From Berlin and Tel Aviv to NYC and Toronto, Techstars hosts programs across the globe and is considered one of the most recognized startup accelerators worldwide. Unsurprisingly, this means that a great deal of fledgling entrepreneurs are curious about what it’s like to go through the program.
That’s why we caught up with two Techstars Graduates based at Factory Berlin to hear about their insights, tips and takeaways. Here’s what they had had to say about their experience…
It’s an intense three months. Get ready to buckle down on time management.
Most of Techstars’ accelerator programs are around three months long and consist of a packed schedule of meetings, workshops and seminars. “The first few weeks were super, super busy,” said Oliver Thamm, CTO of XapiX, a platform aiming to bridge the gap between API providers and APP developers, “There’s so many things being thrown at you – so much valuable knowledge and so many respected mentors. You don’t want to miss out on too much but at the same time you have to work on your product and get ready for Demo Day.”
When Thamm and his two co-founders entered the Techstars IoT program in New York, XapiX was about one-and-a-half years in and already had two paying customers. He said the biggest challenge while attending the program was juggling between spending time with people in the Techstars network and working on the product itself.
Neil Ambikar, co-founder of B2B Pay, an online platform for international bank transfers for mid-sized companies, echoed a similar sentiment when asked about his time at the Barclays Tel Aviv program. “You meet hundreds of people and there are a lot of things to be done for Techstars and at the same time you’re trying to launch your startup,” he recalled, “Figuring out how to use your time effectively is the tough part.”
There’s no doubt that an intensive program like Techstars will be stressful at times, so it’s important to remind yourself constantly of why you’re participating, find ways to manage your time and then keep pushing on.
Mentor madness is real. Get ready to meet a lot of people.
For many first-time founders, learning how to build and leverage a network is one of the biggest benefits from participating in Techstars. Often dubbed ‘mentor madness’ during the program, startups are put in touch with a number of the most knowledgeable and well-connected CEOs, investors and experts in the business to discuss ways to improve and grow. It’s not uncommon that these mentor relationships continue long after the duration of the program.
“Techstars really shows you how critical and impactful it is to have the right connections and professional network in succeeding as a startup,” explained Neil, who worked as a consultant before starting B2B Pay and has a background in economics and finance, “You wouldn’t necessarily recognize how important this is as someone building up a business for the first time.”
For XapiX, the team’s biggest achievement during the program was meeting and landing their next customer: Bosch, who was one of five sponsors of the Techstars IoT program. “We had the opportunity to pitch to all of them. Bosch was happy with the perspective we brought in and they decided to sign a contract with us, which puts our company in a very good position,” said Oliver.
To make the most out of meeting so many mentors in so little time, it’s important to research the person, practice your pitch and prepare talking points beforehand. And don’t forget to jot down insights that resonate because you probably won’t remember that gem after the whirlwind of networking is over.
Build your business while learning how to talk business.
For both Neil and Oliver, learning how to talk business – in addition to learning how to build one – was a huge takeaway from both of their experiences. This meant considering the motivations of customers and investors as well as what their decision processes might look like. And then learning how to approach these people.
“David Cohen’s session on social behaviour when fundraising was particularly interesting and useful to me,” said Oliver, who revealed that XapiX is currently fundraising, “It can be awkward to talk about money with mentors or people in your network, but he introduced a lot of helpful techniques. Even though I don’t personally do much fundraising in our company, I’ve applied them in other situations like when I interview someone I’d like to hire.”
From honing in on soft skills for B2B sales to the fundamentals of email etiquette, these little things can make a big difference when trying to get your startup off the ground.
Take time to reflect on your experience afterwards, it’s worth it.
“It was only after 2-3 months of completing the program that we could really reflect on the experience and see what the key learnings for us were,” said Neil, who said B2B Pay’s team has now grown to 7 employees.
During the three months of go, go, go, work, work, work-mode, startups in the Techstars program accumulate an incredible wealth of knowledge and insights on how to accelerate their businesses. But absorbing this information once doesn’t necessarily mean you’re able to put the key takeaways into practice on a day-to-day basis, so make sure to plan out some time afterwards to reflect on the experience and evaluate your startup’s progress.