What I learned from meeting 100+ mentors in 3 months at Techstars

Our METRO Accelerator Powered By Techstars — Retail 2018 cohort 😍

When Ayushmaan (my co-founder) & I were thinking about joining the METRO Accelerator powered by Techstars, we spoke to multiple people in the startup ecosystem in India. They told us, go join Techstars & build a strong network. Also, they added that most importantly, Techstars will open doors for us to raise our next round of investment.

I can confidently say this today, they all got the Techstars experience dead wrong. The #1️⃣ thing that we got out of Techstars is learnings from 100’s of mentors that have accelerated our growth by over a year.

As an entrepreneur you’re always solving problems, yet there’s someone in the world who has solved most of those problems already. Techstars gave us an opportunity to learn from people like that so that we could solve problems in days, NOT years. 💥

By the end of the 3 months we had the building blocks to solve every challenge that most startups face… customer development, sales, marketing, pricing, financial planning…. you name it. Trust me, I could write a blog or 2 on each and every one of those learnings 😎

Since Techstars made such a big difference in Xeno’s journey, I’m listing down a 3 part series over the next few weeks to cover different aspects so entrepreneurs all over the world can learn from our experience too.

  1. How Techstars accelerated our growth & what you can learn from it
  2. How to prepare before going into an accelerator experience
  3. Maximising learnings during the accelerator experience

How Techstars accelerated our startup’s growth by years

We made a choice to walk into day 1 of Techstars with an open mind, no preconceived notions at all. All I remember thinking was — Whatever opportunities open up, I’m going to try and maximise them. Whatever work comes our way, we’ll give it our 100% and then just see what happens.

Little did we know, this accelerator program would take our business to the next level…

Our first workshop was with Mo Syed who showed us how much we still didn’t know about our customers + how to figure it out. Then, Francis Goodenday asked me about Xeno and enabled me to transform everything I’d say into a beautiful narrative. It was like magic. Whatever I originally said, Francis showed me how to say it 100x better.

That my friends happened in just our first 2 meetings. I can keep going on & on here with every single one of my meeting & learnings, but that would become a book.📗

Instead I’m going to focus in on sharing 3 key learnings that really moved the needle at growing Xeno & I believe can help many early stage startups.

Learning 1 — A step by step system to build a massive company

4 Steps to the epiphany framework by Steve Blank

Before joining Techstars, we already had over 100 paying customers but we weren’t able to grow as fast as we wanted. Then, Jens Lapinski showed us the 4 Stages to the Epiphany framework and how to use it to solve challenges 1 by 1, instead of trying to solve everything together to find product market fit & then scale up the company.

We modified the framework slightly for ourselves (a SaaS company) & used the below steps to move towards building a massive company.

0. Clarity on market

We didn’t just say that we’re going to sell to a particular type of company, we actually made a list of over a 1000 brands with their size & potential revenues for us.

✅ One simple check at this step, is the potential revenue number large enough, assuming you get 10% of our market.

1. Clarity on value proposition

Customers had been buying Xeno, but we weren’t sure why. Of course, we always wanted to know, yet we were not asking customers the right questions to find the answer. Elizabeth Kimball’s customer development framework showed us how we could talk to customers to understand truly why they were buying our product. I will talk about this framework more in a while. Also, a simple way to write your value proposition is using the FAB — Feature Advantage Benefit model.

✅ You’ve succeeded when you know exactly what problem you’re solving for your customers & why your approach to the problem is different that anyone else’s.

2. Product delivers value proposition with strong unit economics

Once we were clear on our value proposition, we could align our entire team to focus on delivering & validating that increase in conversions. In the last few months we’ve been able to increase conversions by over 100% for a few brands.

There are 2 key things to remember here -

1️⃣ Initially focus on delivering the value proposition, not building a complicated automated software that’ll work at scale

✅ You’ve succeed at this stage if you have proof that you can continuously deliver that value proposition

3. Setup a repeatable & scalable sales & marketing system

Now you might think that we were already working with customers to get the product to deliver the value proposition, so what’s the different thing that we’re going to do at the 3rd stage.

It’s a change in focus. Our goal at stage 3 is to find a way that works to scaleable way to sign up customers & convert them into paid users. We’re still solving this puzzle out at Xeno.

✅ You’ll feel success here when you’ve signed up more paying customers than you could have imagined for 3 months in a row, or if you have 5 large enterprise customers that you signed up with the same deal flow process.

4. Scaling up to build a massive company

Now our market, value proposition, product, sales & marketing system is all ready. Now it’s time to scale up. This is where the hockey stick growth happens. This is what we read the most about in the news, for example, startup X goes from 2 to 30 sales people in 8 months & scales from $1M to $30M in ARR in just 2 years. This is where VC’s help the most.

Do you know what’s really interesting about this step by step system to build a massive company? Every startup goes through it. Apple, Microsoft, Google, Salesforce, Intuit… you name it. [Click to tweet]
The proof is in all their hockey stick curves where they spent a lot of time on discovery in the early days.

