How I got into Techstars, was almost kicked out, and fought to stay in

 

 

Techstars applications are open and I’m constantly getting asked the same question over and over: “How do I get into Techstars?” In hindsight, I can clearly see the exact path that got our startup, Good Audience, into Techstars London 2014.

The Application Process

There were over 1,500 applications and only 11 companies accepted into the program. That’s less than a 1% acceptance rate. I know what you’re thinking, “I probably won’t get in.” However, I urge you not to play the percentages; the best thing to do is make your startup look as good as possible on paper.

Team

There are endless configurations of founders and Techstars has seen them all. In your application, it’s important to show that your team can pull off the startup.

Do you have several years of industry experience in your space? State it. Have you scaled systems? Show that you can do it technically. Can you hustle to break through obstacles? Share an impressive story.

Our team managed over 180 social media accounts for businesses, scaled systems to over 600M users at Google & Yahoo, and always seem to be able to hack non-technical systems to our favor (like skipping lines into night clubs without paying the entrance fee.)

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Karl and I doing customer development. Knowing how different businesses use social media is crucial.

Differentiator

How are you different from your competitors? Investors tend to shy away if your market is crowded and if theres nothing that separates you from everyone else.

This could be tough depending on what stage your company is in. You may not already have figured it out yet. The important thing to know is what specific problem you are trying to address and how people are solving it?

For us, it was simply that the mechanics of social engagement to grow your audience worked. Techstars believed that we could easily become the SEO Moz for social media; completely different from all the other social media platforms out there.

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All active users have a graph that go up and to the right. It just works.

Market Size

How big is the opportunity you’re attacking? Does the market exist? If it does, how can you capture enough of it?

For example, there are over 25 million businesses who use social media. If we captured just 1% of the market, charging $100/month, we’d be a $300M/year business.

Signs of Traction

Do you already have users? Paying customers? In what time frame? This is your chance to show how well you have been executing. Be sure to have a target metric and try to hit it every single week.

At the time we applied to Techstars, the product we were working on had been growing in new users at 51% a week. Even if someone doesn’t fully understand the product or market, traction will trump that.

The Interview Process

Interviews happen over Skype, Google Hangout, and even in-person. The whole goal of the interview process is to see if they like you and how well you execute.

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I’m giving the interviewers a high five over Skype.

Show How Awesome You Are

There are multiple rounds of interviews and they all gauge two things: can the team clearly explain their business and can the team get a lot done? You should be showing progress every single time you interview.

Each time we talked to the team at Techstars, we got an amazing amount of things done. We won the goodaudience.com domain in an auction for $79, acquired more paying customers, integrated more social media services, and received term sheets from competing accelerators.

Find Someone to Vouch For You

Techstars spend a lot of time recruiting to ensure the best teams apply. One strong signal is a direct recommendation of your team to the managing director of the program you’re interested in. Have a look through your network to see who may be able to help make an introduction.

One of our mentors introduced us to Cody Simms, the managing director of the Techstars Disney Accelerator. He was kind enough to take the time to meet our team over lunch and gave us tactical advice on how to move the business forward. Luckily, he liked us and sent a note over to Jon Bradford who is the managing director of the London program.

Staying In Techstars

On day one of Techstars, we were told that at least one team wouldn’t make it through together to Demo Day. I didn’t think that would be us, but it was.

Almost Getting Kicked Out

One week into the program, a co-founder abused our trust in a very bad way. So I had to terminate them from the company and inform the Techstars London directors of what happened. They were not pleased, to say the least.

Our business at the time received terrible feedback during the first mentor week. Nobody could understand how it would scale. To top it off, my wife was pregnant; about to give birth, and I would have to fly back to San Francisco at any given moment.

We were at a serious low. Given the situation at hand, Jon Bradford suggested two paths to take. We could accept that sometimes life plays us a bum hand and call it quits. Or we could clean things up. They would stand behind and support us, but we would be on a week to week probation and need to start demonstrating significant forward momentum. From an outside perspective, our team looked like a mess and the business was a pile of crap.

Community Support

Later that day, Mick Hagen from Spatch (another Techstars London team) saw that my body language was off. He sent me an email that inspired me to fight hard.

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I could have easily given up, walked away from the mess I created and returned the money. Mick and I took a walk around Clerkenwell, the neighborhood where our office was located. I told him everything that happened and he had my back. He wasn’t going to let Good Audience leave.

Our CTO Karl, was on a flight to join us in London and didn’t know about being asked to call it quits. He was going to show up at the office at 4pm and we were going to have a meeting with the directors that would determine our fate.

Mick suggested that I better go find Karl and make sure we’re on the same page. It was about 2pm, I rushed on a double decker bus to his flat as he just checked in, and filled him in about our current situation. It was comforting that Karl never seemed nervous at all, he was confident we’d get through it and had my back too.

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The bus I took to go find Karl just as his plane landed.

Fortunately, the meeting with the directors went well. We stated our case and were granted life. There was no way we were going to simply give up and they completely supported us in that decision. As entrepreneurs themselves, they didn’t want to be the ones that pulled the plug on our startup. We had one week before the next mentor sessions to get our act together. They applied some pressure to ensure we got back on the right track.

