10 Techstars habits I am bringing home

“After you leave the program, don’t revert back to your old broken habits, keep the new powerful habits” said Natty Zola, our managing director at Techstars Boulder.

We’re a bunch of founders sitting around the conference room, and we are violently nodding our heads.

My startup MadKudu just finished the 3-month-long Techstars startup accelerator program. Those months have been the most amazing months in my work life.

It is now over. We just left a high-energy (loud?) and creative (messy?) co-sharing office space to get back to our neat and quiet office in Mountain View.

We’re extremely excited and cannot wait to double-down on our work with customers, product, etc..

But I can still hear Natty’s words. And remember Sam Altman’s post on the Post-YC Slump.

Wait, but what are those powerful habits developed in the program?

They are secret techniques that only get revealed to the worthy. It takes years of arduous learning to master them.

Just kidding! They are disappointingly simple, well-known, and easy to learn.

They changed the efficiency of our team in a big way. I wished I had implemented them early on in my career.

It’s less about the technique and more about the consistency.

I have come to realize there is no secret workout, there is no secret diet. We’re healthy if we consistently eat well, exercise, and sleep enough. What’s hard is to build the right habits and be disciplined about them.

Similarly, Techstars does not teach some mysterious oriental practices (hum, actually they do on some occasions!). Instead they do an awesome job at showing (1) which are the few proven techniques you should focus on and (2) how much impact they have on your company if you implement them for a long-enough period of time.

10 habits I pledge to keep strong

In this spirit, I’d like to share the habits we built at my startup MadKudu during the Techstars program. This is a note-to-self for those habits that really had a big impact.

Make it a habit to pro-actively help out people, each week, even in a small way, without expecting anything in return.

#GiveFirst is the one, biggest, strongest value of Techstars, and it is awesome.

The cynics among/within us already know this is the best way to build a powerful network (or to buy karma points for a better after-life!). But the main reason you do this is because it is the right thing to do and it is something you will never regret having done.

We realized in the program that making this goal explicit made us much better at it.

So simple, so limited, yet so powerful. The One Metric That Matters (OMTM) has been around for a while (eg. here or here).

The most interesting benefits for us were to (1) agree as a team as to what the main milestone was for the company and (2) displaying this metric on the wall so that every decision we make is evaluated with this in mind, and(3) keeping us honest about how much impact our hard work is doing, and rethink the plan if the impact/work ratio is not great.

Objective-Key-Results is a well-known goal-setting tool made famous by Google.

The important thing was less the exact methodology but more the fact we had a rigorous process to maximize the impact of every effort we put in. Today, we have a daily standup, a weekly OKR meeting review, and a small offsite on the first Friday of every month.

Before joining Techstars, this sounded like a heavy process for such a small team but it was wrong to think this way. It is critical to set this up at the very first moment of the company and to be disciplined about it.

This technique was new to me. Zach Nies opened my eyes there.

There is a bigger framework around it, but to keep it short, the idea is to remove risk in your business by pro-actively doing the two things below each week:

  1. identify what is the big unknown that may hurt you if you don’t make a decision or have an answer.
  2. plan what needs to be done to get to a decision or an answer within a week, either through experimentation or through asking experts.

If you do this for just 3 months, you have answered 12 key questions on your business. This is huge!

We sent a weekly email to our mentors and friends during the 3 months of the program.

A huge and unexpected value from those updates is that it keeps you dead honest about the progress you are making. As a founder, your natural state is to be very excited by what you are doing. This this great, but it is also blinding.

It is extremely helpful to see if your progress are exciting to other people as well. If they are not, think about what needs to be done to make it happen.

During the program, a great moment of each week was the dinner were we get together with all the startups of the program. There, there would be a special time dedicated for people to thank other people who helped, or share a good piece of news, or acknowledge something they have put in the ditch.

Each team or company can create its own format. But make sure to have a place and structure to spend a few minutes each week on appreciating the journey, recognizing the people who have given you a push in the right direction, and accepting that not everything always happen the way you like.

“Ouch that hurts… let’s get more of this!” was something we said often during the program.

We met 51 Techstars mentors in the first month and got questioned about every aspect of our business (Brad Feld wrote a great article about the benefit of mentor whiplash). This was often tough. And this was awesome.

The key learning for us was less about how to process lots of conflicting information and more about the importance of going naked in the outside world and let various people criticize our work. Extremely valuable, to keep doing!

I am a productivity app addict. I’ve worked with Basecamp, Wunderlist, Producteev, Pivotal, Jira, Trello, you name it.

But when we got into the Techstars office, every company used a big old-school whiteboard. I had never seen so many stickies in so many places in my life.

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There is a good reason for that. Having your scrum board, KPIs, company values, customer onboarding queue physically available around you, at all times, makes it much easier to identify issues, stuck items or things to prioritize on.

That one sounds stupid. But before Techstars, we were little aware of the power of rehearsing.

The elevator pitch? Sure, I would improvise one (and often a weak one!) as I met new people. Sales call? Sure, I have done this many times before, I am smart, I will adapt with the flow.

No no no!

Techstars was relentless on making us rehearse stuff. Write down a version of the elevator pitch, try it, re-write it, re-try-it, and that 20 times. Same for sales call, write down every question asked, try an answer, and constantly improve. I realized the best performers are not just talented, they practice, practice and practice again. I know… thank you Captain Obvious.

That one comes from the famous Brad Feld. This is a hard thing to do when you are obsessed about your mission and feel like you need every second of the day to move the dream forward. But as Brad elegantly says, “don’t believe your own bullshit” and just do it.

At MadKudu, we use the end of our daily standup to tell whether or not we have been able to spend this one hour, and more importantly, how we have scheduled time today for that.

In conclusion…

Our brainy old friend Aristotle famously said:

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

I guess this also applies to teams and companies.

So… what are the habits you believe in?

Co-founder at MadKudu. In a love-triangle with data science and technology. Flamenco player when drunk. Happy (and struggling) father of four otherwise.

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