At Xeno, like any other startup, we were in a hurry to grow and were trying to solve many of these challenges at once… that just took way way more money & time. The moment we followed this framework & went after it step by step, we made more progress in 3 months than we did in the previous 3 years. You can learn more about the framework here.

Learning 2 — How to 10x your customer understanding in 2 weeks

Since day one of Xeno, we put in a lot of effort to understand our customers’ problems. What we never realized, was that we were only scratching the surface. The customer development framework we learned from Elizabeth Kimball at Techstars, and then used to speak to over 30 potential customers, helped us unlock what the customers really wanted.

Executing this framework is the fastest way to solve step 1 towards building a massive company. You can follow the below 4 steps from Elizabeth’s framework.

Write down your assumptions

Just ask yourself: What has to be true for your solution/business model/feature to work? What are the biggest sources of risk for you at this moment? The answers to those 2 questions are your assumptions.

Design tests for the 5 most important assumptions

Use one of the below ways to design a test.

The different types of tests that are possible

Run the test/ talk to customers a.k.a. conduct research

For us that meant talking to 30 prospective customers with specific questions in mind & testing out certain algorithms to see if our product could deliver the value we’ve promised or not.

Make sense of the research results + solution brainstorming

Spend an hour or 2 maximum analysing the data or answers you got from customers. A quick back to do that is to bucket customer remarks into 4 categories and trying to answer the questions in step 1 or 2.

How to learn from the customer interview responses

Surprise, surprise, after running this process we discovered that what customers truly wanted and what we/ our competitors were pitching to them didn’t match. Those learnings that we discovered with this customer development framework are now our secret sauce & have forever changed the Xeno path 😉

Learning 3 — How to create the perfect sales pitch

Remember seeing Steve Jobs walk up on stage to launch the iPhone. The entire was in awe of the presentation he delivered. I used to think that Steve Jobs just had the flair to awe everyone, and of course he did, but what I realised later was that a team of consultants, Steve Jobs and a core part of the Apple team spent day & night every single day for 6 weeks practicing every word and every step of that pitch to perfection.

At Techstars, 2 of the best sales rockstars I’ve ever met, Marc & Lars Conrad from the Maschmeyer Group walked us through the same process that Steve Jobs went through to launch the iPhone so that we could deliver the perfect sales pitch on any stage. Here’s what I learned:

A perfect sales pitch is 7% content & 93% body language plus the way we speak. Click to tweet

My first reaction when I heard that, you’re crazy, that’s not possible. Today I can vouch for it being true. That’s why at Xeno we follow the below system to create the perfect pitch every single time.

The below 3 steps are focused on creating & practicing a perfect sales pitch, one of the steps of a framework called “Practice It. Dream It. Just Do It.” that I wrote about a couple of months back.

1. Prepare the content

We prepared a standard pitch to talk about our company, a sales playbook to handle sales objections, call scripts etc. A customer success playbook that defines the way we’ll talk to existing customers etc. Every time we learn something new, we come back & update our playbooks. Anytime we need to pitch something different, first we write down the content.

2. Learn the content

Once you’ve finalised the content you need to learn it by heart. That means a lot of just saying the content over & over again. The idea here is not that you’ll use the same identical words every time, instead that you’ll be able to speak without thinking.

1 magical thing will happen the moment you learn the content, the 7% of the pitch. Your confidence will go up & your 93%, the way you deliver will automatically improve. Trust me, record yourself trying to say your company’s value proposition, then learn it & say it again. Compare the 2 recordings & you’ll be surprised by the 2 results.

3. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Just practice as many times as you can in front of either people or mirrors. Their is no rocket science, just keep practicing & you’ll get better over time.

The key thing to remember in this system is that the concrete improvement takes time to happen because their is an inflection point. The time it takes to get there can be frustrating, trust me as I was getting pushed through this process by our pitch coach Amy Tez & mentors at Techstars, their were times when I just felt like I couldn’t make it, but trust me by the end of it, it was sooooo worth it..

You can see the difference in how we spoke about Xeno before and after Techstars:

These 3 are just a small pie of the learnings we’ve had at Techstars in the amazing 3 months. Over the next months I’ll be talking more around the many other learnings we’ve had like simplified financial planning to ensure we never run out of money or setting up compensation schemes to reward employees. The best part, this is just the start, they say #Techstars4Life so I’m really excited about the learnings we’ll get over the next few years too :)

If I had to simply put it down in one sentence…

Techstars accelerator taught us how to build & scale a startup ⚡ (Click to tweet)

The name says “Accelerator” and that’s legit what it is — in every single way. Xeno’s growth has been accelerated by more than a year all thanks to Techstars. Big thanks to Jag Singh (our MD), Kelly Adam (our PM), Metro Accelerator (the Techstars program we joined), Techstars and over a 100 amazing mentors who #GiveFirst for making this happen. We’re ever grateful 👏

Want to know something in particular about our Techstars experience? Just drop a comment and we’ll be happy to spill the deets. Looking to work at Xeno, check out our open roles.

If this blog helped you in any way, share it to help other entrepreneurs ❤