Techstars Seattle used to be located in the South Lake Union, surrounded by Amazon buildings, construction cranes, and food trucks. But in July, we cranked it up a notch, by moving into Startup Hall in the University District. Here is the story and vision behind Startup Hall and why this is the perfect marriage.
This is one of my favorite times of the year. Not only is it summer in Seattle, but I also get to announce the 10 companies who made the cut for the Techstars Seattle program. This year we received over 600 applications for just 10 spots, making it harder than...
I often get asked the question: “What is the best place for startups, Silicon Valley or Seattle?” It’s a fair question. Silicon Valley has been the frontrunner of technology and innovation ever since the foundation of Fairchild Semiconductors. It is the region with the most venture capital and the highest concentration of technology startups in the world. Yet, Seattle has fostered great companies such as Microsoft and Amazon, and we have a thriving startup community. I generally don’t care for comparing the places, each place is distinct, both have their strengths and weaknesses, and you can create great companies in both locations. Usually it comes down to...
Great news rolled in today. Leanplum, a Techstars Seattle alumni, just closed a series A round. Leanplum is out of the Techstars Seattle 2012 class. The two ex-Google founders Momchil and Andrew worked immensely hard during the three-months program, or as they call it “our ninety day week”. It initially paid off with a $825k seed-round raised upon Demo Day, and now an additional $4.8m from Shasta Ventures.
The countdown has started, and I'm getting really excited.
This year, Techstars Seattle is expanding its focus. Traditionally, we have been focused on software companies, because of their nature - they scale easily. However, similar to the companies we accept into our accelerator, we also have to adjust our focus according to what is happening in the market. One of the most exciting market trends is, in my opinion, the Internet of Things (IoT). Decreasing costs of hardware components is making it possible to connect virtually anything to the internet or a smart device. This opens up for countless opportunities to bring new exciting products to market. NEST, which was recently acquired by Google, is a great example of an IoT-company. Their focus is just one of many opportunities to make our homes, businesses, and "dumb" devices smarter.
For this reason, Techstars Seattle is accepting IoT-focused hardware companies to the 2014 program. Are you working on an exciting startup in this space? - Apply to Techstars Seattle before the final deadline on May 4th. You can apply here.
Ian Sefferman still goes to work in Seattle’s South Lake Union every day, but instead of walking into one of the many Amazon buildings, where he used to be a software developer, he walks up the stairs to MobileDevHQ, the company he founded in 2012. MobileDevHQ was part of the Techstars Seattle 2012 class.
What is MobileDevHQ?
MobileDevHQ is an enterprise app marketing platform. We are basically SEO for apps. We help you rank higher in the organic search in the app store by suggesting new and better keywords and measuring your performance compared to your competition.
On your first day of Techstars, how far in the process were you?
We had a product and we had revenue, so in that sense we were probably further than most Techstars companies. That meant we were spending time running a business and whilst following the program, this was somewhat challenging at times.
During those three months, what happened to the idea, the product?
We had revenue already and could probably have built a nice little business out of it, but Techstars gave us the permission to think bigger in terms of product, customers, and funding. We realized that maybe we should focus more on the enterprise customers instead of the indie developers we were targeting. This has shown to be a great path. We currently have customers like Move.com, Hotels.com, Big Fish, and realtor.com and for the past six months we have had a 20-30% month over month growth rate.
What was the best piece of advice you got at Techstars?
That you need to make a strategy to deal with mentor whiplash - you will get a lot of advice from mentors, which sometimes can be contradicting. In the end, it is up to you to decide the best path for your company, but you need a strategy to handle all this information. I loved all the mentorship, but because we had to run a business on the side of the Techstars program, we decided to limit the information flow and just have three high-quality mentors.
Fast forward to demo day, what were you thinking just before getting on stage?
To be honest, I wasn’t thinking much. Maybe that I needed to eat something, but I couldn’t. So much preparation had gone into this moment. Time spent on perfecting the pitch, getting feedback from mentors, making the presentation look good.
What was the outcome of demo day?
The day went great, we were well-received by investors and even signed up a few customers. We were aiming for $600,000 in funding and managed to raise $650,000 within a month after demo day. That was perfect for us, we didn’t want to raise too much money either.
Has Techstars helped you beyond the program?