That night, I let all the other companies know what happened. Their support was amazing. Everyone pitched in with feedback, introductions, customer development, competitive analysis, designs, prototyping, etc…

In one week, we were able to clean things up legally, and create a prototype that described a compelling vision of the business we would pursue. We took what we learned from the previous business, threw away the product and created something for a different market based on feedback.

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This was a clickable HTML, CSS, and Javascript prototype of our new vision.

A prototype and a vision can go a long way. All the Techstars directors and the mentors were excited about it. We looked like a completely different company. They were happy with how we handled the situation and we were going to stay.

Jens Lapinski recently told me at that time, the directors took us off their list of companies to worry about. After that initial (almost catastrophic) disaster, we never made it back on that list. They whipped us into shape and I wouldn’t have changed anything about the journey.

People, People, People

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The people of Techstars London 2014. Founders, employees, hackstars, associates and directors.

As you can see, how we got into Techstars and how we were able to stay all had to do with the people. They were investing in people who had strong qualities. All the teams in our program had the following characteristics:

Adaptability

You must be able to handle change well. You have to be willing to throw things away when they’re not working. You must be fearless in getting feedback and internalize if your product isn’t something your users want.

The team at Spatch were building their app on top of IMAP. After a couple of months, they realized that building hack on hack on top of email wasn’t working. They scrapped it.

Fast Execution

You have to get a lot done, fast. Decisions must be made quickly. They may not always be the right decisions, but you must be able to quickly recognize that you’re wrong and fix it. Your main focus is doing the best possible thing for your company on any given week.

Our friends at Shortcut were blazingly fast. They came into Techstars with just an idea and pulled through by relentlessly cold calling venue operators, iterating multiple versions of their mobile app, and servicing several live events before demo day. In fact, they went straight from demo day to do another live event.

Resiliency

Never give up. As a founder, it’s up to you to keep the momentum going. There will be endless tough challenges that will test you mentally and emotionally. All you have to do is get through them.

Smile Mom was notoriously hard working. I think they worked 90 days straight without taking a break. They maintained a 10% weekly growth rate every single week. When they were tired, they pounded another redbull and pushed through.

Generosity

Every single person involved with Techstars has the mentality of #GiveFirst. The community has no bad actors. It is a trusted network that feels just like a family.

People are always there to help when you need it. Tak Lo, a director, was a shining example of this in London. He was the first person that stepped up to help when we almost got kicked out. He supported us emotionally and kept pushing us to fight. And for that I am forever grateful.

Good Luck!

To conclude, your goal is to be a strong team working on an interesting problem in a big market. I know it’s difficult to explain that succinctly and I’m happy to help.

If you are thinking about doing Techstars, want help with your application or advice on your interviews, you can tweet me @SHERM8N or send me an email here.

Good Audience now supports scheduled tweets

 

 

We just pushed to production the "scheduled tweets" feature. You can now queue up any of the suggested content that your target audience will like. These posts will go out at a later time :)

Above: Click “Tweet Later” to post any of the suggested content at the suggested time.

Above: Manage your scheduled posts and see what’s coming up.

If you have any feedback, find any bugs or want to say hi, contact us here! We respond to everyone :)

Cheers,
Sherman and Karl

P.S. Read all our past updates on our blog.

The feature you’ve been asking for..

 

 

I’m excited to let you know about the new "unfollow" feature we just pushed to production. It’s something that everyone has been asking for the past couple of weeks. We heard you loud and clear!


The consequence of quickly building an audience that engages with your business is getting a cluttered feed. Now you can curate followers who don’t contribute anything to your business :) We surface these people for you to unfollow.

Key achievements this week:
- Strong organic user growth at +22% with no marketing effort
- Over 30% of all users are active weekly
- Direct user feedback that our value prop can’t be found elsewhere

Above: Love rooftop meetings in SF. Catching up with our current investors and getting feedback from people who are experienced in our space.

Above: Recruiting at UC Berkeley. We’re hiring a few engineers to move faster. If you know someone that will fit into our culture (we love hugs), please send them our way!

Above: A walk down memory lane at Soda Hall. Female computer science students here have increased 10x since Karl and I graduated. So proud to get a chance to talk to them about their experience. 

Cheers,
Sherman and Karl

P.S. Read all our past updates on our blog.

Demo Day is over and it’s only the beginning for Good Audience

 

 

Wow, we really enjoyed meeting so many people at Demo Day. The London startup community is definitely strong and growing! It was seriously standing room only :) 


This week we saw another 48% growth in new users. Thank you for your support throughout Techstars. It’s only the beginning and we want to thank you for being part of the journey.

We’re looking for mentors and partners to help take the business forward. You saw what SEO did for search and we believe that Good Audience will do the same for social media. Please reach out if you want to be part of the team :)

Don’t forget to sign up at www.goodaudience.com. Give us brutal and honest feedback!

Above: The teams backstage getting ready to pitch. Lots of adrenaline back there.

Above: Another great performance by Stephanie O’Brien during the break between pitches.

Above: Enjoying the special Techstars brew while giving demos of the product.

