and my cofounders and I took them to heart every week during the program. But when we started, none of us really knew what it would take from us to maintain a steep upward curve with the clock ticking.

The backstory was never discussed in our weekly KPI meetings, only the impressive figures. In this post, I want to share what growing 7% week to week meant for us in our day to day life during the 3 months including key strategies and challenges. Let's face it, for any organization to grow at such a pace, there has got to be something crazy going on in the background.

Planting scenarios in our minds early in the game

Our goal was to boost revenue to put ourselves in a good position to raise our first round. GroupRaise makes money from our restaurant partners paying $39 for every fundraiser scheduled on our site. This made our target straightforward – X number of events scheduled by the end of January.

Email has been our key marketing channel, and considering our previous conversion rates our ultimate goal suggested that we increase our email marketing in size and frequency sixfold. This in turn meant each step of the way from research, lead collection, data cleanup, and draft write-up required at least 4 or more times the previous capacity. We decided to put 90% of our effort into championing what's worked previously (college markets) and 10% on trying new channels. We also brought on one new hire and outsourced a ton of redundant work in advance to get ready for the biggest outreach we've ever done.

In retrospect, having a detailed scenario with the help of clear KPI goals not only pulled us together to mentally prepare for one big goal that seemed impossible, but also gave us a better sense of what every week and every day should look like.

Working with staff

Techstars is known for its robust mentor network, and we definitely learned a ton interacting with people that we would otherwise never have gotten a chance to meet. What we did not expect going into the program was how important of a role the staff was going to play in scaling our business.

Our two program directors, Rob and Alex, both had extensive experience in running multi-million dollar companies prior to the program, and we had to talk to them every single day about everything. As you can imagine, a big difference between staff and mentors is that the former has another two or three layers of understanding of what you worked on last week, the amount of progress made this week, and what your biggest pain is just by breathing in the same room.

In our case, after a series of conversations with Rob we got to redefine our position in the space – GroupRaise was in the group booking business rather than event hosting. This simple change in our messaging ended up tripling our conversion rate in email marketing campaigns to restaurants. At the same time, associates were readily available when we needed an extra hand (which was always the case) or feedback on new initiatives. All we had to do was to ask.

Being proactive about feeling worn out

The pressure of maintaining growth is immense, and feeling overworked is something we accepted as part of the program. However, this does not mean that we shouldn't be proactive about avoiding wearing out, because it can be really detrimental.

We realized that when the amount of work goes 10x in all directions in a matter of days, trying to divide the work evenly is never a smart approach. This wasted everyone's time and talent while losing the sense of ownership. Instead, it required each founder to be extra mindful about how to empower one another and promote ownership of their work. Especially when everyone does everything together, promoting ownership gets SUPER tricky and important.

So the bottom line is instead of growing a mentality of "I am doing this, so you do this.", you should adopt something in the lines of "Since you've got that taken care of, I will make sure this is squared away. Let me know if you need any help."

This sounds like marriage counseling, but we learned that how you cope with stress and panics determined the quality of founder relationships, which will also shape your company culture down the road.




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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Meet with the Team at Techstars Internet of Things!

Techstars IoT is partnering with PwC, GE, Bosch, SAP and Verizon to provide an unparalleled depth of experience to founders.

We are looking for startups that are positioned to rewire the infrastructure of the future with specific emphasis on software and artificial intelligence, connected enterprise, smart cities and energy, advanced manufacturing, health and wearables, logistics and automotive, VR, AR, drones and robotics, agriculture and the connected home.

