Behind the scenes at Techstars – Week 1 – Orientation

Each week during the program we ask our companies to send an update to their mentors, investors and cohort CEO’s. This helps Founders leverage the power of the network, communicate better and be more disciplined. It helps them keep track of their progress and reflect on their wins, struggles and goals for the next week/milestone.

So since being an MD is such a unique and hectic experience in anyone’s career, I’m going to try something similar and keep a weekly(ish) log of high-level activities on the program, experiments we tried and lessons learnt. It will hopefully help me be a better investor and also share more with you on some of the ways we help our entrepreneurs succeed. Each Techstars program is ‘the same, yet totally unique’. As a mentor-driven accelerator we have a shared playbook, but due to the combination of 40+founders and staff, different corporate partners and unique local eco-systems, each cohort experience is unique and tailored to the needs of that cohort.

Day 0 Experiment – Sunday Social

  • This year we tried something new by having a social gathering ahead of our formal kick off on Monday. All of the companies and our combined staff met in the offices around 3.30 for an informal welcome and networking followed by a cohort dinner
  • We asked everyone to prepare 10 slides about themselves (not their companies) in Pecha Kucha style. This format requires that slides automatically transition every 20 seconds – which ensures the presentations are fast and visual. Presentations were in random order and great fun. We learnt that there are a lot of ‘cat people’ in the group :)
  • We had dinner together nearby and this was another success where we encouraged people to sit at different tables from their co-founders and colleagues.
  • The goal of this experiment was to build a tighter bond between the companies in the cohort. I believe that one of the core ways Techstars helps entrepreneurs succeed is via our worldwide network. And the core of that network are the companies that go through an accelerator program together. I think we succeeded and I would definitely do this again.

Day 1 – Monday Orientation

  • We had standard Techstars Orientation where we covered everything from the program schedule, to how to send double opt-in emails and elevator pitches.
  • Alum CEO Reetu Kainulainen from Ultimate.ai kindly joined us for an alumni’s perspective. Reetu gave great advice on how to get the most out of Techstars and SAP both during and after the program. Once we opened up for Q&A, all of the staff left the room so that Reetu and the cohort could have a more open conversation. Thank you Reetu – despite being in the middle of hiring 2 senior hires that day and sending 2 customer proposals he made time to #GiveFirst and share his knowledge. P.S. If you are looking one of the most exciting and fast-growing venture-backed companies in Europe right now… they are hiring :)
  • At 5.30 we had a global networking event when both David Cohen and David Brown welcomed all 5 Techstars programs that were starting that day to the Techstars network in a live Webinar/AMA.
  • At 6pm we had a surprise guest visit and short few words from David Kelly – co-founder of WebSummit and F.ounders, along with Chris Murphy who is ex Techstars and now back with WebSummit.
  • A great first day – with great engagement and energy from the companies – everyone was super focused and keen to understand how to get the most from Techstars, SAP and the wider network. Impatience is a common virtue of Founders :)
  • I ended the day at a Partech Ventures event where they were announcing their newest early-stage fund… which included a nice slide with the Techstars logo. This was great to see as it showed how $1B funds like Partech valued the Techstars network to help them source and invest in early-stage companies around the world. I also learnt that 46% of all Enterprise Software spend is in the US. Which reminds me, I need to remind my portfolio companies to register for Techstars FounderCon in Oakland this Oct 22-24th.

Day 2 – Tuesday – Elevator Pitch Workshop and first Deep Dives

  • Since we had a big launch event scheduled for Wednesday evening, this meant each of the companies was going to be on stage within 36 hours and needed to give a ‘1-minute’ elevator pitch. This is not a normal week 1 activity but since SAP very kindly organised this event, we needed to help the companies prepare. This meant a 2-hour elevator pitch workshop. I spent the first 20 minutes giving general advice and the next 90 minutes with companies in groups of 3 and 4 to give them specific feedback and practice time.
  • In terms of content coaching, we stuck with the Nicole Glaros gold standard (Nicole is one of the earliest and most successful Techstars MD’s). “For [customers], who have a [problem], we provide a [solution]” (watch Nicole here)
  • In terms of style we just focussed on SLOWING DOWN… anchoring ourselves to a spot on the stage, taking a big breath and just saying ‘Hello my name is…’ in a slow, clear and loud way. We will cover a lot more on presentations and presenting styles later in the program.
  • The companies were not shy and it was a great way for me as MD to assess how demo day practice might go – TLDR; They were awesome and I can probably shave a week of demo day prep at the end of the program :)
  • We also had our first 3 Deep Dives of the week. Deep dives are typically a 1:1 weekly meeting with the MD and the co-founders… but in week 1 I like to do 2-hour meeting where I invite in more members of our team to better understand the companies and how we can help. The deep dives in week 1 always start with a Founder style story… which can take up to an hour… but really helps us understand the background, motivations, journey and vision of our founders. They are exhausting as you have to focus entirely, and 6 hours of these in one day is a lot… but an important way for me and the team to get up to speed on our companies. We also cover topics like the monthly burn, runway and their current fundraising status along with a deeper dive into current customers, business model and pipeline. As time goes on these meetings become more structured and focussed on KPIs, planning and introductions to the network.