Yes, I still use the network a lot. We have a mailing list and an online board, which is seen by other Techstars companies all over the world, and mentors as well. If you need to get a contact in a company you want to sell to, or a piece of advice, you just send an email to the mailing list. It is great. I also went to Founder Con last year, where I met with other Techstars founders. It was awesome sharing experiences and connect. Techstars is a pretty amazing network.
If you are interested in becoming part of this network, apply for the Techstars Seattle program. We are currently accepting applications and the final deadline is May 4. Apply now!
Watch the Founder Con 2013 video:
I am for economic growth. Now, this shouldn’t be an earth-shattering surprise to you, few people are against growth. However, you might encounter people who are for economic growth, but against immigration. Here is why that is a juxtaposition.
In many ways, immigration equals economic growth. Don’t take my word for it, look at the facts:
- 40% of fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children (source).
- Immigrants start ¼ of technology and engineering companies in the U.S even though they only represent ⅛ of the population (source).
- In 2012, immigrant-founded engineering and technology companies employed 560,000 workers and generated $63 billion in sales nationwide (source)
These are impressive numbers. To top it up, here are three concrete examples of successful immigrants:
- Jan Koum, born in Ukraine, and co-founder of Whatsapp, which was recently sold to Facebook for $19 billion.
- Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo and born in Taiwan. Yahoo’s market cap: $37 billion
- Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google and born in Russia. Google’s market cap: $379 billion.
This country is built on immigration, our history and our heritage has created a culture and a narrative that is unparalleled by any other nation. The U.S. is where smart people from other nations come to prove themselves, and this brings economic growth for everyone. But, we don’t just need talented immigrants to start companies, we also need them to meet the huge demand from already established American companies.
More than one-fourth of science and engineering firms already report difficulty hiring, and this is only going to get worse. Over the last 10 years, jobs in STEM have grown three times as fast as jobs in the rest of the economy, but the number of Americans studying STEM is growing by less than 1% per year (Source: ESA & McKinsey). The U.S. is facing a projected shortfall of more than 200,000 advanced-degree STEM jobs by 2018 (Source)
As a country, we can’t compete on salaries levels, but we can compete in terms of knowledge and innovation. Unfortunately, the current immigration laws are inhibiting our competitiveness. The latest round of applications for H-1B visas for high-skilled workers exceeded the annual limit within a week. 172,500 H-1B petitions were filed for 85,000 visas, the highest number ever recorded for H-1B demand (Source). Keep in mind, these are company-sponsored visas and thus a reflection of a real demand.
FWD.us and The Partnership for a New American Economy (PNAE) are working on convincing Congress to accelerate an immigration reform and keeping America’s tech sector competitive. As part of this effort, FWD.us and PNAE are organizing 12 events all over the country during the last two weeks of April. Techstars Seattle is hosting one of these events.
Join us, and local entrepreneurs, investors, and leaders for a conversation on why immigration reform is critical to the tech and start-up communities in Seattle. The event takes place on Tuesday April 22 from 6pm - 8pm at 511 Boren Ave N, Seattle. See who is on the panel and register here: http://pnae.us/icodesea
If you can’t attend, help us spread the word on Twitter (click to tweet), and if you are an entrepreneur or an investor, sign the letters urging Congress to advance immigration reform.
If we succeed, an expansion of the high-skilled visa program would create an estimated 10,400 new jobs in Washington by 2020.
When Giant Thinkwell got accepted into the 2010 Techstars Seattle class, they were working on an idea that used celebrities as main characters in games. It turned out to be harder to convince celebrities to participate in this idea, than they had hoped. The Techstars program was going at full speed and they were running out of time. Despite not having any celebrities on board, the team decided to create a game loosely based on Lady Gaga and launch it. In just 24 hours they managed to get tens of thousands of users to play 500,000 times. Unfortunately, they also received a few friendly notices from lawyers. They had hit a road block and needed to come up with a different idea.
Like many other Techstars companies they pivoted. Instead of making games, they decided to create a mobile presentation app, that was simple; beautiful; and fun. Haiku Deck was born.
Techstars Seattle created a deck that sums up what Haiku Deck and Techstars are all about. Check it out below.
Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app
Techstars and Kaplan have joined forces again this year for a startup accelerator dedicated to EdTech startups. The 3 month program will be based in New York City, and with the resources of both a world leading education company and the #1 startup accelerator it will offer unprecedented access for 10 EdTech teams in addition to offering funding of $170K to each company. The 2013 class was a resounding success with 100% of the companies raising post program financing and raising more than $15 million. Come find out more about how to take your EdTech Startup to the next level.
If you are or know of a EdTech Startup, we will be hosting an info session at the WeWork (500 Yale Ave N) on April 14th at 6pm. Food, beer and soft drinks will be provided. We will also host an Alumni Panel so you can hear about the experience of going through a Techstars program. Just click on the link below for more details and to sign up:
We look forward to seeing you April 14th!
It is Friday morning and I am meeting with Avi Cavale a Techstars alumni from the 2013 class. Avi is the co-founder and CEO of Shippable - a hosted continuous integration and deployment service, that helps developers ship code faster. Avi was leading a team of 150 developers in his position as Product Unit Manager at Microsoft before starting Shippable in August 2012.
I walk into Cherry Street Coffee House and sit down with Avi just as he is finishing a meeting with Jonathan Reichhold, a Techstars mentor. Jonathan started Twitter’s Seattle office and scaled the service. Now, Avi is benefitting from Jonathan' knowledge in his own effort to scale Shippable. This time it is my turn to hear about Avi’s experience with Techstars and how he made the decision to start Shippable after spending 11 years at Microsoft.
What made you take the step from a secure job at Microsoft to starting your own company?
I was managing 150 developers in China, India, and the U.S. working on Kinect. By the end of it we were working 20 hour days, it was sort of crazy. I realized I was just a small minion in a big machinery. Even though I worked on a successful product like Kinect, I didn’t feel that our team's impact was significant enough to matter to Microsoft as a whole.
When the project came to an end there was a reorganization going on. Usually, if you take a new leading position after one of these larger changes, you commit yourself to another 3-4 years. I figured it would take me a long time to reach a position where I would have a real impact and decided it was a good time to make the shift.
What scared you the most about making this change?
I was most afraid of not knowing how to run a startup. I was afraid of failing, because when you start your own company it all depends on you. I decided to join Uhuru Software, a small startup, to learn about entrepreneurship before starting my own.
How did you come up with the idea for Shippable and what made you start it?
While working at Uhuru, I learned a lot about open source. I was fascinated by how quickly a team of 50 developers scattered around the globe could get things done without ever seeing each other. It was a big contrast to my experience at Microsoft, where it was a very slow and tedious process to ship code. I decided to focus on open source techniques to help developers ship code faster.
How did you build your team?
I needed a co-founder with development experience and business acumen. Manisha had a lot experience as a developer and had obtained an MBA from UC Berkeley. I knew her from Microsoft days and thought she would be perfect for the job. Luckily, I convinced her to help start Shippable.
Tell me about the progress of Shippable, from starting out to joining Techstars.
I left my job at Uhuru in August 2012 to work on Shippable. In December 2012 we started programming and had an early beta ready in March 2013. I wanted Geekwire to write about our release, but I didn’t know how to get news coverage. I saw that Geekwire was having a ping pong tournament and decided to join. Not only did I manage to win the tournament and get Geekwire’s attention, I also met Greg Gottesman from Madrona Venture Group. Greg helped with a lot of free advice and guidance. He recommended me to meet with Techstars and helped me with introduction.
What made you apply to Techstars?
I met withTechstars and quickly learned that we were approaching the problem in the wrong way. We had already realized that our product didn’t resonate with potential customers. We had built a product that solved my pain but not that of our customers. Just because you have a pain, that doesn’t mean everybody else are having the same experience. We didn’t really know if we were solving a significant pain for developers. Techstars helped us realize that.
Techstars gave real and honest feedback, and I quickly learned what they thought of us and our product - good and bad. You never got that kind of feedback at Microsoft, so it was a refreshing change. Techstar’s approach helped us improve a lot and that persuaded me to apply.
I also saw Techstars as an opportunity to reduce risk. Most startups fail, so your job is to mitigate risk. Getting access to mentors and connections increases your likelihood of success. You join a family where everyone helps each other and everyone is cheering you on.
What was Techstars like for you?