Meet Techstars IoT in Person:

April 27

New Orleans

Office Hours @ Collision Conference

April 27

Pittsburgh

Office Hours @ Project Olympus CMU Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship

May 4

Beijing

Office Hours @ GMIC  

May 9

Toronto

Office Hours @ DMZ & TWG

May 10

Waterloo

Office Hours @ Communitech

May 10

Toronto

IoT Toronto meetup with Techstars

May 11

NYC

Office Hours @ Techcrunch Disrupt

May 12

Silicon Valley

Office Hours @ IoT World

May 17

Chicago

IoT Chicago meetup with Techstars + Office Hours

May 18

Minneapolis

IoT Fuse meetup with Techstars + Office Hours

May 23

NYC

IoT Central NYC meetup with Techstars

May 24

NYC

IoT NY meetup with Techstars

May 25

Philadelphia

IoT Philly meetup with Techstars + Office Hours

June 2

Los Angeles

Techstars & Make-in-LA Event + Office Hours

June 6

NYC

Techstars & IoTC Event

June 7

Berlin

Office Hours @Techstars Berlin

June 13

Boston

IoT Boston/New England meetup with Techstars + Office Hours @ Techstars

June 14

DC

Techstars & Internet of Things Consortium [IoTC] Event + Office Hours

June 14

San Diego

Techstars & Hardware Massive Event + Office Hours @ Startup Week

June 23

NYC

Meet the Team Happy Hour

 

Catch us Online:

 

Open

Virtual Office Hours

May 3

  12:00pm ET

Webinar Registration

May 31

  12:00pm ET

Webinar Registration

June 16

  12:00pm ET

Webinar Registration

June 30

  12:00pm ET

Webinar Registration

July 7

  12:00pm ET

Webinar Registration




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What’s Your Next Goal, Milestone, Task?

We spend a lot of time talking to Techstars founders about focus. We talk a lot about saying 'no' to things that don't matter. We talk a lot about not chasing too many things at once. We try to give founders tools for deciding what's important. We try to give them a framework for how to get things done.

For me personally it boils down to three things – my next daily task, my next milestone, and my big goal. Let's call them GMT. Here is what they look like right now:

1. My next task is to send semi-weekly update emails to Techstars mentors. This is something that I do every other weekend during the Techstars program to keep the mentors posted on what's going on in the program at large.

2. My next milestone is to have a great Demo Day. Not only are Demo Days the culmination of the Techstars program, but they are also significant milestones for me, as a Managing Director at Techstars. Demo Days are the stepping stones to my bigger goal.

3. My next big goal is to become great at my job, to become a great investor in New York City. My vision is to help founders create great, transformational, lasting businesses in NYC, have fun along the way, and make a lot of money.

Being really clear about your next big goal, next milestone, and next daily task helps you keep your head straight.

If someone asks you what they are for you, and you don't know, that's not great. It likely means you don't have clarity, and may not be working on things that are important.

Pick your goal first, and then work backwards from the goal, while measuring progress along the way.

Work Backwards from the Goal

In my case, the goal is to become a great investor. To do that, I need to keep finding and investing in great startups. The way I do it, is to fund them in batches and run them through Techstars program. To have Demo Days as milestones is natural, because the Demo Days are the culmination of the program, and the start of the fundraising for most companies.

What makes for a great Demo Day? A bunch of things, but first and foremost, great companies (check out Techstars NYC Winter 2015 batch).

Techstars is a mentorship-driven accelerator. We connect each company with a group of great mentors, who work with them during the program to help accelerate the business.

The semi-weekly mentor email is just one small task on my list to make sure mentors and the companies are connected. It is a small, but important task that is a step towards a great Demo Day.

The daily tasks add up to a milestone, and the milestones add up to the goal.

GMT: One Goal, One Milestone, One Task

If you can stick with the system, it works.

First, you set your goal, and figure out the milestones. Then you are down to the tasks, and it actually gets harder, because there are a bunch of tasks you need to do over time to get to a milestone.

On any given day, I try to be very clear about one most important task I need to get done. If it's not in my head, I don't think I am focused enough. I then go to my to-do list and look through it to get back into the groove.

If you always have your top task in your head, you know exactly where you are going and why.

It's okay for some days to be muddy and disorganized, but most days need to be pretty clear.

What works for me is a weekly routine. I know what I need to do on Monday, on Tuesday, and all other days of the week. For example, I know that every other Sunday, I send mentor updates. Having a routine really helps me stay organized, and keep executing.

The routines can change from month to month, but I use the calendar to chunk my timesduring the week and that helps me set a rhythm. And that, in turn, helps me focus, prioritize, and know what my next task is.