Day 3 – Wednesday – Kick Off Party

  • We started the day with a fantastic workshop from Vahid “Tiger” Khamsi (SAP VP Head of Strategy – EMEA & China) and his team at SAP. Vahid introduced the companies to SAP’s strategy, how to best navigate and partner with SAP and more insights into how SAP sells and works with partners. Vahid was one of our star mentors from last year and the workshop was very interactive and practical. Vahid then had  30 minute individual office hours with each company over the next 2 days. Thanks again Vahid.
  • We then had a short session to introduce our 2 amazing Entrepreneurs in Residence (EiRs) this year – Jenny Herald and Mathias Meyer. One of the things I’m most excited about this year is having 2 great EIR’s to help me coach, mentor and help the companies. Jenny and Mathias were amongst our top mentors last year and I describe them both as the COO/CPO and CEO/CTO whisperers of the Berlin Startup Ecosystem. Jenny spoke about her product manager experience at Wunderlist/Microsoft and COO experience at Hubrick, Mathias spoke about his experience being a Technical Founding CEO at TravisCI and how they bootstrapped that to one of the worlds leading Continuous Integration companies (Several of the companies were TravisCI Customers). Jenny and Mathias joined me on most deep dives and their insights and advice for the companies have already been brilliant. Fun Tip – If you ever meet Mathias make sure to ask him about ‘Pricing’ – a subject he can talk about for hours :)
  • 2 more Deep Dives
  • Company and Cohort Photoshoot.
  • Kick Off Party from 5pm to 10pm. This was a huge success. The evening opened with a great fireside chat with SAP’s Chief Strategy Office – Deepak Krishnamurthy and a Reuters journalist. Alexa Gorman – who leads the program with me from the SAP.iO side – and I then introduced the companies for the first time. The event was packed with mentors, SAP execs and VC’s and the companies all did a brilliant job presenting. The networking continued long into the night and the energy, atmosphere and conversations were great. Thanks again to Alexa, Dima, Deepak and the whole SAP.iO and SAP Data Space team for organising a really great kick-off event.

Day 4 – Thursday – Press Release

  • The kick-off event was the first time we shared publicly who the 10 companies were on this year’s cohort. We then followed this up with an official announcement on the Techstars blog.
  • As mentor sessions were scheduled for next Monday we held ‘mock mentoring’ sessions with all the companies to help them get the most from their mentoring sessions. We did this mainly via role play and feedback. Common tips were; manage your time (you only get 20 minutes with each mentor), Agree who will be the note taker up front (otherwise you will quickly lose track of follow-ups, insights and questions), prepare your 1 minute demo, prepare your 1 minute introduction, research your mentors and prepare a list of your biggest challenges that you think they could help you with.
  • 2 more Deep Dives
  • Cohort All Hands – This is where we gather as a cohort each week. We would normally discuss KPI’s and Big Rocks (big goal for the week) and have a cohort dinner together. But due to the kick-off party the previous night and another event hosted by SAP’s Chief Innovation Officer (Juergen Mueller) we had a shorter session this week. Instead we focussed on the schedule and logistics for next weeks mentor sessions and we spent about an hour going around the room asking everyone to share their ‘highs and lows’ for the week. The overall mood of everyone was positive with several common highs around the people they met, the kick-off event and getting to meet so many other great founders. People were equally already feeling overwhelmed in terms of balancing their time between the program and running their company… along with understandably missing their families, friends and the odd run in with a Berlin Ticket Inspector :)
  • Our CEO’s were all invited to a private networking event organised by Juergen’s team. I was not able to attend but the companies were impressed and delighted with the quality of people (and leads) they met at the party. Thanks again Juergen.
  • Quick after work drink and catch up with last years portfolio company Ultimate.ai on their recent hires and sales growth. Delighted for their progress

Day 5 – Friday – Phew….

  • 2 more deep dives
  • A great lunch and AMA with our joint SAP executive sponsors of the program – Deepak and Juergen. We covered everything from the future of SAP to why they are running SAP.iO Foundry, powered by Techstars Accelerator
  • Each company then had 15-20 minutes for individual office hours with Deepak. This highlighted to the companies how serious and committed SAP is to help them succeed. Thank you Deepak for all your time, advice and mentorship. The companies were all full of ideas and follow-ups after their sessions with you.
  • Term sheet reviews. One of the companies is fundraising and we spent time going through their current strategy and next steps. We would not normally do this at this stage of the program… but startups :)
  • Enterprise Contract Reviews. One of the companies needed help reviewing and drafting their first enterprise size MRR contract (6 figure ARR deal)
  • Open Twitter to discover that last years portfolio company Greendeck has just won “Startup of the Year” at a large @RetailWeek awards ceremony in London. Tired but delighted way to end the week… before I head out for some quick dinner with a visiting Norwegian and Ukrainian Founder… The Worldwide network never sleeps :)

See you next week 

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