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Here we are. Post three of three. If you made it this far, thanks for reading along. I hope these posts have offered some helpful insight. If you haven’t read the first two parts of this series, check them out. In them, I set expectations for what the Techstars program feels like and what you’ll be doing for the 3 months. Today, I’ll finish up the series by sharing what our team at HelpSocial walked away from Techstars with. If you have any questions for our team, please reach out to us here. We would love to hear from you!
What did we get out of Techstars?
The cliche, “there’s riches in niches” is a great view to guide an early stage startup. Differentiation is what successful startups are built on. What makes your startup different? What problem do you solve better than anyone else? Focus on that. Make it awesome. Techstars forces you to focus — you won’t have time for anything else other than the most important tasks needed to drive you toward your goal.
The larger vision of the business may include going after many verticals with multiple product lines and varying sales tactics. As a startup you can get bogged down by the larger vision and the enormity of what’s needed to get there. Let the vision be a guiding light, but realize that you have to focus. Start at the beginning, first things first and make your secret sauce as great as it can be. Also, realize that startups change and pivot constantly. You need to be flexible and understand that many (probably most) of your expectations are wrong. The best entrepreneurs are developed out of people who respond well to change and can figure out what to do next when things aren’t going as planned.
Even when the focus is specific and well defined there are still a multitude of tasks that need to get done. Often it’s hard to figure out which task is more important than another. That’s what the mentors are for. Their guidance is priceless. When your head is spinning inside a tornado of tasks and goals and metrics and next steps, it’s reassuring to have experienced people that bringing outside view points to clear things up. You can’t do everything all at once — you have to pick what to focus on and then move on to the next thing. If you’re stuck, call up a mentor (the relationships with them don’t end on the last day of the program).
This skill is developed with time. As you focus, you won’t have a choice but to get better at prioritizing. The simplest way to think about it is what’s the most important thing to do right now to move us closer to our goal of X. Look at your list of tasks and objectives, rank them and get moving on the top.
Each week during Techstars, every company had a limit of 2 goals for the week. TWO! For an entire week! We took this approach: What are the two most important things the team can do this week to get us closer to our top, over-arching goal for the program? Anything that’s not working towards those 2 goals during the week are secondary and should be treated that way. Going into the program, there were things we wanted to accomplish very quickly, but they turned out to be less important than other items. So we put them on hold. This meant realizing that the cost of those two goals each week is often the sacrifice of other things that are still important and need to get done. That sacrifice is hard. Lean on your mentors for guidance and justification.
Tell a great story.
People buy based on emotion from the heart backed by logic from the brain. Knowing your target audience will reveal what balance is needed between the two. An engaging, relevant story can appeal to both areas. Whether you’re raising money from investors, pitching your product to a potential customer or working on a one-liner to describe your business, it should all start from a story that your target audience can identify with. The best Demo Day pitches are great stories. Your one-liner that describes your business should tell a story (a very concise one).
We had the amazing opportunity to work with Bill Schley of Brand Team 6. Telling a great story is hard. Thanks to Bill, he made the process much easier. -I highly recommend finding talented people from outside the company to help craft your story. The message needs to be simple and easy to understand. When you live and breath your business every day it’s very difficult to step back and make sure you’re talking about things in an accessible, jargon-free way. For some companies it can be a real challenge to explain how your business helps customers without getting technical. Dumb it down. Focus on distilling your message down to its simplest form. Help your customers, or anyone for that matter, understand why your startup exists.
Would we go through Techstars again?
Yes. Without question or hesitation. There is no doubt in my mind that we are in a better position today than we were before the program. Doors have opened up for us just because we’re associated with Techstars. We’ve built relationships that are as close as family. We now have a huge network of people willing to make introductions, give feedback, test products or do anything else to help if we ask. We’re more capable as a team and have a better vision of how things should move forward. Maybe most importantly, if things don’t go as planned, we’re better equipped to change quickly and make adjustments to keep things moving forward.
Originally published at www.helpsocial.com on April 25, 2016.