Don't Do Stuff that Doesn't Matter

When you have clarity about your goal and milestones, you also have clarity about what doesn't matter.

Prioritizing and deciding becomes a lot easier. Thats why for me right now, if something doesn't contribute directly to having a great Demo Day, I won't prioritize it. For example, a lot people want to meet with me, but I can't take a ton of these meetings before the Demo Day. I am busy helping the companies. So I explain it to people, and ask them to follow up with me after Demo Day.

Also, I have a bunch of tasks and projects related to broader Techstars ecosystem that I will get to after the Demo Day. I simply don't have the time to do them, and they are not included in my next milestone. This system of Action and Idea lists is helpful for staying organized.

Use KPIs to Measure Progress to the Milestone

I use KPIs and data to measure progress towards the milestone. Using numbers to measure progress is important, because otherwise you can't tell if you are getting closer to milestone.

One of the ways that investors, myself included, measure progress is by looking at the value of their portfolio. It is difficult to do for early-stage companies, and by no means is this an exact science.

Still, as long as you have some sort of consistent measurement it works. For example, I know that the 2014 batch of Techstars NYC companies have raised over 20MM in funding, and I know that this stacks up pretty well historically against other NYC and Techstars batches. While this does not mean that I am becoming great at being an investor, a lack of financing of the companies would imply that I am not doing well.

I also use other KPIs to help me check that I am heading in the right direction. For example, we ask the founders during the program and afterwards to rate my performance. High ratings mean that founders are happy with our help. When they graduate, this would lead to a positive word of mouth, and they will recommend the program to other founders, and that would help me invest in more great companies.

Apply This to You and Your Startup

How can you apply this to you and your startup? Actually, this system works equally well for individuals and startups.

For a startup, you need to start with your Vision. What does the world look like according to you? What does the world look like when you are a successful business?

The Vision leads to the Milestones. What do you need to achieve the Vision? How do you get there? For most startups, the first few milestones are about traction and funding. Typically, the first milestone is to prove that your product is needed, to prove that there is a demand, and to get early customers.

The second milestone is typically funding. Once you've proven that your idea has potential, it is easier to raise funding.

You set KPIs, and drive to the milestone. Build the product customers want. Do things fast, have hypotheses, test stuff, iterate, be organized and chaotic at the same time. But at any moment be clear about your next task – what are you working on and why, what milestone are you trying to hit? What is your big goal?

So let's try this out.

Do you know what you goal, milestone, and next task are? Please share it with us.

This was originally posted on Alex's blog




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Monday, April 18, 2016

Your Startup Isn’t About You

Today's Mentor Monday post comes from Mark Achler. Mark is a serial entrepreneur, a mentor with Techstars in Chicago, and a managing director of MATH Venture Partners. 

Your startup isn't about you, and it's not about your product, either.

Your startup is all about your customers. It's hard to overstate how critically important this seemingly simple insight is.

I recently wrote an op-ed piece called "Entrepreneurs are Lazy," about how entrepreneurs rarely seem to take the time to prepare before pitching to venture capitalists. In the piece, I raised the question of how these entrepreneurs can expect to deliver effective pitches without understanding how we think and make decisions.

Showing up poorly prepared at an investor's office makes for a bad first impression, sure. But more importantly, it raises a serious red flag about the viability of your business.

Most Startups Fail

To explain why that is, let's start with a simple fact: most startups fail. There are studies that range from 50 percent to over 80 percent, but whatever the exact number, I think we can agree that most fail. Because let's face it: it's really tough to build a business from scratch.

I also think it's fair to say that no company ever went out of business because they had too many customers. So the fact that most startups fail seems to suggest that most entrepreneurs don't know how to sell.

This is actually the core investment thesis of our venture capital fund, MATH Venture Partners. We love to invest in entrepreneurial teams that know how to sell. Who deep in their DNA have a profound appreciation for what it takes to acquire customers. And, who have an "unfair advantage" in customer acquisition.

Founders who have this unfair advantage possess a trait I like to call "radical empathy." They have an ability to deeply and truly understand their customers' needs. They see where customers are coming from, speak their languages and understand how best to reach them.