Techstars is like being a rock star for three months. You become part of this tightly knit network and have everyone cheering for you and helping you succeed, but it is also intense learning. I often compare it to going back to kindergarten, in the sense that you learn so much in such a short time. We would have lectures from experts on how to acquire users, do marketing, or get funding. As an example we had Dan Shapiro, who has sold two tech companies (one to Google), give the Techstars class advice on how to succeed as a tech-company.
Were you not worried about giving up equity to Techstars?
The 6% equity that Techstars takes isn’t remotely expensive. On the contrary I think it is mind-boggling what you get in return; mentorship, connections, advice, and access to venture capital. Techstars doesn’t even require preferred shares or a board seat. If you went elsewhere, you wouldn’t get those kind of terms.
If you need to do fundraising at some point, I believe you have to go through Techstars. It will increase your valuation and likelihood of success. I didn’t have any experience fundraising, but Techstars teaches you how, and when you have offers, Techstars is an open forum where you can always ask for advice.
You also have to remember, it is in your best interest to give up equity to Techstars. You want to have as many friends of the company as possible, and when your friends have a bit of skin in the game, they are more likely to help you.
What do you wish you had known before joining the program?
You have to be super organized. You cannot drop the ball during those three months. I learned that lesson when I met with one of our mentors one week before the program started. I showed up unprepared, expecting it would just be a meet and greet. I hadn’t even brought a notepad and a pen. The meeting resulted in him telling me off for not being prepared and not taking it seriously. I learned my lesson, and throughout the program we were always on top of things. I think we were the only group who never missed a meeting with a mentor.
What was the best part of Techstars?
The best part of Techstars is the passion, excitement, and how much time mentors spend with you. They sit down on a weekly basis and share their advice, experience, and even their entrepreneurial horror stories. One of our mentors was Darrel Cavens, CEO of Zulily, who would spend an hour with us almost every week despite his busy schedule. You don’t get that kind of access anywhere else.
What is your advice to people who are considering applying for Techstars?
You absolutely have to apply.
Applications for Techstars class of 2014 opened on March 17. Apply Now!
Early deadline is April 13 and the final deadline is May 4.
It’s that time of year again!
I’m thrilled to announce that we have opened applications for our 5th Techstars program here in Seattle! 2013 was a great success for the entrepreneurs and the entire Seattle community. We’re really excited about making 2014 even better.
I’ve been receiving a lot of questions about what an applicant can do to strengthen their application or get my attention, so I decided to write a post with a few tips on how to make your application/company stand out in the crowd.
1. Amazing team and product video. If you are strapped for time I would highly recommend spending it on the video. The video is your first impression to me and other application reviewers so you want it to be good. Really try to show your team and products personality so we can get a sense of who you are and what you are building.
2. Referrals. Start networking with alumni and mentors. We take referrals seriously. Try to talk to as many people in the Techstars network as you can and have them write an email to me or Linsey Battan, Techstars Seattle Program Manager (email@example.com). NOTE: This does not mean become a spammer! Do not start cold emailing the entire mentor list, if we find that you are doing that it will hurt your application.
3. Meet me at open coffee. During the next few months I’ll be attending open coffee at Louisa’s on Eastlake. I would recommend trying to meet with me there. You can also reach out to directly to Linsey Battan (Program Manager) or Egita Polanska (Associate) at Techstars Seattle – as their schedules aren’t as packed as mine.
4. Apply early. Applying early increases your chance of getting in. (period)
We’re looking for smart, cohesive teams that can iterate quickly and execute. If you are one of these people then join forces with Techstars Seattle and see what three months of top-notch mentorship could mean to your startup.
Apply now! Early application deadline is April 13th and final deadline is May 4th.
Over the past 4 years of running Techstars Seattle I've seen a lot of applicants come from big companies like Amazon and Microsoft. Everyone has their different reason for wanting to start a company, but for the most part the common thread was that this was on their bucket list, but they didn't know how or where to start, or what the resources were in Seattle. That's why I'm hosting Seattle Startups 101: Intro to Techstars and Seattle startup scene. If you are interested in learning more about Techstars and what the startup scene has to offer you should join us. We will have 4 ex-Amazonians who are Techstars Alumni speak on a panel to talk about their experiences leaving a big company to start their own.
