Every year, Techstars has a reunion for Techstars companies. About a year ago, it was hosted in New York during Techstars For A Day. The excitement was that it was the first time that many mentors and former Techstar companies would see a fair number of the more than 600 applicants for the yet to launch New York program.
New York is a big city. Sounds silly, but one of the charms of Techstars Boulder is that the size of the city increases the focus of the companies during the program, because there are so many fewer distractions. Seattle and Boston for their size certainly allowed for more distraction, but neither are New York.
Throw on top of that a relatively unknown (to me!) general manager, David Tisch, and my concern for the ability for the New York program to perform like a New York program should were certainly heightened as I entered 92Y for that Techstars reunion / TS4AD.
Boy were my concerns unfounded. Tisch crushed it. The companies crushed it. The mentors crushed it. And more importantly, New York crushed it.
Over the course of the program, which I dropped into, the energy and focus of the companies rivaled anything I had seen at any of the other cities. The program was just as intense, the mentors just as helpful and brutal and the growth in the companies was just as meteoric.
And, most importantly, Tisch became a true leader in New York.
There was still silliness and a lot of bad moves (I hate ‘Series Awesome’ for being childish and taking away from what OnSwipe is doing), but overall it was a successful season. And the new crop of companies, as it should be, is twice as good as the previous bunch.
One of the early knocks on Techstars has always been its secretive nature. When it first moved into the bunker in Boulder, its address was hidden on Brightkite. Then, given the support the community had given Techstars, David Cohen made the right move by including the community versus hiding away from them. The community was invited to Demo Day, the Bunker is used for community events and coworking space in the off-season, and he hired Megan to film the Founders Series (which won an emmy!!)
New York took it to a whole new level bringing in Bloomberg TV to show Techstars as it was, warts and all. Techstars isnt perfect, and the companies are far from perfect. The mentors, well, most of us understand that our imperfections are part of the reason we have done what we have done, and are willing to share our knowledge.
The new show is coming. Here is the a trailer: And Techstars’ closeup will show the world why I love the program so much, and have been as involved as I have been. Its not perfect. Its about learning who you are…and arent. But mostly, its about building companies collaboratively.
- New York City TechStars’ reality TV show to air this fall on Bloomberg (thenextweb.com)
- Techstars NYC Announces New Startups Debuting This Summer (nyconvergence.com)
- JWT Sponsors ‘Startup Accelerator’ TechStars (paidcontent.org)
- Making Million-Dollar Connections: 5 Of ThinkNear’s TechStars Mentors Invested In Its $1.63 Million Round (businessinsider.com)
- Startups On TV: TechStars Teams Up With Bloomberg To Offer An Inside Look At Building A Business (techcrunch.com)
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The other night, I was down at Techstars listening to the companies practice their pitches. Whats always most interesting to me is how the companies have shifted over the course of three months. Some have shifted a ton (one company completely restarted), and a few have made really minor adjustments.
It always reminds me of the love/hate relationship entrepreneurship has with the concept of failure. There are volumes written about the value and importance of failure in the growth of a business. I wont rehash any of it here.
Somewhere, somehow, failure has become ok. Even more egregious, failure without learning has become ok.
True failure teaches us humility, which is the most important element, albeit the least sexy element, in true success.
True failure doesnt occur because of market conditions, or because of anyone else. True failure is directly tied to you and your actions (or lack thereof). For someone to be successful on a massive scale, they must experience true failure in their lives.
When I was in college, I played lacrosse. I came to college looking for a sport to play, and was lucky enough to have a friend introduce me to the sport of lacrosse. That first year, I started on defense on our JV team, which, despite losing a ton, was a blast.
As it is with college sports, your final win-loss record was much less important than beating the rival teams. During my time at UC Davis, that was Chico State and Sonoma State, given that our coach had come from Sonoma.
We traveled up to Rohnert Park to play a late season game. I remember playing harder than I ever had in the first half, and collapsing on the sideline for half-time. By the fourth quarter, I was spent, but the score was tied, and we went into overtime. (For those that dont know, overtime in lacrosse is sudden death, first goal wins).
The teams went back and forth for most of overtime, with neither team really making much of their offensive possessions. Nearing the end of the period, a Sonoma State attackman got the ball behind the goal. I dont remember his number or name, but I clearly remember him driving to the goal towards my left. I stepped up to slow his drive and push him to the outside. As he neared the goal, he leap up in the air.
