10 STARTUP LESSONS LEARNED AT TECHSTARS FOR A DAY

Guest post on TechCocktail 

In the rapidly expanding world of incubators and accelerators, TechStars stands out as the Yale of law schools or  Harvard of business schools.  More than 1,200 companies will apply for the 12-15 spots available in the New York 2012 spring class.

This past Saturday, about 70 companies were invited to participate in TechStars for a Day (TS4AD), and my co-founder and I were lucky enough to score an invitation.  Being invited to TS4AD provided a bit of validation, but we were quickly told that the day was in no way a semi-finalists round – only 5-7 of the companies in attendance will be accepted by TechStars for the 3 month program.

I was more than impressed by the quality of the speakers and candidness of their talks.  The day featured venture capitalists like Fred Wilson, Jay Levy from Zelkova Ventures, and Adam Ludwin from RRE.  More impressive than that were the numerous TechStars alumni that lent their time on a snowy Saturday to share their experiences with all of us aspiring TechStars.

If TS4AD is any indication of the quality of the program, then those lucky enough to get in will have the ride of their life, and they will get to “Do More, Faster.”  As Fred Wilson said, “TechStars will help you to rise above the noise.”

Here are the top pieces of advice we received at TS4AD, divided into 1) General and extremely helpful startup advice; 2) How to get into TechStars advice; and 3) How to get the most of out of TechStars if you are lucky enough to get in.

GENERAL AND EXTREMELY HELPFUL STARTUP ADVICE

1. Most startup fails as a result of product/market fit.  Make sure your product solves the problem in your market, and make sure the market exists.  Explore the depth of your market and the willingness of that market to try a new product.

2. Filter the advice you receive.  As an entrepreneur, your job is not only to seek advice but also to filter it.  Do not take all advice at face value – you have to take the advice and evaluate it in the context of your own situation.

3. Associates at VCs are extremely important – do not take them for granted.  Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of going right around the associates and straight to the partners, but associates can be your biggest advocates.

4. Don’t jump the gun with marketing.  Be ready to get a lot of attention.  What you want to avoid is getting attention too soon when your product is not ready and your systems are not ready to handle the increased traffic.

HOW TO GET INTO TECHSTARS ADVICE

1. Team is the most important thing in the application.  Show the “source of passion” embodied in the founders.

2. Do not cold-email mentors and alumni.  A big mistake applicants make is to reach out to all mentors and alumni in search of a recommendation.  Helpful recommendations come from people that you have a long-standing relationship with.

3. Show progress throughout the application process.  Post updates to your application as you make progress.  If you do not post any updates and show no progress at all, then the likelihood of getting in are slim to none.

HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF TECHSTARS

1. Make a plan before the start of the program.  Create a roadmap with specific goals that you want to achieve during the three month period.

2. Do not send all of your team members to every mentor meeting.  Send one person who can debrief the rest of the team.

3. Get lots of rest and tie any loose ends up before the program starts.

This is a long-ish post with lots of information, but I get the sense that the program is just like that: A lot of action, and a lot of results in a short period of time.  If fast and furious is not your style, then TechStars is not for you.  But if TS4AD is any indication of the effectiveness of the program, then I want to be a TechStar.