6:30pm- Welcome by Andy Sack, Managing Director of Techstars Seattle
6:40pm- Panel of former Amazon employees who have graduated from Techstars
8:30pm- Event ends
I wanted to give a shout out for Seattle Startup Week, happening next week, Oct. 21 through 25. There are tons of amazing tech focused events including:Techstars Seattle Demo Day
andGeekwire's Startup Day
If you are an entrepreneur, investor, or just want to learn more about startups in Seattle, I highly encourage you to come to any of these amazing events. Thanks to Geekwire for helping to get the word out!
Very recently back from a Lean LaunchPad Incubators/Accelerators Program at Columbia University, led by Steve Blank and a host of other notables including Jerry Engel and Eric Koester, hosted by the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance and the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter). Attendees included folks from academia, start-up land, government agencies, venture capital investors, healthcare institutes, and large corporations from as close by as City College of NY and as far afield as Aukland, NZ.
Over two very intense days, we all focused on how to apply Lean principles to the problems of incubating and accelerating important new ideas and initiatives.
As you can imagine, I learned a lot, but I wanted to capture for you all some of the most salient items for technology ventures:
1. Teams are jazzed about Lean processes and implementing rapid innovation in their organizations, but it still takes cultural change, preferably from the top, to make this new way of innovating really work. This is true even - and possibly especially - in very large organizations where "the way we've always done things" has gotten calcified. To combat the inertia that seems to inevitably be a part of large organizations (and that can "suck the air" out of innovation projects), Intuit launched a company-wide innovation initiative 7 years ago. Founder and Chairman Scott Cook recognized that it was critical for the company to continually re-imagine its business, and to strive to get ever closer to customers in the process. Today, the company encourages all employees to carve out about 10% of their time to pursue innovative ideas, and engineers are encouraged to devote 20% of their time to seeking innovation, leveraging best practices from design theory, velocity, and lean launchpad methodologies. This is the kind of company-wide commitment participants at the seminar agreed is critical to fostering innovation as a cultural change.
2. Document, document, document. If Darwin hadn't captured his initial hypotheses as he was preparing to test them, we might all be living in a world in which he validated that the Galapagos islands contain sea turtles. It's critical for product teams to crisply lay out exactly what they are ready to assert and test about the market, right up front. The reason for this is that if we don't, it becomes too easy later on to convert relatively random learnings into deep insights, and to say that these were the things we wanted to learn all along, and our project has been a success because we learned them. This perfectly natural tendency to declare success in murky circumstances runs counter to the need to get real data to make product decisions, and to run real experiments to get at that real data.
3. Incubating and accelerating are two sides of the same coin. Many people believe that rapid innovation methodologies are only really applicable for new start-ups with small, hungry teams and a vision to rock the world. What I learned in New York (and pretty much suspected well before that) is that no matter where you are in your product development process, you need to continue to focus on customer discovery, customer validation, solution validation, and rigorous testing. When you are incubating a brand new concept or product, the process is extremely difficult but can literally save you years of wasted development. But just as important, when you're accelerating market adoption for something you've already built, or looking to see how to evolve the product to meet ever-changing market demands, it's equally critical to get close to the customer and stay there. The truth is, your chances of missing the mark are nearly the same, even if you're in the process of iterating on an existing idea. We've seen this with many technology companies, who, eager to outflank their competition, overbuild for the market and are forced to downgrade or deprecate their product to drive actual adoption. Not fun for anyone involved.
I hope to join Steve again sometime soon to help lead another of these launchpad courses - I always come away energized and excited to share my new knowledge with friends across the technology industry.
Also: Techstars Seattle Demo Day on Oct. 24th! Register here: https://smore.com/g28z
Below is a post from Genevieve Payzer, a Lakeside student who participated in the Microinternship as Sparktred's VP of Marketing. Great to see what little entrepreneurs have to say!