I push him as hard as I could.
He shot the ball over my left shoulder. I remember it as if it happened in slow motion.
The ball shot down towards the back of my right ankle, and I turned to watch our goalie slide over to stop the ball. Expecting a bounce, he leaned out over the spot he expected the ball to travel.
It didnt bounce. It slipped into the lower right corner of the goal.
I watched it, helpless. Knowing that I had just had the winning goal scored on me.
Yes, one could argue that the goal should have stopped it, or that the team should have won earlier, but the truth is that at the exact moment when it mattered; I failed. Truly failed.
I watch and talk with companies constantly, and they constantly talk about failing fast, and pivoting. Its clear to me that most have never really tasted true failure, and that their pivots are reactive based on a lack of immediate success, or because the perceived path is harder than they first imagined.
Failure happens. This is true. Failure is a process, and its steps on the path. This is also true. But failure is not great. Failure is not something to strive for or accepted.
Some of the greatest entrepreneurs/investors I know understand this subtle difference. Do you?
- You Have Two Startups? You Have Two Failures. (learntoduck.com)
- Greatness (learntoduck.com)
- Failure: Necessity of Invention & Essential for Success (psychologytoday.com)
- The Upside of Failure: The Dividends of Understanding and Embracing Your Failures (philgerbyshak.com)
It’s an easy answer, right?
A secret isn’t a secret when everyone knows.
But, what I have learned is that it’s not the secret itself that matters, but the reasons behind that secret.
Lets get the secret of out the way.
Next month, I will be moving to SF. Not Graphicly, just me.
That’s a pretty easy answer. It’s the right thing to do.
I grew up in California. This is the longest I have ever been away from California. I find myself travelling out there more and more, mostly because its home. And that’s the crux of it. No matter where I have lived, for how long I have lived, California has always been home.
Because the business told me so.
In today’s world you can start any business anywhere (and raise money for that business anywhere). Location is a far secondary consideration to starting and building a business. I have seen plenty of awesome startups in Boulder, and plenty of idiot founders in San Francisco. The location doesn’t matter.
As the business grows, you find that the majority of your sales and partnership activities start to focus on an area. Your talent recruitment begins to coalesce in a single location. For Graphicly, I found myself in LA and SF at least once a month. NY was every couple of months. Where I didn’t find myself a lot was Boulder.
David Uslan, an awesome business development guy in LA came onboard. We recruited an amazing product (Micah Laaker) and tech lead (Dan Theurer) in Palo Alto, and two fantastically talented developers in SF (Mark Rebec) and Palto Alto (Zach Graves). I started to spend 95% of my day on Skype with the team in California.
Even though I was in Boulder, I was spending little time in Boulder. And when I was working out of our Boulder office, I spent all my time on skype with folks on the West Coast.
The business is telling me that I should be in California.
It’s the money right?
Fundraising really didn’t factor. We’ve had no problem raising more than $4 million in Boulder, with both rounds being well oversubscribed. We have investment from top-tier investors from Houston, Omaha, Arizona, LA, SF and NY. Recently, we have started to field a lot (a lot!) of calls from investors in NY, LA and SF. We are about story and entertainment. We are about community and collaboration. Those are businesses that East and West Coast investors understand and have more experience.
Is it Boulder?
Look, if I was married, had kids, was dating someone, or a huge lover of snow or the outdoors, I would have found a way to stay. Other than the tech community and my coworkers, Boulder is not my home. I’m a California Kid, and it’s just time. I feel that I am not “leaving” Boulder. I’m just not going to live here anymore. All the relationships stay intact. We have an office here, that I will be at–a lot–and most importantly Techstars and my friends are here.
Boulder, as a community, is amazing. It’s not any one person, and I am grateful for whatever part my interactions have been received positively.
Look out San Francisco. Be ready for a dude who learned his best startup tricks on the streets of Boulder, CO.
Hope you are ready.
- Cars and Sweet Tea (learntoduck.com)
- 5 Ways to Inspire (learntoduck.com)
- What’s in the water in Boulder, Colorado? Collaboration and success. (thenextweb.com)
- “Boulder is for Startups” (whitehouse.gov)
- TechStars Boulder: Inside the magic and mentorship of the top startup accelerator (thenextweb.com)