Second post of the series: What happens during a startup accelerator like Techstars?

Matt Wilbanks
Apr 22, 2016 · 4 min read

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Picture courtesy of the wonderful Kara Gomez. @gutsygomez

In the last post I covered what to expect from the Techstars experience. Today, here’s a view of what you’ll be doing during the program. Again, questions about the HelpSocial team’s experience are welcome! Contact us here.

The first month of Techstars was affectionately known as “Mentor Madness” in our program. For a month, all day long, you and your co-founder(s) are scheduled for 20 minute meetings with mentors, back to back. Think speed-dating for startups. We got to know a little about our mentors and they got to know a little about us. Over the course of the month, each team takes additional, longer meetings with the mentors they connected with most. Eventually, every team will ask at least one mentor to be their lead mentor for the program to help guide them through the next phases. This was quite an adjustment and probably the toughest month of the program for us. Our calendars were suddenly full, our established routine was gone and after a jammed packed day of back to back meetings, we still had a business to run and decisions to make. I mentioned late nights and stress in the last post, right? Yeah…

Choosing a lead mentor (or multiple leads) can depend on the advisory structure you already have in place. If you have advisors you can lean on already, find the mentors that think completely differently or have strengths in areas you’re lacking. The mentors are completely devoted to helping you succeed but it’s up to you to make the most of this. Think about where you need help — what are the most pressing areas that need to be improved — and look for mentors that can apply experience there.

“Mentor-whiplash” is a real thing and a term you’ll hear often. You’ll meet with so many different people and will inevitably get opposing views giving the feeling like you’re being pulled one way and then quickly pulled the other. Which advice do you take? Finding a mentor that can take a middle position and help you think through all the advice you’re getting is hugely valuable. Our program director was also an awesome sounding board for these types of situations.

Another amazing shot from @gutsygomez.

The second month is all about applying the knowledge you’re picking up from mentors. Get to work. Set goals, and get constant feedback the entire way from your lead mentor(s). Work with the other teams — everyone is in this together and has different experiences that can be really helpful. Whatever your main goal is, focus on making as much progress toward that as possible because in the next month you’re going to spend almost every moment of it preparing for Demo Day.

Techstars Demo Day. A few people told us before the program started that we would spend a solid month working on a 5-minute pitch and an accompanying slide deck to present at the end of the program. I thought that was ridiculous and they were crazy. They weren’t. We spent 30 days writing, designing, re-writing, re-designing and practicing a 5 minute presentation of our business model and the opportunity we have with HelpSocial. As extreme as that sounds, it was completely worth the time. If I could do it over again, I’d get started on the pitch sooner.

The idea behind Demo Day is to present to the world what you’ve been working on for the last 3 months. You could think of it as a graduation ceremony or a victory lap, only with this event, for most startups, it will kick off fund raising with investors so there is a lot of pressure to have a good show. Most startups will never have a stage with exposure like this again. The opportunity is huge so take advantage of it and be ready. It’s worth a month of your time to get it right.

The pitch you put together will be unlike any other pitch you’ll give to investors or customers. It will include many of the same components, but Demo Day is all about telling a story and creating excitement about what you’re doing. The pitch is also very targeted toward a specific audience and depends on what you want to get out of the day. Raising money — focus on investors, maybe even a specific investor you want on board. Want to use the day to launch a product? Your pitch should be directed at the type of customers you’re going after. At HelpSocial, we were launching a fund raising round so our pitch was targeted towards investors. If you’d like to see ours, it’s here.

After Demo Day, you’ll wake up ready for a short break. Take a day or two — but don’t take a vacation! You’ve got a huge amount of momentum coming off of that stage — use it! Attract your next employees, sign up new customers and reach out to investors. Get your sleeping schedule back in order and establish a new routine where your foot is firmly on the gas.

In the next post I’ll cover the main points of what we got out of the program. Have questions for the HelpSocial team? Contact us here.


Originally published at on April 22, 2016.

Matt Wilbanks

Written by

CEO, Co-Founder @HelpSocial. I've been known to swim, bike and run. Sometimes all in the same day. Love #TexasBBQ.