Coming into today, I had little to no understanding of what being in a startup means. When you walk into the TechStars office, the vibe is relaxed; the tables are littered with snacks, and balloons lie on the floor. It’s a comfortable level of messy that reminds you people here are having fun. Yet, there’s the shocking statistic that 90% of startups don’t make it past a year. TechStars is a startup accelerator, but even with TechStars help, all these companies have to exhibit extraordinary determination to be part of that 10%. Each student was matched with a startup and I was matched with Sparktrend, my first choice. Sparktrend is a new application that allows you to shop online and on your phone. I chose Sparktrend because of the potential marketing value I believe they possess after reading their product summary and hearing them pitch their idea. Today, as one of the Sparktrend interns, I learned the basis of product design and pitching a product. We spent a few hours and still only made it through two iterations of design and crafting our product pitch. I have a new appreciation for all these entrepreneurs.
As the VP of marketing, this is what I think Sparktrend is…
With Sparktrend, you find clothes you dream of. Have fun while we find you the trendiest products that match your style and what you want. This can all be done from your phone or computer so share what you find with this new way to shop!
Techstars Seattle Demo Day: https://smore.com/g28z
On Saturday, Techstars hosted a dozen Lakeside School students for our second annual "Microinternship". The Microinternship is basically a crash course in entrepreneurship for High Schoolers. The students come to the Techstars office and work with our companies for a day. They get to do all sorts of really cool tasks ranging from writing actual production code to formulating gorilla marketing campaigns.
Most of the Techstars companies participate -- a couple did not because it was scheduled for a Saturday. The companies put together wonderful projects for the kids that benefited both the students and the companies. One girl even got an internship after only one day on the job!
It is worth pointing out that most companies who participated in the Microinternship are not making kid-focussed products, but they all got to hear the students retell their stories. This enabled the entrepreneurs to understand how those with zero knowledge of their product take in their companies' messaging; an invaluable experience for the companies and the students!
A big thank you to the entrepreneurs who participated, as well as the students, the teachers over at Lakeside who helped organize the event, and the Techstars staff who ran the show. It was a great event and I look forward to next year!
Also: Techstars Seattle Demo Day on Oct. 24th! Register here: https://smore.com/g28z
I love Apple products. I've been an Apple person since the 80s and am still firmly a fan of what Cupertino has to offer. However, I am most definitely NOT a fan of Apple's accessory philosophy. This is due to a number of reasons:
1. They are really expensive. $30 for a thingy that connects my computer to a monitor or projector?!?!?
2. They take proprietary to a whole new level. Seriously, I'm all for owning an idea/ product that is rightfully yours. But holy cow they go against the grain so hard, you need to buy one of their dongles to make anything work with Apple. I guess that's their strategy though.
3. The dongles are expensive enough to make you take notice, but small enough to be easily "borrowed" by coworkers and lost in the office ether. Writing your name on the dongle does little to curb this theft.
4. Switching iPhone/ iPad/ iPod plugs is terribly annoying. Just when everyone had accumulated enough of the 30 pin chargers to cover all of their bases, Apple switches to the Lightening charger and everyone is back to square one or worse, needing new chargers and adapters for existing adapters. Additional adapters lower video and sound quality which adds to the frustration.
In closing, I don't really know how to fix this problem but it's been on my mind for a while ever since a few of our dongles walked away...
*Also.... Demo Day is on Oct. 24! RSVP here: https://smore.com/g28z
I'm going to stick to the investment theme for this week's blog post. We had a great panel last week with some stellar Techstars alumni. A big thank you to Robi from Apptentive, Russell from Everymove, and Nick from LikeBright. The panel was only supposed to last an hour. It went on for nearly two hours.
Questions from current Techstars Founders focussed mainly on fundraising. It seems to be the one thing that they can't "do more faster" of which is increasingly hard and frustrating as time goes on. Robi, Russel, and Nick offered great advice to the Founders on this front.
"How many of you have made an ask?" Robi asked the founders.
A few of the current TechStars founders raised their hands and some did not.
"How do you expect to get investors if you can't ask for money?" Robi asked the Founders! The point seemed to sink in from here. You can have the best founders and the best idea in the world, but if you can't muster up the courage to ask an investor for money, you and your company may be dead in the water. I'm going to skip the dating metaphor here because asking for investment is harder than asking someone out on a date. There is more at risk for both parties beyond a bad evening, lacking chemistry.
To sum it up, asking for investment is hard and a bit awkward. You will hear no more often than yes. You will have your ego deflated, you idea torn apart, and likely will feel discouraged at one point or another. But you will not have the chance to feel any of that or build an amazing company if you don't make that first ask. So, go out there and make the ask.