Last summer I was lucky enough to be an advisor to Boston TechStars. It was an awesome experience, and I highly recommend the upcoming Spring session. Applications are due January 11th; you can apply on the TechStars web site.
I’m not affiliated with TechStars at this moment, and I want to make it very clear that I have absolutely no involvement with the application screening process. However, I do have some opinions on what made some of the Boston companies successful, and I have a strong suspicion that the screening process is designed to bring in a certain type of entrepreneur(s). By a “certain type” I mean someone who will get a ton out of the program, engage with the mentors and create something really cool. I also happened to have been around Shawn, David and Brad when they were talking to the Boston mentors about what they look for when picking entrepreneurs. So, I’m no expert, but…
Here are my opinions on some of the characteristics TechStars is looking for:
You need one, preferably two plus rockstar developers. You are going to be creating something from scratch over the course of a few months. Whatever you are going to make would likely take a big corporation’s tech department a year or more to build. But you are going to have a working demo and hopefully customers in just a month or two. So you better be pretty awesome in the technical department.
How you prove it: Have real, working demos or alphas that blow their socks off. Really impress them. Do something totally new with a piece of technology, even if it is not related to what you want your company to do. Check out what Brad Feld says about why he liked the founders of RedLaser.
Ability to accept criticism
If you are accepted to the program you are going to be exposed to some of the most successful technology executives in the Boston area. These are people who have walked the walk and who are involved with the program because they want to provide mentorship. Being provided mentorship means you can accept criticism and be flexible in shaping your vision.
How you prove it: This may be one of the hardest things to prove in the application. But other entrepreneurs have done it, so I know it’s possible.
Have a business model
Understand how your idea will make money. This means you understand how customers currently solve the itch you are going to scratch. Is the way you want to make money consistent with their willingness to pay? Check out David’s post on the business models from previous TechStars companies.
How you prove this: Make it clear you understand what customers already pay to solve the problem; who the competition is and how much money they make selling a solution. Look for similar business ideas and see how those companies are monetizing. The way your company actually makes money in the future can be different, but you need to prove that you are thoughtful and that you are more than just an awesome developer – you are an awesome developer with some business savvy.
When you raise venture capital, you try to raise enough so that you can hit critical value creation milestones. In TechStars, you’ve got three months of reasonable funding, free office space and dry humor provided by Shawn. What the heck are you going to accomplish with that? You had better be able to achieve some real milestones by the middle, end and a few months post program. Know what the metrics are that show you’ve created value. I don’t know what your business is, but if it’s anything like the other TechStars companies I saw perform well then you will want to have 1) a working product (even if it’s a minimally viable one) and 2) highly visible customer traction.
How you prove this: Have an aggressive developmental timeline that you can actually hit. And, see my next point:
Hit goals during the application process
I remember Shawn saying “we admitted these guys because look what they did during the application process.” The company he was referring to launched product, on the schedule the proposed, in between the time they applied and were accepted. Set goals on development (or marketing) milestones that will occur between January 11 and Feb 1 when acceptees are notified.
How you prove this: You do it! You say, we are going to launch our iPhone app in three weeks and you do it. You say we are going to have the private alpha ready on January 20th and you get it out.