Poor Preparation is a Tell

In poker there is a term called a "tell." It's when a player tips their hand about the cards they are holding. For us VCs, the lack of preparation when they meet us is a tell. We treat it as a proxy for lacking the ability or desire to truly understand their customers. Someone who possesses radical empathy would never show up at our offices unprepared.

One of the key ways entrepreneurs reveal that they haven't prepared is by showing up at our office to talk about product features. I invariably stop them and say, "I don't care." (OK, maybe I care a little.) But what I really care about is for the entrepreneur to tell me what problems their potential customers are facing, and why those customers will trust their startup to solve them. What are their selling points? What's the sales strategy?

To paraphrase Field of Dreams, most entrepreneurs believe that if we build it they will come. But a great product without customers is a great product — not a business. Building a business is all about sales.

Understanding is More than Just Listening

Beware, though, that understanding your customers is not always the same thing as listening to what they say.

I used to head up innovation for Redbox. This was still in the age of Blockbuster, so we were doing extensive market research to find out what customers would look for in a reimagined movie rental service. When asked, most customers told us that the number one thing they looked for in a movie rental service was choice: of course price mattered, and convenience was helpful, but they wanted every movie ever made. They wanted international films and documentaries.

But when we started digging through 20 years of Blockbuster rental data, what we found was that the vast majority of rentals were new releases from the 30-day wall.

Radical empathy is all about diving deep and truly understanding your customers. Sometimes better than they understand themselves.

If you reach that level of understanding and build your business entirely around your customers' needs, your business is sure to stand out from the thousands of other startups out there.

Originally posted on BuiltInChicago.




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Announcing the Launch of Techstars Connection

Today, we're excited to announce Techstars Connection, a new social experience accelerator that will foster innovation and new enterprise through the creation of products, services and experiences that help connect people to people, help connect people to product, and help connect people to place. Operating out of New York City, the program kicks-off in October and runs through January 2017. Applications open April 18, 2016.

Entrepreneurs in Techstars Connection will focus on solving challenging consumer problems and bring groundbreaking solutions to market that:

–    Seamlessly connect and bring people together for enhanced social experiences

–    Conveniently connect people to products with greater speed and efficiency

–    Enhance consumption experiences through curation, personalization and localization

–    Leverage the hidden benefits of raw materials, fermentation and brewing in products and systems that help people to live well

Techstars Connection is run in partnership with AB InBev. ZX Ventures, AB InBev's global incubator and venture capital team, will also have a substantial role within Techstars Connection.

We are proud to partner with AB InBev on this new accelerator program because they bring incredible passion for helping consumers achieve the best possible social experiences. The recognition of the AB InBev brand will also help strengthen the Techstars global entrepreneur ecosystem, which aligns well with our current active investments in Techstars' portfolio of social and immersive experience companies like Jukely, LiveLikeVR, Naritiv and LISNR.

This is the fourth Techstars program in New York City, building on the successful Techstars NYC, Techstars IoT (Internet of Things) and Barclays NYC. Companies going through Techstars Connection will be able to leverage the extensive network of investors and mentors in NYC as part of this new program.

Apply today.




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Friday, April 15, 2016

Founder Spotlight: Nadya Nguyen of HidrateSpark

Nadya Nguyen of HidrateSpark (Sprint '15) has had a unique entrepreneur's journey: she first traveled through the Techstars network as a participant in a Twin Cities Startup Weekend and then continued when she was accepted into the Sprint Accelerator in 2015.

HidrateSpark is a connected water bottle that syncs with your phone to track your daily water intake. It's been called "the water bottle of the future" and has been covered by Fast Company, Forbes, Mashable and Buzzfeed.

Nadya, a 2014 business graduate from University of Minnesota, has entrepreneurship in her blood. Her parents were entrepreneurs in Russia with the mission to help give their children the best opportunities possible.

Now, Nadya and her team at Hidrate are building ways to help people improve their health starting with the HidrateSpark water bottle.  Order your water bottle here and check out this 60 second video on Nadya below!


You can learn more and watch Techstars Founder Spotlights here.




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