Cheers,
Sherman and Karl

P.S. Read all our past updates on our blog.

Good Audience is ready for demo day!

 

 

We’re excited to see you on Friday for demo day! The past 3 months have gone by fast and we’ve made an incredible amount of progress.

Good Audience came into Techstars with an unscalable business. We quickly recognized that, scrapped it, dug deep for customer feedback and pivoted. Our first line of code was written only 7 weeks ago and we are happy with how receptive our beta customers are.

Key Achievements This Week:
- Grew 32% in new users
- Optimizations to scale up increased usage
- Featured on Bloomberg TV



If you haven’t done so already, sign up for the beta now at www.goodaudience.com. Give us brutal and honest feedback!

Let’s do this,
Sherman and Karl

P.S. Read all our past updates on our blog.

Good Audience sprinting to demo day!

 

 

We’re less than two weeks away from the finish line and we’re pushing hard! 

Key Achievements This Week:
- Launched in public beta 
- Grew 68.8% in new users
- Compose and queue custom tweets

If you haven’t already, please sign up for the beta at www.goodaudience.com. Give us brutal and honest feedback!


Above: Meeting with one of our key mentors, Julia Hawkins of Universal Music, who really understands how big and important the opportunity we’re attacking is.

Above: Beautiful view of the Armoury House from the Conversocial office. The founder, Josh March, gave us great advice on working with investors who get the social media space is big and growing. If that’s you, we’d love to chat. 

Let’s do this,
Sherman and Karl

P.S. If you know any musicians who want to get more fans on social media, please send them our way!

Good Audience in Techstars Week 10 Update

 

 

Another busy week with plenty of meetings and plenty of code!

Key Achievements This Week:
- Grew 19.3% in new users from word of mouth referrals
- Agencies started testing out product
- Kicked off mobile app development

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Above: One of our early adopters and iTunes artist, Stephanie O’Brien, visiting Warner Yard. She gave us some great feedback on how to improve the product.


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Above: Dinner with an incredibly generous and smart mentor, Doug Scott. Knowledge and drinks flowed :)


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Above: Great to see events that the digital media team at LoveLive were responsible for. They gave awesome feedback on new features we could implement.


Your favorite hackers,
Sherman and Karl

P.S. If you know any startups or small businesses who want to use social media to get more users, traffic or sales, please send them our way!

Good Audience in Techstars Week 9 Update

 

 

Another week, another iteration. We’re in full execution mode now. There’s only 25 more days until demo day and we’re excited to keep pushing.

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The opportunity we’re going after is huge. We make it possible for SMBs to develop the same impact that popular companies have on Twitter. Ever wonder what the 41.6K followers did for a company like New Relic? 500% increase in web traffic, 50% lower cost of user acquisition, and 20% of revenue attributed to Twitter. That could be you :)

Key Achievements This Week:

- UI Improvements
- Suggested retweets and replies

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- Scheduled posts

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- Content analytics (# of retweets, favorites and clicks)

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- Daily goals

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Your favorite hackers,
Sherman and Karl

P.S. Please give those new features a whirl and let us know what you think!

Good Audience in Techstars Week 8 Update

 

 

Thank you for sending feedback on the alpha last week! For all active users, we saw an increase in your audience size. Keep it up (and to the right!) If you haven’t tried it out yet, just contact us and we’ll give you access.

Key achievements this week:
- Launch of Alpha V2.0.2 

- Daily stats email on how many new followers you got and how
- Queued follow and favorite engagements
- Quick selection of engagements you want
- Quick removal of engagements you don’t approve of
- Added additional datasources for suggestions (keep trying to break it by approving all the engagements :)

Action items for you:
- Keep using the app
- Let us know where improvements can be made
- Send over brutal honest feedback

Your favorite hackers,
Sherman and Karl


Just having a little fun as Karl carries Sherman to a meeting on a laptop. Passed by SmileFamily doing the same. We don’t need Double Robots!

P.S. If you know anyone who could benefit from growing their audience size from 0 to 10K followers, can you please introduce us to them? Thank you!

Good Audience in Techstars Week 7 Update

 

 

As you may know, we came to the conclusion during the 2nd week of Techstars that Good Audience V1.0 couldn’t massively scale as a business. We were generating revenue, but knew that it would be capped at a certain amount.

With your support, we made a quick decision to pivot. There was a lot of ground to cover and we executed flawlessly. Weeks of nonstop customer development, meetings with industry experts, prototyping, feedback, and iterating was fun!

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Above: Universal Music getting a first look at our pivot and Jon Bradford trying to scare the crap out of us for demo day.

We’re excited to announce that we’re alpha testing Good Audience V2.0.1. If you’re interested in giving it a try, just reach out here. We’d love your feedback!

Target market:
- Startups and small businesses

Value proposition:
- Step-by-step audience growth from 0 to 10K followers
- We made a labor intensive process easy and efficient

Key features:
- Twitter integration
- Suggested tweets to favorite
- Suggested people to follow
- Basic analytics for each social engagement performed
- Content suggestions

Your favorite hackers,
Sherman and Karl

P.S. We shared our experience about the London startup community in Tech City News.