Building a startup company into a successful business today is a bit like summiting K2 and returning home safely. Some estimates say that even venture-backed startups are failing at a clip of 75 percent. Going out alone minus any outside mentoring is too dangerous; just like climbing K2 without the proper team and Sherpa support presents a journey fraught with peril and a common pathway strewn with the fallen.
This is why I have been very methodical this time around and have leaned on the resources available to entrepreneurs, such as mentorships & accelerators. Mentorship is something I have always loved and I am grateful for them helping me avoid the land mines that they have hit in already. Accelerators, on the other hand, have given my company and me a huge advantage. Not only do you receive advice from those who have been there and done that before, but by engaging mentors you are also building a powerful network that wants to see your startup succeed.
Last spring after winning a Startup Weekend event, I was accepted into Up Global's Startup Next program for its mentorship and guidance. Then we applied for, and got accepted into Techstars Boulder, a top tier accelerator! Which we recently completed as the fall class for 2014, along with 12 other startups. The people we met, the lessons we learned, and the introductions received were extremely valuable.
Without further ado, here are some of the most valuable lessons I learned while at Techstars:
1. When you help others, you win. #givefirst: This is a mantra of Techstars. Regardless of where you are in the process of building your startup, find the time to help others build their companies as well. Sharing is caring. And karma is king.
2. Relationships are king: the most valuable asset we have. Period. Do not neglect to create, nurture, and expand your network and build solid relationships, by following point #1.
4. Sleep, exercise and eating right keep stress away: A simple concept, but entrepreneurs often ignore these three key steps to staying healthy, both physically and mentally.
5. Practice, practice, practice your pitch. And then practice some more: this is pretty self-explanatory, but there is no substitute for practice and preparation. If you are practicing a customer pitch, practice by talking to a lot of customers.
If it's an investor pitch, practice with a lot of investors. Just start with the least important investors first, so when you fall flat on your face, it doesn't matter as much. In fact, I've written about what it's like to fail, and then nail a pitch.
6. Move people to BCC when they intro you via email: Email introductions are incredibly valuable, but it never fails that those being introduced suddenly find themselves in an etiquette dilemma. When an introduction is made, simply move the person making the introduction into the BCC field in your response.
7. The double opt-in intro: No more blind introductions: It is simple. Just get the person's approval, before you make the introduction. Fred Wilson wrote this blog post about it.
8. Investors. Build relationships, long before you need them: The funding process for startups is all about establishing relationships with potential investors. More often than not, those investors are betting on you, the person making the pitch, as opposed to just your product or service. Your ability to inspire confidence in potential investors has everything to do with your ability to build that relationship over time, showing a positive track record.
9. Team, market, then product:
- Team: if you want to get into an accelerator like Techstars, this is their order of importance. From talking to 100 VC's and angels, most seem to follow the same path. Think about who you are partnering with--do you have a long standing relationship? Do you have complimentary skills? Can you handle the pressures of a start up and not kill each other?
- Market: if you want VC money, your market better be huge. It's okay if you want to build a lifestyle business, where your market doesn't have to scale. Bill Payne wrote this article about the difference between the two.
- Product: are you passionate about what you are doing? Are your customers passionate about what you are doing? Can you build it?
10. Traction, traction, traction: In the words of Josh James, Founder of Domo and Omniture: "I only care about sales. Don't talk to me about marketing, booth, hr, comp, legal, etc. All can be fixed later with $$$$. Close deals."