Behind the scenes at Techstars – Week 4


Time is flying, mentor office hours is wrapped up and we ran a successful experiment by introducing a Retreat for all our companies and program staff on the outskirts of Berlin.

(You can read more about Week 3 here)

Monday – Mentors and Founder Story

  • 100 Mentor Meetings today from 9 to 12.30
  • Christina Fonseca was in town from Lisbon and we were delighted that she could stay after mentoring to share her Founder story. Christina is the Co-Founder of Talkdesk, raised $24M from leading Silicon Valley investors and built her company to 150+ people. She shared their journey and how they balanced a San Francisco based Sales organisation and a Portugal based Product organisation. Her story was full on insights, honesty and powerful advice. Christina also shared her views on the importance of managing your energy as a Founder and some mis-conceptions Founders have about Silicon Valley and what it takes to be successful. Christina is now a Venture Partner at Indico Capital Partners in Lisbon and is investing in Seed to Series A companies in fields like SaaS, Artificial Intelligence, fintech, cybersecurity and digital startups. Thanks Christina and hopefully see you soon in Portugal.

Tuesday – Mentors and CEO Meeting

  • 100 Mentor Meetings today from 9 to 12.30
  • ‘Get to Know your Associates’ was a 30 minute workshop where our 5 brilliant associates got to give a four to five minute overview of their skills and professional experience. The associates have already been working closely with our companies but we expect this to ramp up quickly now that mentor office hours have ended and everyone has more time for execution and sales, marketing and product experiments.
  • CEO Meeting
  • (Note: We decided to skip Deep Dives this week as we will have time to catch up on the retreat)

Wednesday – Retreat / German Day of Unity (Bank Holiday)

  • Experiment: This year we decided to organise a 2 night  retreat for everyone on the outskirts of Berlin. I’d heard great feedback from MD’s in London and Seattle who had done this before and really liked the idea of giving everyone a chance to bond and reflect together. We had a ‘kind of retreat’ last year when we all went to Waldorf (SAP’s HQ in South West Germany – 5 hours away) which involved getting to know each other more outside of the office.
  • We based the retreat timing and format on what we learnt from Aviel Ginzburg and Jaren Schwartz and their experiences on the Seattle and Amazon Alexa programs. We held our retreat right after mentor madness to allow our companies to absorb everything from their initial mentor meetings, reflect further on their shared vision and to bond and build trust with their teams and other companies on the program.
  • Sanah found us the wonderful Gästehaus Schwanenwerder by the lake about 40 minutes from Berlin. We had the whole grounds to ourselves and it was a perfect location ..and most importantly well within budget :) The rooms were a basic dormitory / hostel style and we mixed up everyone into shared rooms for the two nights. We were also very lucky with the beautiful weather.
  • Workshop: We kicked off with a ‘Breaking Boundaries’ session from 4PM to 6PM. We broke into groups of five to six and got to know each other over some interesting questions that the associates had prepared (I.e. If you had 5 years to live what would you do with your time. What was a big turning point in your life, etc…)
  • We then had dinner at 6 followed by games and hanging out. The guesthouse had some interesting board/card games, a TV lounge and a games room with a Fussball table. We had a fun first night with everyone hanging out and having a laugh.
  • Alexa could only join us Thursday as she was in Utrecht with Deepak at a SAP Customer Conference along with with our 2017 Alumni Akshay Patel from Sustanalyse.
  • On a personal note, I was delighted for my buddies Paddy Cosgrave, Dave Kelly and so many others at Web Summit as they announced that morning they had secured over $110M in guaranteed revenue from the City of Lisbon. Having seen first hand Web Summit grow over the last 7 years I was excited to share my thesis on what was next for them on Twitter with my first ‘tweet storm’ :)

Thursday – Retreat

  • Workshop: From 10-12 Jenny Herald led us through a really great ‘Communication and Leadership’ workshop. Everyone had some pre-homework that involved completing a DISC personality test. Turns out I scored 42 on Influence, 37 on Dominance, 14 on Compliance and 7 on Steadiness. Supposedly the ‘positive’ impact I am likely to make on people based on my DISC personality test is: “You are socially oriented. You have a strong self-motivation to get to know people in all walks of life and to nurture those relationships. You have a natural enthusiasm for all types of ideas and projects – your own and other people’s. People are likely to describe you as gregarious, persuasive and optimistic.” … Just the type of person who would think a Retreat in the woods is a good idea I guess :)
  • Jenny gave us all a really great framework for how to have ‘tough conversations’ with your cofounders and colleagues. It was really all about focussing on ‘learning’ by 1st) Understanding what happened 2nd) Consider the Feelings involved and 3rd) how that impacts Identity. Thanks Jenny, as always this was a great workshop.
  • Lunch and Free Time. People hung out, explored the grounds… and sneakily checked emails etc… but we encouraged everyone to avoid work where possible and to spend time together.
  • Workshop: From 4-6 Mathias Meyer led our Founders Company Outlook Exercise. This was where we asked everyone individually to map our their one year and five year visions on three axis’s; Company, Product and Culture. Once everyone had completed this (20 mins) they were asked to discuss and share within their companies (40 mins) and then present back their combined company view in a five minute talk to everyone. (One person per company).
  • BBQ 6-7pm
  • Founder Story: From 8 to late… Since Mathias could not stick around I gave my Founder story. It was great to share more of my experiences with everyone as it helps them understand where I am coming from and how I can help. As I say to all my Founders – “I may not know everything they need to do… but I know an awful lot about what they should not do” :)
  • On a personal note, I was super excited for our alumni Peter O’Malley and Galen Lowney who announced their $1M seed round for – Peter was EIR and Galen was Associate on SAP.iO Foundry, powered by Techstars Accelerator in 2017. I often joke that they were our ’11th company’. I’ve known and worked with both Founders for years and I’m delighted for their success to date and plans for the next 12-18 months.

Friday – Retreat / Back to Berlin

  • Breakfast
  • It was a beautiful day so a lot of us enjoyed the good weather and walked through the beautiful forest and lakeside to get to the train station before heading back to Berlin.

Next week is all about Execution and putting everything we’ve learnt into action. You can follow me on Twitter or read more about Week 3 here

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