Techstars - Was it Worth It?

We are 24 hours away from the end of 13 weeks, on the 10th birthday, of Boulder’s Techstars program. Demo day is tomorrow. Demo day is the culmination of 13 weeks of company acceleration on the Techstars program.

The question I am being asked most often at the moment, by investors, partners, employees and friends is; “was Techstars worth it?”. Let me walk through a bit of background here before I answer that question directly (well sort of).

Some Background

Section was previously based in Sydney Australia and, while serving customers from all around the world on our global platform, our sales had been focussed primarily on the Australian market. By world standards, the Australian market for Internet technologies is rather small. So we committed to move our head office to Boulder Colorado; a perfect place to build a tech business for many reasons which I will be blogging about shortly.

As we investigated Boulder, we were introduced to Techstars and were highly impressed with the Techstars team and the program. Following a series of sessions with the Techstars team, we were fortunate enough to be offered a place in the 10th annual Techstars Boulder program.

As a company with a team of 10, quality customers, revenue and a solid product, we figured we were probably further along than most companies who entered Techstars. We held some concerns over what it would mean for us to enter the program. Would the program provide us the right type of acceleration given we are more sales and marketing focussed at present than product focussed? Would Techstars prove a distraction to “getting stuff done”?

What I Found at Techstars

My initial impressions of the Techstars program were mixed. I was pleasantly surprised by the experience of being forced to work “on” our business rather than “in” our business for the first couple of weeks. There are many things to wrap your hands around as a founder and it is very easy to lose yourself in the forest. By committing to the Techstars program, our team were immediately prepared to step up and support Dan (co-founder) and myself as we were taken away from many of the daily Section tasks. Working on the business again has been an invaluable take away. On the other hand, as a somewhat reserved Aussie, the pump it up team building exercises and group check ins were not exactly what I had in mind as a good use of our time building a business.

As we progressed through the program I have been constantly both floored and uplifted by the generosity of the Techstars community. Through “mentor madness” week we met hundreds of awesome mentors who provided opinions, criticisms and encouragement. Subsequently we have been fortunate enough to be helped by a number of these mentors through further introductions and assistance. These mentors are going out of their way to help despite not receiving anything or the prospect of anything in return. Techstars says their motto is “Give First” and of course as a sceptical Australian, I thought “sure, we’ll see about that”. I was wrong. We have been helped. Now I want to give first too.

Some of the companies who joined Techstars with our cohort were super early; no product let alone customers. Some are as far along as Section. About 3 weeks in, as we looked about, I figured there were a few companies who would be lucky to survive to the end of the program based on the quality of the idea they had and the stage they were up to. We had a few teams with founders leave in the middle and multiple pivots. However, by the end of the program, as the pitches came together around the restructured teams and the revised ideas, I was amazed at the quality of the outcomes.

At Section, we have revised and honed our go to market messaging on the back of the Techstars experience. I don’t expect we would have been able to gather as much high quality feedback as quickly in any other environment. The companies who have pivoted have developed some awesome ideas in quality markets. Lots of execution to come, but I am in awe of the teams and their Techstars advisors/mentors who have been able to bring together such sound pivots in such a short amount of time.

Demo Practice Q&A

Yesterday we presented our Demo pitches to about 100 folks from the Boulder New Tech Group as a bit of a practice run for tomorrow. We pitched and then opened up to the audience to ask questions. After walking through Section and describing the benefits to organisations of working with a CDN which is built specifically to support agile development workflows we had a question from the audience – “How much faster is Section?”. I answered by providing a range – our customers generally run between 20-30% faster than other CDNs. We have customers running 10% faster and some 85% faster.

Section provides a highly powerful and flexible tool which engineers can use to squeeze more speed, scalabilty and security out of their website; more than any other CDN. As the first and only CDN for agile, engineers can test and iterate with the Section CDN locally to push their application and the CDN to the max.

Following the session, as we discussed this question and my response, my co-founder Dan sagely noted that the question asked, while reasonable, was actually the wrong question. What should have been asked was “How much faster can I make my website with Section?”

The Wrong Question

Similarly, the question “was it worth it” with respect to our Techstars experience may well be the wrong question. Perhaps we should ask ourselves “can you make Techstars worth it for your business?”

While Demo day is the culmination of the 13 week program, it’s not, as I see it, the end of the program. There are pieces we have taken from the program which we are building into our daily and weekly business practices. There are introductions to mentors, customers, partners and investors from the program which we will continue to develop. Some of these introductions have the capacity to radically lift our business.

Despite the fact that we arrived here as just two Aussie blokes parachuting into the Boulder, we now have a super supportive community around us. Colleagues, advisors and friends.

The Right Answer

I believe every business regardless of stage has an opportunity to be accelerated. Techstars have provided an awesome platform for the acceleration of our business.

Now, it is our job to make sure that every bit of Techstars was, and will be, worth it.

My TLDR List of Techstars Good Stuff (No Particular Order)

  • Quality of Mentors
  • Insights of the Techstars Directors
  • Introductions
  • Structured Program of Acceleration
  • Incredible Network
  • Beer Keg in Office
  • Free Rent for 13 Weeks
  • Give First (It’s Real)
  • Classmates
  • Perks
  • Quality and Commitment of Associates
  • Sponsors
  • Sponsored Dinners & Lunches
  • Demo Day Pitch Learnings
  • Agile Methodologies

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