Entrepreneurial Leadership and Management . . . and Other Stuff


Do More Faster . . . Accelerating Your Startup

If you’re an entrepreneur and you’re not familiar with TechStars, it’s time to get your head out of the sand. TechStars is a mentorship-driven seed stage investment program. Its goal is to help fledgling companies and entrepreneurs get going. The key to this help is guidance, mentoring, a little hand-holding and an opportunity to get financed at the end of each three month session.

I’ve been fortunate to have been a mentor for the last two years and an investor in TechStars Boston. I’ve also made seed investments in three TechStars companies, AccelGolf, Socialsci and Marginize. I truly enjoy the mentoring part of the program, there’s nothing quite as fun engaging with smart people on interesting topics and reflecting on the experiences I’ve had starting companies myself over the years.

To capture the thoughts and ideas of some of the mentors in the program, David Cohen and Brad Feld, the brain trust behind TechStars, have compiled a book of advice to startups called, Do More Faster: TechStars lessons to Accelerate Your Startup.

I was honored when David and Brad asked me if I’d write a chapter for the book on hiring people who are better than you are. It’s a subject near and dear to my heart since I fundamentally believe that successful companies are built around superb teams and not necessarily great ideas alone.

Congratulations to both David and Brad. The book, by the way, is available through Amazon now. You can check out more about it at the Do More Faster site.

 October 6th, 2010  
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Does the Loudest Person You Hear Give the Best Advice?

I’m fortunate that I get to work with many startups, both independently and with TechStars where I’m a mentor.  There is no better way to learn than through teaching (learning is the most fun you can have, at least for a sustained period) and there are few better students than entrepreneurs.  Good entrepreneurs always want to know why they should do something and not just what they should do.  They test, challenge and refuse to take anything for granted; they’re highly motivated, smart and understand success is not about them as an individual, but about the team they can build; and they strive not only to make their first venture a success but also to become strong, solid leaders and managers that can build many great companies.

So, with all these qualities, it shocks me how often entrepreneurs choose a mentor because they’re the loudest guy in the room.  You know that person, the one who likes to talk incessantly about all of his or her accomplishments and is quick to give advice on any and all subjects.  The person who speaks before listening and has never had any failures.  Yeah, that guy.  Somehow, in the sponge-like desire that good entrepreneurs have to vacuum up every morsel of knowledge, they often attach themselves to the first person who sounds like they know anything.  Unfortunately, that’s usually the one who brags the loudest.

So, here’s a simple three-step plan on how to avoid adopting Mr./Ms. Know-it-all as your savior:

  • First, recognize that you’re your only savior, everyone else is there merely to supply data, offer up some wisdom and, maybe, hold your hand.
  • Second, put yourself in a situation where you can get access to many mentors.  You can do a load of legwork or sign up for a program like TechStars where mentorship (and a boat load of mentors to choose from) is the core of the program.
  • Finally, ask questions.  Don’t grill a potential mentor, after all, you’re looking for free help.  Instead, have a conversation and learn about what the person has actually done – how they’ve succeeded and how they’ve failed.  Make sure they have real accomplishments and real failures (you learn more from failures than successes) and can communicate what they learned in a way that works for you.  If hubris is what you hear, try somewhere else.

I’m no psychiatrist, but the loud braggart in the room is probably making up for something else (get your mind out of the gutter, I was referring to some business deficiency) or has had too much to drink.  Either way, they do you no good.  Be selective, find an adviser with both good advice based on things they’ve actually done plus the ability to communicate they way that works best for you.  You’ll be much happier and likely, more successful yourself.

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 January 4th, 2010  
 General Business, Startups, TechStars, VC  
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TechStars Comes to Boston

Over the last few years, it has become increasingly difficult for Boston-based fledgling startups to get a leg up; to get, well . . . started.  It’s mind boggling, really.  There is so much talent and there are so many good ideas, it’s just been shocking to witness teams and ideas die on the vine.  Some of this is about the availability of money, of course, with many New England VCs choosing to invest in larger or later stage deals, but more of it, in my opinion, has been about the environment.  While there are some avenues for startup entrepreneurs to get help and advice, they are few and far between and often hard to get access to.  Recently, Y Combinator, the last bastion of Boston-area startup aide chose to leave Cambridge for sunnier digs in the Bay Area.

The good news is that TechStars has been planning a move to Boston for the last six months and has just announced that will be in full operation this summer.  TechStars has been hugely successful in Boulder.  Its success has been because the program is based on mentorship.  TechStars has a terrific group of mentors (yeah, including yours truly) that guide, teach, coach and help new entrepreneurs accelerate their ideas into real companies.  And, of course, there’s money involved.  TechStars invests a small amount of money to kick start each of the companies in the program.

Does it work?  Hell yes!  Last year, TechStars Boulder’s second year of operation, 393 teams applied for 10 slots.  The high number of applications were driven by the success of the companies involved in the program – 12 of the 20 that have been through it have received follow-on funding and 2 of the companies from the first year (2007) have already been acquired.  See more here.

TechStars Boston will be managed by Shawn Broderick and backed up by Boulder TechStars co-founders David Cohen and Brad Feld.  A long list of Boston-area Mentors has already signed on to participate including, Colin Angle, Dan Bricklin, Don Dodge, Eran Egozy, Chris Heidelberger, Nabeel Hyatt, Warren Katz, John Landry, Rich Levandov, Bijan Sabet, Ronald Schmelzer, Bill Warner and me.

TechStars Boston will be located in Cambridge and is now open for applications for its ten summer 2009 slots.  Applications are due by March 21, 2009.

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 February 17th, 2009  
 General Business, TechStars, VC  
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