Recently, I had the good fortune of meeting with two of the partners at Techstars, David Brown (also a co-founder) and Ari Newman, both of whom have an electric vibrancy for the future, to discuss Techstars’ POV and the topic of entrepreneurs in general.
For background, Techstars is a global ecosystem that empowers entrepreneurs to bring new technologies to market wherever they choose to live. It supports the world’s most promising entrepreneurs throughout their lifelong journey, from inspiration to IPO. Founded in 2006, Techstars already has dozens of mentorship-driven accelerator programs and thousands of startup programs worldwide.
Techstars has become immensely successful, and David and Ari have seen thousands upon thousands of new business ideas, so they were able to provide some insight on not only how to gain backers and get your business off the ground, but for how to create and sustain an overall solid business that will remain successful long-term.
Build core values to set company culture
Culture helps a company thrive. Founders need to fundamentally ask, "How can I help?" or, "Is it good for the company?" They shouldn't be asking, "What’s in it for me."
Newman explained that for Techstars, the founder focus is one of the main core values, doing what is right for founders. Another key core value is to give first, which means we don’t have to be transactional, just try to help where you can.
There’s a sort of karma that comes along with building a company around values other than money. From experience, the Techstars team have found that the majority of founders they have worked with are appreciative of that culture.
People matter more than the idea
A lot of people within Techstars and similar companies, look for the team-market-progress-idea when evaluating startups.
According to Brown, people matter more than the idea. If you think about some of the most successful companies in the world, the original idea they started with isn’t the thing that made them the most successful. It was the founder’s and the team’s ability to read customer feedback, look into the future, and adapt. Amazon didn’t become Amazon because the founder was so stuck on selling books.
It’s not about the money
Even if, when you’re just getting started, it may feel like money and getting money and spending money are the most important things, they’re not.
Reflecting back on the fact that people matter more than the idea, Brown and Newman suggest that it’s about the team’s ability to execute and listen to feedback, and make opportunities and move quickly. It’s the team that makes a difference between a fast growth company and one that sort of can’t get out of their own way.
Don’t be intimidated by the accelerating cycles of tech
Entrepreneurs may think that there is a part of the innovation process that might be more attractive than another when approaching people to invest time and money into their startup. Techstars shuts that idea down.
According to Newman, there are opportunities as an investor and opportunities for supporters of startups to be on that journey regardless of where [entrepreneurs] are in that cycle.
Indicators of potential success
There are positive indicators and then there are negative indicators.
Actually caring deeply about the problem that you’re solving is one of the biggest positives, but Newman and Brown warn against ideas that only solve your own pain points, but has no customer interest. Brown explains that this means, “...entrepreneurs that build a business because they are scratching their own itch.”
Another negative indicator would be letting those commonly heard entrepreneurial drivers be what makes you start a company, such as, ‘I want to work my own hours; I don’t want to have a boss.’ Those are counter-indicators. Because that is not life in a startup. That’s not an entrepreneur that investors would choose.
The X-Factor described
The final trait that is investors are looking for, not surprisingly enough, is the talent and the natural ability to not only get things done quickly but get the right things done.
As long as from day one entrepreneurs stick to their core values approaching it with Techstars' mentality: for the good of the founders, the DNA of the company, and the original mission; and not focusing just the money, then your chances of creating a solid company are pretty darn good.
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